Dean sent me another article this week (I’m trying to write here, boss!) and jokingly asked me if I would like to consider changing the retired Marine sniper in my next novel to a Navy SEAL. According to this Washington Post article, – they are a hot commodity in the publishing world right now. Especially, in the romance genre. The last snippet on the bottom of page two is what sent both of us over the edge. “In the romance world, the competency of SEALs knows no bounds. ‘They are trained from Day 1 to notice the tiniest detail,… A man who can pick up on the smallest little nuance is bound to be able to please a woman, if you catch my drift.’”
Wow! Where can I get me one of those! Is there a part of SEAL training that they aren’t telling us about? I watch the Discovery Channel and I didn’t see that phase of training in the special. And just who the heck are the instructors for that? I somehow don’t see R. Lee Ermy screaming instructions at a SEAL candidate – if you catch my drift. And if the SEAL I take home doesn’t live up to this expectation, just how am I to get rid of this magnificent behemoth who can turn even the simplest object into a weapon? Will his failure to please me so emasculate him that he’ll turn on me with my curling iron? I could go on for quite some time, as I’m sure most of you could, with those types of questions. But, seriously, nothing like setting a guy up for failure!
Well, as always, I have a couple thoughts on the situation. The reality is that any time you are dealing with members of the Special Operations family, you are dealing with a very different group of people. These are not men who lack in confidence! These are the guys that if they say they are going to do it – do! Even if they aren’t the finest at something – they’ll make you believe they are. From street cops through the most elite of the operators, these men are trained to do a job and do it well. Those who can’t or won’t—generally don’t make it through the training.
I’ve met a few of these unique and interesting people in my time. No lies here – met and known are not the same thing. But I have sat and shared a beverage or two over the years with some of the following: SEALs, Green Berets, Rangers, Airborne, Marines, snipers, and cops as well as combat veterans from almost every conflict from the Second World War to the present. I have been fortunate enough to spend more than a few minutes with men who survived beach landings in World War II, fought in Korea, many Vietnam combat veterans, including one who survived having his position overrun, and finally several men who did tours of duty and survived attacks in Iraq. From the ground-pounders to the elite Special Ops troops, and the wrench turners to the pilots, I’ve tried to pay attention. I consider myself lucky enough to have been in the right place at the right time and had the opportunity to listen to these men talk, and to hear a small number of interesting and uncensored stories. I have also not been the least bit shy about asking some extremely personal questions of these men about their experiences.
That does not make me an expert. But what I can tell you based on my very limited experience is that none of these men wanted to be perceived as anything other than a man who did his job. They’re proud of who they are and what they’ve done, and in some cases, what they still do, and when they use the term hero, it is always about someone else.
What they should not be seen as is superheroes. Special Ops personnel are trained to perform in an environment that most of us pray we never have to face. But to assign super human characteristics to them is a dis-service that will leave these men standing on a pedestal they may not desire to be on. These guys get up every day, put on their gear, and they go do a job. They will suffer the same traumas to their body and to their soul that every other fighting man will suffer. Turning him into a superhero is simply placing an unrealistic expectation on him. Superman doesn’t show pain, suffering, emotional turmoil, or any of the one hundred other things that men who come home from war will deal with. He doesn’t suffer from PTSD, the after effects of concussion, nightmares, or flashbacks. The new expectation of this “super warrior” is that his training teaches him to be so “in the moment,” that he can walk in the door and leave all those things behind.
Fact: No one leaves it behind. The old saying, “That which has been seen, cannot be unseen!” is true. What almost all these men are capable of doing is compartmentalizing for periods of time in order to function. But eventually, every one of them will deal with their baggage.
I get it – it’s romance. A romance reader wants the hero to be “that guy.” Tall, broad, and handsome. Smart, brave, and protective. And when he’s done with all of that, he should be kind, caring, sensitive, warm, funny, and above all a great lover. It would be a huge bonus if he could cook, liked kids and dogs, and actually read a book. Are they out there? You bet! Is every SEAL, Marine, Ranger, Airborne, or cop one of them? Not even! But that’s who writers write about, because if your heroine is in danger – it is damned unlikely some fat-ass plumber is going to show up and save the day!
Now the simple fact of the matter is, I don’t know enough about how the SEALs or their teams work to write about them. That whole Navy thing is sort of beyond me – well, that and I get seasick watching Victory at Sea. I’m not currently acquainted with any SEALs or Green Berets, so I wouldn’t even try to go there in a book since I don’t have a fact checker. But, I know the Air Force and I have a multitude of friends who are Rangers, Marines, and Cops (both military and civilian), along with wrench-turners and pilots, and loads of combat veterans. I am a firm believer in the “write WHO you know” school of thought, so I’ll be sticking with my Marine in my upcoming story. Not being a romance writer – I happily leave the bandwagon full of SEALs to them.
That being said – I have no doubt that any one of those Cops, Marines, or Rangers, etc. (plus the SEALs and Green Berets that I don’t know) would be happy to be perceived as the superhero in your own romance novel. Just ask him if he’s the best and if he’s willing to give you the attention you so richly deserve. He’ll look at you with smoldering eyes as he tosses back a shot of Jack, and he’ll swear to you that he is just that guy. And given the chance – he’ll probably do his damndest to convince you. They’re confident that way.