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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Friday — April 30, 2004


SEAL of approval

Ketchum writer documents the warrior elite

Express Staff Writer

Navy SEAL training is one of the most brutal tests of physical and mental stamina in the world. For more than a year, trainees spend most of their time feeling either cold, wet and exhausted, or hot, dehydrated and exhausted. During one particularly daunting period known as Hell Week, they spend five continuous 24-hour days at almost maximum physical output. Over the five days, they are granted about four hours of sleep.

Author Dick Couch examines Navy SEAL training in his newest release.

Those who don’t drop out during Hell Week—and many do—go on to land warfare training. One land warfare exercise involves a 13-mile run across the California desert in over 100-degree heat, carrying a 60-pound pack. No walking allowed.

What is the point of forcing men to undergo such agony? And—most perplexing--why would anyone want to do it?

Former SEAL and current Ketchum resident Dick Couch addresses those questions in a recently released book called "The Finishing School," a detailed examination of the Navy’s special forces training, from start to finish. It is a sequel to a previous work of non-fiction called "The Warrior Elite," in which Couch looked at the early phases of SEAL training.

He is also the author of five novels, all of whose action-packed plots deal with military matters and current affairs.

Couch’s non-fiction books will appeal mainly to those with an interest in the military. However, they have a message for the general reader as well—that in any endeavor, you can go far beyond your expected limits.

The Navy SEALs (sea-air-land commandos) are part of the U.S. Special Operations Command, which includes the Army Rangers and Green Berets, and the Air Force Special Operations Command. Special-operations commandos are generally older, more experienced and more highly trained than the average soldier. They are sent on specific, non-conventional missions such as ambushes, demolitions and rescues. Many now serve in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As to the first question—the point of such exhausting training--Couch points out that once in combat, the men need to know they have already done something even more physically punishing than what they are now enduring.

"You also know the guy next to you has," he said in an interview. "You know he will die before he will let you down."

The Finishing School By Dick Couch, $25, Crown Publishers, 288 pp.

As to the second question—the motivation—Couch said young men’s stated reasons for enduring SEAL training are varied. Though they want to serve their country, he said, few do it out of a sense of super patriotism. Instead, they have more personal motives. All are very goal-oriented, and almost all come from homes where values and commitment were held in high esteem.

Interestingly, he said, there is nothing physically remarkable about most of them.

Couch, 60, knows his subject well. He graduated from the U.S. Navel Academy in 1967 and commanded a SEAL platoon in Vietnam, where, he said, he led 49 combat missions, most at night in Viet Cong-controlled territory. He later spent four years in the CIA as a maritime operations officer. He remained in the Navel reserves until 1997.

In 1990, he started writing books. He said he "stumbled onto" something that readers and editors were looking for.

"I wrote a book about SEAL team operations and there was nothing else like it out there," he said.

Now, he said, he can crank out about 2,000 words a day.

His fifth novel, called "The Sampson Protocol," will be released this fall. Its plot involves a scheme financed by Saudi money to develop bio-terror weapons in Africa. The good guys are "a non-profit organization that projects lethality." That is, a group of mercenaries with a conscience. The book examines the question, When is it ethical to use lethal force?

Due to his expertise on shadowy military matters—and to an active publicist—Couch has been invited to appear on several television talk shows. Most recently, he appeared Monday, April 19, on Fox’s "The O’Reilly Factor." Couch said the friendly demeanor that host Bill O’Reilly projected while chatting before the show changed abruptly once they were on the air. O’Reilly peppered Couch with questions—accusations, really—about the lack of government oversight of the training given to the personnel of American private security companies operating in Iraq.

You take some lumps on a show like that, he said, but you get the kind of publicity for your book that money can’t buy.

Couch’s experience as a Vietnam veteran and as a continuing student of military events gives him a well educated perspective on the Iraq War. He said he sees few parallels to Vietnam. The Vietnamese, he said, never attacked the United States. He sees the war in Iraq as part of an effort to eradicate terrorism throughout the Middle East.

"If we don’t respond, we will continue to be attacked," he said. "If you want to fight terrorism, you’ve got to create an Arab democracy.

"Is it a quagmire? To the extent that they fight back, yeah."

Couch believes that like in Vietnam, the average Iraqis aren’t helping the democratic cause much because they fear that once the United States pulls out, violent, anti-democratic elements will seize power and seek revenge.

The main parallel he sees is the divided American opinion.

"I believe the issue’s in doubt," he said. "It’s a test of wills and we may not measure up."


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