United States Navy SEALs
The United States Navy's "Sea, Air, and Land" Teams, commonly known as the Navy SEALs, are the U.S. Navy's primary special operations force and a component of the Naval Special Warfare Command. Among the SEALs' main function is to conduct small-unit maritime military operations that originate from, and return to, a river, ocean, swamp, delta, or coastline. The SEALs are trained to operate in all environments (Sea, Air, and Land) for which they are named.
As of 2016, all active SEALs are currently male and members of the U.S. Navy. The CIA's highly secretive and elite Special Operations Group (SOG) recruits operators from SEAL Teams, with joint operations going back to the MACV-SOG during the Vietnam War. This cooperation still exists today, as evidenced by military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The modern day U.S. Navy SEALs can trace their roots to World War II. The United States Navy recognized the need for the covert reconnaissance of landing beaches and coastal defenses. As a result, the Amphibious Scout and Raider School was established in 1942 at Fort Pierce, Florida. The Scouts and Raiders were formed in September of that year, just nine months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, from the Observer Group, a joint U.S. Army-Marine-Navy unit.
Scouts and Raiders
Recognizing the need for a beach reconnaissance force, a select group of Army and Navy personnel assembled at Amphibious Training Base Little Creek, Virginia on August 15, 1942 to begin Amphibious Scouts and Raiders (joint) training. The Scouts and Raiders mission was to identify and reconnoiter the objective beach, maintain a position on the designated beach prior to a landing, and guide the assault waves to the landing beach.
The first group included Phil H. Bucklew, the "Father of Naval Special Warfare," after whom the Naval Special Warfare Center building is named. Commissioned in October 1942, this group saw combat in November 1942 during Operation Torch on the North African coast. Scouts and Raiders also supported landings in Sicily, Salerno, Anzio, Normandy, and southern France.
A second group of Scouts and Raiders, code-named Special Service Unit No. 1, was established on 7 July 1943, as a joint and combined operations force. The first mission, in September 1943, was at Finschhafen in Papua New Guinea. Later operations were at Gasmata, Arawe, Cape Gloucester, and the east and south coasts of New Britain, all without any loss of personnel. Conflicts arose over operational matters, and all non-Navy personnel were reassigned. The unit, renamed 7th Amphibious Scouts, received a new mission, to go ashore with the assault boats, buoy channels, erect markers for the incoming craft, handle casualties, take offshore soundings, clear beach obstacles and maintain voice communications linking the troops ashore, incoming boats and nearby ships. The 7th Amphibious Scouts conducted operations in the Pacific for the duration of the conflict, participating in more than 40 landings.
The third and final Scouts and Raiders organization operated in China. Scouts and Raiders were deployed to fight with the Sino-American Cooperative Organization, or SACO. To help bolster the work of SACO, Admiral Ernest J. King ordered that 120 officers and 900 men be trained for "Amphibious Raider" at the Scout and Raider school at Fort Pierce, Florida. They formed the core of what was envisioned as a "guerrilla amphibious organization of Americans and Chinese operating from coastal waters, lakes and rivers employing small steamboats and sampans." While most Amphibious Raider forces remained at Camp Knox in Calcutta, three of the groups saw active service. They conducted a survey of the upper Yangtze River in the spring of 1945 and, disguised as coolies, conducted a detailed three-month survey of the Chinese coast from Shanghai to Kitchioh Wan, near Hong Kong.
Naval Combat Demolition Units
In September 1942, 17 Navy salvage personnel arrived at ATB Little Creek, VA for a week long course in demolitions, explosive cable cutting and commando raiding techniques. On November 10, 1942, the first combat demolition unit successfully cut cable and net barriers across the Wadi Sebou River during Operation Torch in North Africa. This enabled the USS Dallas (DD-199) to traverse the water and insert U.S. Rangers who captured the Port Lyautey airdrome.
On 7 May 1943, Lieutenant Commander Draper L. Kauffman, "The Father of Naval Combat Demolition," was directed to set up a school and train people to eliminate obstacles on an enemy-held beach prior to an invasion. On 6 June 1943, LCDR Kauffman established Naval Combat Demolition Unit training at Fort Pierce. Most of Kauffman's volunteers came from the navy's engineering and construction battalions. Training commenced with a gruelling week designed to filter out under-performing candidates. By April 1944, a total of 34 NCDUs were deployed to England in preparation for Operation Overlord, the amphibious landing at Normandy. On 6 June 1944, in the face of great adversity, the NCDUs at Omaha Beach managed to blow eight complete gaps and two partial gaps in the German defenses. The NCDUs suffered 31 killed and 60 wounded, a casualty rate of 52%. Meanwhile, the NCDUs at Utah Beach met less intense enemy fire. They cleared 700 yards (640 metres) of beach in two hours, another 900 yards (820 metres) by the afternoon.
Casualties at Utah Beach were significantly lighter with six killed and eleven wounded. During Operation Overlord, not a single demolitioneer was lost to improper handling of explosives. In August 1944, NCDUs from Utah Beach participated in the landings in southern France, the last amphibious operation in the European Theater of Operations. NCDUs also operated in the Pacific theater. NCDU 2, under LTjg Frank Kaine, after whom the Naval Special Warfare Command building is named, and NCDU 3 under LTjg Lloyd Anderson, formed the nucleus of six NCDUs that served with the Seventh Amphibious Force tasked with clearing boat channels after the landings from Biak to Borneo.
