Act of Valor and the Navy SEALs that Inspired the Movie's Realism - ITS Tactical

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Act of Valor and the Navy SEALs that Inspired the Movie’s Realism

By Bryan Black

Act of Valor Movie

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.

Final Thoughts

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

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  • Awesome write up! Thanks for your insight.

  • Which SEAL was lost in the crash? Was he part of the cast? Or supporting role?

    • Aaron Vaughn, I’ve updated the post. Needed to get the spelling of his name correct before I posted it.

    • Trying to recall the scene. Was it the beginning with the CIA extraction/boat scene?

    • Paul

      I attended a Q & A session with Director Scott Waugh at a showing of Act of Valor in Los Angeles; I asked him directly which scene was Aaron Vaughn in. He replied that Aaron was part of the Mexican night raid (filmed on San Clemente island), in which the SEALs inserted by zodiacs, and that Aaron was part of the 2nd squad.

      Awesome write up by the way.

    • joe

      “but having their faces on the big screen would definitely preclude them from ever being in certain SEAL units”

      Aaron Vaughn, a local member of SEAL Team Six, is one of those real life heroes making his big screen debut but for his family, that debut is very bittersweet. Vaughn won’t be around to see the pride in their faces. -

      Isn’t that one of the Teams you said wouldn’t allow their guys to have their faces on the big screen?

    • Yes, thanks for brining this up. It’s certainly interesting and might debunk my statement. Even if the majority of shooting was done prior to Vaughn getting picked up by DEVGRU they would have known about it. I’ll look into it.

    • joe

      It wouldn’t let me reply to your comment Bryan but once you find out let me know, I’m definitely interested to hear.

      I’ve always been fascinated with the SEALs even more so after I realized how terrible I am at swimming so thank you for your service and I can’t wait to check this movie out.

  • pete shrock

    I Thought the same thing when I saw the LT jump on the grenade, That is an interesting note about the one Seal that died on 8-6-11 it definitely brings it home to me

  • Nick

    Thank you for a great write up! I just saw the movie this weekend and left with a tear in my eye. Seeing the names makes it very real for everyone. I just retired from the USAF after serving 20 years on active duty and I would like to thank you for your service as well.

  • Steven LaBarre

    Great write up. I especially love the real acts of valor you described. When you mentioned Michael Monsoor, I realized I had seen him before. We were in boot camp at the same time, and I remember seeing him, and even had some words with him. He was a very nice guy. Its sad to see what happened, but also proud to realize that I was able to talk with such a hero. He went on to save lives, and I went onto the regular Navy.

    Great article.

  • zmtthw

    Mr. Black,
    Outstanding write-up, I couldn’t agree more with what your stated. I recently saw this movie and really felt like they nailed it on the head. There was a small part of me that anticapted a big flop, thinking……oh here we go with SEAL’s blasting ammo all around and being ‘un-touchable’. But what I saw is a great format with great operational considerations. It was noticable that the Hollywood side of it didn’t over-power the realism and the story side of it. What was great as well was the showing of the family dynamics. I really believe that piece is often left out of ‘action’ movies but in real life, it’s one, of the most important aspects of these guys and service memebers in general. I also liked how they made it a point to mention, ‘to get all your family stuff, finances’, etc in order before they push out the door.’ That is so true that if your home life isn’t squared away, it will at some point, effect your operational performance.
    What was really great was their multiple scenes that paid tribute to the fallen. You listed all of them, and that is such a great note to be made. Overall, I’m pleased with this movie, I think there was ton’s of action but it wasn’t to much. And I really enjoy and appreciate how they incorporated family and truth.
    Thanks for yor review and have a great rest of the week Bra.


  • Kasey Kuhlers

    Great article. While I was watching the film I noticed the scene where the SEAL was shot in the eye as well. This reminded me greatly of SEAL Team 5 member Mark Robbins, who was struck by an insurgents 7.62 round through his right eye and out the back of his head in Aug, 2007 in Iraq. Robbins survived the incident and went on to training new SEALs before being forced out of the NAVY. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work with Robbins (who is now a police officer) during a recent internship. He is an incredible man, as are all SEALs. To this day he wears a glass eyeball with the SEAL trident etched into it. Link to his story below…

  • randyp.b

    Awesome and moving write-up Bryan! It’s nice to have some background so I can better appreciate the everyday sacrifice of our Teams. I’m looking forward to seeing the movie!


