Dalton Fury is the nom de guerre for retired Delta Force commander and NYTimes best-selling author of Kill Bin Laden: A Delta Force Commander’s Account of the Hunt for the World’s Most Wanted Man. His second book, Black Site: A Delta Force Novel, will be released Jan 31, 2012 and can be pre-purchased online (a great pick up if you get some Amazon gift cards this Christmas). Among multiple accomplishments, he was also the military advisor for the just-released Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.
Recently I had the extreme privilege of interviewing Mr. Fury on his career as a writer and military operator. Here is a transcript of that interview.
Jeffrey Denning: When you were in Delta Force, were any of your friends and neighbors aware of what you did for a living? If not, how difficult was it to live, in essence, a double life? And while you’re at home, do your neighbors know what you do for a living, or do they just assume you’re in one of the SF Groups at Bragg?
It’s ridiculous to think that you can serve in a Tier 1 unit like Delta or ST6 and not have friends that know you are there. Your buddies before you were selected typically remain your buddies even when your name is removed from the Army’s official roles to operationally protect your identity. It’s just not that big of a deal and your friends are usually supportive and happy for you.
Balancing profession and family is no different in Delta than any other unit in the military. You may have been first through the breach on a target in Fallujah 24 hours ago and took the million dollar shot, and now staring at a stack of bills that need to be paid, worrying about the leak in the roof, while struggling to check 6th grade math homework. It’s this normalcy, the innate human desire to simply be a good husband and father, not wanting to let your family down just as much as your teammates – that keeps things in perspective.
Very rarely does the neighborhood know a Delta operator lives nearby. Operator families typically keep together and are resistant to outsiders simply as an operational matter. Hard to keep the secret at a backyard barbeque or game of poker with neighbors. Unit members, including their spouses, are trained in specific techniques to conceal membership in Delta. It usually starts with changing the subject. Operators don’t wear military uniforms at home, don’t advertise their military service on their truck bumpers, license plates, Facebook, or in the flower beds, and are generally just considered private citizens who simply shun block parties. They aren’t necessarily rude introverts by nature, but bottom line, regardless of the nosey neighbor, your best line of defense is to never leave your cover story.
Former unit members busting caps in LA with Forest Gump. L to R: Dalton Fury, Tom Hanks, Pete Blaber, and Sean Walker. (Photo courtesy of Dalton Fury)
JD: Since there’s not a lot known about what specific advanced training Delta operators go through, some have asked you if you receive training that teaches you how to control your nervous system and like reactions? Is that even possible? And will you describe how does your innate physical and physiological makeup impact the way you process emotion? Are you, at the height of your abilities, very dialed into your feelings? Somewhat?
I never received any training in how to control my nervous system and reactions. I was born with that, as was everyone else in Delta. Like in any profession, some guys are more Jack Bauer and Jason Bourne than others. Some are better working near teammates; some are more comfortable operating alone. We get nervous and we react, just like every other human being. I wouldn’t characterize any of us as being dialed in to our feelings rather dialed in to our commitment to the nation and to each other. Emotions on target are dangerous. When your buddy drops like a rag doll next to you, uncontrolled emotions can compromise the mission, put the rest of the force at greater risk, and potentially create an international incident. There are no special emotions instructors at Delta, but there is a tried and true, very-unique selection and assessment process that is historically very accurate about the type of guy that will enter Delta’s ranks.
JD: When it came to your mission, to just missing Bin Laden — can you describe what you and your fellow soldiers were feeling at that moment?
At the time we left Tora Bora, we had no idea whether or not he was dead or had escaped. The battlefield was just too massive to comb with a few dozen troops. Once the muhjahideen declared victory we were ready for the next mission. Collectively, we harbored a nagging feeling of operational failure as we didn’t have UBLs body. Nothing we could do accept wait to hear if the Green Berets that came in to conduct the SSE (sensitive site exploitation) after we left had any luck finding his remains. There were other high value targets on our list so we didn’t waste a lot of time worrying about it.
JD: How long did that take to get over?
About half of my men believed UBL had been buried in a cave under the massive bombing. The other half believed he escaped. Personally, I didn’t start second guessing my command decisions until after Nov 2004 when I became sure that UBL had survived the battle of Tora Bora. In context though, it’s easy to put that failure behind you when you are chasing guys like Saddam Hussein or Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. We weren’t short on work.
