No Hero

No Hero Book Cover No Hero
Mark Owen, Kevin Maurer,
New American Library (NAL)
November 3, 2015

This is Mark Owen’s follow up to his first book – the semi-controversial No Easy Day: The First-hand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama Bin Laden. No Hero, is about some of his other missions. The non-headline-grabbing missions. There are some good leadership and management lessons provided. He talks about the critical role of communications.

We’ve learned, often the hard way, how to excel. Excelling means communicating with each other, testing, leading, listening, studying, and teaching, day after day, year after year. It means not just being able to trek miles through the mountains of Afghanistan carrying sixty pounds on your back, but also letting others call you out on your mistakes. And getting called out by your teammates is often harder than spending hours in the cold surf.

“Stay in your three-foot world.”

Staying in my three-foot world became a mantra for me. It is liberating once you let go of the things that you can’t control. It seems to work for just about any situation. The three-foot world helped me get through everything from climbing to skydiving to night dives where the only way you can keep your bearings is to focus on the glowing compass on your wrist.

Instead of focusing on the fear and being afraid, I have learned to focus on what I can control. I control my gear. I control my rehearsals, and I control my mind and my decision making.

It wasn’t until a couple years later, and the hooded box test, that I started to really think about how to manage stress. I learned there that the key was to first prioritize all the individual stressors and then act. I break it all down into the little things I can manage. The stressors that I can’t affect, I don’t worry about. The ones I can affect, I simply deal with one at a time. In a lot of ways, it goes back to BUD/S and the elephant.

Take what’s there, assess the situation, prioritize, and break it down into small tasks you know you can accomplish or eliminate or fix immediately.

Assess, prioritize, and act.

We were the “roof team,” which meant we provided overwatch from the high ground.

As I matured through my career, I learned communication was one of the most important things I could provide to leaders and subordinates alike.

Rangers think and plan from the top down. The SEALs think and plan from the bottom up.

I’ve heard one of my SEAL mentors say that there are rules about bitching. He said everyone has the right to bitch about a mission or job for five minutes. After those five minutes, you shut the fuck up and get to work.

We started tracking them via ISR, which is shorthand for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, which is what we call drones.

The AAR is one of the ways we fix mistakes. It was a time to ask questions and make sure we were doing the job right. AARs can get emotional, frustrating, long-winded, and even boring, but no matter what people think of them, they are absolutely critical.

The key is that we get as many players in the room as possible. The only way an AAR works is if everyone leaves their ego outside and comes in willing to take honest criticism.

We each wore different, usually mismatched uniforms; some operators wore beards; some had long hair.

Taped to the side of the tent wall was a poster-size piece of paper with the checklist for the AAR. Mission Planning Infil Actions on the Objective TQ [Tactical Questioning] Exfil Comms [Communications] Intel HQ Each of us took turns talking about our role in the mission. As a team leader, I would start by speaking for my team, and my guys would jump in if they had something to add. Everyone was not only free to talk, but encouraged to speak up.

Shoot, Move, and Communicate

We looked for SEALs who not only mastered those skills, but fit into our team. I never worried about guys on target. They knew what to do when the bullets started flying. My biggest leadership challenge was mentoring and teaching them what to do back in the team room.

I wanted the guy who asked himself every day the same question: How do I become an asset to the team?

We wanted guys who were always pushing, the ones who did something more than the basic job description. Everyone in our organization did what was asked of them, but we wanted the SEALs who did what was asked and then went out and found more work to do. That was being an asset to the team.

Our plans were always pretty simple, but I tried to give my guys a chance to shoot holes in it. I started with the basic questions. What are we missing? Does what the intelligence folks are saying match with what we are seeing? What were everyone’s responsibilities for the night? Which team would lead the assault? Everyone on the team had input, even the newest guy. I knew I definitely wasn’t the smartest guy in the room, and I had learned a long time ago to ask for outside opinions.

Part of the reason my teammates and I were so capable was we constantly tried our best to evolve.