OSS Maritime Unit
Some of the earliest World War II predecessors of the SEALs were the Operational Swimmers of the Office of Strategic Services, or OSS. Many current SEAL missions were first assigned to them. OSS specialized in special operations, dropping operatives behind enemy lines to engage in organized guerrilla warfare as well as to gather information on such things as enemy resources and troop movements. British Combined Operations veteran LCDR Wooley, of the Royal Navy, was placed in charge of the OSS Maritime Unit in June 1943. Their training started in November 1943 at Camp Pendleton, California, moved to Santa Catalina Island, California in January 1944, and finally moved to the warmer waters of The Bahamas in March 1944. Within the U.S. military, they pioneered flexible swimfins and diving masks, closed-circuit diving equipment (under the direction of Dr. Christian J. Lambertsen), the use of Swimmer Delivery Vehicles (a type of submersible), and combat swimming and limpet mine attacks. In May 1944, Colonel "Wild Bill" Donovan, the head of the OSS, divided the unit into groups. He loaned Group 1, under Lieutenant Choate, to Admiral Nimitz, as a way to introduce the OSS into the Pacific theater. They became part of UDT-10 in July 1944. Five OSS men participated in the very first UDT submarine operation with the USS Burrfish in the Caroline Islands in August 1944.
Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT)
On 23 November 1943, the U.S. Marine landing on Tarawa Atoll emphasized the need for hydrographic reconnaissance and underwater demolition of obstacles prior to any amphibious landing. The islands in this area have unpredictable tide changes and shallow reefs preventing the naval transport vessels from progressing. The first wave crossed the reef in Amtracs, but the second in Higgins boats were not as successful. They got stuck on a reef due to low tide. The Marines were forced to unload and wade to shore. This proved to be a daunting task and many Marines were killed or drowned before reaching the beach. Without support from the second wave the Marines in Amtracs were slaughtered on the beach. This was a valuable lesson that the Navy did not want to be repeated. After the Tarawa landing, Rear Admiral Richmond K. Turner directed the formation of nine Underwater Demolition Teams. Thirty officers and 150 enlisted men were moved to the Waimānalo Amphibious Training Base to form the nucleus of a demolition training program. This group became Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT) ONE and TWO.
The UDTs saw their first combat on 31 January 1944, during Operation Flintlock in the Marshall Islands. Flintlock became the real catalyst for the UDT training program in the Pacific Theater. In February 1944, the Naval Combat Demolition Training and Experimental Base was established at Kīhei, Maui, next to the Amphibious Base at Kamaole. Eventually, 34 UDT teams were established. Wearing swim suits, fins, and dive masks on combat operations, these "Naked Warriors" saw action across the Pacific in every major amphibious landing including: Eniwetok, Saipan, Guam, Tinian, Angaur, Ulithi, Peleliu, Leyte, Lingayen Gulf, Zambales, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Labuan, Brunei Bay, and on 4 July 1945 at Balikpapan on Borneo, which was the last UDT demolition operation of the war. The rapid demobilization at the conclusion of the war reduced the number of active duty UDTs to two on each coast with a complement of seven officers and 45 enlisted men each.
The Korean War began on 25 June 1950, when the North Korean army invaded South Korea. Beginning with a detachment of 11 personnel from UDT 3, UDT participation expanded to three teams with a combined strength of 300 men. During the "Forgotten War" the UDTs fought heroically, beginning to employ demolition expertise gained from WWII and use it for an offensive role. Continuing to use water as cover and concealment as well as an insertion method, the Korean Era UDTs targeted bridges, tunnels, fishing nets and other maritime and coastal targets. They also developed a close working relationship with the Republic of Korea naval special forces which continues today.
The UDTs refined and developed their commando tactics during the Korean War, through their focused efforts on demolitions and mine disposal. The UDTs also accompanied South Korean commandos on raids in the North to demolish train tunnels. This was frowned upon by higher-ranking officials because they believed it was a non-traditional use of Naval forces. Due to the nature of the war the UDTs maintained a low operational profile. Some of the missions include transporting spies into North Korea and the destruction of North Korean fishing nets used to supply the North Korean Army.
As part of the Special Operations Group, or SOG, UDTs successfully conducted demolition raids on railroad tunnels and bridges along the Korean coast. The UDTs specialized in a somewhat new mission: Night coastal demolition raids against railroad tunnels and bridges. The UDT men were given the task because, in the words of UDT Lieutenant Ted Fielding, "We were ready to do what nobody else could do, and what nobody else wanted to do." (Ted Fielding was awarded the Silver Star during Korea, and was later promoted to the rank of Captain). On 15 September 1950, UDTs supported Operation Chromite, the amphibious landing at Incheon. UDT 1 and 3 provided personnel who went in ahead of the landing craft, scouting mud flats, marking low points in the channel, clearing fouled propellers, and searching for mines. Four UDT personnel acted as wave-guides for the Marine landing. In October 1950, UDTs supported mine-clearing operations in Wonsan Harbor where frogmen would locate and mark mines for minesweepers. On 12 October 1950, two U.S. minesweepers hit mines and sank. UDTs rescued 25 sailors. The next day, William Giannotti conducted the first U.S. combat operation using an "aqualung" when he dove on the USS Pledge (AM-277). For the remainder of the war, UDTs conducted beach and river reconnaissance, infiltrated guerrillas behind the lines from sea, continued mine sweeping operations, and participated in Operation Fishnet, which devastated the North Koreans' fishing capability.
