The United States Navy Sea, Air and Land (SEAL) teams or SEAL Teams are the elite Special Operations Forces of the U.S. Navy, employed in unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, direct action, Counter-Terrorism, and special reconnaissance operations.
Those qualifying to become Navy SEALs are authorized, after completing a specialized program known as SQT (SEAL Qualification Training) and a probationary period, to wear and display the Special Warfare Badge, also known as the SEAL Trident. This badge (sometimes called “the Budweiser” for its resemblance to the Anheuser-Busch eagle logo) serves as the insignia for the SEALs as a whole and is the largest and most recognizable warfare insignia among U.S. Special Operations Forces. It is usually worn along with the U.S. Navy paratrooper wings, which are awarded after 10 jumps. During the Vietnam, SEAL members wore “tiger stripe” camouflage uniforms, often with civilian blue jeans and “coral” sneakers, for patrol missions. On base, they wore standard uniforms with a black beret during the early years (when they patrolled alongside the Swift and STAB boat units of the “Brown Water Navy”) and tiger-striped “boonie” hats in later years. Currently, they wear variations of the U.S. Marine Corps MARPAT camouflage and RAID BDUs. Only men may apply to become SEALs.
Concurrently, Naval Operations Support Groups were formed to aid UDTs, SEALs, and two other unique units—Boat Support and Beach Jumpers—in administration, planning, research, and development. During the Vietnam war, UDTs performed reconnaissance missions and SEALs carried out numerous offensive operations.
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 total number of Navy SEALs assigned to Naval Special Warfare Command is approximately 2,000 out of a total staffing of 6,500. About half of the SEAL contingent are based at Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base and Dam Neck Annex in Virginia Beach, Virginia. The other half of the SEAL contingent is based at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, California.
- Spring 1943: The first group of volunteers selected from the Naval Construction Battalions (Seabees). They were organized into special teams called “Navy Combat Demolition Units” (NCDUs) and were trained at Waimanalo, Hawai’i and Fort Pierce, Florida. The units reconnoitered and cleared beach obstacles for troops going ashore during amphibious landings, and evolved into Combat Swimmer Reconnaissance Units, often known as frogmen. Some of these frogmen were recruited from breath-holding divers who dived for abalones on the California coast before the war. The NCDUs distinguished themselves during World War II in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters.
- 1947: The Navy organized its first underwater offensive strike units.
- 1950 June – 1953 June: During the Korean Conflict, these Underwater Demolition Teams (UDTs) took part in the landing at Inchon as well as other missions including demolition raids on bridges and tunnels accessible from the water. They also conducted limited minesweeping operations in harbors and rivers.
- 1960’s: Each branch of the armed forces formed its own counterinsurgency force. The Navy used UDT personnel to form units called SEAL teams.
- 1962 January: SEAL Team ONE was commissioned in the Pacific Fleet and SEAL Team TWO in the Atlantic Fleet. These teams were developed to conduct unconventional warfare, counter-guerrilla warfare and clandestine operations in both blue water and brown water environment.
- 1963: First Vietnam war-detachment of elements of SEAL Team One in Da Nang, Vietnam to serve under the command of the CIA-COS.
- 1964: Seals became a component of the military-CINC of Vietnam’s theatre.
- 1967: The Naval Operations Support Groups were renamed “Naval Special Warfare Groups” (NSWGs) as involvement increased in special operations.
- 1983: Existing UDTs were renamed as “SEAL teams” or “SEAL Delivery Vehicle Teams” and the requirement for hydrographic reconnaissance and underwater demolition became “SEAL missions”.
- 1987: SEAL team SIX became DEVGRU (DEVelopment GRoUp).
- 1984-04-16: The Naval Special Warfare Command was commissioned at the Naval Amphibious Base Coronado in San Diego, California. Its mission is to prepare Naval Special Warfare forces to carry out their assigned missions and to develop special operations strategy, doctrine, and tactics.
- 2002 March; Operation Anaconda in the US invasion of Afghanistan.
- 2003 March; participated in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
- 2009 April; SEALs rescue captain and ship after Maersk hijacking.
- 2011 May; Usama Bin Laden killed during Operation Neptune.
- 2014 March; Morning Glory hijacking thwarted by SEALs off coast of Cyprus.