  • thebronze

    Fantastic write-up for a fantastic movie, Bryan.

  • ChalkMonster

    Great write-up!

    Saw the movie…felt the same as you did through out your write up. It is funny you mention that this could/may have been a publicity stunt to bring more into the recruiting offices. My wife, who is still an Active Duty LT in recruiting, had to sign a page 13 stating that: neither her, nor her command, will promote this movie as a recruiting tactic…nor will any recruiter be able to wear their uniform while in attendance of watching this movie…funny…eh just a bit. Still, if I wasn’t married with an awesome kid…well…could a, would a…know how that goes. Nevertheless, thank you to all service members…past/current/future for you outstanding service.


  • Bryan, excellent write up brother! Have not seen the movie yet but am itching to. Appreciate your service and that of all veterans with a special thanks to the Spec Ops community and all who have served in combat. Keep up the great work.

  • Loved this film!

    I left the theater so pumped up by the action… I wanted to go jump out of a plane, and go sneaking through a swamp, all decked out in my gear! (I know that’s not what being an operator is all about, I was just THAT pumped!)

    Some of my friends gave it a little bit of smack talk because the “acting wasn’t good.” But I have to say, the REALISM made that film, not the actors, not the super-deep writing. I felt like I was on those missions.

    This film has really inspired me to want to be a part of SOCOM.

  • Chad

    Not questioning your statement because I know it’s true and I heard the same thing about NSW increases its forces, but I find it strange that they would feel the need to release this movie to increase recruitment. I’ve been fighting tooth and nail for the past year to get a SEAL Challenge contract, and they keep telling me that they’re full and don’t have any SEAL slots left. That’s with an 8:15 swim, 98 pushups, 96 situps, 22 pullups, and a 9:06 run, and they still say they don’t have any slots open. If they’re so overmanned, why release the movie now? Why not save it for when they need more people?

  • Tracy Hunter

    I will truly say your whole article today is one everyone should read. Whether they watch the movie or not! My involvement with the SPECWAR community was brief (shorter than yours, I was in BUD/S for 22 weeks. Classes 189 & 190 and while in X division I worked at the Dive Locker at Team 3 until I got orders to the Constellation). The sacrifice of the Team guys and their families is tremendous! The amount of time away from families alone is worth the UNDYING GRATITUDE of every American for as long as our nation stands. I love the quote from Chief Tecumseh, and appreciate your candor with the whole thing. And THANK YOU and all the Warriors in service yesterday, today and tomorrow as well.

    • Robert Brown

      Hunter, how you doing buddy? Hit me up on an email. Like to catch up. Last time I saw you was at the submarine base in Pt Loma, CA around 94. God Bless, rs

    • Craig Frizzell

      Hey buddy, nice to see you here. I liked what you had to say. Being that you and I went through the same class 189. I then went on to 191. Although I did not make it I look at my time there as very prescious because of what I learned my body and mind could do if pushed. I think every man that volunteers for that program is better than he was before he went in. Thank you to all those silent warriors. We really appreciate what you do for us and others.

  • Wayne King

    I’m still waiting for the rest of this page to load (the internet on this ship is beyond slow), but I wanted to comment on your choice of quote up there. That quote about “rough men” is most commonly attributed to George Orwell, and it’s not quite a real quote. Here’s a link:

    I’m hoping to see Act of Valor at our next port visit, if it’s being shown still.

    • The plaque hanging in a drying cage in BUD/s was the “rough men” quote and I’ll always see it as being attributed to Churchill as it was on the plaque when I read it daily. Your link states that it was allegedly Orwell, but also says there was no evidence of such too. You’ll enjoy Act of Valor and hopefully you’ll get a chance to get off that big turd on the sea and check it out! Thanks for your service!