Birth of Navy SEALs and the Vietnam War
President John F. Kennedy, aware of the situation in Southeast Asia, recognized the need for unconventional warfare and special operations as a measure against guerrilla warfare. In a speech, to Congress, on 25 May 1961, Kennedy spoke of his deep respect for the United States Army Special Forces. While his announcement of the government's plan to put a man on the moon drew most of the attention, in the same speech he announced his intention to spend over $100 million to strengthen U.S. special operations forces and expand American capabilities in unconventional warfare. Some people erroneously credit President Kennedy with creating the Navy SEALs. His announcement was actually only a formal acknowledgement of a process that had been under way since Korea.
The Navy needed to determine its role within the special operations arena. In March 1961, Admiral Arleigh Burke, the Chief of Naval Operations, recommended the establishment of guerrilla and counter-guerrilla units. These units would be able to operate from sea, air or land. This was the beginning of the Navy SEALs. All SEALs came from the Navy's Underwater Demolition Teams, who had already gained extensive experience in commando warfare in Korea; however, the Underwater Demolition Teams were still necessary to the Navy's amphibious force.
The first two teams were formed in January 1962 and stationed on both US coasts: Team One at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, in San Diego, California and Team Two at Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Formed entirely with personnel from UDTs, the SEALs mission was to conduct counter guerilla warfare and clandestine operations in maritime and riverine environments. Men of the newly formed SEAL Teams were trained in such unconventional areas as hand-to-hand combat, high-altitude parachuting, demolitions, and foreign languages. The SEALs attended Underwater Demolition Team replacement training and they spent some time training in UDTs. Upon making it to a SEAL team, they would undergo a SEAL Basic Indoctrination (SBI) training class at Camp Kerry in the Cuyamaca Mountains. After SBI training class, they would enter a platoon and conduct platoon training.
According to founding SEAL team member Roy Boehm, the SEALs' first missions were directed against communist Cuba. These consisted of deploying from submarines and carrying out beach reconnaissance in prelude to a proposed US amphibious invasion of the island. On at least one occasion Boehm and another SEAL smuggled a CIA agent ashore to take pictures of Soviet nuclear missiles being unloaded on the dockside.
The Pacific Command recognized Vietnam as a potential hot spot for unconventional forces. At the beginning of 1962, the UDTs started hydrographic surveys and along with other branches of the US Military, the Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) was formed. In March 1962, SEALs were deployed to South Vietnam as advisors for the purpose of training Army of the Republic of Vietnam commandos in the same methods they were trained themselves.
The Central Intelligence Agency began using SEALs in covert operations in early 1963. The SEALs were involved in the CIA sponsored Phoenix Program where it targeted key North Vietnamese Army personnel and Vietcong sympathizers for capture and assassination.
The SEALs were initially deployed in and around Da Nang, training the South Vietnamese in combat diving, demolitions, and guerrilla/anti-guerrilla tactics. As the war continued, the SEALs found themselves positioned in the Rung Sat Special Zone where they were to disrupt the enemy supply and troop movements and in the Mekong Delta to fulfill riverine operations, fighting on the inland waterways.
Combat with the Viet Cong was direct. Unlike the conventional warfare methods of firing artillery into a coordinate location, the SEALs operated close to their targets. Into the late 1960s, the SEALs were successful in a new style of warfare, effective in anti-guerrilla and guerrilla actions. SEALs brought a personal war to the enemy in a previously safe area. The Viet Cong referred to them as "the men with green faces," due to the camouflage face paint the SEALs wore during combat missions.
In February 1966, a small SEAL Team One detachment arrived in Vietnam to conduct direct actions missions. Operating from Nha Be, in the Rung Sat Special Zone, this detachment signaled the beginning of a SEAL presence that would eventually include 8 SEAL platoons in country on a continuing basis. SEALs also served as advisors for Provincial Reconnaissance Units and the Lein Doc Nguio Nhia, the Vietnamese SEALs. The last SEAL platoon departed Vietnam on Dec 7, 1971. The last SEAL advisor left in March 1973.
SEALs continued to make forays into North Vietnam and Laos, and covertly into Cambodia, controlled by the Studies and Observations Group. The SEALs from Team Two started a unique deployment of SEAL team members working alone with South Vietnamese Commandos (ARVN). In 1967, a SEAL unit named Detachment Bravo (Det Bravo) was formed to operate these mixed US and ARVN units, which were called South Vietnamese Provincial Reconnaissance Units (PRUs).
At the beginning of 1968, the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong orchestrated a major offensive against South Vietnam: the "Tet Offensive". The North hoped it would prove to be America's Dien Bien Phu, attempting to break the American public's desire to continue the war. As propaganda, the Tet Offensive was successful in adding to the American protest of the Vietnam war. However, North Vietnam suffered tremendous casualties, and from a purely military standpoint, the Tet Offensive was a major disaster for the Communists.
By 1970, President Richard Nixon initiated a Plan of Vietnamization, which would remove the US from the Vietnam War and return the responsibility of defense back to the South Vietnamese. Conventional forces were being withdrawn; the last SEAL advisor, left Vietnam in March 1973 and Vietnam fell to the communists in 1975. The SEALs were among the highest decorated units for their size in the war, receiving 2 Navy Crosses, 42 Silver stars, 402 Bronze Stars, 2 Legions of Merit, 352 Commendation Medals, 3 Presidential Unit Citations and 3 Medals of Honor. By the end of the war, 48 SEALs had been killed in Vietnam, but estimates of their kill count are as high as 2,000. The Navy SEAL Museum in Fort Pierce, FL displays a list of the 48 SEALs who lost their lives in combat during the Vietnam War.
