U.S. Navy Asks for Trident to be Removed from Cover of “No Ordinary Dog,” Raising Freedom of Speech Questions That Should Concern all Veterans
by Dr. Alice Atalatanta
At press time, there are currently 248 hits for “Navy SEAL Trident” on Amazon. 80 results on Etsy. 1,431 hits on eBay.
11 books on my personal home bookshelf alone that bear the Trident on the cover, spine, or cover page. Books that are still currently for sale at major retail outlets worldwide.
Most notably present on my desk is “No Hero,” published by former SEAL Matt Bissonnette under the pseudonym “Mark Owen.” Bissonnette is the SEAL whose account of the Bin Laden raid, “No Easy Day,” was famously subject to legal action by the Navy, which ultimately cost Bissonnette a $6.6 million payout for violating nondisclosure agreements and failing to secure approval from the Department of Defense before publishing.
“No Hero” was Bissonnette’s second book. It was never subject to the legal scrutiny that the Navy leveled at “No Easy Day.” This was in large part due to the fact that Bissonnette followed all appropriate procedures in its publication, submitting it first to the Department of Defense Office of Prepublication Review for approval. While large portions of the book were ultimately redacted, it made it to publication otherwise unscathed.
Remember this detail for later: “No Hero” has a Navy SEAL Trident emblazoned on its cover.
That all went down in 2016. A lot has happened since then; it’s been a rough few years for the SEAL teams, as far as open-source information will have the public believe. From a public relations perspective, it’s been a nightmare for the Navy. While the quiet professionals among the SEAL team ranks continue in darkness to do quietly professional things, there has been an unfortunate rash of highly publicized and embarrassingly reckless behavior by a few bold outliers.
The Eddie Gallagher fiasco. The Logan Melgar murder. A SEAL team removed from Iraq over reports of misconduct, including sexual assault. More recently, the Aaron Howard catfishing scandal.
This was all followed by—and some has concurrently taken place in spite of—an explicit and concerted effort by Naval leadership to address and remedy the problem, including a well-publicized memo from the Commander of Naval Special Warfare Command detailing action steps to be carried out by the Navy at various levels. The expressed goal here was to root out and address “the portion of [the NSW force that] is ethically misaligned with our Culture.”
It is a noble and much-needed effort, certainly appreciated by the quiet majority of those among the ranks of Naval Special Warfare whose own reputations and future prospects would be damaged by the negative publicity received by the teams in the past half-decade.
Regardless of what some may want to think, the reputation of the SEAL teams is immensely important to the success of the Navy as a whole, particularly when it comes to recruitment. The Navy SEAL brand recognition, across the board, has historically been a phenomenal recruiting tool. Why wouldn’t it be?
The Navy knows this well, and has in the past intentionally harnessed it; that’s what the production of the 2012 movie Act of Valor—Starring Real Live Navy SEALs! Doing Real Live Navy SEAL Stuff!—was all about. If nothing else, it was a recruiting tool, and it worked, drumming up significant interest among the public and giving Navy recruitment numbers a must needed boost.
Why does all of this matter?
Because it is necessary background to explain the facts surrounding the otherwise fairly inexplicable decision of the Navy this week to cry “copyright infringement,” singling out former SEAL Will Chesney and his newly released book with Joe Layden, “No Ordinary Dog: My Partner From the SEAL Teams to the Bin Laden Raid.”
The issue at stake, according to the Navy, is the use of the Trident insignia on the book’s cover. “You may not be aware that that U.S. Navy has trademark rights in this insignia,” states the attorney letter sent to Chesney and his team, which was provided by them to Havok Journal. The letter continues, “Accordingly, we request that the Trident not be included on the cover of the upcoming book.”
The letter is dated April 21, 2020, the date of the book’s release. One can’t help but question the timing of its arrival, as it arrived that same morning. The timing wasn’t great, from a publishing perspective; 25,000 books had been printed, and 15,000 had already been shipped. Chesney and his team immediately replied, returning a letter respectfully requesting use of the Trident insignia on the book’s cover. At press time, they are yet to receive a response.
It is no secret that I am a big fan of Chesney’s project; you can read my review of the book here. It is an honorable, tasteful, and fitting tribute to honor a canine servicemember, and Cairo’s story is poised to touch the hearts of millions of Americans, regardless of whether or not there is a Navy SEAL Trident on the cover. Cairo’s story, as Chesney tells it, is respectful to a fault, devoid of bravado, and bowing out of sharing any compromising details. It is even self-conscious about tangentially referencing other servicemembers’ stories; it is as far from name-droppy as you can get.
