In veteran circles, there is a common joke that, once a man becomes a Navy SEAL, he automatically gets a book deal. There’s a reason for that, and it’s because the American public is fascinated by them, and by special operations in general. Not to be outdone by the (admittedly awesome) stories by the squids, several veterans of the US Army’s 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment – Delta (otherwise known as Delta Force) have created some great works of literature worthy of Chuck Norris’ stoic nod of approval. I don’t know what it is about Tier 1 and 2 spec ops dudes that makes for such great book-writing material. Maybe it’s the image that they are the epitome of what a warrior should be that causes regular infantry guys like me to turn into borderline fan boys, but I love books by Delta Force operators. Being such a small community, I have sometimes wondered if these guys knew each other.
While the previous installment featured a Recon Marine/Selous Scout and a legendary Army Ranger Medic, this one is all about the only men who can say, “This here’s MY safety, sir,” and get away with it.
American Badass, by Dale Comstock – When a man writes a book with that particular title about himself, he had better be able to back it up. I’m looking at you, Kid Rock. Fortunately, Comstock is one man who is, without a doubt, able to do so. What makes Dale’s tale (awesome rhyme, by the way) so different is that he is able to portray himself in this fashion with a large dose of humility.
I had heard of Mr. Comstock, who is a well-known and colorful character in the combat veteran community, and my first impression was that he had to be full of himself. After all, no one would write such a book if they weren’t. When I found out that a contracting buddy of mine knew Dale, I had to find out for myself. My friend described him in so many words as a great man, but above all, a humble man. Mind=blown.
The tone of this book is not as in-your-face as the title. Comstock tells this story as if he sat down one day and said to himself, “I’ve had some pretty interesting things happen to me. Maybe putting them down on paper will help someone.” There is no chest-thumping or false bravado, though someone as accomplished as he would definitely be able to back up the proverbial crap-ton of bravado. It is a series of quick events that illustrate his methods of dealing with adversity. Comstock doesn’t really write in a linear fashion, and I’ll admit that I was occasionally confused as to the timeline of the events. Still, it’s a great story, full of crazy stories of missions, and training that was more intense than any combat operation I’ve ever done.
As I delve into the literary works of former Delta Force soldiers, a common denominator is their ability to bounce back from pretty much anything. Events which would be a road block at best to regular men become merely interesting obstacles for testicularly-endowed Delta Force operators to overcome. Injuries which would ruin a professional athlete’s career seem to be commonplace boo-boos in their world. Comstock makes a list of his injuries at one point, which includes a broken back, yet after healing he continued to operate at the top tier of our nation’s special operations forces.
Comstock has a healthy sense of humor, which seems to be a key factor for his ability to remain sane after some of his harrowing experiences. His humor is the dark, often fatalistic type common amongst men who realize that they are likely to die at any given minute. His story of the ticks is, in my opinion, one such case of something that is butthole-puckering scary at the time, but later easily turned into a joke due to its bizarre nature.
The theme that truly stands out to me as central to the story is Comstock’s unnatural ability to accomplish a number of impressive goals simultaneously. He started in the Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol teams, then went to Special Forces and Delta Force. That would be impressive enough, but he was also a professional boxer and a winner of tough-man and kick boxing competitions and vale tudo events. Did I mention he’s actually Dr. Dale Comstock? Throw in his bodybuilding competitions,a television career, and his own security company, and you’ve got what we laymen call “an impressive career.”
I was fortunate enough that Mr. Comstock sent me an autographed copy of his book.
The rest of you peasants will have to buy it, though I guarantee that the price is well worth the story.
Combat Strength Training, by Pat McNamara – This isn’t an autobiography or a novel, though if P-Mac ever decides to write one, I will trample toddlers to go buy it.
This is a fitness book written by an old dude with a ton of injuries (separated bicep, three broken ribs, dislocated shoulder, ruptured L5/S1 disk, rebuilt shoulder, ACL replacement, one herniated disk and two bulging in his neck, two broken ankles as well as several bones in the hands) who figured out a way to stay extremely fit.
His work is a short e-book bought from his personal website, and though it lists types of workouts, the main idea is his methodology. He is focused on “self-preservation and longetivity,” which is more than I can say for my own workouts. For years, my only way to measure whether or not I had a good workout was by how decrepit I felt the next day. If I couldn’t walk in the morning, it had to have been a good workout (that’s what she said). McNamara was able to describe a method of training that will boost strength, quickness, power, and muscle growth without tearing down your joints and tendons. I did the CST method for over a month, and I not only got some decent gains, I was able to function the next day. That’s a check in the “win” column for me.
If someone were to describe to me a fitness routine that enables you to be gentler on your joints, I would most likely say that it’s a wussy workout, and the guy who invented it probably does yoga in a dress while listening to Kenny G. He’s probably a vegan who burns incense while flaccidly pumping away on his NordicTrack machine. I would be wrong in this situation (though correct in most other scenarios).
