Why is the Navy harassing a SEAL who wants to honor his canine partner?
The U.S. Navy hasn't fared well recently, judging by news stories. In short order, it faced a major controversy when a U.S. Navy SEAL team operator was charged with war crimes. Taking a rare step, President Trump intervened in the matter. Most charges were dropped, and the accused was allowed to retire with his pension. This resulted in the resignation of the secretary of the Navy. Next, the USS Theodore Roosevelt, deployed in the Pacific, suffered an outbreak of COVID-19. Its captain broke the chain of command and appealed directly for assistance, fearing contamination of his entire crew. That matter remains under review by the secretary of defense in the aftermath of its handling by the then–acting secretary of the Navy, who also resigned. Third, the Navy is also at the front of the current COVID pandemic with two hospital ships engaged in support of the effort, and a new acting secretary, James McPherson, has been appointed. The Navy has its third leader in less than a year — not ideal for any large organization.
The Navy faces challenging times, although McPherson, with impressive credentials and experience, certainly seems up to the task.
If all this isn't enough, the Navy has now decided to go after a dog — a wounded combat hero at that. Last month, a new book, No Ordinary Dog, by Will Chesney, was released. Chesney, a retired Navy SEAL teams member, was a military dog-handler who, with his dog Cairo, took part in hundreds of missions, including the 2011 secret Operation Neptune Spear against Osama bin Laden. The book describes the incredible bonding of handler and dog, and Cairo's integral role in the bin Laden mission and others. The book was vetted for classified material and cleared, and redactions appear in the text.
Yet the Navy has issued a cease and desist order because an image of the Trident, the coveted badge earned and worn by Navy SEAL team operators, appears on the book's jacket cover design. Obviously, trademark laws are important to prevent ill gotten gains by illicit use of government assets. But is there no room here for judgment and proportionality?
There is no shady operator here chasing a fast buck selling knockoff Tridents. This is a story of heroism, to inform readers of Cairo's valor under fire and bring recognition to the military canines that do so much but are barely recognized for it, implying that perhaps they should be. Cairo has passed on now, but that should not matter. The author, who was also seriously wounded, is devoting his retirement years to assisting combat veterans who have sustained head injuries. Profiteering is not close to being an issue here.
Of course, Cairo is not a human being and doesn't wear a Navy uniform to which the Trident and awards for valor are pinned. But does that really make a difference? Like other members of the SEAL teams, Cairo underwent intensive selection screening, completed rigorous training, obeyed orders, and executed dangerous missions. The Trident on the book cover identifies Cairo with the Navy SEAL teams and, in a symbolic way, allows him, deservedly, to "wear" it. Is this so wrong?
Given the current issues, should resources be directed to branding this heroic and poignant story as illicit? There are numerous books out there that display Tridents. Have the thousands of military surplus shops, toy stores, t-shirt-producers, gun show–promoters, etc., many of whom produce and sell items that include Tridents or images of them, been served with cease and desist orders? Where does this end? This is about a U.S. Navy SEAL team member who earned the Trident and bled for the country, not some wannabe. He writes how his dog did more than enough in the service of the country, including getting wounded, to be entitled to "wear" it as well. It's a very positive story.
Perhaps officials have missed this, but, truth be told, the book shines an enormously positive light on the Navy and is highly likely to boost its image and aid recruitment. Newly appointed acting secretary McPherson has a plateful of issues before him. Dimming this light should not be on his list.
Bill Semos is a retired teacher, served in the armed forces, and is a dog-lover.