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Bust of Themistocles, a Greek Strategos. Marble, Roman copy from the Hadrian Era after a Greek original from ca. 400 BC.

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Strategist - a person skilled in strategy

Let us pretend for a moment you are a dentist. It took you years to receive the training you would need to be certified and licensed. Now, imagine I walk up to you in a meeting and say, “I am a dentist.” How long would it take you to figure out that if I, a person with no dental training, went messing around with your teeth or gums, it would not go well? 

It sounds ridiculous to think a person with no training would claim to be a dentist, but the same thing happens when someone with no training in strategy development suddenly claims to be a strategist. If the dentist were to watch me attempt to fill a cavity and tell me I am not a dentist, they are possibly saving someone’s life. When a person like me, trained in many facets of strategy development, watches someone with no training attempt to be a strategist, it is not as dangerous initially but can still cost lives in the right circumstances. 

People have a fascination with the words “strategist” and “strategy,” but those same people rarely know what these terms mean. Perhaps this is because the word defines itself; a strategist is a person skilled in strategy. Let us try this another way; a dentist is a person skilled in dentistry – no kidding. In case the issue is not clear enough, let us define a dentist.

Dentist - one who is skilled in and licensed to practice the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of diseases, injuries, and malformations of the teeth, jaws, and mouth and who makes and inserts false teeth 

Maybe it would be better to look at the definition of the word “strategy.”  

(1) the science and art of employing the political, economic, psychological, and military forces of a nation or group of nations to afford the maximum support to adopted policies in peace or war

(2) the art of devising or employing plans or stratagems toward a goal

There are a few keys words in the definition - science, art, and goal. That strategy is part science and art is a well-known fact to those trained in its use. 

The science of strategy means accounting for specific variables for which we have little control. Vehicles and aircraft move at certain speeds, fuel lasts for so long at specific consumption rates, and machinery manufactures a finished item in a set amount of time. That is the science that informs strategy. Failure to account for these hard facts often leads to impractical or impossible plans. 

The art of strategy is much broader and harder to master. It is how a strategist moves from an aspirational goal to the specific steps necessary to achieve that goal. “I want world peace” is easy to say. “How,” is the harder question. To witness our surrender in Afghanistan was easy (though not for us Afghanistan war veterans). To predict a range of consequences from our surrender and how to deal with them, a lot harder. With training and years of expertise, the predictions become more trustworthy and the potential solutions more realistic, especially when one is trained in strategy development and has years of experience analyzing world events. 

Strategy with no clearly defined goal is pointless. 

It is the years of experience and training that make a strategist not simply calling yourself one in a meeting. In my military experience, we employed a variety of terms with purpose. Strategic is something at the national or global level. Operational is based on a region or specific area of conflict. Tactical are those specific actions taken by individuals or smaller units to achieve operational and strategic objectives. Where the U.S. often fails is in the strategic realm. Too many of our nation’s elected representatives lack a truly strategic mindset and necessary training.

My training in strategy started with learning chess at six years old. It continued during my 28 years of military service where I attended the nation’s best strategy schools. I also went through the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification process, media training, Lean Six Sigma, and other Change Management training. I am not a strategist because I applied the label to myself in a meeting. I am a strategist because I went through years of training and applied that training to real world scenarios in multiple countries and organizations. I am not a dentist, doctor, lawyer, or accountant; I do not have the training.

Claiming the strategist title does not make a strategist anymore than claiming to be a dentist makes one ready to pull teeth. 

Lt Col (ret), US Army, Darin Gaub is a Co-founder of Restore Liberty, an international military strategist and foreign policy analyst, an executive leadership coach, and serves on the boards of multiple volunteer international, national, and state level organizations. He also serves as Chairman of the Lewis and Clark County Montana Republican Central Committee. The views presented are those of the author and do not represent the views of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, or its components.

Navy SEAL training – Basic Underwater Demolition / SEAL training more commonly known as “BUD/S” is brutal. It is supposed to be. The graduates have trained for, served in, fought, and died in every conflict since WWII. Our original Navy Frogmen forefathers, the Naval Combat Demolition Units (NCDUs) who cleared Omaha and Utah beaches during the Normandy invasion suffered 52% casualties on D-Day. More than 100 Frogmen were wounded or killed clearing obstacles to the beaches. Three NCDU teams were completely wiped out.

