Commander Divine talks to Prime Hall (@prime_tiime) in the first part of this two-part episode. Prime is a former Marine Raider and Marine Corps Water Survival Instructor. He founded the Underwater Torpedo League and is the co-founder of Deep End Fitness. He is also the co-author of the F.R.E.E. Your Mind Guidebook: Become a Better You. He is talking with Mark today about his military and special operations career.
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Hi guys. This is Mark Divine with the unbeatable mind podcast. Welcome back, thanks so much for joining me today. Super-appreciate your time and attention. I don’t take it for granted.
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My guest today is Prime Hall – by the way, I love that name – Prime’s a human performance enthusiast and expert. He is a former marine raider. So I have a deep connection with the marine raiders that would be fun to talk about.
And he also was a water combat or water survival instructor for the marines – he’s trained thousands of marines in water confidence, which he’s parlayed into a new career using water in his fitness business called deep end fitness, as well as a new sport called the underwater torpedo league.
And I think that’s wicked cool, cause we used to play underwater hockey in the seals and they’re connected, right? They have a they have a common heritage.
Prime, thanks for coming up. You’re here in person, at our Carlsbad office studio.
Prime: Yes. 100%. Thank you so much for having me. It’s an honor to be here.
Mark: Yeah, well it’s great to have you here. I love brothers when they come up and we can talk shop and share horror stories. Share healing stories, because there’s a lot of vets who listen to this podcast… and a lot of people who are who care about vets, who’ve gone through struggles and healing…
And I think it’s cool that you kind of found your way through that, and now you help others through your training. But also through your inspirational work. So Hooyah to that.
Prime, I always like to start out – first off how did you get that name Prime? Like that’s super-cool? Like, what were your parents thinking?
Prime: Yeah, everybody always asked me that and they say “is it like Optimus Prime?” But I randomly had an “uncle Prime” on my dad’s side of the family.
Mark: Okay. And that was his first name?
Prime: That was his first name, yeah. And also, I had a “Prime” on my mom’s side as well. And one of them was spelt with an “I,” one of them was filled with a “y.” And so I ended up getting the “I” Prime.
Mark: Well, it primed you for the life that you had, for sure…
Prime: Exactly. 100%.
Mark: Tell me about the influences that led you into the marine corps. It’s always an interesting story to me – like, how did you end up in the marines? And why the marines?
Prime: Yeah. So I started out in south Texas and grew up in corpus Christi, and I had my mom, my dad, my sister… and I ran into some challenges that built a lot of resiliency for me early on…
Mark: Such as?
Prime: Well the first one was I fractured my skull when I was seven. And so I fell off my roof – it was just a freak thing, where my mom walked outside, and I was doing my thing on the on the roof. And she was like, “stop, don’t fall.”
And then I fell.
Mark: Oh my god. She literally scared you and she manifested the fall.
Prime: Right. So I landed on my head and blacked out – got rushed to the ER… I didn’t have any internal bleeding, thankfully… but my whole head was mush. Like, it wasn’t a hard structure anymore.
And so I had a year of recovery where I had to sit out from PE…
Mark: Pretty much everything… had to let the skull heal and all the concussion effect…
Prime: And so that had a lasting impact on me. I still remember sitting out and feeling like different. And then, I remember, I couldn’t go underwater – that was one of the things… like, you can’t do anything…
And so now I still want to be underwater, because I couldn’t be underwater when I was seven.
Mark: It’s fascinating how such a formative experience can like literally chart the trajectory of your life somehow…
Prime: And how that synchronicity plays in and it’s like, “wow, that’s so…”
So that, and then probably right after recovering from that we moved into a new neighborhood. And when we moved into that I had a peeping tom – like a stalker, peeping tom guy, that was creeping me out. In my window and doing these different things.
Mark: How old are you then?
Prime: Eight, nine…
Prime: Yeah, and so I was telling my parents or trying – and they weren’t believing me, because they hadn’t caught him yet. And this went on for a few years, and then they finally ended up catching him…
Mark: Good god. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of that before – I mean, I’ve heard of it happening, but I’ve never met anyone…
Prime: It made me… so I lived in my closet – I was very independent – I went through a lot dealing with this guy that was always. And I created survival mechanisms for myself back then, that I could work through it. But it also kind of challenging for me, because it created a huge gap with my parents.
