That was just one nugget of wisdom about the famed military organization imparted by retired Navy SEAL Tom Fisher at Torrey Pines Rotary Club’s Sept. 11 weekly meeting.
“Success isn’t measured by individual success, it’s only measured by the team’s success,” said Fisher, outlining the ethos of elite SEAL special-forces teams, which have evolved from World War II underwater demolition squads.
“You either win or lose as a team,” Fisher said, noting prospective Navy SEALs endure an initial six-month training stint, which has a 75 percent attrition rate. That experience, he said, “does not develop warriors,” but rather “selects, reuses, rebuilds and molds young men into the very essence of a teammate. And in so doing, you learn to put team — and mission — ahead of self.”
Being part of a cohesive unit is so important to the SEALs, in fact, that the organization even refers to itself as “the teams,” Fisher said.
The first two U.S. Navy Sea, Air, Land teams were formed in January 1962. They were stationed on both coasts, one at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado.
Navy SEAL teams are trained, among other things, in hand-to-hand combat, high-altitude parachuting, underwater demolitions and foreign languages. The SEALs’ first missions, which consisted of deploying from submarines and carrying out beach reconnaissance, were directed against communist Cuba.
“How many of you have heard the expression, ‘Failure is not an option?’ ” Fisher asked Rotarians. “That’s not an expression the SEALs created, but it’s useful in emphasizing what we are involved in.”
Fisher brought along a copy of the page-long SEAL ethos, a mission statement that took many years to develop. Excerpts from the SEAL ethos describe a SEAL as “a common man with uncommon desire to succeed. Forged by adversity, he stands alongside America’s finest special operations forces to serve his country, the American people and protect their way of life. … My nation expects me to be physically harder and mentally stronger than my enemies. … We demand discipline. We expect innovation. … Brave men have fought and died building the proud tradition and feared reputation that I am bound to uphold. In the worst of conditions, the legacy of my teammates steadies my resolve and silently guides my every deed. I will not fail.”
Though SEALs are bound by tradition, they are not resistant to change, said Fisher.
“We embrace change,” he said. “Change presents challenges. It creates opportunities. We rely very heavily on our own adaptability. Finally, change forces us to hone our skills, to be one step ahead.”
Training is another constant in the SEAL ethic.
“Training is the most crucial element of our success, our mind set,” said Fisher, noting every SEAL goes through the exact same training, which, though extremely physical, he characterized as “90 percent mental” in terms of what’s required to be successful.
“What once seemed impossible is not necessarily impossible at all, if you have the right training and you form a team with the right people,” Fisher said.
Though subordinate to the team in Navy SEALs, individuality is respected nonetheless for its potential and what it “brings to the game,” Fisher said.
“We recognize that if you bring an individual’s strengths to the team and you synergize, that you get one hell of a team,” he said.
Team bonding and mind set is “inculcated, lived day by day” for SEALs, said Fisher, who noted the idea that teamwork and “the whole being greater than the sum of its parts” is not only applicable in the military but to “any organization.”
Torrey Pines Rotary Club, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, meets every Wednesday at 11:45 a.m. at Rock Bottom Brewery, 8980 Villa La Jolla Drive.
For more information, visit www.torreypinesrotary.org.