Both SEAL Team 4 and SEAL Team 6, the predecessor to DEVGRU, participated in the US invasion of Grenada. The SEALs' two primary missions were the extraction of Grenada's Governor-General and the capture of Grenada's only radio tower. Neither mission was well briefed or sufficiently supported with timely intelligence and the SEALs ran into trouble from the very beginning. One of their two transport planes missed its drop zone, and four SEALs drowned in a rain squall while making an airborne insertion with their boats off the island's coast. Their bodies were never recovered.
After regrouping from their initial insertion the SEALs split into two teams and proceeded to their objectives. After digging in at the Governor's mansion, the SEALs realized they had forgotten to load their cryptographic satellite phone. As Grenadian and Cuban troops surrounded the team, the SEALs' only radio ran out of battery power, and they used the mansion's land line telephone to call in AC-130 gunship fire support. The SEALs were pinned down in the mansion overnight and were relieved and extracted by a group of Marines the following morning.
The team sent to the radio station also ran into communication problems. As soon as the SEALs reached the radio facility they found themselves unable to raise their command post. After beating back several waves of Grenadian and Cuban troops supported by BTR-60 armoured personnel carriers, the SEALs decided that their position at the radio tower was untenable. They destroyed the station and fought their way to the water where they hid from patrolling enemy forces. After the enemy had given up their search the SEALs, some wounded, swam into the open sea where they were extracted several hours later after being spotted by a reconnaissance plane.
During the closing stages of the Iran–Iraq War the United States Navy began conducting operations in the Persian Gulf to protect US-flagged ships from attack by Iranian naval forces. A secret plan was put in place and dubbed Operation Prime Chance. Navy SEAL Teams 1 and 2 along with several Special Boat Units and EOD techs were deployed on mobile command barges and transported by helicopters from the Army's 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. Over the course of the operation SEALs conducted VBSS (Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure) missions to counter Iranian mine laying boats. The only loss of life occurred during the take down of the Iran Ajr. Evidence gathered on the Iran Ajr by the SEALs later allowed the US Navy to trace the mines that struck the USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG-58). This chain of events lead to Operation Praying Mantis, the largest US Naval surface engagement since the Second World War.
During Operation Desert Shield and Storm, Navy SEALs trained Kuwaiti Special Forces. They set up naval special operations groups in Kuwait, working with the Kuwaiti Navy in exile. Using these new diving, swimming, and combat skills, these commandos took part in combat operations such as the liberation of the capital city.
The United States Navy contributed extensive special operations assets to the invasion of Panama, code named Operation Just Cause. This included SEAL Teams 2 and 4, Naval Special Warfare Unit 8, and Special Boat Unit 26, all falling under Naval Special Warfare Group 2; and the separate Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU). DEVGRU fell under Task Force Blue, while Naval Special Warfare Group 2 composed the entirety of Task Force White. Task Force White was tasked with three principal objectives: the destruction of Panamanian Defense Forces (PDF) naval assets in Balboa Harbor and the destruction of Manuel Noriega's private jet at Paitilla Airport (collectively known as Operation Nifty Package), as well as isolating PDF forces on Flamenco Island.
The strike on Balboa Harbor by Task Unit Whiskey is notably marked in SEAL history as the first publicly acknowledged combat swimmer mission since the Second World War. Prior to the commencement of the invasion four Navy SEALs, Lt Edward S. Coughlin, EN-3 Timothy K. Eppley, ET-1 Randy L. Beausoleil, and PH-2 Chris Dye, swam underwater into the harbor on Draeger LAR-V rebreathers and attached C4 explosives to and destroyed Noriega's personal gunboat the Presidente Porras.
Task Unit Papa was tasked with the seizure of Paitilla airfield and the destruction of Noriega's plane there. Several SEALs were concerned about the nature of the mission assigned to them being that airfield seizure was usually the domain of the Army Rangers. Despite these misgivings and a loss of operational surprise, the SEALs of TU Papa proceeded with their mission. Almost immediately upon landing, the 48 SEALs came under withering fire from the PDF stationed at the airfield. Although Noriega's plane was eventually destroyed, the SEALs suffered four dead and thirteen wounded. Killed were Lt. John Connors, Chief Petty Officer Donald McFaul, Torpedoman's Mate 2nd Class Issac Rodriguez, and Boatswain's Mate 1st Class Chris Tilghman.
Persian Gulf War
In August 1990, SEALs were the first western forces to deploy to the Persian Gulf as part of Operation Desert Shield. They infiltrated the capital city of Kuwait within hours of the invasion and gathered intelligence and developed plans to rescue US embassy staff should they become hostages. SEALs were also the first to capture Iraqi Prisoners of War when they assaulted nine Kuwaiti Oil platforms on 19 January 1991. On 23 February 1991, a six-man SEAL team led by Lieutenant Tom Dietz, launched a mission to trick the Iraqi military into thinking an amphibious assault on Kuwait by coalition forces was imminent by setting off explosives and placing marking buoys 500 meters off the Kuwaiti coast. The mission was a success and Iraqi forces were diverted east away from the true coalition offensive. The SEALs were first into Kuwait city in their Desert Patrol Vehicles when it was recaptured.
On 6 December 1992, as part of Operation Restore Hope, U.S. Navy SEALs and Special Boat crewmen from Naval Special Warfare Task Unit TRIPOLI began a 3-day operation carrying out reconnaissance operations in the vicinity of Mogadishu airport and harbor; ahead of UNITAFs deployment to the country.
