STENNIS SPACE CENTER, MS – With the playing of Pres. Ronald Reagan’s renowned speech from his 1981 inauguration, Special Boat Team 22 paid homage to a departing leader, and a leader for the future, with quotes from the address such as, “Those who say that we are at a time with no heroes, they just don’t know where to look;” also honoring past and present service members who sacrifice for the freedom of the nation.
The ceremony, held on Sept. 7 at John C. Stennis Space Center facilities, celebrated the change of command between outgoing SBT 22 Cmdr. Gary Ryals and incoming Cmdr. Kurt J. Muhler, in front of family, friends and staffs of various U.S. Navy and Naval Special Warfare commands, business leaders and political staffs.
Cmdr. Ryals, who assumed command of SBT 22 in June of 2016, in emotional remarks to the more than 200 in attendance, thanked his wife, Donna; son, Matthew; and teammates and friends established during his many years of service, as he spoke of his tenure with SBT 22. “This is my second tour at a special boat team and I can tell you they are not all the same,” Ryals explained. “This team is very special and what makes them special is a lot of things: the people, to the location down here; the culture of the gulf coast and the rich culture of the New Orleans area. But I will tell you it is especially the riverine history and heritage.”
With SBT 22 serving as NSW’s only riverine unit, Ryals took the opportunity to express the importance of the riverine mission within the special operations community. “Our deep history in the brown water environment fosters a unique combat-ready culture and a discipline like no other, the U.S. Navy SEAL continued. “In a riverine environment, our boats patrol up the rivers around blind corners, always as the command master chief says, only a few yards away from a riverbank or a hidden slew where the enemy could be poised for a fight. The eminent threat breeds a high level of alertness and a discipline that is focused on precision execution of immediate action drills and ensuring everything is ready to go on your boat at all times.”
Although SBT 22 has transitioned from solely riverine to adding coastal operations to its skill-set, Ryals explained the level of training and discipline required to operate within a riverine unit. “The discipline and level of professionalism demanded by operating in the riverine environment carries over into everything you do. It is this amazing culture that has made SBT 22 become not just the riverine force of choice, but truly the boat team of choice for coastal operations as well.”
During Ryals’ tenure at SBT 22, he is credited with providing leadership to eight non-standard detachment efforts in support of U.S. Southern, Northern, Africa and Central Commands’ areas of responsibility. These efforts led to the disruption of transnational organized crime and prevented the ease of movement of illicit cargo; simultaneously strengthening relationships with international partner forces.
Ryals, who completed Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training in 1993, has completed multiple deployments, to include Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and various locations in South America. During his illustrious career, he has been awarded the Bronze Star for Valor, the Combat Action Ribbon, and various other multi-service ribbons.
Ryals’ next order of assignment will be with Joint Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. During the ceremony, Capt. Joshua Lasky, the newly-assigned commodore of NSWG-4, presented Cmdr. Ryals with the Meritorious Service Medal for his tour at SBT 22, which included responsibility for more than 300 special warfare combatant-craft crewman, SEALs and sailors across the branch of service. He is attributed with direct involvement and leadership that set the warfighting standard for NSW’s SWCC community.
Capt. Lasky, who served as guest speaker for the ceremony, spoke of his connection to SBT 22 and the grounds on which it trains. “Just four days short of 17 years ago, I was a platoon commander assigned to SEAL Team FOUR when the team and Special Boat Team 22 were still primarily focused on South America,” he expressed.
“And I was not far from this podium going through an operational readiness evaluation for an upcoming deployment to South America alongside a special boat team detachment from 22,” he continued. “As we were preparing for our next training mission, the news broke: Al Qaida operatives had attacked the United States, and murdered nearly 3,000 innocent men, women and children from the U.S. and around the world.”
Lasky continued explaining how this has forever bound him to this boat team. “I have a special place in my heart for this ground and this team…a team that understands all too well that freedom is not free.”
A native of Winchester, Virginia, incoming Cmdr. Muhler graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 2000, and completed BUD/S training in January of 2001. During his distinguished career, he served on multiple assignments to Iraq, the Philippines, Bahrain, and Pakistan; where he coordinated Pakistani earthquake relief operations with U.S. government agencies, nongovernmental organizations and the Pakistani military in Kashmir and North West Frontier Provinces. Prior to his assignment with SBT 22, Cmdr. Muhler served as the operations officer for NSWG-2 in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
During remarks to the crowd, Muhler expressed his thanks to his wife, Anna; daughters, Elise and Astrid; and his parents, Hope and Jack Muhler. He also expressed the honor in serving with SBT 22. “I have had the honor of serving with special boat teams throughout my career and have witnessed first-hand the maturation and professionalization of the SWCC community,” he stated. “I am both honored and excited to be in the boat teams again. Your reputation is outstanding and your professionalism is unmatched. I thank you for your outstanding service.”
The U.S. special operations community depends on the SWCC community for maritime insertion and extraction on time, on target, worldwide. SWCC are an indispensable part of the NSW team, as they operate and maintain high-speed craft specially designed to execute SEAL missions. NSW maritime platforms are equipped with state-of-the-art navigation, communications, engineering and weapons systems. They operate day and night in extreme weather and sea states to achieve the ultimate element of surprise against enemy forces.
SBT 22’s mission is to organize, mentor, train and equip NSW personnel to conduct the full spectrum of special operations in riverine and coastal environments to support fleet and joint commanders worldwide. The unit is one of three operational boat teams within NSW and its members are currently deployed to Central and South America, Africa, Europe and the Middle East.