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
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 Finschafen on New Guinea. Later operations were at Gasmata, Arawe, Cape Gloucester, and the East and South coast 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
Along with the Scouts and Raiders were the Naval Combat Demolition Units (NCDU). They specialized in demolitions, explosive cable cutting, and commando raiding techniques. 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. 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 Operational Swimmers
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, General 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.
Jack Taylor, a 33-year-old orthodontist practicing in California, stands out in the history of Maritime Special Operations as America’s first Sea, Air, and Land Commando. He joined the Navy as a line officer but, based on his vast pre-war experience as an open-ocean sailor, he was sequestered by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). He was qualified in the use of the Lambertsen Amphibious Respiratory Unit (LARU) and was assigned to the first Underwater Swimmer Group trained for operations in Northern Europe. Lt. Taylor was selected to lead the Dupont Mission behind enemy lines in Austria. Teams infiltrated by parachute during the dark of the moon from 400 feet, without a ground reception committee or ground lights, and with absolutely no circling to minimize exposure. After six weeks of evading the enemy, he was captured, imprisoned and tortured at Mauthausen, the most notorious of all Nazi concentration camps. He was scheduled to be executed on 28 April, but three days before, a friendly Czech working in the political department burned his file. Several days later, Mauthausen was liberated by the Americans and Lt. Taylor was set free. Following his recovery, he testified at the Nuremberg Trials, wearing his service dress blues, with silver jump wings over his left breast pocket.
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. Offshore coral reefs and other obstacles in the surf had resulted in many of the Marines drowning or being hit by enemy fire because their landing craft could not reach the beach. 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. As part of the Special Operations Group, or SOG, UDTs successfully conducted demolition raids on railroad tunnels and bridges along the Korean coast. The UDT 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 Korean’s fishing capability.
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, Arleigh Burke, 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. 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 SEAL’s 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 within inches of 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.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 has a list of 49 SEALs that lost their life in combat during the Vietnam 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.
In August 1993 a four man SEAL sniper team was deployed to Mogadishu to work alongside the 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
On 20 March 2003 the Navy SEALs launched what is the largest single SEAL operation in history from US Naval vessels, Ras al-Qulayah Naval Base and Ali Al Salem Air Base in Kuwait as part of a mixed force of US Navy SEALs, Polish GROM and British Royal Marines. Their targets were not only the MABOT and KAAOT platforms but their respective onshore petroleum pumping locks and the Al Faw port and refinery. Each force was to be inserted via helicopter or boat on the perimeter of the targets and then assault the main facilities. The first attacks occurred at the pumping locks for each offshore terminal. At MABOT’s pumping lock the team’s landing zone was covered in concertina wire that was unreported by their intelligence and so the SEALs and Royal Marines were forced to hover several feet off the ground. The Royal Marines, led by a Provost Sergeant, were the first off the helicopter followed by the SEALs and all immediately became entangled in the obstacles. In this exposed position the SEALs and Marines began taking fire from the platform’s garrison. The landing at the KAAOT pumping lock ran into similar problems with their landing zone but both teams at both locations regrouped and successfully assaulted the pumping locks taking the main buildings and several occupied bunkers. After securing the facility an Iraqi armored vehicle approached the SEALs’ position. Their embedded Air Force Combat Controller coordinated with an Air Force A-10 and destroyed the vehicle. In total five Iraqis were killed and sixteen captured.
The assault on the offshore platforms were carried out by SWCC’s manned rigid-hulled inflatable boats (RHIBs) as well as SWCC manned Mk Vs carrying the GROM. The SEALs were assigned MABOT and GROM the KAAOT. Two days before the launch of the operation the Iraqis replaced the MABOT garrison with elite Republican Guard troops. With this last minute change in opposition in mind, and the added fear of the Republican Guard blowing up the platforms upon attack, the SEALs decided to change their plan to quickly take out all opposition before physically securing MABOT. Once the SEALs assaulted MABOT via RHIB the Republican Guard forces immediately began to surrender. The GROM on KAAOT encountered the same unwillingness by the Iraqis to fight allowing both platforms to be taken with no deaths. Subsequent inspection on MABOT showed that the Iraqi forces had not primed their explosives having been unwilling to destroy the facility. The assault on the Iraqi positions on the Al Faw peninsula consisted of a DPV mounted SEAL force at the refinery and port with a larger force of US Marines from the 5th Regimental Combat Team of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force attacking Iraqi positions farther north in the Rumaila oil fields. Before the operation the SEALs raised objections that the ground looked unsuitable for DPV use but the faulty intelligence was assured by their attached intelligence liaison that the land on Al Faw would be hardpack. The teams went ahead and landed with their DPVs straight off the helicopters but their fears were confirmed when the oil soaked and muddy ground on the peninsula rendered their underpowered, rear wheel drive vehicles useless. Now on foot and surrounded by approximately 300 entrenched Iraqi soldiers and armored vehicles the SEALs relied on their Combat Controller to call in air strikes. In coordination with close air support the SEALs swept the entire facility on foot fighting through enemy positions until day break when they were relieved by the 42 Commando of the British Royal Marines. In total several hundred Iraqis were killed, 100 captured and all the armored vehicles destroyed.
