If you watch “Hawaii Five-0,” you know Lt. Commander Steve McGarrett, Navy SEAL, leader of the Five-0 Task force, is one hell of a smooth operator. His nickname, “Smooth Dog,” revealed by former SEAL Nick Taylor (Max Martini) in the season one episode “Poʻipū,” is a moniker that definitely fits McGarrett’s ability to access and execute any mission.
It’s hard to write about McGarrett and not mention his SEAL training. Of course, Steve McGarrett is a character, played with great physicality and emotion by Alex O’Loughlin, but if you ever meet a real SEAL, I would say there is very little difference between the way O’Loughlin plays McGarrett and a real operator. McG’s cool demeanor, coupled with his aggressive drive to get the job done — no matter the hurdles, the politics, or the danger — is exactly on point.
Brothers in arms, brothers in blue; however you want to phrase it, when you go to war with someone they are your brother — no matter the time, the battle, or the uniform. Much of the allure that surrounds the character of Steve McGarrett has to do with his precise and energetic response to anything downright dangerous when it comes to his work with the Five-0 Task Force. Yet, that is exactly what a SEAL would do. McGarrett is always ready to respond to whatever is thrown at him and his team.
In this week’s repeat of “‘Ōlelo Paʻa,” or “The Promise,” McGarrett takes an unauthorized trip to North Korea to reclaim the remains of his SEAL brother Freddie Hart (Alan Ritchson). SEALs have a motto: “We don’t leave our people behind,” so McGarrett’s determination to get back to North Korea and return his buddy’s remains to the United States and his family, is completely understandable.
I had the privilege to interview one of the SEALs who was on the rescue mission to save the only survivor of “Operation Redwing,” SEAL fire team leader Marcus Luttrell, in Afghanistan. Because this SEAL is still on active duty, he has to remain anonymous, but I can tell you he was very candid about his life and his experiences as a SEAL as long as I didn’t identify him.
So Senior Chief, like McGarrett, I shall keep my promise.
Senior Chief did tell me that one of the biggest elements about being a SEAL is all of the physical training to maintain mission readiness. He would often bike to work from the Moanalua housing area near Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam to Marine Corps Base Camp H.M. Smith at the top of Halawa Heights. It’s about five miles in distance, maybe 10 or 15 minutes by car, and mostly uphill.
If you are ever at the Aloha Stadium in Aiea, stand in the parking lot and look toward the mountains. Then imagine biking it to the top.
No mere mortal would attempt that, right? Yet Senior Chief did not think it was that difficult a way to get to work in the morning. Physical challenges were the easy part of his job and the part he enjoyed.
All that physical training and being in the best shape only helps a SEAL do his job. It goes back to being ready for anything, and that includes survival on all levels.
McGarrett has definitely showed his SEAL readiness on many many occassions, in times when it was completely necessary, like in “Kiʻilua” when he went to North Korea the first time with Jenna Kaye and was captured and tortured by Wo Fat, as well as when he jumped out of a perfectly good airplane to rescue a fellow SEAL in “Ka Meʻe.”
There have been other times when his SEAL training has been needed on a similar scale, like in “Lana I Ka Moana” when he had to swim with the sharks to pull Danno to safety, and of course, when he escaped from jail in the season two opener, “Haʻiʻole.”
SEAL physical readiness is also a must because as special operatives, the likelihood of their capture and torture by enemy forces is always a possibility. SEALs have to go through Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) training, where they are taught to survive and evade capture, resist psychological and physical torture, and to plan and execute their own escape if caught by the enemy. It’s intense training that is not only given to SEALs, but to other military personnel if they are in positions that would put them at high risk for capture, or if their positions necessitate their need for understanding the concepts of SERE training.
So McGarrett breaking out of jail, withstanding Wo Fat’s torture and escaping his North Korean cell, and his skill in interrogating criminals back at Five-0 headquarters all come from this type of intense military training. He may not have been trained to be a cop like Danny, Chin, and Kono, but he knows how to interrogate, enter into hostile situations with weapons drawn, as well as handle any physically challenging situation with ease. Almost too much ease at times, but it’s what we like about McG.
So all of you nervous nellies who harped about how mean McG was to turn the combatant (Vince Shin) in “ʻŌlelo Paʻa” into a human booby trap, and how terrible he was to walk away and let Danno “convince” Ray Beckett (Henry Rollins) to confess where his captive was in “Hoʻopio” — they were situations similar to ones he most likely would have experienced if he were still operating as a SEAL. It’s all within his training and his expertise. It’s what makes McGarrett the kind of cop he is and the kind of leader he is, one who reacts with one thought in mind. To complete the mission.
That’s the other element Senior Chief talked about was the most important thing is the mission. If someone dies, if you are injured, if you come across a problem; you deal with the dead, the pain, and the issues, but nothing stops until the mission is complete. There’s McGarrett in a nutshell.
Yet, there’s a bit of a difference with McG. He is not afraid to show his emotions. When McG saw Freddie’s remains in “ʻŌlelo Paʻa,” he wept when he realized Freddie had been tortured and mutilated, and showed his immense guilt because he was the one who left Freddie behind.
Senior Chief said, “There’s no time for tears, we have to move on, because there’s always the mission, and that comes first.”
But McGarrett takes the time to mourn. And this is what we love about him, his ability to express his emotion. Yes, we also love that he he can jump off a balcony into a pool to catch a perp, or swipe a diamond thief off his bike and beat him silly without breathing too hard, but the best part about McG is that he can weep, he can be afraid, and he can hurt. That’s what makes him McGarrett, and not just a SEAL who does really cool tricks with weapons and slick hand to hand combat. He’s more than just a smooth operator, he’s a man.
And Super SEAL or not, we watch “Hawaii Five-0” to see the man, not just a kevlar strapped military hero. Though we like that part too, I think we want to see someone not only focused on a mission, but also feeling connected to his friends, and wanting love and happiness. It’s what makes a man a true hero, and like McGarrett, I believe all SEALs have that within themselves, and more.
Redux Side Note:
Bad news friends, next week there’s no repeat of “Hawaii Five-0,” as CBS will air “AMC Presents Tim McGraw’s Superstar Summer Night.” But don’t miss Aug. 2 when the season three opener “Lā o nā mākuahine” will air and Aug. 9 is a repeat of “Kānalua.”
Wendie Burbridge is a published author, playwright and teacher. Reach her via Facebook and follow her on Twitter.