By CNN Pentagon Producer Larry Shaughnessy
There's a saying that old soldiers just "fade away," but retired Army Lt. Gen. James Vaught, who is known for being unconventional, sure isn't fading away.
Vaught on Tuesday scolded Adm. William McRaven - head of Special Operations Command and the officer who oversaw the raid that killed Osama bin Laden - for all the attention his elite troops have been getting lately.
"One of these days if you keep publishing how you do this, the other guy's gonna be there waiting for you and you're gonna fly in and he's gonna shoot down every darn helicopter," Vaught said with passion and even a bit of shouting. "Get the hell out of the media!"
His warning came in a question-and-answer session that followed McRaven's address at a Washington symposium on Special Operations Forces.
Vaught is no average retired general. His time in the Army dates back to World War II. He served in Korea and was in Vietnam during the Tet offensive. He eventually worked his way up to be the commander of the task force that tried to rescue the U.S. hostages in Iran in 1979.
The failure of that mission is a milestone in the creation of today's U.S. Special Operations Command.
McRaven said he understood Vaught's concerns.
"I take your point sir," he said. "We don't ever want to get to the point where our sensitive tactics, techniques and procedures are open for everybody to take a look at so that next time we come in on a target we are exposed."
Still, McRaven, who until his latest promotion was rather media shy, argued some media attention is good for the Special Operations Command, which encompasses elite troops in all service branches.
"You can't pick up a paper without seeing some reference to Special Operations, and I'm very proud of that fact," McRaven said.
He added it's also unavoidable: "With the social media what it is today, with the press and the 24-hour news cycle, it's very difficult to get away from it. But not only does the media focus on our successes, we've had a few failures. And I think having those failures exposed in the media also helps focus our attention, helps us do a better job."
A new film about Navy SEALs, "Act of Valor," got a high-profile push with advertisements during the Super Bowl.
The film bills itself as a "motion picture starring active duty Navy SEALS." Special Operations Forces are rarely publicly identified, but McRaven said this movie is not exposing SEALs who were supposed to remain in the shadows.
"It was initially started as recruiting film so that we could help recruit minorities into the teams. If you've seen the trailer, we think it accurately represents a number of the acts of valor," McRaven said.
He told the symposium's audience that the new film, which was started five years ago, also shows the bigger American military at its best. "You'll see that there are special warfare combatant craft crewmen, there is the big Navy, big Air Force. I mean, admittedly it focuses on the SEALs, but it shows that support of the broader services."
His support of a Hollywood movie of the Navy SEALs while at the same time keeping very secret the names of the SEALs who took part in perhaps the greatest Special Operations mission ever, the bin Laden raid, perhaps dates back to his start in the military.
"One of the reasons I became a Navy SEAL was that my sister was dating a Green Beret, and the green beret actually convinced me to become a Navy SEAL," he said. "But the reason I was so infatuated was I'd seen this movie starring John Wayne called 'The Green Berets.' So the fact of the matter is there have always been portrayals of (Special Operations Forces) out in the mainstream media."
He did not say what became of his sister's romance with the Green Beret.