Less than a year ago, on a perilous night in Afghanistan, a rocket-propelled grenade struck a US Chinook helicopter causing a fiery crash that killed the 38 men on board, including 30 Special Operations troops. Twenty-two were members of a Navy SEAL Team. It was a devastating attack — the greatest loss of Naval Special Warfare (NSW) operators ever.
Although they are relatively small in number, these units are incredibly effective. As troops draw down in Afghanistan, the presence of Special Operations will continue. NSW’s mission is a global one, ranging from clandestine operations, enduring programs to humanitarian aid.
September 11, 2001 , found me on leave and contemplating retirement while on a boat in the Hudson River, watching helplessly as two planes crashed into the Twin Towers. With our country under attack, I immediately changed course and rededicated to further service.
Throughout the next decade, Special Operations manpower requirements nearly doubled while deployments quadrupled. The growing emphasis on a smaller footprint, targeted missions and efficient use of funds ensures this trend will continue.
Warrior dads are routinely gone for more than 300 days per year. I am reminded of a saying: “Never has so much been asked of so few for so long.”
The warriors signed up for this. Their families did not. As director of the Navy SEAL Foundation, I recognize their needs and sorrows. Our mission is to provide benevolence with a purpose.
Special Operations troops and families are giving much to our country. What do they need from us?
Wives and kids need grief counseling. Children need educational support. Surviving spouses need financial advice. And parents need special care, because they never forget losing their little boy prone to adventure.
Our returning warriors need medical care — equally for their invisible wounds.
They also need to know how to transition to a civilian workforce by leveraging their expertise. SEALs excel at problem-solving under pressure.
Special Operations families are caught in a perfect storm: as our country asks for more, the economy continues to struggle, education and medical costs skyrocket, and jobs continue to disappear.
This is where the Navy SEAL Foundation executes its mission and commitment of providing immediate and ongoing support and assistance to the NSW community and their families. Never before in our history, has a nation so heavily relied upon benevolence.
On July 3, I’ll be in Boston for a fundraising event at the Seaport World Trade Center benefitting the Navy SEAL Foundation and four other charities that help Special Operations families. Organized by the Fallon Family Charitable Foundation, I am grateful it has inspired many civic, political and military leaders to join our cause.
On that night, I know I’ll look across Boston Harbor to the airport where two fateful planes lifted off on September 11. Our nation rose out of the ashes and now stands stronger, more resilient and more dedicated. The Navy SEAL Foundation has also been forged through adversity. Because of this, we are committed to honoring our warriors and supporting their families.
Jim Smith is executive director of the Navy SEAL Foundation.