But so, anyway, my parents caught him and then they ended up getting divorced soon after. And then my mom moved away, and I moved in with my dad into a new like apartment or condo. And then he moved out.
So I ended up living by myself at a young age for a couple years and then…
But my grandparents were always phenomenal, too. So I had these grandparents that were like my parents throughout my whole life. And they took me on trips every summer when I was growing up. And they always like mentored me…
Mark: Let’s go back, how old were you when you were living by yourself?
Prime: 13, 14 years-old.
Mark: Well, how were you making ends meet? Where were you getting food and stuff?
Prime: Very street savvy and creative with how I did it. So I would eat at school for lunch or whatever…
Mark: So you found your way to school every day. Out of necessity, I guess…
Prime: Yeah. Got my way to school. I got a hardship license when I was like 15, right? When I turned 15, so I had a car when I was 14.
Prime: Not a nice one, but I had transportation, because I had to get around… I had to take care of myself…
Mark: So what happens? You just like walk into the DMV and say, “I don’t have any parents… I need a car.” Or social services? Or what happens?
Prime: There was kind of a loophole where if you do your driver’s ed in advance then you qualify for hardship license… like me I qualified, because I needed to be able to take myself to school. And so I qualified.
And then I had all my paperwork met. And they gave me the license.
Mark: There was no attempt to get you into a foster home or anything like that?
Prime: Yes, so that’s how I got into the marine corps. My grandparents came one of those summers to take me on a summer vacation.
And they came to my apartment, and they saw that I was living by myself. And they were like, “this is not acceptable.”
And so they offered to send me to military boarding school at a marine military academy in Harlingen, Texas. And so I went on a tour. And I think at the time even, it was like 20,000 a year for them to send me there.
So I went from limited security and like kind of no rules, and then a scary situation for me at that time… to being with rules in military school, total security – lockdown, like it’s maximum security, yeah.
And then with a drill instructor that had two tours from Vietnam – that’s a marine, just badass – that’s like always on me and I loved it.
Mark: Fascinating contrast…
Prime: Yeah, so I ended up… a lot of kids at military school, they get sent there against their will. I was like “please…” so, that was that was one of the highlights of my childhood for sure.
And going there, I learned a lot of the ins and outs of the marine corps. And had a lot of like kind of seeds planted – watching – in class – watching marines go through the o-course on tv like yeah, every day. They always had it playing in certain classes. Or stuff like that, and so I was always like…
Mark: Did most of the kids go into the marine corps from there?
Prime: Yeah, a good amount of them do. And I saw a few of them that were in. That was kind of mind-blowing for me, because I’m like, “okay, we were in like ROTC boarding school, but now we’re in real marine corps.” And it’s just like, I’m trying to separate the two.
But anyway, so long story short, I did that. After high school I went down with my grandparents to live, and I had been working construction. And I’d been working construction with my grandparents in the summer since I was like 13, down on the Mexican border.
I was the only white kid on the construction site with 50 to 100 hard ass construction workers – some of them are illegals and everything else – and they know that my grandfather was the one that was the guy that ran the site.
So when he’s gone and I’m there, they want to give me a hard time. So I got to like build a lot of resiliency, working in those situations as well.
But I went from doing that since I was 13 – now I was like 19, and I’m working construction. Doing this and I started to go on a self-destructive path. And I didn’t have purpose.
And so I had all this like feeling like I had to do something big, but I had nothing to put that energy towards.
So I started getting in trouble, and started going to jail and doing this and this and this. And at a certain point, my grandfather was like, “hey, you remember how good you did at military school?” And he was like, “you’re off track. Like, what if you got to do something like that again?”
“you’d be amazing at it. What if we went and talked to the marine recruiters?” And so we went down, and then…
Mark: Your grandfather saved you again…
Prime: He saved me, yeah. So I got out of it – I cleared up all my court cases and I went into the marine corps in 2005.
Mark: That’s amazing. So you enlisted in the marine corps, went to boot camp and all that… and you ended up where? In the infantry or what was your first thing?
Prime: Yes. So I ended up… I was actually supposed to be artillery up front, because that’s what my recruiters had kind of talked me into doing. That that was like, “you’re gonna be the king of the battlefield” and this and this and this.
And when I got in, I was like, “wait, so all these guys are infantry? I want to be with those guys. They look like the warriors or whatever.”