Here’s the first sentence of Pat McNamara’s bio;
“Pat McNamara (Mac) has 22 years of Special Operations experience, 13 of which were in 1st SFOD-D. ” Oh, so this guy’s another Delta Force Operator/American Badass? Yup. He can squat like a bajillion pounds, is a firearms instructor, and does a lot of hand-to-hand stuff. He’s like the previous guy with a Viking beard and hair, and he looks like he could eat Ragnar Lothbrok alive.
So now that we’ve established his street cred, let’s get back to his content.
He breaks the training into four days; Strength, Hypertrophy, Speed/Quickness, and Power. Each session will likely last about 45 minutes, because McNamara warns against grinding away for 90-120 minute thrash fests. Not wanting to give away his trade secrets, I won’t delve into the individual exercises, but I will say that each workout leaves me exhausted and gasping on the floor (that’s also what she said). Somehow, I am able to stand up and move in the morning afterwards, and that is a miracle to me.
He also shies away from outcome training, and spends his time focusing on performance. Rather than getting ripped abs and huge pecs, the CST practitioner will focus on being stronger, more agile, and just plain dangerous.
Buy his e-book, and as he would say, “Getchasum!”
The Mission, The Men, and Me, by Pete Blaber – Pete Blaber was a Delta Force commander who ended up in charge of Advance Force Operations (AFO) during the pivotal battle in the Shahi-Kot valley of Afghanistan. The battle was entitled Operation Anaconda, and has been hailed as one of the greatest successes in the coalition military actions since the invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11.
Blaber does not start at the battle. Like any good special operations author, he details his journey into the revered halls of Delta, events in training, and a few subsequent missions. His account of Operation Anaconda is the extremely riveting finale in what amounts to a “lessons-learned” type of book.
A central theme of Blaber’s writing seems to center around the concept of nimbleness and flexibility, as well as a daring nature. In explaining the benefits of a nimble operation, Blaber contrasts the nonnegotiable maze of bureaucracy to the “here’s the solution, let’s get it done” mentality of the commando. The ability to find a solution to a problem, and then immediately act out that solution is a hallmark in Blaber’s ideal style of leadership. Combine this with the bravery necessary to accept risk, and you have a strong, well-oiled machine. The opposite is discussed during his accounts of “Big Army,” endless powerpoint ConOps, and crippling micromanagement. Blaber sums the negative in this sentence:
“Instead of focusing on the opportunity at hand, risk-averse leaders get treed by the potential risk, and fall victim to the greatest operational failure of all: the failure to try.”
In my opinion, this book found its mark as a manual for bold leadership.
I find it fascinating to read about tactics, and special operations typically have my favorite stories due to their willingness to embrace unconventional methods. While Blaber often writes of tactics, a common theme is that they are tailor-made to each individual situation. What worked in one scenario will not always work in another, and the ability to customize actions to the environment is the key in his writing. His story about using a unit of Army tanks was useful in one situation, while his account of employing a “Bigfoot” costume would only work in another.
The reader will eventually notice that Blaber’s ideas are not just for military applications. They can be used in any area involving problem solving and groups of people. A business owner could benefit from his story just as much as an infantry platoon commander. I personally saw many of his ideas applicable in the modern American church. Decentralizing of “command,” as well as the employing and trusting of qualified individuals, would create a church with multiple small group leaders capable of mentoring and ministering to individual members. This much be much better than one pastor attempting to create one life-changing church service every single week. Were I to go back to my original preaching roots, I would likely refer to this model quite a bit. Imagine a church that operates as a special operations unit…but I digress.
Blaber’s story stays fairly chronological, which means that the reader will spend less time trying to figure out what just happened. He doesn’t jump around in time, but tells a straight story, while still illustrating his main points very well. His stories are, again, very fascinating. He has tales of rigorous mountain training, dealing with civilian contractors, complete failures of generals and politicians, and interviewing a convicted terrorist to gain a better understanding of his enemy.
Blaber’s writing style is very straight-forward, with little to no superfluous wording. This creates a book that a reader has to set down every so often just to digest the content. His writing reminds me of an American C.S. Lewis… with a gun and a chest rig. Though I wouldn’t call it a funny book, there is humor involved, as stories from that type of lifestyle tend to lend themselves to occasional hilarity. Blaber definitely takes himself and his message very seriously, and his passion for leadership and the operators in his command is very apparent.
He has multiple sentences that I have underlined, but the following is my absolute favorite:
“Courage has been called a contradiction in terms, meaning a strong desire to live manifest as a readiness to die.”
Maybe Ranger Up will make it into a t-shirt.
For the next installation, I’ll be reviewing some fantastic novels from Ross Elder and Paul Avallone.