In August 1993 a four-man DEVGRU SEAL sniper team was deployed to Mogadishu to work alongside Delta Force as part of Task Force Ranger in the search for Somali warlord Mohammed Farrah Aidid. They took part in several operations in support of the CIA and Army culminating in the 3 October 'Battle of Mogadishu' where they were part of the ground convoy raiding the Olympic Hotel. All four SEALs would be later awarded the Silver Star in recognition of their bravery whilst Navy SEAL Howard E. Wasdin would be awarded a Purple Heart after continuing to fight despite being wounded three times during the battle.
War in Afghanistan
In the immediate aftermath of the 11 September attacks, Navy SEALs quickly dispatched to Camp Doha, and those already aboard US Naval vessels in the Persian Gulf and surrounding waters began conducting VBSS operations against ships suspected of having ties to or even carrying al Qaeda operatives. SEAL Teams 3 and 8 also began rotating into Oman from the United States and staging on the island of Masirah for operations in Afghanistan. One of the SEALs' immediate concerns was their lack of suitable vehicles to conduct special reconnaissance (SR) missions in the rough, landlocked terrain of Afghanistan. After borrowing and retrofitting Humvees from the Army Rangers also staging on Masirah, the SEALs inserted into Afghanistan to conduct the SR of what would become Camp Rhino, as part of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). These early stages of OEF were commanded by a fellow SEAL, Rear Admiral Albert Calland.
The SR mission in the region of Camp Rhino lasted for four days, after which two United States Air Force Combat Control Teams made a nighttime HALO jump to assist the SEALs in guiding in Marines from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit who seized control of the area and established a Forward operating base. While at Camp Rhino, the CIA passed on intelligence from a Predator drone operating in the Paktia province that Taliban Mullah Khirullah Said Wali Khairkhwa was spotted leaving a building by vehicle convoy. SEALs and Danish Jægerkorpset commandos boarded Air Force Pave Low helicopters and seized Khairkhwa on the road less than two hours later. The SEALs continued to perform reconnaissance operations for the Marines until leaving after having spent 45 days on the ground.
Subsequent SEAL operations during the invasion of Afghanistan were conducted within Task Force K-Bar, a joint special operations unit of Army Special Forces, United States Air Force Special Tactics Teams, and special operations forces from Norway, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Denmark, under the command of Navy SEAL Captain Robert Harward. Task Force K-Bar conducted combat operations in the massive cave complexes at Zhawar Kili, the city of Kandahar and surrounding territory, the town of Prata Ghar and hundreds of miles of rough terrain in southern and eastern Afghanistan. Over the course of six months Task Force K-Bar killed or captured over 200 Taliban and al Qaeda fighters, and destroyed tens of thousands of pounds of weapons and ordnance.
Navy SEALs participated extensively in Operation Anaconda. During insertion, AB1 Neil Roberts was thrown from his helicopter when it took fire from entrenched al Qaeda fighters. Roberts was subsequently killed after engaging and fighting dozens of enemies for almost an hour. Several SEALs were wounded in a rescue attempt and their Air Force Combat Controller, Technical Sergeant John Chapman, was killed. Attempts to rescue the stranded SEAL also led to the deaths of several US Army Rangers and an Air Force Pararescueman acting as a Quick Reaction Force.
SEALs were present at the Battle of Qala-i-Jangi alongside their counterparts from the British Special Boat Service. Chief Petty Officer Stephen Bass was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions during the battle.
Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor after his four-man counterinsurgency team was almost wiped out during Operation Red Wings in June 2005. After the four man team lost Danny P. Dietz, he put himself in open view to call in the QRF. He soon after died from injuries sustained. Matthew G. Axelson also died on this operation. The QRF never reached the scene; it was struck by an RPG killing 8 Navy SEALs and 8 Army Night Stalkers. Marcus Luttrell was the only survivor from this operation.
In December 2012, the unit rescued a US doctor who had been kidnapped a few days earlier. However, during the operation the unit suffered a fatality, Petty Officer 1st Class Nicolas D. Checque. Senior Chief Edward Byers, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during this mission.
In May 2013, Rear Adm. Sean Pybus, commander of Navy Special Warfare stated that the unit would cut in half the number of SEAL platoons in Afghanistan by the end of 2013. Rear Adm. Sean Pybus also added that the unit is already "undergoing a transition back to its maritime roots" by placing more emphasis on sea-based missions after being involved in mostly landlocked missions since 2001.
Al Faw and Iraqi oil infrastructure
Several days before the beginning of the invasion of Iraq two SDV teams were launched from Mark V Special Operations Craft in the Persian Gulf. Their objectives were the hydrographic reconnaissance of the Al Basrah (MABOT) and Khawr Al Amaya (KAAOT) Oil Terminals. After swimming under the terminals and securing their Mark 8 mod 1s the SDV SEALs spent several hours taking pictures and surveying Iraqi activity on both platforms before returning to their boats. SEALs' later secured several oil infrastructures on the Al Faw peninsula and the offshore oil terminals, they helped clear the Khawr Abd Allah and Khawr Az Zubyar waterways which enabled humanitarian supplies to be delivered to the port of Umm Qasr.
Coalition military planners were concerned that retreating Iraqi forces would destroy the Mukatayin hydroelectric dam northeast of Baghdad in an attempt to slow advancing US troops. In addition to restricting the maneuver of Coalition forces, the destruction of the dam would deny critical power needs to the surrounding area as well as cause massive flooding and loss of Iraqi civilian life. A mixed team of SEALs from SEAL Team Five and Polish GROM was called in to seize the dam. This force was flown several hours by US Air Force MH-53 Pave Lows to the dam. The SEALs employed Desert Patrol Vehicles (DPVs) into blocking positions to defend against counter-attack and roving bands of Iranian bandits that had been crossing the border and raiding Iraqi towns. As in Al Faw the SEALs found their DPVs to be ineffective and this marked the last time they would employ them in Iraq.
