Act of Valor and the Navy SEALs that Inspired the Movie’s Realism
Act of Valor and the Navy SEALs that Inspired the Movie’s Realism
Today, I’d like to offer my thoughts and perspective on the recently released Act of Valor movie. I’m not a movie critic, or even someone who’s got any operational experience outside of BUD/s (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL Training) and what I was taught there. What I do offer with my write-up is the perspective of someone who has been through and overcome adversity side-by-side with members of the Naval Special Warfare community I’m proud to call my friends.
Words will never fittingly describe, nor do justice to the adversity that each one of these guys encountered in training and faces every day of their lives. What I mean by this is the continuous training, workup and deployment cycle they go through and all they sacrifice on a daily basis that most will never understand.
“We sleep safely at night because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would harm us.” ~ Sir Winston Churchill
Act of Valor
The opening line of Act of Valor starts with the statement that the movie is based on “real acts of valor.” As you’ll read in this write-up I was able to spot at least three different occurrences that were based on real life incidents that the Teams encountered. Before I go any further, I wanted to mention that the Navy SEALs are commonly referred to as “the Teams” or an individual SEAL as a “Team Guy.” Just a heads up in case you didn’t know.
I went into this movie expecting to see one of the most realistic movies ever produced about the Teams and I wasn’t disappointed. I knew going into it that all the SEALs in the movie were active duty Team Guys. I had mixed feelings about this and whether it was a publicity stunt from the NSWC PAO (Naval Special Warfare Command Public Affairs Officer) office to help push enlistment of guys going to BUD/s. Back in 2007 it was announced that by this year the command wanted to have an additional 500 SEALs.
I have no doubt that this movie using active duty SEALs was allowed to be made to help up the numbers. That’s certainly not to discount the active duty guys and their involvement, but having their faces on the big screen would definitely preclude them from ever being in certain SEAL units. I say this for the reader’s knowledge, not theirs.
I’m a strong believer in the SOF Truths, particularly that “SOF cannot be mass produced.” We’re still seeing this with the NSWC’s new numbers of guys going into BUD/s. When I was in, our class (251) started with around 170 guys and we wound up with 70 after Hell Week. This was also a very high number around the time I was there (2004). Funny thing is that the larger classes that are going through now, which have upwards of 250 guys, are still getting these same numbers after Hell Week. I mention this just to say that upping the numbers isn’t going to necessarily get the result the command is looking for. There will always be gatekeepers in the community who rightfully refuse to relax the standards. All BUD/s instructors are active duty Navy SEALs with the exception of a few Navy Divers in 2nd Phase and other select positions.
Something I appreciated reading was that this movie was produced at no cost to taxpayers. With most military movies, the usage of equipment, etc. is agreed upon and set up particularly for that film. With Act of Valor everything was shot in the training cycle and nothing was officially scheduled, which is why they’d been filming since 2006, as the “actors” still had to deploy and they shot where and when they could. Every battle scene utilized live fire and I was really glad to see the only use of automatic fire was for the purpose of suppressive fire as it should be.
One of my biggest gripes with Hollywood is the overabundance of fully automatic fire and with how many people I run across think that our troops run around dumping magazine after magazine (not clips!) into a bad guy. Ammunition is scarce and why you’ll only see fully auto used to suppress enemy fire.
Real Act’s of Valor
I’ll try to summarize the plot without giving away too much of the movie, but if you want to stay totally in the dark and see this for yourself first, it’s probably better that you stop reading at this point. Again, I’ll try to not give away too much.
The plot of Act of Valor is based on real exploits by the Teams and the premise is based on the overall global anti-terrorism mission that the Teams are currently chest deep in. This is portrayed with a mission to rescue a kidnapped CIA agent that leads to the discovery of a terrorist plot to funnel suicide bombers into major US cities with a new “undetectable” mass destruction technology.
The Bandito Platoon, that really seems to be more of a single squad in most scenes, is dispatched to stop the terrorist attack that “will make 9/11 look like a walk in the park.” Something I really appreciated throughout the movie was that the Team Guys were allowed to speak as they normally would. You could tell they weren’t actors, but I actually appreciated the candor that came across. I particularly liked the familiar language and talk I remember so fondly from the community.
