Top SEAL: Amid Hollywood hoopla, quiet preferred


Official movie poster // courtesy Singer Associates

The Navy’s “silent” warriors won’t exactly be off radar when “Act of Valor” hits the theaters in February. The movie, produced by the Bandito Brothers, is notable for the use of some real Navy SEALs, rather than more actors, to portray the commandos.

Since the successful killing of Osama bin Laden last year, and even the 2009  rescue of an American boat captain held hostage by Somali pirates, the oft-secretive naval special warfare community has been in the spotlight more than usual. The occasional best-selling book and, unfortunately, tragic losses of SEALs fallen in combat capture the public’s focus. This week’s news that SEALs – presumably Naval Special Warfare Development Group, aka SEAL Team 6 – parachuted into Somalia and rescued an American female aid worker and a Danish man kidnapped by Somali pirates further adds to the attention.

“It’s pretty hot in the kitchen right now,” Rear Adm. Sean Pybus, a top SEAL officer, told a San Diego defense industry conference Jan. 24, hours after the successful mission was a wrap. “The SEAL brand is red hot.”

Rear Adm. Sean Pybus, who heads Naval Special Warfare Command. // Navy photo

Part of that is by design. To pull off “Act of Valor,” the directors sent teams to embed with real SEALs and special warfare combatant craft crewmen with the intent of helping them portray naval special warfare more realistically. That relationship, five years in the making, required approval from the top – which it got. Several real SEALs, who typically shield their identities when they are operational, will be portrayed on the big screen as well as in promotion literature, trailers and press kits, perhaps. But their names won’t be on the credits. You can catch the trailer here,  and the official website here.

Much like what the Navy saw when “Top Gun” was released in 1986, top officials expect the movie will help with recruitment. But all that attention can be discomfiting to those who consider themselves “quiet professionals.”

“Operations security matters to us,” said Pybus, before showing the movie trailer to the morning audience. “Inaccurate or incomplete pictures…concern me,” he continued. “We as a community are not used to operating under such a spotlight. We’ll figure this out.”

SEALs and SWCCs, and others within the community, he noted, are proud of their work outside the public spotlight. “We’ll work for positive outcomes, find better ways to protect sensitive information and our force and our families,” he said, “and we’ll adapt.”

If there are fewer movies or books about SEALs, what they do and who they are, that might suit Pybus just fine. “I would like to think that your reputation as a naval special warfare operator or enabler would be sufficient when you transition to civilian life,” he said, responding to an audience question. “You’d be quietly proud of that.”


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