The SEALs and GROM on foot fast-roped out of their helicopters and immediately stormed the dam. The minimal Iraqi security forces on site surrendered, and with the exception of a GROM soldier who broke an ankle during the insertion, no casualties were sustained in the operation. After several hours of searching the dam for remaining hostile forces or any explosives, the SEALs secured the dam and were later relieved by advancing elements of the US Army.
SEALS remained employed throughout the Iraqi Campaign as Task Units or Task Elements until it's close in 2011. SEALS re-opened Iraq under Iraqi Resolve and remain the lead component in the conflict.
Maersk Alabama hijacking
On 12 April 2009, in response to a hostage taking incident off of the coast of Somalia by Somalian pirates, three Navy SEALs from DEVGRU simultaneously engaged and killed the three pirates who were closely holding the hostage, Captain Richard Phillips, of the freighter ship Maersk Alabama. The pirates and their hostage were being towed in a lifeboat approximately 100 yards behind USS Bainbridge when each of the pirates were killed by a different DEVGRU sniper with a single shot to the head.
Death of Osama bin Laden
In the early morning of May 1, 2011 local time, a team of 40 Navy SEALs of the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU), previously called "SEAL Team 6", along with a Belgian Malinois Military Working Dog (named "Cairo"), supported by Special Activities Division officers on the ground, killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan about 35 miles (56 km) from Islamabad in a CIA operation. President Barack Obama later confirmed the death of bin Laden, but did not directly mention the involvement of DEVGRU, saying only that a "small team" of Americans undertook the operation to bring down bin Laden. The unprecedented media coverage raised the public profile of the SEAL community, particularly the counter-terrorism specialists commonly known as SEAL Team 6. The Walt Disney Company tried unsuccessfully to trademark the name "SEAL Team 6" the day after the raid. The official name of the military operation was Operation Neptune Spear. The model of the compound used in the 60 Minutes documentary was donated by CBS to the Navy SEAL Museum.
Wardak Province helicopter crash
On 6 August 2011, 17 U.S. Navy SEALs were killed when their CH-47 Chinook helicopter was shot down by an RPG fired by Taliban militants. The SEALs were en route to support U.S. Army Rangers who were taking fire while attempting to capture a senior Taliban leader in the Tangi Valley. Fifteen of the SEALs belonged to the Naval Special Warfare Development Group. Two others were SEALs assigned to a West Coast-based Naval Special Warfare unit. A total of 30 Americans and eight Afghans were killed in the crash, making it the single largest loss of U.S. lives in the Global War on Terrorism.
Morning Glory oil tanker
On March 16, 2014, 30 U.S. Navy SEALs from SEAL Team 2 took control of MV Morning Glory, a tanker full of oil loaded from a rebel-held port in Libya. The raid by Navy SEALs took place in international waters off the coast of Cyprus, the raid was a success; preventing a Libyan splinter militia group selling nationalized Libyan oil on the black market.
Operation Inherent Resolve
As part of Operation Inherent Resolve's Iraq Campaign, there are at least 30 SEALs as part of a Special Forces advise and assist mission to Peshmerga and Iraqi Security Forces in combating ISIS. The Navy SEAL operation in northern Iraq is called Task Force Trident. On May 3, 2016, Petty Officer 1st Class Charles Keating IV was killed by ISIS small arms fire near the town of Tel Skuf during an ISIS assault on a Peshmerga position. He was a member of a 20-man Quick Reaction Force (QRF) sent to rescue a dozen U.S. advisors at the position and temporarily assist the Peshmerga.
Selection and training
Before getting accepted into Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training, a prospective candidate must pass a certain number of both mental and physical requirements. These tests include: Pre-enlistment medical screening, ASVAB, AFQT, C-SORT, and PST. Then, the candidate must get a SEAL contract by passing the SEAL Physical Screening Test: 500 yard swim in 12:30, 50 push-ups in 2 minutes, 50 sit-ups in 2 minutes, 10 consecutive pull-ups in 2 minutes, and a 1.5 mile run in 10:30. If the candidate receives a passing score, he may then be admitted into training to become a Navy SEAL. SEAL training is extremely rigorous. The attrition rate fluctuates, but averages at about 80 percent. However, it is not uncommon for BUD/S classes to see up to 90% of the students wash out. The average candidate spends over a year in a series of formal training courses before being awarded the Special Warfare Operator Naval Rating and the Navy Enlisted Classification (NEC) 5326 Combatant Swimmer (SEAL) or, in the case of commissioned naval officers, the designation Naval Special Warfare (SEAL) Officer.
Navy SEAL training pipeline:
- 8-week Naval Recruit Training
- 8-week Naval Special Warfare Prep School
- 24-week Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL Training (BUD/S)
- 5-week Parachute Jump School
- 26-week SEAL Qualification Training (SQT)
Upon graduation from SQT, trainees receive the U.S. Navy SEAL Trident, designating them as Navy SEALs. They are subsequently assigned to a SEAL Team or SEAL Delivery Vehicle (SDV) Team and begin 18-months of predeployment training before they are considered deployable. This training consists of:
- 6-month Professional Development - Individual Specialty Training (ProDev)
- 6-month Unit Level Training (ULT). ULT is unit training conducted by each Groups Training Detachment. Core unit training blocks are Air Operations, Land Warfare, Maritime, Urban and Special Reconnaissance.