My favorite SEAL/actor was the salty Senior Chief that threw out some great terms of endearment that made me smile and laugh my ass off. I especially enjoyed the interrogation scene dialogue between Senior and the terrorist cell financier, Cristo. The constant purposeful name mispronunciation and quotes like “shit filter’s full,” was exactly how I remember a certain Senior Chief I knew talked. Actually I heard worse come out of his mouth, but I won’t repeat it here.
Throughout the initial rescue of the CIA agent and successive operations to stop the terrorist cell, a SEAL is shot in the eye, another jumps on a grenade to save his teammates and finally one is shot dozens of times and continues to fight. These are the real acts of valor I recognized from the film.
The SEAL that was shot in the eye I believe to be the recently departed Ryan Job, whom I got to know while we were in BUD/s together. Job was a true hero and an inspiration to everyone, I’ll never forget his kindred spirit and his dive sup check dance that always had everyone laughing in Second Phase with Class 251. As in the movie, the shrapnel that struck him in the face didn’t kill him, but cost him his eye and eventually his complete vision. Job unfortunately passed because of a mistake in a facial reconstruction surgery more than three years after the original incident. A great quote from the movie was after the SEAL was evacuated from the operation, a teammate is trying to help calm him down and says “You took one to the face, you’re a hard m*****f*****!”
Later in the movie, the LT (Lieutenant) is the first to see a grenade that’s thrown into a room with himself and his teammates. He subsequently dives on top of it with his body armor and is killed in the blast, but saves the lives of his teammates. This act of valor is based on Michael Monsoor‘s unselfish act that saved his teammates lives and saw him posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. While I only had talked to Monsoor for a brief time in BUD/s, he was in the BUD/s class ahead of me in Class 250, he was a dedicated and stand-up guy. The rooftop incident took place in Ramadi, Iraq during his deployment with SEAL Team Three that also included Ryan Job and Marc Lee, the first SEAL killed in Iraq and who’s charity we’re very involved in here at ITS, America’s Mighty Warriors.
The final act of valor I recognized was portrayed by the SEAL Chief who was shot multiple times engaging the leader of the terrorist cell in the underground tunnels. In the movie he survives, as did the SEAL this was based on, when he was shot 27 times. I’m not sure whether this SEAL is still active duty or not, so I’ll leave off any additional information.
During the filming of Act of Valor, Aaron Vaughn, a SEAL that appears in the movie was killed in the tragedy that brought down a helicopter carrying 31 service members on August 6, 2011. In case you needed a reminder that these were really active duty Team Guys who were still doing their jobs while filming.
Something else to remember if or when you’re watching Act of Valor is how calm and collective the Team Guys appear throughout the movie, especially during the action scenes. They did an excellent job portraying this in the editing of the movie and it really showed the attention to detail that Act of Valor stuck to. There also weren’t an abundance of tactics revealed that would violate the OPSEC (Operational Security) of the Teams.
What really shone through to me in the film is the sacrifice these guys really go through on a daily basis, which as I mentioned earlier, is hard to put into words. The balance of duty to country, duty to their teammates and duty to their families back home is an emotional roller coaster. This is what being thankful for the service of our military personnel is all about.
I really loved the narration of the SEAL Chief throughout the movie and I won’t spoil the why for you. This particular quote by Chief Tecumseh, the Native American leader of the Shawnee, is one I remember hearing while I was in the service and one that I hope will speak to you as it did for me when I heard parts of it during the movie.
“So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people.
Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide. Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and bow to none. When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and nothing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision.
When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.”
One last thing I’ll mention is how moving the final scene of the movie was as each SEAL took off his Trident and drove it into the departed teammate’s casket as was publicized with Monsoor’s funeral. Between that and the tasteful crawling list recognizing those we’ve lost from the Naval Special Warfare community was all I could take before it brought a tear to my eye.
While I’ve been gone from my involvement in the Naval Special Warfare community for many years now, I still very much feel attached to the good friends I keep in touch with, those I don’t and some that I had the good fortune of knowing before they gave their lives for this country. The camaraderie that I reflect on so often with this group of guys who would do anything for you and I for them, will never be forgotten. Act of Valor brought out these feelings for me and why the authenticity that shines through the movie wouldn’t have been possible if it was done any other way.
Remember the fallen…
Photo Credit: Relativity Media