So I got my MOS changed from artillery to infantry, and then I went through infantry school. And after that, I got stationed here at camp Pendleton at two-one – second battalion, first marines – as an infantry man.
And my first day in my new unit, they offered me a deal to go to sniper tryout.
Prime: And I just got there, like, I don’t even know where the px is or where the… don’t know anything. So I’m like, “me?”
They’re like, “yeah, you meet everything on paper. So we’re gonna send you.”
And they didn’t have enough volunteers from everyone that’s in the unit. So they’re like getting the new guys that qualified to go. So I’m like, “okay.”
So I went and I magooed myself through this Ndock – I figured it out on the fly and kind of like just slimed my way through…
But I learned a lot about perseverance and going way past my limitations… or what I thought I could do…
And then I ended up having some disciplinary problems between myself and… I wasn’t in a good place at that point. And I was having some stuff going on back home – my stepmom got killed in a car accident – I was supposed to be going back for the funeral. Had like a big thing where they were sending me to go back.
I ended up going back and they ended up hazing me and doing some different stuff, instead of sending me to my funeral. And so that like kind of set me on…
Mark: That triggered the rebellious…
Prime: It triggered that, yeah. And something flipped, but everything happens for a reason – so I ended up getting removed from sniper platoon, getting put back into the infantry – and to me that was like a failure. But I learned… like, that literally just motivated me so much to like perform at a completely different level than I ever had before.
So I went back to the infantry, I was still a little heavy and I wasn’t even hitting my potential, even close to what I could do.
And I was still drinking, and that was a huge setback for me. So on my first deployment – it was a training deployment year-long 31st MEU and we went to Japan and Australia…
Mark: I did one of those. We call it “amphibious readiness group.” You guys did the MEU and the ARGs kind of like trailed or intersected the MEUs in their deployments. But yeah, that’s interesting. Island hopping and whatnot…
Prime: Yeah, so I got into the marine corps and then I got on another destructive path. And so I got in trouble, I got in trouble, I got in trouble, I got trouble – I was a private three times – lost all rank. I was on admin separation board to get kicked out on my first deployment.
And that’s when I stopped drinking. And when I stopped, everything changed.
Mark: So what was going through your mind? Obviously, you didn’t want to get kicked out. And somehow you identified the drinking as being a root cause or exacerbating your behavioral problems?
Prime: Yes. Yeah, I was having…
Mark: Did you have any counseling or mentor at the time? Or were you just figuring this out on your own?
Prime: I did. I actually had my staff sergeant at the time, who was our platoon sergeant – I had an alcohol related incident in Japan, that was kind of like the needle that broke the haystack. And they were like “that’s it.”
Because this is like a pattern of me kind of blacking out and then going Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde kind of thing, right? And a lot plays into it – there’s an acronym that I share with people that’s “halt.” So don’t drink if you’re hungry, angry, lonely or tired.
Prime: But like, you mix those things with also being in Okinawa, where it’s like 120 degrees… these different things and it’s like now these are recipes for disaster.
Mark: That’s right.
Prime: Don’t do these. Stay away from these things.
So I was having blackouts, and then I would wake up the next day and they’d be like, “hey, you did this.” And I’m like, “I don’t even remember any of that.” So that was like a clear thing. This isn’t working for me at all, right?
But once I got away from it, then I separated myself from the pack that I was hanging out with, that was also destructive. I started being accountable and focused.
And I started training, and that’s right when MARSOC was starting. So I’m still on deployment, I’m hearing little… “hey, there’s going to be a class in the auditorium today. They’re going to be talking about MARSOC – it’s a new thing – blah, blah, blah.
Mark: And for those who don’t know MARSOC’s marine special operations command. And the intersection for me here is I went over in 2004 with seal team one, with the SOCOM Det attached. The marine corps SOCOM Det – which was the proof of concept.
Mark: So they pulled like 100 of the best recon marines, and intel guys, and communicators, and medics… and they put them on this team, and said, “okay, you go prove that marines can operate as special operators.”
And I could go on and on about that. It was fascinating – really, really rewarding… so, I wrote the report or led the writing of the report for the navy on whether the marines should even join special operations.
Mark: And of course, I advised that they should, but they should bring a MAGTF, and the marines shot that idea down. Because they didn’t want to give up their aircraft and MAGTF is the marine air-ground task force, which would have been really valuable for SOCOM. Because all the aircraft come from the air force. Or you have to get it from your native service.