- 6-month Squadron Integration Training (SIT)
Those enlisted SEALs with a medical rating will first attend the Special Operation Combat Medic Course for 6 months in Fort Bragg, North Carolina before joining a team in order to become a SEAL medic. Those pursuing Officer positions first attend the Junior Officer Training Course to learn about operations planning and how to perform team briefings. In total it can take over 2.5 years to completely train a Navy SEAL for his first deployment.
Until December 2015, female sailors were barred from becoming Navy SEALs by naval regulation. However, in August 2015, it was reported that the "Navy is planning to open its elite SEAL teams to women who can pass the grueling training regimen." Admiral Jon Greenert, the Chief of Naval Operations at the time, said that "he and the head of Naval Special Warfare Command, Rear Adm. Brian Losey, believe that if women can pass the legendary six-month Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training, they should be allowed to serve." In August 2015, "[f]inal approval [for admission of women] is still pending." On 3 December 2015, it was announced that there are now "no exceptions" to all military roles in the U.S., and women can become U.S. Navy SEALs. However, as of April 2016, no female sailors have yet applied to undergo indoctrination as SEALs.
Navy SEAL teams and structures
Naval Special Warfare Groups
Naval Special Warfare Command is organized into the following configuration:
- Naval Special Warfare Group 1: SEAL Teams 1, 3, 5, 7
- Naval Special Warfare Group 2: SEAL Teams 2, 4, 8, 10
- Naval Special Warfare Group 3: SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 1
- Naval Special Warfare Group 4: Special Boat Teams 12, 20, 22
- Naval Special Warfare Group 11: SEAL Teams 17, 18 (formerly Operational Support Teams 1, 2)
The original SEAL Teams in the Vietnam War were separated between West Coast (Team ONE) and East Coast (Team TWO) SEALs. Likewise current SEAL Teams are organized into two groups: Naval Special Warfare Group One (West Coast) and Naval Special Warfare Group Two (East Coast), both of which come under the command of Naval Special Warfare Command at NAB Coronado, California. As of 2006, there are eight confirmed Navy SEAL Teams. The current SEAL Team deployments include Teams 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, and 10. The most recent teams are SEAL Team 7 and SEAL Team 10, which were formed in March and April 2002, respectively.
The Teams deploy as Naval Special Warfare Squadrons or Special Operations Task Forces and can deploy anywhere in the world. Squadrons will normally be deployed and fall under a Joint Task Force (JTF) or a Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force (CJSOTF) as a Special Operations Task Force (SOTF).
Each SEAL Team is commanded by a Navy Commander (O-5), and has a number of operational SEAL platoons and a headquarters element.
A SEAL Team has a Staff Headquarters element and three 40-man platoons. Each platoon consist of a Headquarters element consisting of a platoon Commander, typically a Lieutenant Commander (O-4), a platoon Senior Enlisted (E-8), a Targeting/Operations Officer (O-2/3) and a Targeting/Operations Leading/Chief Petty Officer (E-6/7). Under the HQ element are two SEAL platoons of 16–20 men (two officers, 14–16 enlisted SEALs, and sometimes assigned non-NSW support personnel); a company-sized Combat Service Support (CSS) and/or Combat Support (CS) consisting of staff N-codes (the Army and Marine Corps use S-codes); N1 Administrative support, N2 Intelligence, N3 Operations, N4 Logistics, N5 Plans and Targeting, N6 Communications, N7 Training, and N8 Air/Medical.
Each platoon can be task organized for operational purposes into four squads, of eight 4–5 man fire teams. The size of each SEAL "Team" with platoons and support staff is approximately 300 personnel. The typical SEAL platoon has an OIC (Officer in Charge, usually a Lieutenant (O-3), a Platoon chief (E-7), and two squads commanded by a LTJG (O-2) and a Squad Leader (E6). The remaining members of the Squad are operators (E-4 to E-6) with their specialty skills. The core leadership in the Troop and Platoon are the Commander/OIC and the Senior Enlisted NCO (Senior Chief/Chief).
Platoon core skills consist of: Sniper, Breacher, Communicator, Maritime/Engineering, Close Air Support, Corpsman, Point-man/Navigator, Primary Driver/Navigator (Rural/Urban/Protective Security), Heavy Weapons Operator, Sensitive Site Exploitation, Air Operations Master, Lead Climber, Lead Diver/Navigator, Interrogator, Explosive Ordnance Disposal, Technical Surveillance, and Advanced Special Operations.
Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, a naval base in Virginia Beach, Virginia, is home to SEAL Teams 2, 4, 8, and 10. Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, a naval base in Coronado, California, is home to SEAL Teams 1, 3, 5, and 7. There is also a SEAL Delivery Vehicle (SDV) unit, SDVT-1, located in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. SDVT-2 was based in Virginia; it was disestablished and merged into SDVT-1. SDV Teams are SEAL teams with an added underwater delivery capability. An SDV platoon consists of 12–15 SEALs. Declassified locations:
|Insignia||Team||Deployment||Number of Platoons||HQ||Notes|
|SEAL Team 1||Worldwide||6 Platoons||Coronado, California|
|SEAL Team 2||Worldwide||6 Platoons||Little Creek, Virginia|
|SEAL Team 3||Middle East||6 Platoons||Coronado, California|
|SEAL Team 4||Worldwide||6 Platoons||Little Creek, Virginia|
|SEAL Team 5||Worldwide||6 Platoons||Coronado, California|
|Naval Special Warfare Development Group||Worldwide||Classified||Dam Neck, Virginia||SEAL Team 6 was dissolved in 1987. The Navy then established the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, also known as DEVGRU. While DEVGRU is administratively supported by Naval Special Warfare Command, they are operationally under the command of the Joint Special Operations Command|
|SEAL Team 7||Worldwide||6 Platoons||Coronado, California|
|SEAL Team 8||Worldwide||6 Platoons||Little Creek, Virginia|
|SEAL Team 10||Middle East||6 Platoons||Little Creek, Virginia|
|SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team||Worldwide||4 Platoons||Pearl Harbor, Hawaii|
Little Creek, Virginia
San Diego, California
Special warfare ratings
The Special Warfare Operator rating (SO) and Special Warfare Boat Operator rating (SB), were established in 2006. Special Warfare Operators (SEALs) and Special Warfare Boat Operators (SWCCs), are no longer required to maintain the original rating they qualified in upon joining the navy.
