Dalton Fury sits down with former Delta Force operator and “Stars Earn Stripes” reality show “operative” Dale Comstock.
D.F.: Brother, still believe in the three essential food groups I see.
D.C.: Ha ha. Yep. Protein, protein, and protein.
D.F.: Whattya think Dale? Think we could hang with today’s operators? I slammed a Muscle Milk for breakfast.
D.C.: Maybe if they had mandatory breaks and catered chow like the filming for “Stars Earn Stripes.” No, seriously—I think we can still hang. I am 49 years old and I have been leading the charge with hundreds of young Afghan and Iraqi soldiers following me into combat, up to as recently as a year ago. Age is just a number in my book and what I lack—which is not much—in physical prowess, I compensate for with enthusiasm and experience. If the latter doesn’t work for me, then I will stop the dismounted patrol and mandate a water break until I can discretely get my act together.
D.F.: Wait a second. That water break technique is Delta OPSEC. Let’s keep this clean. But, I guess some things never change then. Great to see you Dale, you look terrific. Let’s ignore the canned talking points I was given. What I want to know is would you take these Hollywood celebrities down range?
D.C.: With proper training and time some could be soldiers that I would take down range in limited situations. Hell, there are soldiers that I won’t go down range with. You have to remember that often service members (not all or even the majority) join the military because of economic reasons and job security, especially in the non-combat arms military operational skill specialties. As for the combat MOS skills combat aptitude is an individual characteristic and just because someone has training doesn’t mean he/she has the fortitude to apply his or her skills in life and death struggles. According to a study by a prominent psychologist only about one in ten soldiers will deliberately fire on and try to kill their opposition, especially at less than 200 yards. The other nine will posture and shoot around the threat. As a professor that teaches psychology of violence I’m uniquely knowledge about this phenomenon and it helps keep things in perspective when assessing soldiers.
The celebrities on the show are no different from any other person that I met in the American walks of life, and some showed exceptional grit such as Terry Crews, Todd Palin, Eve Torres, and Picabo Street. They all seemed to have that sustained determination to get the job done no matter what. Most importantly though, I felt like all of the celebrities had enough respect for the operatives and veterans of America that they would not let us down—at least not quit on us. I think that if placed in an in-extremis situation they would all act resolutely and with honor. I think the latter is the most important trait a person can have—determination and respect for themselves and us.
D.F.: Many of the stars are athletes, but is that enough? You know serving in the ranks of elite special operations outfits is just as much mental as it is physical. These folks measure up?
D.C.: All of the celebrities came physically prepared. All are or were athletes at some point in their lives. Of the female celebrities—Picabo Street, Laila Ali and Eve Torres—every one of them exhibited uncommon mental and physical toughness that was amazing. If they live a posh life in Hollywood they sure as heck hit the gym and train hard as any other gym rat that takes competition serious. Of the male celebrities all of them were physically and mentally fit. Dean Cain and Terry Crews started their careers in professional football. Todd Palin is just a natural athlete, whose athleticism is tempered by the rigors of his profession as a commercial fisherman that on his worst day can out-perform many men half his age. Nick Lashey is just a young badass who takes pride in his appearance and reputation. He showed up ready to play and turned out to be a formidable competitor. Dolvett Quince? What can I say? The man is awesome! He showed up with a broken foot and was bent on competing and winning. My first impression was that this guy is a serious competitor and he certainly is not going to be encumbered by a bum wheel—watch out for him!
Because all of the celebrities reached considerable personal and professional success, I would contend that it is their hearts, intelligence, and mental resolve that brought them to the places they are. It is the same characteristics that special operators need to possess to be successful. Now, I am not suggesting that any celebrity can be a SPECOPS soldier or even a soldier when the killing and dying is for real. That’s reserved for a select few. What I am suggesting is that these men and women possess the attributes of champions and hearts of a loyal and honorable Americans.
D.F.: Okay, interesting. Of all the celebrity stars, who is the most tier one wild? The one who would still be around at the end of the long walk at Delta tryouts? The one who would hit the fast rope over a target even after an abort call had been made?