Mark: Anyways… so there you are, you’re interested in the raiders… what I’m curious about is like when did you start teaching yourself… did you learn how to swim earlier in your life? Or did you teach yourself as a marine?
Prime: Yeah, so I was never on a swim team or anything like that, but my grandmother she was a synchronized swimmer in college at like university of Oklahoma or something. So even when I was like two years old, she would always take me to the swimming pool. And have me in like these little bathing suit competitions or whatever… since I was little… but I always loved the pool.
And I always had neighborhood pools that I went to religiously every day during the summer. And that was like my… that was my spot. So I’m a water enthusiast – now I understand that – but I’ve always been drawn to the water.
I grew up in Texas on corpus Christi which has north padre islands – you cross a bridge and you’re on an island. And then my other home base is south padre island. So that’s two hours south and it’s again another island – go over a bridge and it’s a different…
You’re obviously in the ocean, you’re on the water, but it’s kind of like a different kind of Texas than what you would expect.
Mark: Yeah, I don’t usually think of Texas as the Gulf of Mexico – or if I do, I think oil.
Yeah, so it’s more like Florida probably.
Prime: Yeah, a little bit. Yeah.
Mark: That’s interesting.
Prime: Right, except the water isn’t as blue.
Mark: It’s not as blue, because of the oil, right?
Prime: Right. And it’s a little dark.
Mark: That’s interesting. So how did you get into where you were working at the pool teaching or doing the water survival stuff?
Prime: Right. So, I knew that… from talking to people that were in recon or force recon or going into MARSOC or training for MARSOC that the water portions were a huge point of like friction.
Prime: Failure for people. So they’re like, “you got to get good in the water. Most people wash out in the water.”
One of the schools that I had available – because in the infantry and the marines, it’s hard to get schools to be honest with you.
Mark: Except for sniper school, apparently.
Prime: Right. The only school that I had available to me at that point was… oh and my swim qualification was at the highest that it could be at that point, so if you’re high and they have slots to school and they need people at the pool to work – if they need instructors and all those things are lining up – then you can make a case and say, “hey, I’m this guy. I have a year left on my contract and I’m ready to go to the water survival course.”
And so it worked out. I had a friend that was working at the pool, so I got in.
I got in, I did all of the like water survival courses that they offered at the pool. Which was like their own kind of hodgepodge, backyard wrestling, water survival course. And then I did a combat water safety swimmer course.
Which was like the pre-curser. Then I went to the water survival course, which was three weeks. And for me, I’m negatively buoyant, so I sink fast. And that was hard that was a very a big challenge for me to do the water survival course, I found out. Because we’re doing a lot of rescues, and it’s full gear rescue…
So you’re wearing a plate carrier without plates, a helmet, even rifle, boots, everything… and you’re taking each other down and doing the whole rescue underwater over and over and over and over and over, on top of everything else. But that would seem to be the hardest challenge.
But long story short – water survival school built a lot of like the technical pieces of swimming and coaching and training water confidence. But it’s just a three-week course, so to really integrate and like solidify everything that I learned there, it didn’t really happen until I got back to the pool that I worked at, and I started leading trainings and briefing every day multiple times. And then like starting to figure out what works and what doesn’t work with unlocking results for these marines.
Because some of them that come in to get their annual swim qualification or whatever it is… or jump off the 30-foot high tower? Some of them have horrible water confidence. And some of them are very scared of heights.
So what can I do? And how can I show up? And what are the things that I can say that’s going to get them across the pool with whatever they need to get done? And what can I do to get that’s going to get them safely off that tower, without them coming down with negative paperwork? Or me having to like – sometimes I give them a little nudge to get them off, but – so it’s like thousands of reps that I started to get.
And then there’s all kinds of random trainings that are going on there. There’s like 100 marines that come for a swim call here – and then an hour later there’s 20 recon guys that are doing this training and then there’s this and this and this and this…
So as a young marine I was responsible – and the instructors were with me, and my partner Don Tran was with me as well at that time. And we were young marines, and we were responsible for that and all the training.
So we became well-versed in risk management – and operational risk management – which we use all of that every day.
Mark: But before you got out and started the water work that you’re doing now, you went into the marine raiders, actually. You got into MARSOC
Mark: So what was that experience like? Good, bad and ugly?
