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R e v i e w e d by B i l l G lo s e

Covert Operative Tells All A Former member of an elite subset of the already highly selective navy seals lauds his comrades in arms for their mental and physical stamina and their love of country.

You’ve seen it happen a thousand times before: Some big national or international incident occurs, and within months someone writes a book sharing the inside scoop about those involved. So when the elite SEAL Team Six, stationed in Dam Neck, Virginia, killed Osama bin Laden in a daring raid in Pakistan on May 1 of this year, it comes as little surprise that a book telling about the elite military team’s operations is now on the shelves—except this memoir had been in the publication pipeline for a year-and-a-half, and its summer release had been scheduled in St. Martin’s catalogs for some time. “[Everyone] is convinced that the [SEALs] and [my co-author and me] were in cahoots,” says former SEAL Howard E. Wasdin, 49, “so we could get some good play out of it. Not true. I am glad the book came out at about the same time, though. Hopefully it took some attention away from these guys, and people can focus more on the book instead of their identities.” Then, with a hint of amusement in his voice, he adds, “Hopefully, they’ll do something just as spectacular when my fiction book comes out.” Though Wasdin’s book does not mention the events of the Bin Laden raid, it does detail his 12-year Naval career and describe the SEAL operations in which he took part. After beginning his service in 1983 and serving four years as a search and rescue diver, Wasdin left his hometown of Jessup, Georgia, to try out for the SEALs (SEa, Air and Land commandos). He describes all the hellish details of that six-month-long training, which is meant to weed out the weak from the physically and mentally strong. Often mentioned throughout the book is the mantra, “The more you train in peace, the less you bleed in war.” Successfully completing the selection process, Wasdin was assigned to SEAL Team Two in Little Creek, Virginia. As a Team Two sniper in Operation Desert Storm in 1991, he gathered intelligence behind enemy lines and guided missiles onto targets with an infrared laser. At first, he thought he was in the most elite unit in the military; but then he learned the SEALs had a separate, secret unit tasked with counterterrorist operations—an even more elite subset of this already highly selective unit. So he put himself through yet another harsh selection process in 1992, which emphasized critical thinking and psychology as much as physical stamina. “The greatest misconception people have is that we are a bunch of brainwashed, wind-me-up assassins,”

says Wasdin. “The stuff [these people] do is difficult, and usually no one ever hears about it, and there are no accolades or pats on the back. These guys are doing it for love of country and to help others. SEALs are the biggest group of kind-hearted people I’ve ever met.” This compassion is evident during Wasdin’s deployment to Somalia in 1993 to capture warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid and his lieutenants, who were terrorizing the indigenous popu-

lation. While gathering intelligence from a CIA safe house in Mogadishu, Wasdin noticed that a neighbor boy's foot had been blown off by a landmine and gangrene had set in. Wasdin requested permission from CIA to help the crippled boy, but was denied. Disregarding orders, he and two teammates, one of whom was a medic, treated the boy, who would have certainly died without medical attention. That action in Somalia is told in explicit day-to-day detail from Was-

The Lab Rat Chronicles: A Neuroscientist Reveals Life Lessons from the Planet’s Most Successful Mammals By Kelly Lambert, PhD, Penguin, $15.00

Through observations, insights and life lessons gleaned from the planet’s most successful mammals, Kelly Lambert tells how rats can show us how to build social ties, foster a strong work ethic and even choose a mate. Some of the “whisker wisdom” includes new insights on addictive behavior and the importance of pregnant rats (and humans) consuming protein for proper brain development. An interesting and complex treatise.

Constitution Café: Jefferson’s Brew for a True Revolution By Christopher Phillips, Norton, $24.95

Christopher Phillips poses questions about our most fundamental rights and freedoms in an effort to engage all types of Americans in discussion. Inspired by Thomas Jefferson, who believed that the Constitution should be revised periodically to keep up with changing times, Phillips asks us to re-examine a document that has instead become for most Americans a sacred, immutable text. Constitution Café argues that it is in desperate need of some shaking up.

Shot Through Velvet By Ellen Byerrum, Penguin, $7.99

With newspapers folding across the country, fashion reporter Lacey Smithsonian’s latest story hits a little too close to home. Touring a failing Virginia velvet factory on its final day of operations, Lacey discovers the body of the factory’s hated manager. As Lacey looks into the story, she receives the murderer’s calling card—a velvet ribbon—and suddenly her job is not the only thing at stake; her life is as well. A fun, cozy mystery.

Crash Into Me: A Survivor’s Search for Justice By Liz Seccuro, Bloomsbury, $25.00

In September 2005, Liz Seccuro received an apology letter from the man who had raped her 22 years earlier when she was a freshman at the University of Virginia. Though she’d reported the rape to campus police at the time, the investigation hadn’t led anywhere. Two weeks after receiving the apology letter, Seccuro bravely began an email correspondence with her rapist to try to understand what happened and gradually found the courage to do what should have been done all those years ago—prosecute him.

din’s perspective, which includes the now infamous Army operation portrayed in the 2001 film, Blackhawk Down. Returning to the United Nations compound south of Mogadishu after SEAL Team Six: setting up a hidMemoirs of an den radio repeater Elite Navy in town, Wasdin was rolled into a SEAL Sniper convoy headed out By Howard E. Wasdin to capture Aidid. and Stephen Templin During the daylight St. Martin’s Press, $26.99 assault, two Blackhawk helicopters were shot down and the convoy rumbled back and forth through Mogadishu, getting ambushed and shot at every turn. Wasdin was shot three separate times, one of which nearly tore off one of his legs, but kept fighting until he ran out of ammunition and rescuing forces could reach them. For his actions, he was awarded the Silver Star, the military’s third highest decoration. In 1995, Wasdin was medically discharged from the Navy and bounced around several jobs before going to school and becoming a chiropractor. For a long time, he wanted to share his story with the public but was unable to due to the nature of his covert operations. He kept quiet until the gag order was lifted, and then discussed his story with co-author Stephen Templin, a former SEAL trainee who’d completed Hell Week but not the whole program. “We literally couldn’t write this book until after the CIA disclosed what we were doing at the safe house,” he says. “We had to wait until everything was declassified.” Although the CIA declassified the information in 2009 and Mark Bowden’s best-seller Blackhawk Down had already revealed the names of everyone involved, Wasdin used pseudonyms for the operators named in his book and blacked out their faces in its 16 pages of photos. “You never give up names and you don’t give up tactics and techniques,” he says. After years of being covert, the media whirlwind following Bin Laden’s death was surreal for Wasdin. And the trip down the rabbit hole isn’t finished yet. A deal has been inked to turn Wasdin’s story into a movie with Vin Diesel signed on in the feature role. “I just hope,” he says, “that anybody watching this movie sees Vin and thinks that I look that good!” V i r g i n i a

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Virginia Living - October 2011  

The October 2011 issue of Virginia Living is the tastiest yet, featuring our favorite pairings of cheese and wine, with every crumb and drop...