America’s “First Frogman”, Lieutenant Commander Draper Kauffman, the original Commander of the Naval Combat Demolition Unit training school at Fort Pierce, Florida established the baseline that all NCDUs, Amphibious Scouts and Raiders, Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT) and Sea Air and Land (SEAL) commandos have gone through during the initial basic training.

Kauffman instituted a brutal training regimen culminating in a “Hell Week” of non-stop, intense physical exertion with less than an hour of daily rest over 6 days and 5 nights —a tradition that continues in modern Navy SEAL training today. Hell Week is the defining experience of BUD/S. 120+ hours spent cold, wet, and sandy, pushing limits of one’s physical endurance, mental toughness and pain tolerance. Surviving obstacle courses, surf torture, beach runs, ocean swims and paddling a rubber raft in boat crews in the Pacific Ocean.

It tests the limits of teamwork and the ability to perform under extreme physical and mental stress while being severely sleep deprived. Above all, it measures individual determination and “fire in the gut” motivation. On average, only a quarter of SEAL trainees make it through the week that pushes a man’s body to the extreme. Those who survive the world’s most grueling week of training come to the self-awareness that they will never, ever quit, or let a teammate down.

Between 1965 and 1972 there were 46 SEALs killed in Vietnam. 4 SEALs were lost at sea after parachuting into rough seas off the coast of Grenada during Operation Urgent Fury. 4 more were killed at Paitilla Airfield on the eve of Operation Just Cause to oust deposed Panamanian leader, Manual Noriega.

Since 9/11, 117 SEALs have died in training and combat operations around the world including Iraq and Afghanistan where the largest single day loss of US military personnel, 31 American servicemen (including 15 Navy SEALs) died when a CH-47 Chinook helicopter call sign “Extortion 17” was shot down on August 6th2010.

The Original Frogman (OF) Draper Kauffman instituted Hell Week in what is recognized as the toughest military training in the world for a reason. He knew his frogmen would be going into harm’s way where being wounded in action (WIA) or killed in action (KIA) would be the harsh reality while clearing beaches prior to amphibious landings in Africa, Italy, France, and the Pacific’s Island-hopping campaigns. Like every SEAL commander who followed in his footsteps, SEALs accept the training with the highest risks and most dangerous missions that the nation will call upon us to execute. It is why SEAL Team Six was tasked with Operation Neptune Spear, the mission to kill/capture Usama Bin Laden.

Recent deaths in SEAL training during Hell Week have brought outside calls to examine the training curriculum and make changes. A Navy Admiral from outside Naval Special Warfare is leading the review board and will likely call for reforms. While safety is always paramount, and steps to ensure lesson learned from the recent death of SEAL trainee Kyle Mullin should be implemented, any recommendation to alter or eliminate portions of Hell Week would be a mistake.

“The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday” is the student motto at BUD/S. The more you sweat in training the less you bleed in war… is the BUD/S Instructor mantra. It’s called Hell Week for a reason… war is hell. If you can’t survive Hell Week, you won’t survive life in the Teams much less future combat deployments. BUD/S is only an entry level glimpse into what actual SEAL platoon training will be like but doesn’t measure up to potential real-world missions in foreign lands under much more austere conditions than southern California environs can produce. You will be more exhausted, hypothermic, and sleep-deprived yet still be expected to execute a ‘no fail’ mission like a hostage rescue or kill/capture a high value target. The stakes will be life or death.

There are two more relevant maxims about war - Only the dead have seen the end of war and warriors will die training for war before ever seeing combat.

Commander Dan O’Shea (SEAL) USN (ret) graduated from BUD/S class 179 in 1992. A former Platoon and Task Unit Commander at SEAL Team THREE recalled to active duty after 9/11. A multi-tour Operation Enduring Freedom – Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom – Iraq veteran, O’Shea established and ran the Hostage Working Group at the US Embassy in Baghdad 2004 – 2006. Served his final combat tour as a counter- insurgency advisor for the Commander of International Security Forces – Afghanistan 2011 – 2012. During the chaos of the failed Afghanistan exit, O’Shea was a member of Task Force Pineapple that helped rescue thousands of Americans and Afghan partners left behind.

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