    • Wayne King

      I understand, please forgive my ignorance; I was not aware of the BUD/S plaque. At any rate, thank you for the great write up. I didn’t realize that the entire cast of “Team Guys” were actual “Team Guys.” That’s pretty outstanding.

    • Wayne, no worries at all. Thanks.

  • Luis Barreto

    Does anyone know where the Tecumseh quote came from as in what is the original text? Thanks for the great write up Bryan, couldn’t agree more.

  • KKJ

    Damn Few… It was a great film, not for the acting but just for the message and perspective.

  • Josué

    thats why I really respect and love your way of loving those who have fallen for country. In my country it is not the same. Sad…. Not the same way of thinking. We have different cultures. But in terms of serving, I really prefer yours. Of course, like soldier, the same way of thinking each every day of our days: respect and remembering. But impossible to transmit the feeling to society.

    Best Regards.

    Spanish NCO.

  • Post

    I know about Michael Monsoor the other SEAL (“DMD”, but the story is declassed ), but I thought the SEAL shot in the eye was Mark Robbins. I think I heard that Ryan job lost his vision in an eye pro incident involving scope glass on deployment during combat operations but I may have that line crossed. In any event, sorry to hear your classmate Ryan crossed the Bridge. I had been following his story for a while. Truly an inspiring Team Guy with an unwavering Warrior Ethos.



    • Ryan suffered severe shrapnel injuries to his head on Aug 2, 2006 and lost his vision in both eyes from the gun fight. My son Marc Alan Lee stood up into the direct line of fire twice for Ryan and his actions granted Ryan 3 more years in which he married and fathered a daughter that he never met.(Ryan died in 2009 from complications from a surgery where the family won a lawsuit against the hospital for neglect.) After they medavac’d Ryan his teammates went back to the base. Their Chief came in informed them they just found 30 insurgents who had attacked him. Marc looked at his Cheif and said”Roger that…let’s go get em” One final time Marc would make the choice to stand into the direct line of fire sacrificing his life so his teammates could live. We will never forget our fallen heroes.

    • Adam

      Debbie-I recently read the story of your son. I am very sorry for his loss, but I hope you take solace in the fact that there are so many out there who value and appreciate his sacrifice (I certainly do). He will never be forgotten, and the story of his bravery and heroism will continue to spread.

    • Thank you Adam.

  • Sean

    Great perspective on the movie and what the viewer should actually focus on while watching it. I read a couple reviews before seeing it this evening, and I have to say that it far surpassed my expectations. It’s definitely one of the most realistic war movies I’ve seen in quite some time. It’s also refreshing to see a modern war film that doesn’t use the silver screen as a medium for some anti-war, or anti-American message.

    If you haven’t seen the movie yet, it’s definitely worth your time and money!

    • Eric Job

      This man has it right. SO2 Ryan Job was my Son. I miss him every day?

      Eric Job.

  • Fantastic write up Bryan…..I was at the Premier in Hollywood and watched it again on opening night last Friday in AZ. They did this one right..very emotional for me to watch as my son Marc Alan Lee was one of the fallen SEALs listed in the movie. I do wish they would have either frozen the frame with the names of the fallen or made them larger and on one column to give people the ability to read and remember each and every fallen warrior. HOOYAH Navy SEALs…..HOOYAH Marc Lee….God bless all of our troops. We will never forget!!! Thank you for your continued love and support! HOOYAH ITS!

  • Greg

    I just saw this movie yesterday. My thoughts are: while the SEALS in this film actually proved to be great actors, the movie is pure pro-American military propaganda which depicts “us” – “the good guys and gals” vs “them – the bad guys and gals.” This fits right into what the American military-industrial complex wants in order to maximize its profits. Toward this end, the American government, regardless of whether the Republicans or Democrats are in control, constantly searches for “enemies.” The movie reflects on analysis of WHY certain people around the world hate America. Additionally, the idea that the SEALS would go up against heavily armed Mexican drug cartel guys and suffer only one or two casualties, is, IMHO, quite unrealistic.