I’ve actually never interviewed a MARSOC marine. I’ve interviewed a ton of seals, obviously, and a few special forces guys…
Prime: That’s awesome and thanks for doing it. It felt like a startup.
Mark: Yeah. Pretty early days. 2008? What year were you in?
Prime: So coming in in 2009 at ITC…
Mark: Yeah, MARSOC didn’t form until ’07, I think…
Mark: Yeah, because the SOCOM Det happened in 2004. It took them two years to kind of figure things out. And then yeah, 2009. So you were really early.
Prime: Yeah, so I’m coming in like… I felt like the second wave…. Like, there’s already a foothold and like momentum. And so we come in.
But there’s still not a lot of systems and organization, or these specific things that take time to develop.
And so it was doing more with less – I hated that a lot, when I was in the military, but I’m so appreciative of it. Because it breeds innovation. And if you have everything…
Mark: You can get complacent, right?
Prime: Right. And so we would always get like upset whenever we go to Guam or something and we see like we have these little lockers like this, but the seals have a huge…
It’s like, “that’s not fair.”
It was like, “hey dude, we’re like four years old…”
Mark: When I was in the teams, it was like that. We were a little bit further along in terms of our timeline, but man we did not have all the Gucci gear that they have nowadays. We had to make do and use riggers tape and bubble gum… fix things…
And then it started to really flow especially around 9/11. After that the money just gets opened up for SOCOM.
Prime: Yeah. So getting into selection… selection was such a different experience from everything that I had experienced in the marine corps so far. And you’re kind of on your own for roughly 30 days. And it’s zero talk, all action.
And I was like, “yes!” I loved it. And I’m a little bit introverted, so I can go by myself and figure stuff out. And I like that – being a lone operator, sometimes. I like being in a team as well, but I like doing that.
So I loved selection, it was run so professionally. And just it was a good starting point.
And then I thought that that was like the kicker. And then I got to ITC, and that’s the individual training course, which is modeled…
Mark: It’s like their BUD/S…
Prime: Right. And so that was like we got there, and we had like a hundred people – everybody passed selection – so we’re like, “oh yeah. Maybe there will be a couple of people that drop out of this, but for the most part we’re all gonna make it through.”
And it’s like, nah. (laughing) we graduated with like 12 of the original people that started. And that was still when they were figuring out the schoolhouse. So they made huge changes after that class, because there wasn’t a lot of ROI – return on investment – for the work…
Mark: Yeah, that’s a little bit high attrition, but it’s about what the seals to this day have.
Prime: I know…
Mark: And no matter what they do, they can’t fix the attrition. They’ve been able to nudge it up by about 5%.
Prime: Yeah, in my class we had 185 – 19 graduated. And it’s pretty typical. You end up with some great operators, but you know that there’s some great operators who just… some stupid thing happened, right?
Some instructor marked him down because he was having a bad day. The instructor was having a bad day, you know what I mean? So a lot of good people get passed by unfortunately.
Mark: But it is what it is.
Mark: That’s cool. So what was operating in SOCOM like or in the MARSOC – and where did you operate and let’s talk about that experience in Afghanistan.
Prime: Yeah, so getting in, I was a new guy just coming out of individual training course and selection – we were the first ones to go through ITC, so when we got to our unit, I got stationed at first raider battalion. A lot of the older guys that were legit, that had the combat experience, that were the leaders – none of them had been through.
Mark: And a lot of those guys… they seeded from the SOCOM Det and then they went directly in there from recon without an ITC program.
Prime: Yeah. And legends, amazing. And really, like I can’t say enough about the recon community and the force recon community. And how MARSOC was built off the backs of those guys that succeeded in the pilot program. And what it set up for us.
But then even going back to the World War II marine raiders, and the lineage with that. Those guys are just absolutely phenoms. And the culture that they set is like second to none.
So what it was like operating, coming into that, was like high sense of urgency to perform… and so that unlocked a lot of flow states in the shooting package or in this or in this…
Because all these guys that have done 50 shooting packages or whatever… they’ve got every story, and they’ve done all this stuff and it’s like, “hey, I have to show up and I have to perform.”
Mark: For the listeners; the shooting package is basically a course. But you do the course – you might do the same course five or six times in your career. And it’s just like refresher training. That training has a crawl, walk, run kind of battle rhythm to it, right?
