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Terrorism expert Marcinko speaks to W. Valley students

Retired Cmdr. Richard Marcinko may have been talking predominantly to children, but many points went far beyond the level of a middle school civics class.

Marcinko, a renowned terrorism expert, highly decorated ex-Navy SEAL, innovative military strategist and Vietnam veteran often sought out by national media, spoke to students, faculty and administrators at West Valley Middle School recently.

Founder and commander of SEAL Team Six in 1980, the nation’s first and most elite counter-terrorism unit, and Red Cell, the nation’s only anti-terrorism unit, Marcinko assessed the “depth” of U.S. troops currently in Iraq. “If you look at what’s in Iraq right now, 40 percent of the troop level of 133,000 are reserves and National Guard,” he said. “What does that mean? It means we have a first-team, but no bench.”

Why the high number of reservists and National Guard units? “Now because the armed services are high-tech, and everybody’s a technician, you end up that everybody goes to war,” said Marcinko. “What does that mean to us in homeland defense? A lot of the people by occupational design are first-responders. They’re our policemen, they’re our firemen, they’re our emergency medical staffs that are over there as a reserve or National Guard. What does that do for your homeland defense and your safety? The law says they have to hold those (domestic job) spots open for when they come back.

“That means that a lot of our departments across the nation are running short-handed,” he added. “That means that we’re more vulnerable. And we have open borders, we have a 4,000-plus mile border with Canada and we have 999 agents on it. We have a 2,000-plus border with Mexico ... people are still getting through ... there is an affiliation between terrorism and drugs.”


By volunteering at age 17 to join the Navy, “I got a choice versus being drafted and being put in the Army,” said Marcinko, who later became one of the first Navy SEALs. “I quit high school at age 17 to join the Navy, but through the Navy I got my high school, and then I got commissioned.”

Dropping out of high school didn’t stop Marcinko’s path toward a barracks-full of military awards, including the Silver Star, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star with Combat “V” (Valor, five awards), Joint Meritorious Service Medal, Navy Commendation Medal with Combat “V” (two awards), Presidential Unit Citation (four awards) and the Good Conduct Medal (two awards).

But there’s one major recognition he hasn’t received — and that’s just fine with Marcinko.

“I do not have any Purple Hearts,” he said, adding about his Vietnam experience that “they did not hurt me because I hurt them first. That’s knowing the enemy. So, I’m proud that I don’t have a Purple Heart ... I’ve taken a lot of lives in my time, but it was survival. I survived, the mission was done, and I came home.”

As for his Vietnam views, “I thought it was a good war ... I learned more from the enemy more than any school I ever went to about combat tactics.”


Marcinko then compared the restoration of Iraq to the restoration of post World War II Germany. “The president said the war is over, but we haven’t taught them how to throw the switch,” Marcinko said. “When we went to Afghanistan, which was a first reach-out to counter 9-1-1 to counter Bin Laden, the Afghanis did not know why we were there because they had not heard about 9-1-1. Can you imagine anybody in the world that didn’t hear about that?

“They only have two kinds of fields out there, the poppy fields and the mine fields,” Marcinko added. “They don’t have newspapers and radios ... it’s hard for us to understand that, but there are countries like that.”

Iraq offers more hope.

“The Iraqis are a little better off because of oil, because of pipelines,” Marcinko said. “They have an infrastructure and have their cities, and they are closer in terms of civilization, to adapting. So it should be easier for us to turn right around and let them run themselves.”

Religious groups once oppressed and “held down” by Saddam Hussein in Iraq could offer an interesting dynamic to future Iraqi rule. “They have a chance to talk and think for themselves,” Marcinko said. “They are all going to jockey for power, there’s going to be a lot of village chiefs that are going to find a chance to voice their opinions and do what they want to do with their country.

“Don’t expect in a year or two years that it’s going to be very peaceful over there,” Marcinko added. “It’s going to take time. But it’s better to fight the bad guys over there than have them come here like 9-1-1.”

Marcinko warns of at least two Iraqi neighbors that could further destabilize the Middle East with increasing military might — including nuclear weapons.

As for Iran, “they are building nuclear reactors and have the capability of making nuclear bombs,” Marcinko said. “They were funded by the North Koreans, and we watch that.”

As for Syria, who borders Iraq to the west and has been considered a “state sponsor of terrorism” in recent decades by the U.S. government, they recently purchased “shoulder-fired missiles from our friends the Russians,” Marcinko said.


“You’re far too young to know what you want to do when you grow up,” Marcinko told the middle school students. “So get what you think you want to do, and study that. It’s just as important at your age to know what you don’t want to do as it is to say ‘I want to be something.’ You want to continue to progress in whatever you’re doing.”

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