The education received by Cutter is far from conventional. Born an only child, his parents are left wing Democrats with academic backgrounds: his father is a Professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley, while his mother, originally from Norway, is a translator.
His parents put little pressure on him to study, but they do impress upon him the importance of a number of values: frankness, respect for the weak, tolerance, and justice. They also teach him to be extremely independent and live life unconventionally. From his bilingual parents, Cutter also inheriteds a love of foreign languages and a gift for learning them (in fact, this is the only area in which he excelled academically).
Apart from his gift for foreign languages (and a liking for history), during his college years, Cutter realizes his aptitude for sports. He is very good at athletics in general, but excels in American Football. He quickly becomes indispensable as the quarterback in his college football team, so the College authorities overlook his poor academic record. In 1987, Cutter secretly joins the Navy. Although he is rather put off by the military discipline, only the Navy can offer him the chance to experience the action and adventure he craves. His family, particularly his father, find this totally incomprehensible. Cutter excels during training and he is naturally selected to attend the Navy SEAL's training camp. He is considered exceptionally talented there as well, and is noticed by Major Doug Dawson.
During the course of the next few years, still under the attentive, yet somewhat distant eyes of Major Dawson, Cutter becomes one of the most well known members of the SEALs. His career is a reflection of the shadier areas of American foreign policy; Panama, South America, and the Middle East are frequently the scenes of his activities. Cutter is able to indulge his love of adventure and action in the SEALs, but his various operations leave him wondering whether the violence and reasoning behind his missions are justified.
In the months prior to his final mission, Cutter becomes more distant from the Navy, having no contact with other SEALs outside of his missions. He begins to drink heavily in his off-hours. This does not go unnoticed by his superior officers, including Cutter's mentor, Doug Dawson. No one, however, intervenes. Cutter returns to the SEAL camp after being injured during a mission. While regaining his strength, Cutter is assigned to lead a public relations mission with reporter Marion Wolfe, the daughter of Senator Clare Fitzgerald, and her photographer. During the mission, the photographer dies in an accident. Much to Cutter's surprise, Senator Fitzgerald blames the photographer's death on Cutter, calling Cutter an irresponsible adventurer.
For two years the Senator conducts an investigation looking into Cutter's activities. The picture she paints is that of a violent soldier who has gone AWOL and drinks heavily. With the help of her lawyers, the Senator forces Cutter to resign at half-pay. Cutter's abilities as a ""war machine"" slowly decline as his time away from the SEALs increases. The only thing that prevents him from indulging in his love for Vodka is his friend Doug Dawson (now an Admiral). The President of the United States asks Admiral Dawson to create the PROWLERS, an unofficial team of capable, anonymous and trained men who carry out a variety of secret and dangerous missions. The Admiral naturally recruits Cutter as Commander in charge of Operations.