Navy SEAL congressman pens book with 'American Sniper' author

Navy SEAL congressman pens book with 'American Sniper' author
© Courtesy of Zinke for Congress

For Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.), having the right military rules of engagement on the battlefield has become something of a mantra. 

He often says, "When you go to war, you have to make sure you have the right equipment, the right training and the right rules of engagement to win decisively."

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As a Navy SEAL commander of thousands of special operations forces in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004, during the worst of the Shiite insurgency, Zinke had to worry about those things all the time. 

Zinke said he saw, as technology moved into the battlefield, the temptation not only to monitor, but to control operations from afar.

"I saw the beginning of it, and how we transitioned from execution checklist to video, to now telemetry, to [unmanned aerial vehicles]," he told The Hill in a recent interview.

"And that's different from what we had previously. Our operations, more or less you reported an execution checklist by radio, but you were never controlled, you're always given a lot of latitude as the ground force commander and today, that's changed," he said.

"Those people that now are giving the authority to engage are political, they're not military," he said.

It's this perspective, as a Navy SEAL who served for 23 years on SEAL Team Six as a gold team commander, task force commander and a ground force commander, that will be captured in a new book coming this summer, titled "American Commander." 

Zinke is co-penning the book with the author of "American Sniper," Chris McEwen, who immortalized the story of Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL who was commonly known as the U.S. military's most lethal sniper. Zinke met McEwen through Kyle, who Zinke was a mentor to. 

Zinke says unlike Kyle’s book, his will be from a commander's view.

"Often times a book is written from the view point of the man at the point, and I've been the person at the point. I've been the person at the back of the train too," he said.

The book will touch on why it's so important to have the right training, equipment and rules of engagement. 

Zinke said restrictive rules of engagement have had a chilling effect on operations and can be a matter of life or death for troops. 

For example, he said sources told him that earlier this year when Army Green Beret Sgt. Matthew McClintock was killed in Afghanistan, air support and a quick reaction force — which provides backup and rescue to units in distress — was delayed due to bureaucratic hurdles and restrictive rules of engagement. 

Restrictive rules of engagement are limiting operations in Iraq against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria right now, said Zinke.

"In some cases before you are allowed to engage, you have to have host nation permission, or the ground forces commander ... has to ask for permission ... go back to the headquarters or host nation, or both," he said.

He says the net effect is that troops don't feel confident they will get backup if pinned down in a battle.

"When the troops on the front lines feel that they're alone, that you're not going to support them, that has an effect," he said.

Zinke stresses that the book is not about him and his life but rather about the SEALs and special operators he's served with, as well as American exceptionalism.

"It's just a story of American exceptionalism, what makes these magnificent troops — they're not well-paid, gone a tremendous amount of time, you know, what makes them do what they do? And the job they do is incredible," he said.

He said the book is also from the perspective of being a military father.

"My daughter is a Navy diver, and my son-in-law is an active duty SEAL, and ... during operations in the Middle East, I was deployed, my daughter was deployed, and my son-in-law were all deployed together," he said.

The book will also delve into a subject that's often hard for troops to talk about — the strain of deployments on the family back home.

Zinke said his wife is "probably the only person who's had her husband, daughter and son-in-law all deployed" but said there's been plenty of others with multiple children deployed, including some of his own staffers.

"When you deploy as much as the special forces are, it's a pretty big strain at home, and I felt it should be recognized," Zinke said.

Zinke said even when he returned home, he was often mentally back in the field, and sometimes what's "normal" can be blurred.

"What's normal? Is normal here, or is normal there?" he said. Often at home, he would think about whether his troops had the right training and equipment.

"Is it something I missed, is there something I didn't cover, is there a contingency I didn't think about?" he said. "I was always somewhere else.”

These things need to be addressed, he said, especially with leaders who are always asking for more special operations forces.

"All they talk about is special operations, we need more special operations troops ... there's a finite number of special ops troops, and special ops troops are not the solution to every problem," he said.

"There's a cost to every mission," he said.

Zinke recognizes it seems that more Navy SEALs are publishing tell-alls but says he will make sure his book does not reveal anything it shouldn't and that it's properly vetted.  

In fact, he said, "This is an example of how to write a book, that everyone understands that this is the way you do it."