D.C.: I thought all of the celebrities had hearts the size of Texas and showed great resolve in completing their missions. None ever seemed intimidated or showed any inhibitions or physical deficit. From a physical stand point I would put my money on Terry Crews. The man is 6’2’’ and 238lbs of lean athletic muscle. I spent a lot of time with Terry and we discussed and compared our workout plans in depth. Terry is not only as strong as a bulldozer he also spends a lot of time running. Moreover, he was as motivated and enthusiastic about the training as any operator that I have known. Heck, he even went to the pool at night after the shoot to practice swimming and then to the gym at 0400 to lift weights and run the treadmill to ensure he was ready for any mission thrown at him. The guy carried a duffle bag (more than me) full of supplements to the set everyday…you talk about commitment.
Since Terry and I had a lot in common—we were both professional athletes, you know I boxed briefly as a pro; he played pro football and my son-in-law plays pro football; we are both grandfathers; and we both put family above all else, I spent a lot of time with Terry and really got to know his inner-workings. One thing that I am sure of is that he is a fierce competitor who loves America and has the utmost respect and honor for the U.S. Armed Forces. I know that if my house was on fire with me in it—he was coming for me because that’s the kind of man he is.
D.F.: Back in the day, trusting in your mates was everything. On target we were closer than blood brothers. You only had a short time with the show’s “operatives” but which ones could potentially beat you to a shotgun breach or who you’d trust with the breach on top of a moving hijacked 747?
D.C.: When I arrived on set it didn’t take long for me to realize that all of the operatives were as diverse as America. The youngest operative was 24, a Navy Corpsman, the next youngest was 25— a former 18B Green Beret; and then the oldest, ironically was not me at 49, but a 55 year old SWAT Commander that looks like he is 35 years old. The group of eight operatives consisted of marines, police officers, SEALs, Green Berets, and me a former Delta Operator and Green Beret. I thought all of the operatives were great Americans and all possessed the positive merits that one looks for in a consummate professional. Most importantly these guys became my brothers, not because we were part of a special experience, but because they were made of the patriotic fabric many of us are spun from and the experience wove us together as a tight-knit group of friends of the warrior class.
Although every Operative was impressive in his own right and I would go to battle next to anyone of them, I will admit here that Chris Kyle deserves considerable recognition for his achievements and his philanthropy. He is one of the most accomplished and decorated snipers in U.S. history that authored the book American Sniper. What I found even more noteworthy about him is that all of the profits from his book go to military charities! I also like the fact that he punched Jesse Ventura in the face for disrespecting a fallen SEAL at a memorial—right on Kyle! I will admit here that in 29 years in this line of work with the Army and as mercenary I haven’t come close to “pacifying” as many enemy combatants with a rifle as he has—maybe through indirect fire and close air support; but, not with a bullet launcher. To answer your question: He would have to trip me to beat me to the breach point or push me off a 747 to enter before me—but for sure he will be right there and ready to let the air out of anyone that tries to pop me.
D.F.: I read Kyle’s book. Seems like a humble guy. If a guy accomplished half of what he did I’d say he more than measures up. You give him the number to the Unit recruiter? Switching gears here Dale. Few people know you were the primary breacher on top of Modelo Prison in Panama the night Operation Just Cause kicked off in 1989. Operation Acid Gambit is open source now, but you and troop of Delta operators were on a pre-H-Hour Hostage Rescue of American Kurt Muse. What did you learn about the intensity of that night that you may have been able to pass on to the celebrity stars during the filming of the show?
D.C.: Grenada was my first time in a combat zone, but Modelo Prison was my first really intense firefight—my christening. That night I learned that no matter how much you intend to implement plan “A,” with plan “B” in your back pocket, and your contingency plan up your butt, when the party changes to a chaotic melee expect to execute a combination of all plans with a lot of improvisation. As you know a lot of untold things happened that night that changed or validated the way we operate. From my experience that night, which has framed my way of thinking through every future battle I prepared for, I emphasized to my celebrity to train and execute the plan but be prepared to improvise and adapt as the situation drives the process. Man, the first mission out of the gate proved me right. Bad things (as bad as they can get in a movie production) happened right on execution. Yes, lives were in jeopardy and the first mission could have buried the show.
But, what I wasn’t prepared for is that things would get so crazy that I would expend all of my energy off the bat and continue the mission on heart alone. It was one of the most physically intense exercises that I have ever been involved in. I remember thinking, as I was spitting up mud and flailing around in what smelled like third world sewer, “Is this right? I am in Hollywood and where in the hell is my make-up artist?” In all seriousness, nothing went as expected and it turned into a catastrophe that left me humbled and too some degree humiliated. The only reason I was able to accomplish the mission is because I was reminded of all the hellish experiences that I endured and that I would probably be sleeping in my hotel bed at the Marriot that night, or worst case—a gurney in a morgue. Either way, the day was going to end for me.