So by the time you’re done with the quote-unquote “package,” whether it’s three weeks or six weeks, you’re running and gunning pretty hard.
But then you go do it over again on your next pump or your next whatever… and so you just keep on refining those skills. It’s cool.
Prime: Yeah, and I mean even like when you’re just starting out with that level of shooting and all that to have like as a new guy having all your magazines loaded a certain way and be ready for the next drill and all that stuff.
And then be managing all your responsibilities in the team, and all this stuff… that builds a lot of capacity for you to expand your plate, and what you’re what’s possible for you. And what you can accomplish as an individual.
And then what you can bring to your team. So it was it was crucial.
And so we had very few new guys in our company and in our team. It was just a couple of us, and so we had an amazing example that was in front of us. From across the board, from all teams.
And we were in Charlie company “msob” at the time, now it’s first raider battalion – first marine special operations battalion. And we were training… prepping to go to Afghanistan. And they had been going off to Afghanistan for the last couple rotations. So they were very savvy in their experience that they had had thus far. And how that was different from Iraq.
Mark: And what was the mission that you guys had over there?
Prime: We were doing VSO – village stability operations – was what our team did. And so we were working on stability development and governance in a certain area of Helmand, Afghanistan. That just also happened to be an enemy village. And so we had very few…
Mark: You have an fob in the village or outside?
Prime: It was in the village.
Mark: In the village. So you were camped in an enemy village…?
Prime: Yes. For seven months.
Mark: Holy cow.
Prime: Yeah, we had two sites. So most of our team was at the main team site, and then me and a couple other operators were at a logistics hub, with the Afghan special forces team and an army infantry squad. And then whatever contractors and other cats and dogs were there.
But there was one medic there. There was like couple operators and me. And we were in charge of that site.
And then our team, that had most of the hitters, was at the other site.
Mark: Interesting. And why did you split your forces like that?
Prime: Two positions are better than one. Especially there. And then we could have two g-bosses – cameras that are up. And that kept the enemy back.
Prime: And towards the end, we ended up folding in one site. And we folded the camera, and then we moved everyone. And this is like the last couple weeks.
And literally that first day that we brought that down, they came in on us…
Mark: No kidding. Because you had snipers out there, so the camera could pick up the movement and then could take…
Mark: I see. Interesting.
Is that where you had your incident?
Mark: Okay. You started to tell me about that before we started, let’s talk about that.
Prime: Yeah, so nine years ago this week – two days from now – well, if you remember, that was the peak of green on blue insider attacks in Afghanistan. That year, 2012.
Mark: Insider attack is when – and these are mostly Afghan who were supported and trained by the US – supposed to be working alongside, attacked a US soldier or unit…
Mark: That’s horrible.
Prime: Yeah, and so there was a lot of things that were happening obviously there at the time. But then also back here, that were creating a lot of friction for us. So there was a priest in Florida that burned a Koran. And then there was a cartoon video that came out about the Prophet Muhammad being all this funny stuff…
And so those things – there’s second and third order effects to those acts. That people were doing back here. And literally like the guys that were in the village…
Mark: Wasn’t that the same video that that was blamed for the Benghazi attack?
Prime: I believe so.
Prime: But those things matter.
Mark: Yeah, they do.
Prime: And they had huge repercussions for us. And we felt them like that. Even villages that we would drive through before that were friendly, now we’re driving through and it’s like a whole different environment.
Mark: No kidding…
Prime: And so I just say that, because that still sticks out to me that the actions of the individuals here in the US were creating so much trouble for us over there. I don’t think they even realized that.
Mark: Right. You can guarantee they didn’t realize it.
Prime: Right. Of course.
So all that… and that’s kind of setting the stage. So we had been in country for four, maybe five months at this time. So got in and had some teammates that were wounded, that had already been sent back. We had tons of Afghans that had been wounded. And all these different kinetic… just tons of medevacs and everything was just non-stop.
And then we had had an Afghan special forces team with us that whole time, and they had just transitioned out to get a new team in. And so we had challenges with them when we first started… but they ended up being in some really challenging missions with us.
So we worked it out with them, and we really grew, we became a team. The next crew that just came in – the first crew looked like, and they acted sometimes kind of cartoonish, where they’re like “we don’t want to go on mission.” Like and they’re in their underwear.