To some, the Navy’s complaint may seem simple enough. Take the Trident off. People are still going to read the book. But there are greater issues at stake here regarding a veteran’s freedom of speech and ownership of their own life story.
Before going any further, I should be emphatically clear that Chesney himself is decidedly soft-spoken on the topic. He has issued a single statement on the matter:
I wrote No Ordinary Dog to honor the men and K9s with whom I served and to tell Cairo’s story. I was disheartened by the request from the Navy to remove the Trident from the cover of our book—especially after we received clearance from the Department of Defense to publish.
To be clear, I love the Navy, and I have respectfully requested to use the insignia in order to honor Cairo, a Navy Military Working Dog who fought hard for his uncles (and my teammates). I had the privilege of wearing the Trident on my uniform during my time in the Navy. Cairo was shot in the line of duty on a SEAL operation while protecting us. In my eyes, Cairo will always have earned his Trident. The Trident is a symbol of who we are and the SEAL brotherhood.
Indeed, in an era in which President Trump himself has bestowed honors upon a military working dog—Conan, a Belgian Malinois assigned to 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, for Conan’s efforts in last year’s al-Baghdadi raid—it is not at all far-fetched that Chesney and his team considered Cairo, who had fought and bled for them, as a canine SEAL. It is just that we, as a nation, are starting to truly realize the pivotal role that our military working dogs have played for our country. In the SEAL teams, this has long been no secret; of the 31 heroes famously lost on Extortion 17, one canine SEAL named Bart is memorialized alongside his brothers. It doesn’t take much digging to understand the culture that is at play.
This is why honoring Cairo with the Trident matters.
There is no way to know for sure why the Navy chose to single out “No Ordinary Dog” as a target for their sudden zest for enforcing their trademark rights on the Trident insignia. It makes little sense. Since the COVID pandemic began, among all the unlicensed Trident-emblazoned merchandise that is always available on Amazon, even Trident face masks and neck gaiters have appeared. In case someone actually needed to tell you this, it doesn’t look like these are all being manufactured in the USA.
Of course, that’s pure speculation. It would take time to track down the source of all of these random Amazon vendors. That’s supposed to be the Navy copyright people’s job. The Navy has its very own Trademark and Licensing Program, after all. Maybe one of us should notify them that there’s copyright infringement going on as we speak. Perhaps they haven’t heard? It might be good to know if people in, I don’t know, China, were profiting from the sale of manufactured goods utilizing the Trident insignia. Wouldn’t that be something the Navy would want to know?
Instead, they go after Cairo. A dog who has done more for this country than most of us have done for our own children. This is a dog who literally took a bullet for his teammates. And then there is his handler, Will. The Bin Laden raid was not a mission that anyone thought they were going to come home from. There was no way someone at Bin Laden’s level wasn’t going to take himself out, and all of the Americans with him. Right? But yet those men stepped onto those helicopters that night. Cairo followed Will out of pure loyalty and faith. Cairo couldn’t have known that he was probably going to get blown up when Bin Laden detonated whatever everyone assumed he was going to detonate when the Americans arrived. Imagine the kind of heart it takes to make those steps and lead Cairo onto that helicopter. But Cairo and Will didn’t hesitate, because that was their job. That’s what SEALs do—the human ones AND the canine ones.
Of course, mercifully and despite their worst expectations, everyone survived that mission. What did happen next was what we all already know; that Will and Cairo made it home. Then things started to get crazy, as what should have stayed secret suddenly didn’t feel so secret anymore. The President said “SEAL Team Six” on TV, for one thing. Matt Bissonnette and Rob O’Neill wrote books. Some members of the public assumed that because Matt had written the first book about the raid, he must have been “the shooter.” Then Rob came forward and said he was “the shooter.” Yet others in the inner circle whispered that it had been someone else entirely. The rumor mill swirled. A year later, the movie Zero Dark Thirty came out. What should have been kept in the dark was starting to see way too much daylight.
It is possible to understand why, for the Navy, everyone suddenly deciding to talk about the Bin Laden mission was a total shit show. The Navy had no choice but to put out the fire, especially after the last several years of bad publicity. It’s really difficult to look at the cease and desist letter sent to Will Chesney and not draw the conclusion that this was a very deliberately timed move by the Navy to make an emphatic statement to anyone who had anything to do with that mission:
No more Bin Laden books. We are in damage control mode, and that means nobody talks.