JD: What’s the emotional fallout once you leave and return to civilian life? Did you suffer any feelings of loss or depression? If so, how did you handle it?
I don’t know a single former Delta operator that has not felt some level of emotional pain once he drives out of the compound and sees the gate in his rearview mirror for the last time. You go from rock star to rock bottom in a split second. It’s that powerful – fanatically committed teammates, the global mission, chasing our nation’s most high valued targets – it’s an emotional hard on that every kid that ever bought a toy machine gun or played a game of ‘Cowboys and Indians’ would be proud to have when he grows up. A few years go by and you come around to the real world, but your perspective on life has totally changed. Things like family, contributing to society in some positive way, memories of fallen buddies are front-centered on your mind. Much less so for things like Facebook and politics.
JD: Does the military have enough support services in place for this brand of elite warrior?
I assume so. You can’t log in to your email without having a message or two from some helpful organization for veterans. I think the military has done this very well, particularly in facing the suicide rate, maimed service members, and traumatic brain injury problems. Generally though, if asked this question ten years ago I would have said elite warriors aren’t interested in being counseled for things that the counselor has no experience in just as they aren’t interested in medals or promotions. It’s not arrogance; it’s just a characteristic of the ilk of men who find their way into one of the Special Mission Units like Delta or ST6. But today, after seeing the extraordinary effects of PTSD and TBI on many former mates and soldiers, my attitude has completely changed. Most of used to respond to a swift kick in the ass from our wives. But look at a guy like Tom Spooner who you interviewed not too long ago. He suffers from both PTSD and TBI now. Tom was in my assault troop in Afghanistan in the early days and just retired after 40 months in combat in the past ten years. Tom and his brother Scot, who own Invictus Alliance Group, have the support of incredibly loving families. But now we need professional help too – but still don’t need the medals.
JD: Yes, the Spooner brothers are extraordinary warriors. Readers can check out Tom Spooner’s interview on my Warrior SOS blog. Do you think mental toughness can be learned, or do you think you’re born with it?
I think you can be born with it, but if you aren’t placed under mentally, physically, and spiritually stressful and chaotic situations consistently than you can never develop it to the level you need to perform to the high standards required in Delta, especially when you hear the cry for “MEDIC!” . Selection is an ongoing process, and to remain one of the selected you can’t be wanting for mental toughness. Delta discipline is loving to do even the things you hate to do but knowing you have to do it to be the very best.
JD: What do you think made you guys so mentally tough?
Never gave it much thought. I think we simply love our country, hate to lose, and think there are lot more important things in life besides just what makes us comfortable or content. My father instilled this in me from an early age and is still around to tighten my shot group occasionally. The high expectations of your teammates are very powerful as well. In a crisis, they want answers, they want decisions, and they want action.
JD: When you’re serving, do you think of death as an actual possibility, or has your training left you guys well-prepared that it seems like a far-off concept?
Delta operators are human, not robots. You never know how a guy will react until the shooting and dying is for real. In Delta’s ranks, your first firefight will be your last if you dwell on your own immortality. Extremely realistic training and love of teammates insulates an operator from the idea of dying. Before the helicopter flares and the fast ropes deploy, some turn to God and some turn to thoughts of family, but since we don’t know for sure which one we we’ll see next, we all turn to our rifles and focus on the mission.
JD: Describe the biggest difference in your life, then and now.
Depended on by the nation to depended on only by my family. Pressure to perform isn’t necessarily any lighter though.
JD: On a lighter note, I know you still spend some time on your private range back home, and that you legally carry in your state, so what is your favorite gun these days?
My two favorites are my Marlin 30/30 lever action that keeps me company in the deer stand as my daughter and I wait for the big one, and my Springfield .45 1911. I prefer iron sites when hunting to force better concentration and give the game a chance if I’m out there flapping. Old habits are hard to break and it’s hard to beat the feel of a full size 1911 wrapped with skateboard tape grips. However, as a socially responsible citizen, my concealed carry guns are either my Glock 26 9mm in my Thunderwear Holster, or my S&W .38 if I’m in the boots.
