‘The only thing more contagious than a virus is hope’: Former top Navy SEAL who oversaw the bin Laden raid says Americans will ‘prevail’ against coronavirus

Admiral McRaven SEAL

  • In an opinion column published in The Washington Post, retired US Navy Adm. William McRaven compared his training experience to the ongoing efforts to combat the outbreak.
  • “Hell Week is the worst week of the toughest military training in the world,” McRaven said. “It is six days of no sleep, constant physical and mental harassment, and one ‘special day’ at the Mud Flats.”
  • McRaven recalled that “one voice began to echo through the night” — one of the candidates began singing, albeit “terribly out of tune but sung with great enthusiasm.”
  • “The only thing more contagious than a virus is hope,” he wrote.
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The retired US Navy Adm. William McRaven, a Navy SEAL who oversaw the raid that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in 2011, offered a message off hope to Americans as the US grapples with the coronavirus pandemic.

McRaven, who served 36 years in the Navy before retiring in 2014, shared his experience during “Hell Week” — an intense period in the Navy’s 24-week-long Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) course — in a column published in The Washington Post.

“Hell Week is the worst week of the toughest military training in the world,” McRaven said. “It is six days of no sleep, constant physical and mental harassment, and one ‘special day’ at the Mud Flats.”

The Mud Flats is a stretch of terrain between Tijuana, Mexico, and San Diego, California, where SEAL candidates are instructed to traverse and endure the mud, even throughout the night.

“The mud consumed each man until there was nothing visible but our heads,” McRaven wrote. “We were all exhausted, numb from the cold and desperate to hold on. The instructors told us that we could all leave the mud — if just five men quit. It was the instructors’ way of turning us against each other.”

McRaven recalled that “one voice began to echo through the night.” One of the candidates began singing, albeit “terribly out of tune but sung with great enthusiasm.”

“One voice became two, and two became three, and before long the entire class was singing,” McRaven said in the column.

Navy SEAL Buds training

The SEAL instructors threatened that the candidates would continue to suffer in the mud if they continued, but nevertheless, “the singing persisted.”

“Those of us stuck in the mud believed that if one of us could start singing when he was up to his neck in mud, then maybe the rest of us could make it through the night,” McRaven said. “And we did.”

McRaven compared the experience to the ongoing efforts to combat the coronavirus outbreak in the US. States have widely declared a public emergency and initiated complete lockdowns. At least 213 people died from the coronavirus as of Friday afternoon. Over 16,000 patients have also been reported in all 50 states US territories.

“Today, the coronavirus has thrown us all in the mud,” McRaven wrote. “We are cold, wet and miserable, and the dawn seems a long way off. But while we should not be cavalier about the dangers of this pandemic, neither should we feel hopeless and paralyzed with fear.”

McRaven said that despite the tribulations, “hope abounds,” due to the US having “the greatest scientists in the world” and “an unmatched ability to mobilize when called to action.”

“More importantly, as we always have in times of crisis, Americans are rallying together, caring for one another, showing the compassion and concern that have always characterized this nation of good people,” McRaven wrote.

McRaven theorized that “the number of cases will rise” and “the markets will stumble,” however, he believed “we will prevail, because the only thing more contagious than a virus is hope.”

“We are all up to our necks in mud,” McRaven wrote. “It’s time to start singing.”

McRaven’s optimistic column is a departure from his others that were published in the New York Times and Washington Post in recent years. The former commander and book author has become one of the most influential and effective critics of President Donald Trump via several columns and criticizing him in interviews. It is already very unusual for retired military leaders to speak against a sitting president, and McRaven’s comments have attracted significant attention due to his seniority, his accomplishments and his strident tone.

McRaven spearheaded Operation Neptune Spear, targeting al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, in Pakistan. He retired from the Navy in 2014 and became the chancellor of the University of Texas system in 2015. Two years later, he said he would leave that job, citing health concerns.

He has written several bestselling books about leadership, including “Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life … And Maybe the World” and “Sea Stories: My Life in Special Operations.”

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