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‘Act of Valor’ Movie, ‘American Sniper’ Book Spotlight Navy SEALs 50th Anniversary

NAVSPECWARCOM Commander Rear Adm. Sean Pybus finds 'red hot' media attention 'very different for us'

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“A motion picture starring active-duty Navy SEALs,” scream the movie advertisements for Act of Valor. Slated to open in mid-February, the new movie represents significantly increased media attention on a special operations element that has traditionally shunned the media spotlight.

In his Jan. 25, 2012, plenary address to this week’s “West 2012,” held in San Diego under co-sponsorship of the Armed Forces Communications Electronics Association (AFCEA) and United States Naval Institute (USNI), NAVSPECWARCOM Commander Rear Adm. Sean Pybus, USN, directed a slice of his comments toward the movie and the current media situation surrounding Naval Special Warfare.

Describing the media relationship as “red hot,” Pybus observed, “As community leader, it’s pretty hot in that kitchen right now. And it’s very different for us.”

Referring to “operations done” and “significant casualties suffered” by Naval Special Warfare over the past two years, Pybus noted, “We are getting a lot more media, and the spotlight continues to follow us. 2012 is also our 50th Anniversary of SEAL Teams in the United States Navy and so our intent throughout 2012 is to – for the most part – quietly celebrate that milestone and use that as a point of reflection, and in some cases celebration for the community. That draws press as well.”

“And then we have a movie coming out in just two weeks – Act of Valor,” he continued. “And I want to provide the audience with some background as to the ‘why’ and ‘wherefore’ of this particular movie.”

SEALs SWCC, Act of Valor1

A Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewman (SWCC) assigned to Special Boat Team (SBT) 20 navigates a rigid-hull inflatable boat while SEALs from a West Coast based SEAL team board a yacht for a scene in the upcoming film Act of Valor. U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Kathryn Whittenberger

“Five years ago we were having trouble getting sufficient numbers of high quality and high quality diverse recruits into the front door of our training center, BUD/S, which is right here in San Diego – in Coronado,” he explained. “We decided that perhaps a movie, perhaps a documentary, some film might draw those recruits to our front door. So it was decided, after talking with the Navy and having Navy support, that we would enter into an agreement with a production team in Hollywood to make a film. So, five years later, we don’t need recruits. We have a lot of people knocking on our door. But we are still interested in high quality and high quality diverse recruits. So the movie is ready to go. We had an agreement. We will carry out our part of that agreement. The movie will move forward. And we will look for opportunities to capture interest and recruitment – as will the U.S. Navy – from the movie. So that is what it is. I hope, personally, to be ‘one and done’ with the sanctioned movie business for a while. But hope is not a course of action and we will see what the future brings.”

“There will be other movies coming out,” he added. “There will be a book, American Sniper, which in a couple weeks’ time will be number one on the New York Times best seller list. There are numbers of other books coming out; some fiction and quite frankly, many fantasy. So you will have to determine which is which. But this is why I say our media brand, the ‘SEAL brand,’ out there is red hot.”

Referring to the SEALs who appear in the upcoming movie, Pybus said, “The decision was taken four years ago that, that would make the movie more real. And I think they have done a very good job. We directed them to do that – a handful of SEALs – and they did as ordered; not with great excitement, because they have other things to do. But at the time it was important enough that we had to get our recruiting sorted away – and they did a great job with that.”

Acknowledging that “most are still in the service today” and “doing normal jobs as per their career timeline,” he offered, “I talked to them two days ago – just to properly thank them again. And as this movie comes forward they are being asked to do a lot of things. At the moment we are not actively participating in the rollout of the movie. The directors, the production team, will roll that out. They would love to have the guys who helped make the movie help roll it out. But at the moment we’re taking a passive – a modest – position, acknowledging that it is a sanctioned movie and there are SEALs that are in it. And I think they bring value to it. …”

“I’m proud they did as they were asked to do,” he added. “It’s a good result. And they will be expected to do what they normally would be expected to do now – as mid-grade officers and senior petty officers now – and still doing great things for us. But I don’t want to make them Hollywood stars and they don’t want to be that.”