These next guys that came they’re like force recon – like, boom. Long beards, all gear is ready to go, like just locked in. I’m responsible for training for the Afghan special forces and the local police. That was my job right and so I’m like, “hey, can you guys help support me with training? We work with you to train the Afghan local police.”
“We can run it.” Like, they just took it over and then so I’m like, “wow, these guys are next level.” Like, all this stuff.
And with those guys, we don’t vet them… we get them handed to us, right? So they’re already vetted from higher…
Mark: By Afghan, or US….?
Prime: By us. So they’ve made it through all the different ranks of the Afghan military from like being in the army, to being in the rangers, to being in this, to going into the special operations training, to now they’re sf.
And so they’ve had so many vetting… so when they get to us, we monitor them, but we’re not vetting them to see if they’re good or bad. They should be good because yeah, our command is giving them…
So five days in to this – it’s during the hottest time of the year – it’s also a time where the Afghans are fasting, and they’re doing Ramadan work. And so there’s situations that are like – when it’s 130 or 120 degrees and you’re fasting.
But there’s a small amount of us that live here, so if a truck comes that’s the monthly shipment of water, we need everybody to help get it off. And so there were things like that, where it’s like, “hey, we need everyone.”
And then they were fasting, and they got upset or whatever. And this and this and this…
But long story short, it was an insider attack. And it was nine years ago on the 13th – so three days from now, on august 13, 2012. I got woken up at 7 a.m. by someone that was on security and told me that I had an Afghan outside at the gate that wanted to talk with me.
So I grabbed my interpreter, we went out and just something real silly or whatever, so I dealt with it and then the villager left.
I came in. I sat down at a picnic table and started eating cereal. And I’m sitting there – I’m in board shorts, I have a Glock on my board shorts, I have like a tank top on…
Mark: No body armor…
Prime: No body armor, nothing… and my sunglasses were on top of my head, so they weren’t covering my eyes. And I had a four-wheeler right next to my picnic table.
And so I was eating, and then all of a sudden it just went “shh-boom”, and I was on the ground. And I was like delirious a little bit. And I thought that the four-wheeler had exploded out of nowhere.
And then all of a sudden, another explosion…
Mark: Are these mortars or rockets?
Mark: Rpgs. Oh shit.
Prime: Yeah, so this guy this Afghan social forces guy that’s in the tower that’s like 25 feet right here – he’s in there…
Mark: And he’s aiming at you…
Prime: He’s aiming at me. And he made up his mind that morning that this is it – this is his last stand. So there was an altercation the night before that we didn’t know about within their team.
Mark: And he decided his loyalties were with whoever – Taliban or al-Qaeda… against America…
Prime: Yeah, so he was against his own team and us.
Prime: And so the way that it played out was I ended up getting like knocked unconscious – he was just re-attacking and shooting – like, reloading and shooting, reloading and shooting…
So there was over 12 rpgs that he ended up getting off. But not all of them were at me in that kill zone.
Mark: Okay, (laughing) I was going to say he’s not a very good shot, because obviously you walked away.
Prime: No. But at least at least four of them were in the kill zone with me in there… and so I ended up being able to… I remember laying on the ground after being blacked out and like holding my eyes, because I could feel my glasses were here.
And I held my eyes open like this. And I couldn’t see. And I thought I was blinded. And I started kind of like panicking a little bit. And having like disparity and thinking about just like worse things.
And then all of a sudden, I like focused… was able to see.
And then, just to my right, there’s the interpreter living space. So I roll over, I crawl in there and I get in there. And there’s two of my interpreters – they’re just holding hands and going, “big problem! Big problem!”
Mark: (laughing) no shit.
Prime: And I was like, “I got to get out of here. This is not helping anything. I got to get to somewhere where something can be done. Communication.”
So I crawled out and got into the operations center. But the operation center is right underneath where this guy is shooting the rpgs. Like literally, I ran right underneath him in here. And he was probably reloading.
Because as soon as I got in there, he hit the operation center with the first one – “boom.” And it’s just a little dugout – I don’t even know – it’s just a bunker with a bunch of sandbags on it and whatever else.
And that’s where we were communicating to the main team – our team that was at the other site…
Mark: Could they hear it? I’m sure they knew something was going on.
Prime: Yeah. But we thought we were locked in with mortars. We thought we were locked in. That they had mortars locked in and it was the A-team that had locked in and that they were hitting direct hits.