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 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, the operation went off with no casualties. After several hours of searching the dam for remaining hostile forces or any explosives, the SEALs fully secured the dam and were later relieved by advancing elements of the US Army.
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, the Maersk Alabama. The pirates and their hostage were being towed in a lifeboat approximately 100 yards behind the USS Bainbridge (DDG-96) when each of the pirates were killed by a respective 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 along with a Belgian Malinois Military Working Dog (Cairo), support 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. The Navy SEALs were part of the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU), previously called “SEAL Team 6”. 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 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. 15 of the SEALs were alleged by media outlets as belonging to the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, although the U.S. Department of Defense listed them as members of an “East Coast-based Naval Special Warfare unit.” 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.
On March 16, 2014, US Navy SEALs 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.
Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training is conducted at the Naval Special Warfare Center in Coronado (San Diego, CA) and lasts 26 weeks. Assignment to BUD/S is conditional on passing the PST, which requires the following minimums:
- 500-yard swim using breast or side stroke in under 12:30
- At least 42 push-ups in 2 minutes
- At least 50 sit-ups in 2 minutes
- At least 6 pull-ups (no time limit)
- Run 1.5 miles in boots and long pants in under 11:30
- Members’ vision must be 20/200 uncorrected or correctable to 20/20. SEAL candidates may qualify for PRK or LASIK surgery to correct their vision
- Asvab Requirements: GS+MC+EI=165 or VE+MK+MC+CS=220
- Age Requirements: 28 years or less (waivers for 29-30)
Again, the above are the minimum requirements necessary to qualify for BUD/S. Prospective trainees are expected to far exceed these minimums. Competitive scores are as follows:
500-yard swim using breast or combat side stroke in less than 10:00
100 push-ups in 2 minutes
100 sit-ups in 2 minutes
20 pull-ups (no time limit)
Run 1.5 miles in boots and long pants in under 9:30
Basic Underwater Demolition SEAL Training (BUD/S)
Upon arrival at Naval Special Warfare Command, check-ins for BUD/S are immediately placed into a pre-indoc phase of training known as “PTRR”, or Physical Training Rest and Recuperation. PTRR is also where all of the “roll-backs” are placed while waiting to be put into a class. Once additional medical screening is given, and after enough BUD/S candidates arrive for the same class, organized physical training begins.
BUD/S consists of an” Indoctrination Course”, known as INDOC, followed by three phases, covering physical conditioning (eight weeks), diving (eight weeks), and land warfare (nine weeks) respectively. Officer and enlisted personnel go through the same training program, and it is designed to develop and test their stamina, leadership and ability to work as a team.
First Phase (Basic Conditioning) – 8 weeks – First Phase Trains, develops, and assesses SEAL candidates in physical conditioning, water competency, teamwork, and mental tenacity. This phase is eight weeks long. Physical conditioning with running, swimming, and calisthenics grows harder and harder as the weeks progress. You will participate in weekly four mile timed runs in boots, timed obstacle courses, swim distances up to two miles wearing fins in the ocean, and learn small boat seamanship.
The first three weeks of First Phase will prepare you for the fourth week, better known as “Hell Week.” During this week, you will participate in five and one-half days of continuous training, with a maximum of four hours sleep total. This week is designed as the ultimate test of one’s physical and mental motivation while in First Phase. Hell Week proves to those who make it that the human body can do ten times the amount of work the average man thinks possible. During Hell Week, you will learn the value of cool headedness, perseverance, and above all, TEAMWORK. The remaining four weeks are devoted to teaching various methods of conducting hydrographic surveys and how to create a hydrographic chart.
