By Jeanette Steele, UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
Sunday, May 2, 2010
Navy Chief Petty Officer Mike Carrol deployed to Iraq in 2007 and
remains on active duty today, at 53, to train fellow reservists.
Mike Carroll couldn’t touch his knees together. Couldn’t play
basketball with his children. Couldn’t walk other than taking “a big
limp,” he said.
The former Navy SEAL wasn’t going to let those limitations drown his
dream of returning to the special-warfare compound in Coronado to
help in the war effort.
At age 49 in 2006, Carroll wasn’t the oldest SEAL to re-enlist after
an absence. But he was certainly not the usual face in the
Adding to the odds against him, he was packing two artificial hips.
Even with that weighing down his résumé, the Alpine resident
deployed to Iraq in 2007 with his special-warfare team and remains
on active duty today as a trainer of fellow reservists.
It was a long shot, Carroll is the first to acknowledge.
“If the dream’s big enough, there’s nothing that you can’t overcome,
especially with technology,” said Carroll, now 53.
Being a SEAL, the Navy’s elite sea-air-land combat force, is usually
a young man’s game.
The age ceiling for entry is 28. Highly sought-after candidates can
get an age waiver up to 30. An enlisted SEAL looking to become an
officer may receive a pass up to 33.
Carroll remembers seeing a Navy doctor a few weeks after the Sept.
11, 2001, attacks. Angered by the terrorist action, he wanted to get
back on a SEAL team and use his 16 years of military experience.
Carroll, who ran a computer-based business after leaving the Navy,
kept in shape over the years. He was roughly 6 feet and 183 pounds.
He told the physician that his joints felt fine. Then the doctor
asked him to perform a few side lunges and knee bends.
“I couldn’t do it,” Carroll remembered. “The doctor said, ‘We can’t
take you Mike, you’d be a liability.’ ”
So Carroll basically gave up. Surgeons said he was too young for a
hip replacement, which is usually reserved for older people because
of the chance that the artificial parts will break down over time.
Carroll, a former senior chief petty officer, felt deflated. He had
wanted to serve as an example of patriotism to his young sons. They
knew he had been a SEAL but had never seen him go to work in combat
Then one day a buddy called to point out an article about a new hip
procedure. Carroll bought the magazine immediately.
By March 2004, he was on an operating table in Los Angeles. The
treatment replaces only the outer part of the hip joint with metal.
It can be a place holder for a future total hip replacement or, if
it works, a permanent fix.
Carroll’s surgeon, Dr. Thomas Schmalzried, said the former SEAL was
basically the prototype for the procedure – someone still young and
fit whose joints just gave out too early.
“Mike is a special person. I was proud that he was able to continue
as a SEAL with two artificial hips,” Schmalzried said.
After the surgery, Carroll managed to get age and medical waivers
from the Navy, though he had to drop a rank.
His return took some convincing of re-enlistment officials, so he
called on his former teammates. One of them was Cmdr. Roger Meek,
who had become an officer at the special-warfare base in Coronado.
The higher-ups largely foresaw that Carroll’s role would be training
younger SEALs, which is what special-warfare veterans switch to as
they finish their careers. But Meek said he wouldn’t have
recommended Carroll if he didn’t believe it was safe to place
another sailor’s life in his hands, as SEALs do in the tight corners
“He’s a very thorough and squared-away guy with a good reputation
for getting things done,” Meek said. “In our community, reputation
The surgery left Carroll with two hockey-stick-shaped scars on his
hips, but no complications so far. He now leads daily fitness
workouts for his unit.
Sure, the younger SEALs call him “grandpa.” In Iraq, the
second-oldest SEAL in Carroll’s unit was only 36. Another sailor
teases him that this story will appear on the cover of AARP
Carroll said he is living the dream, with a year to go until
“I think there’s a little bit of respect there from the younger
guys,” he said. “When they ask me how old I am, they can’t really
believe I’m that old – at least that’s what they say. Maybe they are
just being nice.”
He adds, grinning, “I feel like a 25-year-old man.”