Pybus expanded to another media issue when an audience member asked his thoughts about the new book, American Sniper, by Chris Kyle, and “how true to reality” it was.

Beginning with professional praise for the author, whom he described as “very well regarded in our special warfare community,” Pybus expressed his own personal reservations about some of the book’s contents.

“I would like to think that your reputation as a Naval Special Warfare operator or enabler would be sufficient when you transition to civilian life … that you would be quietly proud of that and move forward as you transition into your next life,” he offered. “That certainly doesn’t always happen. I think some of our people have a story to tell and they want to tell it.

“But at the end of the day I prefer that they not, because I do think, even though that book was cleared through some department filters for security and probably meets the criteria for not revealing classified information, it does talk a lot about one particular capability we have. And everyone reads books, including our adversaries and potential adversaries. So I just do think that at the end of the day it tells more than I am comfortable being told. Others are more blatantly fiction or fantasy.”

Personal reservations aside, he reiterated his description of the author as “a good SEAL with a great reputation.”

By

Scott Gourley is a former U.S. Army officer and the author of more than 1,500...

  • I am always leery of Hollywood becoming involved with the special operations community because in many ways it has a manner of trivializing what our shipmates do. Moreover, it creates sensationalism, which more often than not is inconsistent with life in the real world. The success of our special operations community comes from the collaborative efforts of a great many dedicated individuals representing the Joint Services.
    Navy Seals bring a special set of skills to the fabric of Special Operations; those skills are but a subset of the total asset base needed to ensure that our nation can respond to forces or states that threaten our nation, and its policies around the globe. Navy Seals have served and continue to serve nobly. That devotion and professionalism is not exclusive. They are neither indestructible nor endowed with divine powers, they are simply professionals. The attraction to become a SEAL comes from a desire to serve one’s country, and to be part of an organization with immense talent and conviction. Most of which is lacking in Hollywood!

  • Robert F. Dorr

    I enjoyed reading of the on-again, off-again romance between the Navy special operations community and the Hollywood filmmakers. Some key questions are unanswered here — will the Seals who portray Seals in the film receive film credits in their real names? In my opinion, both Sean Pybus and Sal Palma are exaggerating the extent of security that is needed to protect legitimately and properly classified operations. In a free society the default should be openness. We need an open debate about when and how we use these forces. Recently, we used them in a rescue in Somalia that was in response not to an act of war but to a crime committed by criminals. The crime was a kidnapping for ransom and was neither an act of war nor of terrorism. Would the Seals have intervened if this kidnapping had taken place in Nairobi? In London? In Chicago? I would like to see more, not less, openness about the Seals and their work but a commercial movie made with government involvement is not the appropriate way to tell that story.

  • This film is definitely an extraordinary case. It’s not that Hollywood hasn’t had cooperation from DoD to make a film before, because Hollywood has been getting help from DoD for something like a century. And it’s not that active-duty personnel haven’t appeared in films before as extras or with even a little more screen time. But never, as far as I know, have active-duty military had so much screen time, been the main characters of a film as seems to be the case with this one. Even more surprising is that the SEALs and SWCC personnel in this film come from a community that is well known for operating in the dark and avoiding the spotlight. I’ve spent years not running sensitive stories, blacking out or blurring faces in photos, and using aliases or first names only in stories covering the special operations community to an extent that was probably overkill, such was my worry about violating operational security. So it’s a shock to see a film coming out where personnel who were then active duty apparently have significant face time on camera. I’m not making a judgment one way or another. I’m just saying it’s real different. As Rear Adm. Pybus pointed out, these SEALS and SWCC personnel were asked to do this, and I’m sure some of them did it quite reluctantly, as it went against their culture and their personal nature, but saluted and got on with it. I hope this ends up being something they are proud of being involved with and that they don’t end up taking heat for it or regretting it.

  • Totally awesome – so excited to hear this is being made into a movie. Can’t Wait!!! Bradley Cooper will do a great job. Hopefully the script does the book justice. RIP Chief Chris Kyle. Your story will live on forever. For now heaven is being protected by the most decorated sniper. Thanks very much for your service. Many prayers for your family