D.F.: Did they get it? We’re they comfortable with the dangers they experienced away from the makeup trailers? It’s a reality show, right? Anyone hesitate on target or freeze in the door?
D.C.: They were definitely nervous about what they thought was in store for them and that they may not be able to perform, but I think the operatives—me included—were nervous about screwing up on national TV and looking like idiots. The fear factor stemmed from the unknown and all of us had some trepidation but for different motives—danger and humility.
D.F.: We went to Afghanistan after 9/11 without you Dale as you had already moved on. But, you practically beat us there working for a classified government agency. You had done your time, what drove that decision to risk it all after your days in the unit were over?
D.C.: My father was a Viet Nam vet who served for 20 years. I served 20 in the Army, my son is going through Special Forces training to be a Green Beret Medic, and my sister and brother-in-law were in the Navy. The military culture, patriotism, and defense of the American way of life runs strongly in my family. I will fight in any war at any age to defend this nation, my family, and friends. I was born and raised to be a warrior, just like some are born and raised to be carpenters, doctors, athletes, etc. War fighting is my calling in life and I will always heed the call.
D.F.: Dang Dale, you’re making me want to kit up and assault this building. Alright, after so many years in a war zone, it certainly takes its toll on the human mind…even for tier one operators. They aren’t machines. Even though we tried to ignore dark thoughts of death, we weren’t immune to pain, we tasted blood like anyone else, and at times, we weren’t good enough operators to save some mates. What did it for you? Were there signs? When did you realize it was time to jack it in?
D.C.: You’re right. The toll levied through combat effects all of us in one way or another. I was able to accept most things that came with war—death, death of friends and fellow soldiers, the destruction of lives and families, etc. I have compartmentalized many of the nightmarish things that I have witnessed with some exceptions. Most notably the pain and anguish of children caught in the melee resonates with me the most because I have four children. When I saw the sadness and terror in the eyes of small Iraqi, Afghani, Panamanian, Somali, et al. children it cut my heart like a dagger. But, I did not hang up my guns because of them. I became more resolute in winning the war for them to give them back happiness and freedom from oppression. My decision to take a respite was because I am remarried and I still have small children that I want to be there for. After 29 years in this line of work and three divorces stemming from all of the long deployments away from home, I wanted to enjoy the consistency of family life without the anxiety of another impending deployment.
D.F.: That’s awesome bro! You remember the elastic moments of sheer perceived silence when the shit hit the fan or how mates that survived a close call got back in the helo with the thousand yard stair? Did you see some of the same signs in the eyes or actions of the celebrity contestants after the long, grueling, and often dangerously realistic filming of Stars Earn Stripes?
D.C.: No, I must admit that there was never that kind of intensity or fear factor that I saw someone vapor lock out there. Most were so elated that they were able to do cool mission and training that when it was over they were chomping at the bit for the next one.
D.F.: I can imagine. Alright Dale, last two questions before we go grab some chow. We both have a lot of Navy buddies but who do you put your money on—SEAL Team Six or your team of operatives from the show?
D.C.: I gotta put my money on Team-6. I worked a lot with them and many are good friends of mine. They have years of collective experience and training that I and seven operatives that formed an adhoc team for a reality show could never duplicate. Now, if the eight of us could properly train and task-organize, I think we could put the smack down on a lot of bad guys!
D.F.: Even taking out the Pacer in Abbottabad, Pakistan?
D.C.: Yes, even on the world’s center stage. But we need a good troop commander. You in?
D.F.: That’s a heckuva compliment Dale considering we both know the SEALs don’t have many peers. They must be world class. But, world class enough to run with the boys in the Unit?
D.C.: Don’t even go there, you already know the answer to that one. Special breed of warrior in their ranks Not even against the UNIT could we hold our own. I don’t mean to diminish the fellow operatives, but the Unit, The Delta Force, was the premier combat unit in the world comprised of best hand-picked operators around. It was that way when I was there, in your time there, and still to this day. I wasn’t assessed and selected for Stars Earn Stripes like I was for the Unit. You know the deal, back then our problem-solving process, commitment, intuition, and pad speed was under the microscope. Nobody was ever impressed by big muscles, or by a black belt, or anything external.
D.F.: Spot on Dale. Appreciate your time and the conversation. I’m proud to know you and thanks for keeping it real. Let’s bolt.