SEAL! — From Vietnam’s Phoenix Program to Central America’s Drug Wars, by Lt. Commander Michael J. Walsh, USN (Ret) and Greg Walker

SEAL! — FROM VIETNAM’S PHOENIX PROGRAM TO CENTRAL AMERICA’S DRUG WARS
by Lt. Commander Michael J. Walsh, USN (Ret) and Greg Walker
(Pocket Books, 1995; 304 pp., $6.99 — ISBN 0671868535).

“SEAL!” was authored by Lt. Commander Michael J. Walsh, a retired U.S. Navy SEAL, and co-authored by Greg Walker, a historian and former U.S. Army Ranger. This book covers many of the experiences and exploits of Michael Walsh, who served for 26 years in the Navy, 23 years of which were served as a SEAL. Walsh was commissioned an ensign after serving 13 years in the enlisted ranks. He proved you needn’t be big to be a warrior, as he was only 5’4” and weighed about 125 pounds. Originally from Boston, Walsh was one of seven children, whose parents were both in the military during WWII.

Walsh’s book describes SEAL training which included three phases: Basic Underwater Demolition (BUD/S), the Frogman phase and the SEAL Basic Indoctrination (SBI). After this lengthy training, Walsh served five six-month tours in Viet-Nam. At the high point of SEAL operations in Viet-Nam, about 300 SEALs were in country, comprising 14 platoons and those SEALs who served as advisors to the Provincial Reconnaissance Units.

Much of the book centers on Walsh’s Viet-Nam service as a SEAL. (He had also served one tour in Viet-Nam prior to becoming a SEAL). His first tour as a SEAL was spent operating in a platoon. He participated in many raids versus the Viet Cong. In one raid he fought a VC general hand-to-hand, finally killing him with an AK-47.

Starting in 1969, Walsh entered the CIA’s secret Phoenix Program — created, funded and operated by the CIA. Its main mission was to gather intelligence, neutralize the Viet Cong Infrastructure (VCI) and destroy its command and control structures. To do so, Provincial Reconnaissance Units (PRU) were formed by the CIAs recruitment of mercenaries — some were former VC who proved very effective against the VCI. SEALs were advisors to the PRU throughout the 16 provinces in IV Corps, the Mekong Delta region. Walsh served as an advisor to the PRU; the “advisors” went on all the PRUs combat operations. Walsh took part in 50 “snatch” operations, which were actually kidnaps of key VCI personnel for intelligence purposes.

After five tours in Viet-Nam, Walsh served in several other countries, including Panama, Bolivia, Ecuador, Grenada and Lebanon. His duties in these countries involved training, intelligence, surveillance and some combat operations in Panama and Grenada.

“SEAL!” is sprinkled with salty, colorful language, or “SEAL talk.” It is a serious book, but at times humor is used as a relief valve: When Walsh joined the Phoenix Program, another SEAL warned him of CIA men. Walsh’s friend said that a CIA man can shake your hand and pee in your boots at the same time.

There are a few errors that should have been caught. The U.S. M-16 assault rifle is listed as a 5.56 caliber, rather than a 5.56 millimeter. Its caliber equivalent is .223 caliber. Hoi Chanhs are referred as Chieu Hois. Chieu Hoi was the name of the Vietnamese “open arms” program. Its internees were Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army personnel who turned themselves into the Government of Viet-Nam (GVN), the then legal government of South Viet-Nam. These former VC and NVA were name Hoi Chanhs, not Chieu Hois. Also, a male military intelligence colonel in Panama is stated as “Margarita” Cruz. Margarita is a female given name; the male version is “Margarito.”

Nevertheless, “SEAL!” is packed with good information on SEAL training, weapons, equipment, operations and missions from the 1960s to 1991 when Commander Walsh retired. This combined with Walsh’s combat experiences make the book well worth reading by military personnel or civilians. Additionally, it helps fill the gap of a little known and successful part of the U.S. involvement in South Viet-Nam’s war against Communist North Viet-Nam.