JD: Funny, I carried SmartCarry, which is almost identical to Thunderwear, when I operated as an undercover Federal Air Marshal. NOkay, going on. If you forget your sidearm one day, what are your thoughts on self-defense training?
In the Rangers and the Unit we rolled with GJJ. Like anything else, to be the best it’s smart to learn from the best. The Gracie family is no stranger to Fort Bragg. Boxing is required as well, just so you remember what it’s like to take one on the chin, and if you haven’t been in a brawl lately, to remind you of your fight or flight senses.
On target, the basics are important with any non-compliant detainee or AQ card-carrying terrorist. Muzzle tap to the forehead usually ends it. If not and you get wrapped up, a head butt before he can grab your back up is natural. Overall though, joint and pressure point manipulation are techniques you can use even after your own joints and bones stiff-arm aggressive GJJ. Most folks are simply unaware how vulnerable the elbow joint is and how fast someone with proper training can execute an arm bar from the standing position.
JD: Gracie JuJitsu, eh? Good stuff. You wrote in your book, KBL, about how disappointing it was to be so close to Bin Laden and have to make the decision to abort the attack. What did you feel when he was finally killed? Do you have any predictions for the region?
I actually felt a huge sense of relief when I heard UBL was finally taken. I truly felt a decade long burden, full of personal second-guessing, exhale from my lungs the moment Geraldo announced it on Fox News. I’m proud of the entire JSOC community and fully understand that this completed mission was the result of years of dedication and effort by all of our special missions units and the entire intelligence community. SEAL Team Six took the shot for the entire world that night. A National Shot!
As for the future, who can really say? In 2002, I argued that we should have announced that the Durand Line would not be honored and pushed the Afghan border to the east, stopping along the Northwest Frontier Line since a blind man could see the ungoverned areas in western Pakistan were obvious safe havens. Probably smart we didn’t do that now, who knows? Certainly we will continue the drone war and target AQ, Haqqani Network, and Taliban signatures in the area. Even bad guys have to communicate, eat, sleep, gather, and command and control their men. Hard to argue with success. But make no mistake, we are coming home from both Iraq and Afghanistan soon, and when we do, you can bet there will be an international debate on whether we won or lost on both fronts.
JD: You donated all the money–a substantial amount, by the way–from the proceeds from you NYTimes best-selling book, KBL. Why did you donate the money? Why did you choose to donate to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation? Also, you’re writing a fictional book series, starting with Black Site. Can you give us a sneak peak?
Writing Kill Bin Laden was never about making money or padding my ego with personal attention. The pseudonym helped with the latter, and the great folks at Special Operations Warrior Foundation took care of the former. Retired Air Force Colonel John Carney, President of SOWF, graciously accepted proceeds from the sale of the book. SOWF is unique in that they recently received a coveted 4-star rating for the sixth year in a row from the nation’s leading charity watchdog group, Charity Navigator. I knew that if I didn’t make it back, that SOWF would ensure my children received a quality education. It’s humbling and amazing to see the children of old Ranger buddies and other SOF warriors smiling during graduation with the help of SOWF.
Kill Bin Laden gave way to the fictional world. Some former SOF guys spend their time teaching others how to shoot, some take the security contractor route or pull PSD [Protective Service Detail] tours overseas, others turn to the business world. I chose to peddle my wares from a recliner with a laptop – to write a Delta Force thriller series about a disgraced former Delta officer who was a little too impetuous for his own good. Kolt “Racer” Raynor liked to march to his own drummer as a troop commander. Nine times out of ten, he got it right…or he got lucky. But he went too far, and not only did he pay a dear price, but his men paid one a thousand times worse. Racer has issues…but he gets things done. Even the generals couldn’t argue with that. The first book titled Black Site, hits the shelves on 01.31.12. I’m knee deep into the sequel now, title Tier One Wild. The resilient Kolt Raynor pulls off the unthinkable…twice! And some aren’t happy about it. Look for TOW before Christmas 2012.
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I would like to thank Dalton Fury very much for agreeing to do this great interview. Thank you for the service you’ve given to our country. Our freedom and way of life, in large part, can be owed to men of valor and courage and skill like you and the men from Delta Force. Thank you, and may God bless you and your family continually for the sacrifices given in our countries behalf. Best of luck on your Delta Force thriller series. I look forward to reading about Kolt Raynor.