Originally published at American Thinker
I have previously explained the concept of “shipmate” through the recounting of the Navy career of my Father. He joined right after Pearl Harbor and served 27 years, retiring as a Master Chief in 1969, shortly after I was commissioned.
In 1948, President Harry Truman ended segregation in the military. Growing up in the late 40s and early 50s closely observing Dad’s behavior and attitudes, I note he was an obedient sailor and accepted everyone as they came without regard to race. In 1955-1957 he was “pushing boots” and he treated all his recruits exactly the same regardless of race or where they came from. The closest thing I ever heard him say that even hinted of a racial stereotype was that Black recruits did not know how to swim. It was not a criticism just an observation that puzzled him because as a recruit company commander his job was to turn civilians into sailors and everyone had to be able to swim!
Ours was a Christian home where one of the favorites of Sunday School from my earliest memories is “Jesus Loves the Little Children” where the verse goes, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world, red and yellow, black or white, they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world.” The culmination of the civil rights movement in 1964 with the passage of the Civil Rights Act was celebrated in my household. And, it was already the standard that the Navy long since practiced. Justice was served!
In the late 60s the biggest political issue at my university was anti-Vietnam war protestors with Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) protesting us military types being allowed at university. After commissioning and school, I reported to the USS Richard L. PAGE (DEG-5) in 1970. PAGE was named after a naval officer who in the civil war became a Confederate brigadier general. No one, including Black crew members, cared the least bit about the ship being named for a civil war officer. Apparently hidden from my view was the torture and anguish our Black shipmates endured over the name of the ship. (sarcasm alert!) The modern phenomenon of Blacks’ lives being ruined at the very thought of the Civil War is a new invention of the fevered minds of academia that did not exist when I served.
The very best sailor on PAGE worked for me. He was a first-class petty officer and the ship’s Master-At-Arms as well. He happened to be Black. He set the example of squared-away sailor for the whole ship and nobody gave him any guff despite his skin color. He was liked and respected by all. He was also a black belt in karate. The subject of White supremacy or systemic racism did not exist. Everyone was trained to a unity of purpose which was to serve the ship and our shipmates and to make sure we were ready to fight and win in our nation’s defense. Our entire focus was on the Soviet Union and the palpable daily threat that the Soviets represented to America even in the western hemisphere. The crew was laser focused on the mission of being proficient at finding and neutralizing Soviet subs… and we were good at it, as the Navy Unit Commendation that I earned attests. Race was irrelevant to executing our mission and simply did not come up.
From Midshipman to CAPT, from GS-07 to GM-15, at 14 duty stations, and in a dozen locations I found the conditions the same as on PAGE, sailors and commands whose focus was on the mission and whose minority members shared the same values and qualities that everyone else had. And, even very early on, at my second duty station, I worked closely with an Air Force colonel who happened to be Black and thought absolutely nothing about it. Every duty station had minority members including senior officers. The numbers may not have been large back then but the Navy was already diverse in racial makeup. I don’t recall a single instance of racial tension or strife anywhere I was stationed in almost 40 years combined military and civilian service. During Vietnam rare instances of racial strife occurred elsewhere but these were isolated instances. Race was not a significant factor to Navy culture or readiness. I never saw any discrimination nor even heard of complaints of it in my entire career, much of which was in Mississippi. And, from my first tour on, all over the nation, every command had minority members as part of the crew. Not only did I not experience any of the above, no one I know reported anything different in their own experience. The Navy I served in was focused on mission above all else. The Navy was not focused on solving the nation’s residual race-related or cultural problems nor should it have been. The Navy was a meritocracy by necessity as our enemy was serious, implacable and highly skilled at the art of warfare and we had to be the same or better to prevail in the event of conflict.
I am not saying that the Navy did not have race-related problems. No doubt there were racists in the ranks and in some cases, discrimination occurred that was both illegal and harmful to the mission. But, the institution of the Navy was committed to equal rights as was the law and largely discrimination was and is rare in the Navy and those who discriminated were not tolerated. Up until recent years no one had ever heard of Critical Theory or Critical Legal Theory or Critical Race Theory or Diversity, Equity and Inclusion or Ibram X. Kendi’s nonsense that you have to practice discrimination to make up for past discrimination.
When did it become an article of faith in our nation and in our military that the exact demographic makeup of the nation had to be matched in every other institution, including the military? What science supports that goal? If that were legitimate, why isn’t everyone all up in arms that the NBA is 72% Black when the national demographic is 13% Black? This is accepted as perfectly normal, but the Navy officer corps having only 8% black officers versus the 13% Black demographic nationally is a problem?
The Navy is an Equal Opportunity Employer and has been for a very long time. Are we absolutely free of race-related problems? Probably not. Idiots and bigots despite our best efforts do at times still join and may cause problems. When those surface, those people should be punished and discharged. According to a senior attorney with DoD known to this author, as recently as 2021 survey results from all of DoD (military and civilian) conducted by the DHRA Office of People Analytics, over all, 2 percent of DoD personnel are concerned about hate crimes or racism. This is direct evidence that racism is not the problem being portrayed by military leadership or those with a political axe to grind promoting progressive ideology. The Navy should not be an experimental proving ground for politics. Those who join the Navy should be admitted based on qualifications, merit, and motivation. The color of one’s skin should have nothing to do with it.
