Lifestyles: Rorke Denver the Ultimate Warrior
Navy SEAL and Syracuse alum Rorke Denver ran 192 combat missions in Iraqby Matt White | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter
Note: A shorter version of this Q&A appeared in the November 2014 issue of Lacrosse Magazine. To begin your subscription, join US Lacrosse today.
Rorke Denver has always taken the hard way.
Raised in California in the 1980s when lacrosse was rare there, he became an All-American defenseman at Syracuse. After college, he joined the Navy to be a SEAL and led multiple combat deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq. Now in the reserves, he has written a book ("Damn Few: Making the Modern SEAL Warrior"), starred in a movie ("Act of Valor") and speaks to corporate audiences about his experiences.
You grew up in California's Bay Area. How did you find the game and end up at Syracuse?
It worked out. You were an honorable mention All-American in 1996.I'm really proud of this. It's kind of a strange concept, when you go on to do things like SEALs. But I feel like for those lacrosse lists, the names are sealed in the envelope before the season starts. I didn't have a pedigree. I was just grinding it out.
When did you decide to become a SEAL?My granddad was a B-24 Liberator guy in the Pacific and was killed in action, as most of those guys were. So I had it in the family, but it was not a lifelong calling as it is for some people.
My senior year at Syracuse, my dad sent me a paperback copy of Winston Churchill's "My Early Life." [Churchill] was in the Frontier wars in the Pakistan-India border wars, and the Boer wars in Africa, where he was captured and escaped. I just put that book down and knew I wanted to serve.
I heard about a little program where they make Naval commandos down in Southern California where about 80 percent of the people don't make it. Those sounded like the right odds to me.
What action did you see?The most aggressive and violent tour was summer of 2006 in Iraq. I was a platoon commander in Al Anbar. Just unbelievable events and output from our team, with Medals of Honor and too many Silver and Bronze stars to even count. Very kinetic engagements, taking out bad guys but also partnering with some of the sheiks and tribal warlords to get those tribal awakenings to happen. We went from a time when you couldn't go outside the wire without being in a gunfight to, six months after our deployment, people are walking around Rhymadi with no body armor.
We ran 192 combat missions in those seven months: sniper overwatch, direct-action assaults every other night, just full kinetic, which doesn't win wars, but it does move the needle.
A study commissioned by the SEALs found that, statistically, lacrosse players fare well in training. Why is that?It is a warrior game. Having gone to Syracuse, I know [Onondaga] Chief [Oren] Lyons and some of the tribal elders who care for this game. And while they don't say it's a war game, it has those combative roots, a gift from the creator that was based on toughness and physicality.
You got all these positions: defensemen, attackmen, faceoff specialist, goalie. Same thing in a special ops team: You got snipers, you got your breachers, you got communications specialists, a medic in there. It's the ultimate sport for any military service, and definitely for special operations.
|In 14 years as a Navy SEAL officer, Rorke Denver faced drug
lords in Latin America, violent mobs in Liberia and terrorists in
Iraq and Afghanistan. From Hell Week to hero, Denver’s book,
“Damn Few: Making the Modern SEAL Warrior,” takes you
inside an elite brotherhood and demonstrates the challenges of
Lacrosse fans will find familiarity in anecdotal references to Denver’s time playing for legend Roy Simmons Jr. at Syracuse (1993-96) and his appreciation for Native American culture.
“Damn Few,” co-authored by Denver and Ellis Henican, made The New York Times best seller list in March 2013.