The problem here—and it’s a huge one—is that “No Ordinary Dog” is honestly an unassailable book. If a story about anyone on the historic Bin Laden mission were to surface, you would want it to be this one. Nobody with half a heart could disagree that Cairo is a hero, well-loved by his dad and uncles, and deserves to be memorialized. His story is tastefully told by Chesney, with not a hint of self-aggrandizement. It’s not a cash grab and it doesn’t sell anybody out. In advance of publication, the manuscript was dutifully submitted to the Department of Defense Office of Prepublication Review for approval, and it in fact missed its initial publication date as it awaited that approval.
It honors Cairo’s memory and little more. It inspires people—even one retired SEAL who told me it made him wish he had stayed in longer and gone through the dog handler program. In a country that loves and honors dogs and all they represent—loyalty, courage, companionship, devotion—and in an unprecedented moment in our lifetimes when the entire country is on lockdown and afraid, what could have been better and more inspiring than a book about a Navy SEAL and his loyal hero dog?
If the Navy had thought to consider the positive impact that such a book might potentially have on recruitment and on their public relations crisis, they might have stayed their hand before firing off that cease and desist letter.
The much larger question at stake here, which should be posed to all service members past in present, is this: how much of your service do you own once you get out? Whether your work is classified or not, there are going to be aspects of your military service that you will talk about post-transition. Medal of Honor recipients are free to profit from their affiliation with this award; former Presidents profit from their former presidential status. Harvard graduates put “Harvard” on their resume, too. The New England Patriots are now a line on Tom Brady’s resume. Is any of that trademark infringement? And if it’s not, why can’t a former SEAL proudly display the Trident for which he fought and bled?
To this effect, Mark Semos, former SEAL and Chesney’s business partner in the “No Ordinary Dog” project, exclusively told Havok Journal:
We did everything by the book and went through the Pentagon to have ‘No Ordinary Dog’ approved. We made every redaction we were asked to make. The cover photo of Cairo was approved. We had no idea that the inclusion of the Trident would ever be an issue. Now that it has become an issue, we are concerned. Where does that enforcement end? Where does a veteran’s ability to make a living cross the line? And if it’s not a universally enforced line, we have an even bigger issue, which is an individual being targeted by a department of the Government. Every single American should take issue with that.
If the Navy were going about this even-handedly, none of it would be an issue. If their team were daily scouring the internet with the scrutiny of, let’s say, a Disney or LVMH, you wouldn’t be able to find a single unlicensed Trident for sale on planet earth. If the Navy were that diligently protective of their Trident insignia, and a former SEAL like Chesney were to be chastised for putting a Trident on his book cover, it would make sense.
But that’s not at all how things are being handled.
The issue of trademarking the Trident was forced to a head back in May of 2011, just after the Bin Laden raid, when Disney made headlines by trying to trademark the phrase “Seal Team Six.” The Navy pushed back and got their way.
In the years that followed, countless SEAL books were published. I own a handful of them. This morning, I found 11 books on my home bookshelf that feature the Trident insignia somewhere on their cover, title page, or spine. The Navy did not, apparently, take issue with any of those. Not even Bissonnette’s second book, “No Hero.” Even after his lawsuit and the $6.6 million settlement, the Trident appears on his book cover.
This is not an indictment of those authors, nor is it an attempt to send the dogs after them. Rather, it is a direct question to the Navy.
Is it really the use of the Trident on “No Ordinary Dog”’s cover that is the issue here?
It is a great irony. In the Navy’s attempt at damage control over the suffering public reputation of Naval Special Warfare, they took too broad-handed of a stroke, and here threw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. They should have taken a closer look at what they were trying to control when they attempted to delegitimize “No Ordinary Dog” by asking that the Trident be removed from its cover.
Will Chesney’s is one of the most positive voices to publicly arise out of Naval Special Warfare in recent years. Asking Will Chesney to remove the Trident from the cover of “No Ordinary Dog” is a slap in the face and an insult to both his and Cairo’s service and sacrifice.
Dr. Atalanta is a writer, USA Boxing athlete, combatives instructor, philanthropist, and veterans’ advocate who is passionate about helping veterans tell their stories. Her latest project is an upcoming book with J.C. Glick, “Meditations of an Army Ranger,” but past clients have run the gamut from former SEAL Jeff Boss (author of “Navigating Chaos”) to the President of Floyd Mayweather’s $100m Money Team Brand. Dr. Atalanta is a sought-after commentator in the fight world on the topic of women’s personal defense, and she is available for booking as a Speaker-Buzz keynote speaker. For more information on how Dr. Atalanta might be able to help you turn your ideas into a book, please visit www.aliceatalanta.com.
© 2020 The Havok Journal