And we were so scared, because we were like, “dude, we still have four months of deployment or something. If they’ve got us locked in…”
Mark: So you didn’t know the guy was in the tower…
Prime: No. And that was honestly my biggest takeaway from the whole thing and all of the research and case study type work that I’ve done with other insider attacks looking into them, is that it was missed by everybody that this was coming from inside of our own security bubble.
Mark: Interesting. You’re always looking outside the wire for the attackers.
Prime: Yeah. The human mind preconceives that this is safe and that it’s not coming from this or however that works…
Mark: It’s a failure of imagination just like we talked about with 9/11…
Mark: Because you don’t expect that. These are your peeps. Okay, so how’d you guys get out of that?
Prime: So we were in there with a couple of my teammates and we’re communicating with the other team and there’s other things going down. There’s other Taliban that are right outside of our perimeter that are getting killed, and other stuff.
Doing the same thing. So it’s kind of confusing to like put it all together – and we have a couple Afghan special forces guys that ran out of our compound in the daylight into the village. That’s unheard of. We don’t even put our hand over the wall, because they’ll start shooting at you.
We definitely don’t run out. Yeah, if you expose yourself in the daytime at this place, you’re done. Like, I used to do serial numbers and stuff, and manage the CMR and all of the inventory. And so I have to get these serial numbers on top of the vehicle and stuff.
And if I did it even with remote light sometimes, I’d get a couple pop shots at me. I had an armory that was on one side of our camp that was kind of elevated to where they could see and from certain parts of the green zone. And sometimes when I’d go in there and like unlock it, they’d start “pop, pop, pop.”
So it was a wild thing, but all of that being said – we all expected for the attacks to come from outside. Because that was the norm.
So when this one time it came from inside, we couldn’t conceive that. And when we finally did, it was one of the army guys came over the radio and said, “hey, one of the interpreters is saying that one of the Afghans is in the tower. He’s gone crazy and he needs to get killed.”
We’re like, “oh my gosh. Okay, now we understand what’s going on. And now we know we have isolated the problem. So now we can work the problem.
So we ended up going out and like clearing our way outside of the operations building. Around to where all the Afghans that were on the back of the building doing something. So we went back there to their whole team, and they were like completely distraught, trying to get their weapons and all this other stuff.
Long story short – three other guys had gotten killed in this thing. Because they were trying to go up into the tower to help attack out or whatever they were doing. And this guy was like, “don’t come up here. I’ll kill you.”
And they’re like, “no way.” And they start going, and he kills them. And then the other guy comes up… like, their captain climbed up on their living space to try to shoot him. To try to get a vantage point.
And as soon as he peeked up, he shot him in the head. So now he’s down. The first guy that ran up is down, and then a third guy tried to go up the tower to get him – he shot him right when he started running.
So now there’s three guys that are like dead…
Mark: He killed his own guys?
Prime: Yeah. So then we ended up getting him, taking care of him – and then after that, that was done.
Mark: And what was the medical fallout for you? Did you get concussed, and did you have any issues from that?
Prime: Yeah, so loss of consciousness, and concussion, and just afterwards I felt very delirious – kind of like I was still able to do my job a little bit in that situation afterwards. And question key people, and do different things, and separate everyone from their weapons and whatever…
But I was like goofy. And many people had gotten concussions, so we got examined by the medic and some of us got flown out medevac, but we were back within like two days.
So yeah, and I also want to just mention and honor three fallen raiders that were killed on this day that year as well in an insider attack –
Mark: Geez. Not with your team.
Prime: Not with our team, but they were in another team in our company. So Matt Manoukian – Captain Matt Manoukian, Ryan Jeske…
Mark: I know Ryan. I trained Ryan. We trained him at SEALFIT. What a phenomenal guy. I always wondered what happened to Ryan…
Prime: And Skye Moat. So he passed in that insider attack. It was it was this day. So I mentioned them because they’ve been on my mind all day…
Mark: When I trained Ryan, he was thinking about delta.
Mark: But he ended up going MARSOC.
Prime: Yeah, he was so… I mean, he trained…
Mark: He was a stud. Wow, yeah. Thanks for bringing that up. God bless those guys and all operators who lost their lives yeah in Afghanistan. Look what’s happening now.
Taliban taking it back. What a waste in my opinion. But we do what we do as warriors, right?