|Navy Rate||Abbreviation||Pay Grade||Special Warfare Rating||Abbreviation|
|Master Chief Petty Officer||MCPO||E-9||Master Chief Special Warfare Operator||SOCM|
|Senior Chief Petty Officer||SCPO||E-8||Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator||SOCS|
|Chief Petty Officer||CPO||E-7||Chief Special Warfare Operator||SOC|
|Petty Officer First Class||PO1||E-6||Special Warfare Operator, First Class||SO1|
|Petty Officer Second Class||PO2||E-5||Special Warfare Operator, Second Class||SO2|
|Petty Officer Third Class||PO3||E-4||Special Warfare Operator, Third Class||SO3|
United States Navy Parachute Team "Leap Frogs"
The primary mission of the Navy Parachute Team (NPT) is to support Naval Special Warfare recruiting by gaining access and exposure to appropriate candidates through aerial parachuting demonstrations. The U.S. Navy Parachute Team is a fifteen-man team composed of U.S. Navy SEALs. Each member comes to the team for a three-year tour from one of the two Naval Special Warfare Groups located on the east and west coasts. On completion of the tour, members return to operational units. The parachute team began in 1969 when Navy SEALs and Frogmen volunteered to perform at weekend air shows. The Team initially consisted of five jumpers: LCDR Olson, PHC Gagliardi, SK2 "Herky" Hertenstein, PR1 Al Schmiz and PH2 "Chip" Maury. Schmiz and Maury were members of the original "Chuting Stars." When LCDR Olson was transferred to California, PHC Gene "Gag" Gagliardi (D 546) of UDT ELEVEN introduced him to the local jumping elite with the San Diego Skydivers, one of the nation's first sports parachuting clubs. He convinced the Commander Naval Operations Support Group, PACIFIC to create a small demonstration team consisting of a cadre of highly qualified freefall jumpers. Its activities were to be conducted on a "not to interfere" basis with other military duties and at no cost to the government, other than utilizing normally scheduled aircraft. This group eventually adopted the "Leap Frogs" name.
The team was officially commissioned as the U.S. Navy Parachute Team in 1974 by the Chief of Naval Operations and assigned the mission of demonstrating Navy excellence throughout the United States. The East Coast-based "Chuting Stars" were disbanded in the 1980s with the "Leap Frogs" taking on all official parachute demonstrations within the Navy.
A typical Leap Frogs performance consists of six jumpers leaping out of an aircraft at an altitude of 6,000 feet. After freefalling sometimes using smoke or streamers, the Leap Frogs fly their canopies together to build canopy-relative work formations. After performances, the Leap Frogs make themselves available to the public to answer questions about the Navy and the Naval Special Warfare community, as well as to sign autographs.
Influence on foreign units
From its predecessors the Underwater Demolition Teams to its current form, the SEALs have influenced the training and formation of several foreign units. In 1955 the Underwater Demolition Teams provided funding and training for the Republic of Korea Naval Special Warfare Flotilla, who are also known as UDT/SEALs. The Philippine Naval Special Warfare Group is also patterned off of the training and implementation of the US Navy SEALs and the UDTs. Upon the creation of the Indian MARCOS in 1987, three officers were sent to undergo a hard training schedule with the SEALs that would help them further shape their unit's capabilities. Due to their reputation as being one of America's premier special operations forces, SEALs (particularly operators from DEVGRU) will often do exchanges with allied SOFs.
National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum and memorial
The National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum, in Fort Pierce, Florida, was founded in 1985 and was recognized as a National Museum by an act of Congress. The museum is dedicated to preserving the history of the Navy SEALs and their predecessors. The SEAL Museum stands on the training site of the first Navy frogmen. There through World War II, thousands of service members were trained as members of Naval Combat Demolition Units and Underwater Demolition Teams. The Museum houses rare historic artifacts from the founding of the UDT to present day, including weapons, vehicles, equipment, and most recently added, the Maersk Alabama lifeboat aboard which Somali pirates held Captain Richard Phillips hostage.
In popular culture
U.S. Navy SEALs have been depicted in numerous works of art, entertainment, and media. Examples of well-known representations in films include: Navy SEALs (1990), The Rock (1996), G.I. Jane (1997), Act of Valor (2012), Zero Dark Thirty (2012), Lone Survivor (2013) and American Sniper (2014). Examples of fictional representations in literature include various characters in Tom Clancy novels (e.g., Rainbow Six and Without Remorse) and the G.I. Joe universe.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to United States Navy SEALs.|
- US Navy SEAL & SWCC—official website
- United States Navy Parachute Team—official website
- "Navy Fact File: Navy SEALs". San Diego: United States Navy. April 2002. Archived from the original on 3 March 2005. Retrieved 25 June 2006.
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- Navy SEALs 50 – Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Establishment of the U.S. Navy SEALs
- Ethos of the Navy SEALs