It is not the Navy’s mission or responsibility to solve residual cultural problems with some minority groups that may still exist. Those problems are America’s to wrestle with and solve. Large majorities in the nation do not consider race to be a major problem nor do they favor race preference for college admissions including to the military academies. According to Pew Research most Americans favor inter-racial marriage and the percentage of such marriages continues to rise each year. In a few decades, most of America will be of mixed race. To ask the Navy to solve residual racial problems that the nation has apparently not been able to fully solve is ill considered and a distraction from the mission of having ready naval personnel and forces in order to fight and win our nation’s wars. There is no place in the Navy for social engineering. It will lead to defeat in battle.
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.
My Father was a sailor and my earliest memories are of the Navy, being on bases, seeing sailors in uniform, standing formation, marching in straight lines, counting cadence., doing the manual at arms as one, functioning like a huge living organism with one purpose. As recruit commander, Dad’s job was to take raw recruits from all over and to break them down from their undisciplined personal habits, and then build them back up into a cohesive unit of sailors functioning as one. The Navy of the 1950’s knew it was necessary to take a bunch of civilians with diverse backgrounds and from all over the nation, with different accents, religious beliefs, educational backgrounds, skin colors, religions and mores, ethnicities and mold them into one, into sailors, into shipmates. Navy leadership grasped deeply that they needed to create shipmates, a unified building block of patriotic Americans to carry out defending the nation against our enemies.
What is a shipmate? It is not some random term. It is a term that has a very special meaning. It derives from the immutable truths of the Navy and those “who go down to sea in ships”. Ships and the sea are inherently dangerous things. Those are timeless truths even before you add the extreme dangers created by having enemies. When you go to sea on a ship, you and all the others literally are all in the same boat. What happens to one, happens to all. At sea, everyone is aware of the sea state. No one has to tell you what it is. The ship is a living, breathing organism and you feel the ship under you and you know what it is doing. When at sea you have to fight the ship for stability at every virtually moment. And, it is always dangerous…unseen hazards, converging ships, adverse weather, navigation challenges, mechanical breakdowns, fleet operations. Every minute, every day, something could happen that will challenge the ship and the crews’ safety and even life. To safely and effectively operate a ship takes a unified crew of shipmates, shipmates whose focus is on the ship and what we are doing to carry out our mission.
When you say, “right full rudder”, the rudder better come right full or lives could be lost. You think I exaggerate? Constant bearing and decreasing range…what to do? Seconds to decide and lives are at risk. Ask the crews of the USS McCain or USS Fitzgerald, the ones who are still with us, sailors who will never forget the horror of a collision at sea. And, untold thousands who have gone before. The sea is unforgiving and history echoes with its millions lost there. Add, the element of combat or even just rivalry and the danger rises. This is not the place for social experiment. This is not the place for debate on what should happen next. This is not the place for watching out for hurting someone’s feelings or wondering what pronoun to use. I speak from experience as one with thousands of hours at sea on the bridge. I speak from the experience of a dangerous and once highly classified tracking of a Soviet Yankee for 5 days non-stop during the Cold War. I speak from the experience of conning a damaged ship for 5 days up the East Coast being chased by a hurricane…. you know, that fun following seas action. It takes shipmates, competent shipmates with unquestioning obedience and quick action to survive those waters. It takes a crew that literally and figuratively are pulling on the same end of the rope.
The social experimentation and woke politics of today’s America has no place in the Navy or the other services. It will just get people killed. In the past, when we trained young people who have joined, the entire methodology was to forge unity, cohesion, camaraderie, morale, teamwork…. a group of people who would act with one purpose. Now, we seem intent to categorize and accentuate by race, sex and other characteristics and that creates division. At the Academies, where the purpose was to turn out exemplars of professionalism, unity, persistence, toughness, and skill, we now promote affinity groups to divide the whole into competing parts. At Annapolis, 13 separate affinity groups are listed including Black Studies, Chinese culture and Native American cultures. A whole month is devoted to “pride” of those attracted to the same sex while ignoring the 70% of the straight, Christian members who abhor what their faith teaches is wrong. That is not how you promote unity. Demeaning the faith of a majority of the military is both wrong and stupid.
The military is governed by the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The operative word is “Uniform”. All must be treated the same in matters of merit, behavior, and justice. But that standard is passe. Now, if your skin is the right color, you are glorified. If your sexual preference is right, you are celebrated. The promotion of what is different about our sailors does not create shipmates. It is wrong thinking and devastatingly damaging to readiness, morale, and retention. The service Chiefs have all publicly admitted that recruiting is in crisis. And, it will only get worse as normal yearly attrition creates a huge demand each year for new recruits. If you fail to recruit in one year, the problem is twice as big in the next. Now, the services have compounded the problem by separating thousands with religious or other objections to the Covid vax mandate effectively shooting themselves in the foot for political reasons and ignoring readiness.
To Navy leaders, it’s time to create shipmates again…..before it’s too late.
Captain Brent Ramsey’s career in the Navy spanned almost 40 years. He is currently Deputy Executive Vice President for Operations and Public Affairs Officer for STARRS.us, a non-profit that promotes unity in the services.