  • Wayne Cunningham

    I went with my dad to see this film last week. Middle of the day on a Tuesday and there were about 100 people there ranging in age from 5 to 85. No one left till the last bit of the credits rolled. No one made a sound throughout the film.

    This was an awesome movie that I cannot put my feelings about it into words that would do it justice.

    I feel every single American should see this, just to know what the Men and Women in uniform do everyday and what their families sacrifice to support them.

  • Cynthia Sutton

    I really found the ending credits educational.
    It taught me more about the Seals than I ever knew.
    I would like more military branches movies taken out of
    Hollywoods hand. I think it gives us a chance to see their stories
    I do not like most Hollywood stories because the do not respect the Military.
    The Military helps me sleep at night. When I donate to Veterns I taught my children
    now grown to thank them. I wish everyone would remember to thank them
    To all Military and their Families Thank you.

  • Dominic

    Great write up, I saw this movie about a week ago. My only comment is the above quote: “We sleep safely at night because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would harm us.” That wasn’t Sir Winston Churchill as far as I know but was apparently from George Orwell.

    Enjoy your weekend!

  • M. Black

    I appreciated this movie. I just wanted to add that I liked the support crews being depicted in a positive light, a rarely seen element in Hollywood.

  • Jon L

    I was part of Indoc for class 250 back in ’04. It was the first (and as far as I have heard, the only) class to try running Indoc with BUD/S and SWCC (I was SWCC side). 250+ trying to push through the mess hall was just shy of impossible. However, Michael Monsoor was part of 250 and I remember him, though with that many candidates and the fact I didn’t go BUD/S or make it through SWCC, I never got to know him very well. It floored me when I read about his death, but reading the MoH citation just made me feel honored to have been able to spend some time training next to and sharing life next to a true warrior. After watching Act of Valor, I immediately caught Monsoor’s homage at the end of the film, but it was actually seeing his name on the screen just about broke me right in the middle of the theatre. I may not have made it, but I’m damn proud and honored to have tried, and even more so having spent time in the presence of real warriors.

  • Julie

    I’ve seen the movie 6 times so far and cried every time. I have never been so proud to be American or of our armed forces as I was each time I’ve seen the movie. People keep harping about the acting. IT’S NOT ABOUT THE ACTING!! It is about what they do to keep us all safe. If I were a 20 year old male instead of a 58 year old female I would sign up today. MAY GOD BLESS THEM ALL and everyone who loves them.

  • Vaidas

    Great movie.
    I see only one annoying thing – russian language. Why nobody can find people who speak russian without accent… Only Dimiter Marinov (Kerimov), bulgarian actor, speaks practically without accent, but even he has some articulation issues and some words in his dialogue are grammatically incorrect…
    Despite the fact, it’s the best movie, about special forces, I’ve ever seen.
    Immense respect for the warriors of SOF.

    • Harv

      I got a real kick outta this film, brought back a bunch of old memories of the SPECWAR community. After retiring in 2001, I have never stopped missing it. I gotta ask if anyone here knows the guy that played the “Senior Chief”? Throughout the movie I couldn’t shake the feeling I knew him from someplace. Later it hit me..I’m pretty sure we served together in the P.I at Unit-1 sometime around 1990. At that time, I was deployed as Det Chief of the boat unit and this guy was an IS2 I think, not a SEAL, no beard, and more hair on his head then. His humor was the same back then, seeing it again in this movie was a hoot. Great write up to Mr. Black!

  • AbleArcher04

    Mrs. Lee, Mr. Job,

    I will make it a point to raise my glass along with everyone else and see to it that a toast is made honoring the bravery and sacrifice that your Sons have made on behalf of me and mine at the bar of  mcp’s during a trip in the coming few weeks.  

    As a Native New Yorker and first responder I had the honor and pleasure of meeting Lt. Murphy and getting to listen to him speak very briefly many years ago. I, like many others make it a point to pay my respects to him regularly as i’m sure many others do for yours Sons as well. 

    “I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom. ” A. Lincoln

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