|SEA SERVICES PEOPLE, PLACES
On 31 March 2008, Captain Roger Crossland, USN, spoke at a meeting of the Naval Order of the United States New
York Commandery. Captain Crossland is a SEAL who served in Vietnam. Subsequently, he acted as an advisor to the
South Korean Underwater Demolition Teams and participated in anti-insurgent reconnaissance missions in the
Philippines. He also founded and commanded Naval Reserve Team TWO. He is a graduate of Columbia College, the
Naval War College Command and Staff School. His writings include articles on unconventional maritime warfare and
a novel Jade Rooster about the Asiatic Fleet in 1913. The following is excerpted from his remarks.
I was recalled on December 7th 2001, a few months after 9/11. If you are in the Navy and you get a call
on December 7th, there is only one answer. So, first I got sent to the northern Arabian Gulf which is on
the coast of Iraq. We weren't at war with Iraq - - we wouldn't be at war with Iraq for at least another
year. Saddam was smuggling oil. There was a blockade but he needed money and he was getting oil out
of the country using these little rickety oil freighters. We had to identify them, board and seize them
before they took a hard left turn into Iranian waters. We didn't want to also get involved with Iran.
We would only have a few minutes to board and seize the oil tanker before it would turn into
Iranian waters. They had their own surprises for us - - spikes welded into the hulls to puncture our boats;
the ladders removed from the bridge so that you could not get from one level to another outside; the
doors would be welded shut; barbed wire concertina on the bridge. It was no easy task to scale and
board these ships and take control. We had to get on and take control or if we could not take control, get
off, in a very short period of time.
There were several ships that had Al Queda connections and we boarded those periodically and
searched them. [Sometimes, the search required the use of a sledge hammer and so] the captains were
very unhappy when we came aboard.
[Among the other tools employed on these searches was] a power saw. This is like a chain saw but
instead it had a big circular diamond blade. If we had to get into a ship, that would be one of the ways to
get in. But, if we had to do it in five minutes, that is not going to work.
[The SEALs used 11 meter rigid inflatable boats (RIBs)]. They were inflatable around the rim, the
hull was fiber glass. They have mounts that can handle two 50 caliber machine guns, two M-60s and an
M-19, which is a 40mm grenade launcher that when you crank it lobs the grenades in.
This area [around the Shatt al Arab oil terminals] at night was like Grand Central Station - - dhows
all over the place. Any one of those could have had a machine gun and opened up on us and we would
not have known the difference. At night, the dhows are all monochromatic. All you see are the black
shadows coasting by.
We were working off of an Australian ship and there was a woman sergeant in charge of
coordination with the SEALs. Just as we were leaving on my first time out, she came running down with
a bundle of something. What is so important? We all stopped. She pulls out a Tupperware bowl. "Sir
would you like a brownie?" I can't have that. I have to write a report and if the American public finds out
our fighting men are having brownies . . . . I cancelled that.
Afghanistan used to be a Naval War College problem. Afghanistan, logistically, is a hard place to get to.
Baghram and Qandahar, where I was, is a mile up and those are low land cities. Then, you get up into
the mountains which are 10,000 feet plus.
In New York, people speak differently than in Nevada but it is not a whole new language. In
Afghanistan, all the major cities speak Dari, which is a Persian dialect because the Persians have rolled
into Afghanistan over many centuries many times. So, the sophisticated culture speaks Dari. The people
in the hills speak a dozen different languages and cannot understand Dari.
When the U.S. came in in October 2001, there were two factions fighting. There was the Northern
Alliance and the Taliban. They were in sort of an equilibrium. They were in a stalemate fighting at about
World War I level. They were taking immense casualties due to the way they were fighting which was
very similar to World War I. They just slammed into each other at close quarters and fought and fought
and fought. Army Special Forces went in with laser targeting devices and tipped the scale. Suddenly, the
Northern Alliance had air cover and American air cover.
The Green Berets had laser targeting devices, which looked like rifles. What would happen would
be the Taliban and the Northern Alliance would engage. The Green Berets would be a few yards back
and they would beam their laser targeting at what they wanted destroyed. A Navy or Air Force plane
would lob a bomb into the air and it would follow the laser. The Afghans did not understand any of this.
They never saw the planes. All they saw was the Green Berets with their special ray guns. So, we were
I was called in for Operation Anaconda which was one of the most ambitious early operations of the
war. Anaconda being to crush and envelop like a snake crushing its prey. Special Operations SEALs
were put on the peaks of all the mountains. Those peaks were high - - 10,000 feet. So, there were a lot
of problems with frost bite, pulmonary edema, exposure. Everybody had been called in thinking they
were going to be fighting in the desert in the warm climate and here they are put on the mountain peeks.
We had ten other countries involved in our task force. The Canadians were the best equipped who
brought the most gear.
It was our job, amongst others, to look down from those mountain peaks and see after the initial
contact which way the ants were going away from the conflict hoping to follow them after the collision.
That is what we were expecting. What we found was a cultural difference. As soon as there was a
clash, the Taliban, instead of fragmenting and going away from the conflict, would call out more and
more. More would just keep coming. They all wanted to be on the 50 yard line, right in the center of
battle. That was the way they initially fought. If you were to be a brave man, you had to be seen right
up in the front shaking your rifle at the enemy. So, they were taking great casualties. They were not
going anywhere, they were feeding right in. Unfortunately, our Afghans were outnumbered. Behind
them was the101st Airborne and the 10th Mountain Division. So, when they saw our guys behind them,
they sort of said: "Maybe we don't want to be right up front on the 50 yard line."
When I was going in, I was going in by myself so I had to be self-sufficient. They gave me a "blow
out kit" which is a first aid kit for getting shot. A special radio, special maps and a whole lot of
passwords. There was also a duress word - - a code word that you are given so that if you are captured
and they are holding a gun to your head and they force you to make a transmission, you work that word
into the conversation.
I was feeling very expendable. They gave me a 9mm and several magazines. I told another SEAL
officer how I felt expendable and he said: "If you were expendable, they just would have given you a
couple of rounds."
The altitude is so high that the only helicopters in Afghanistan were Chinooks. They had problems
figuring out fuel, weight and lift.
Why are Navy guys and Marines in Afghanistan? The Marines and the Navy were already in the
Gulf at the time of 9/11. Ships are just floating warehouses and the Marines are set up to go anywhere
and stay there for 60 days. So, while you might think that Afghanistan is a prime Army AO, to establish
an American presence first, you have to send in the Marines and the Navy and that's how we happened
to be there.
CAPTAIN ROGER CROSSLAND:
RECOLLECTIONS OF A SEAL IN
IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN
Edited by Richard H. Wagner
(Originally published by the Navy League of the United States,
New York Council in The Log, Spring 2008).
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