BUD/S is known for Hell Week. During this period, from Sunday evening until Friday afternoon, trainees get a total of approximately four hours of sleep, (exactly how much depends upon the schedule set by the instructors, and how closely the trainees can be kept to that schedule) while subjected to intense physical stress. Trainees are almost always wet and sandy and develop what is known as the “Hell Week shuffle”, which is a way of walking that keeps salt-stained clothing away from chafed skin. The last day of Hell Week is known as “So Sorry Day”, during which the BUD/S students are made to crawl and slither their way through scum-covered water in the “demo pits” as automatic weapons fire blank rounds over their heads and artillery simulators explode around them.
Second Phase (Diving) – 8 weeks – Diving Phase Trains, develops, and qualifies SEAL candidates as competent basic combat swimmers. This phase is eight weeks long. During this period, physical training continues and becomes even more intensive. Second Phase concentrates on combat SCUBA. You will learn two types of SCUBA: open circuit (compressed air) and closed circuit (100% oxygen). Emphasis is placed on long distance underwater dives with the goal of training students to become basic combat divers, using swimming and diving techniques as a means of transportation from their launch point to their combat objective. This is a skill that separates SEALs from all other Special Operations forces.
Third Phase (Land Warfare) – 9 weeks – Third Phase trains, develops, and qualifies SEAL candidates in basic weapons, demolition, and small unit tactics. This phase of training is nine weeks in length. Physical training continues to become more strenuous as the run distance increases and the minimum passing times are lowered for the runs, swims, and obstacle course. Third Phase concentrates on teaching land navigation, small-unit tactics, patrolling techniques, rappelling, marksmanship, and military explosives. The final three and a half weeks of Third Phase are spent on San Clemente Island, where students apply all the techniques they have acquired during training.
SEAL training and duty is voluntary. Many BUD/S students find that they do not have the desire to continue to endure the physical and mental strain of training, and subsequently Drop On Request, or DOR, from the course. The tradition of DOR consists of dropping one’s helmet liner next to a pole with a brass ship’s bell attached to it, and ringing the bell three times. Classes typically lose around 70–80% of their trainees — either due to DORs or injuries sustained during training. The Navy will not release exact numbers, either percentages or raw figures, of the attrition rate for BUD/S. Most trainees are eliminated prior to completion of Hell Week and far fewer “brown shirts” (those who have made it through Hell Week wear brown t-shirts instead of white) quit the BUD/S program.
There is no way to predict what percentage of trainees will DOR during BUD/S. SEAL instructors say that in every class, approximately 10 percent of the students simply do not have the physical ability to complete the training. Another 10–15 percent will definitely make it through unless they sustain a serious physical injury. The other 75–80 percent is “up for grabs” depending on their motivation. There has been at least one BUD/S class where no one has completed the program.
A trainee who DOR’s from First Phase before the completion of Hell Week must start from the beginning of INDOC if they subsequently reapply to the BUD/S program and are accepted. They must complete Hell Week again. Trainees who rolled back after completing Hell Week due to injury or another factor are rolled into whatever day of training a board of instructors and other individuals deem necessary. Some are back to day 1–1 of 1st Phase, while others may be rolled into day 5–1. Any BUD/S trainee who drops on request after Hell Week goes through the same out processing as a trainee who quits before or during Hell Week. If they reapply to BUD/S, they must also complete Hell Week again.
There are many SEALs who have attempted BUD/S two or even perhaps three times before successfully completing training. There is only one person who has successfully completed Hell Week three times. He completed training after his third application to BUD/S.
After BUD/S, students must then attend the Navy’s Strategic Air Operations (SAO) school in the desert outside of San Diego. Until 2003, the Army trained Navy Special Warfare teams to freefall. The new school allows more SEALs and Special Warfare Combatant Crewmen (SWCC) to become free-fall and HALO (High Altitude Low Opening) qualified than ever before. Upon completion of the three-week SAO school, they receive their Naval Special Warfare Classification (NEC) code. Finally, the last requirement before going to a team requires students to go through SEAL Qualification Training, or SQT, which is a 15-week course. This course is also conducted in and around the Naval Amphibious Base Coronado. After completion of SQT training and a probationary period, students are then considered SEALs and are awarded the SEAL pin, or Trident. Upon assignment to a team, the new SEALs undergo more advanced training during the 18 month work-up to their first 6 month deployment and are not considered experienced until having completed at least three deployments.