SEALs, an acronym for Sea, Air and Land, can trace their lineage back to the toughest combat American warfighters have ever seen. SEALs or their predecessors—the WWII Scouts and Raiders, Naval Combat Demolition Units (NCDU’s) and Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT’s)—have been deployed in such missions as Normandy, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Korea, Hue, the Mekong Delta, Grenada, Desert Storm, Mogadishu and Iraqi Freedom.

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy realized that although global thermonuclear war was our number one threat, future conflicts that would threaten our national interests included unconventional and low-intensity warfare and even terrorism. He clearly stated a call to unconventional arms that resulted in the activation of the first SEAL teams numbers One and Two at Coronado, California and Little Creek, Virginia on January 1, 1962. The teams were quickly equipped, trained and thrown into the fray of international tensions for many places and operations—including a planned mission to destroy missile-armed gunboats in Cuba during the Cuban missile crisis as well as practicing the underwater use of “backpack” nukes. However it was in Vietnam where the SEALs gained combat experience that started their deserved reputation for the finest unconventional warriors on the planet.

The Men with Green Faces

In Vietnam, the SEALs not only faced a new way of waging war, but the jungle environment, their small numbers and limited support challenged their tactics, weapons and even clothing. Most of the iconic images of the Vietnam era SEALs were as a result of meeting those challenges. Since a lot of the SEALs were surfers right off the beaches of Southern California, their sun-bleached hair almost glowed in the moon-light forcing them to cover their heads with the “Do-rags”; the half-square OD bandage seen so frequently as a SEAL trademark, as well as covering their white skin with camouflage paint. Since GI fatigues quickly rotted away or tore to shreds in the jungle, the SEALs simply wore blue jeans as they afforded more protection and comfort. However one of the biggest needs that required immediate attention was that the existing issue weapons of the day were not satisfactory for their missions. Forced to operate in small groups as small as two or four, SEALs and had to carry everything needed to accomplish their missions. They needed firearms that were lightweight, accurate and that could produce tremendous firepower. Why? Well Rule Number One is that SEALS don’t fight fair; they never have and never will. They fight to win, and winning sometimes involves running like hell when it’s over, so they needed ability to lay down a withering amount of firepower to break contact when needed.

Ahead of Their Time

The result was the Vietnam SEALs adopted the Stoner 63 5.56 machine gun (Mk23 Mod 0), decades before the big Army and Marines even thought about the SAW. The SEALs were also among the first to use the M16/40mm grenade launcher combo, as well as a 40mm “machine gun” mounted on their boats. Some of the earliest versions were actually hand-cranked that shot as fast as the gunner rotated the lever! Some SEALs took the venerable M60 7.62mm machine gun, ditched the bipod, chopped the barrel and bobbed the butt to make it a lightweight, deadly accurate shoulder-fire weapon. Vietnam SEALs also used such specialized weapons as a full-auto shotgun, suppressed pistols and submachine guns for their ops as well, with many preferring the Colt XM-177 shorty M16 that was essentially a lightweight version of today’s M4.

Vietnam showed the tactical and strategic importance of what well-trained unconventional warriors could do and it set the stage for the continuance of not only the SEALs but also Special Forces in general. As a result, in the decades that followed when an international crisis called for highly trained warriors to respond to protect our national interests, we already had highly trained warfighters on deck. When worldwide, state-sponsored terrorism reached into American living rooms with the taking of 52 hostages in Tehran our response was the disastrous rescue attempt that left eight dead Americans and seven abandoned or smoking hulks of American warplanes in the Iranian desert. That terrible operation proved the need of a unified and well-trained task force of special, counter-terrorism warriors so America once again asked their warriors to step up and meet a new challenge, the Joint Task Force (JTF).

SEAL Team Six
Needing a maritime force that could perform counter-terrorist duties as part of the new JTF, and later Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), the U.S. Navy responded by forming a SEAL team for expressly that mission. The first ST6 Commanding Officer, good friend Dick Marcinko, took SEALs from other teams and quickly trained them to become America’s premier SpecWar counter-terror force. Using an ammo budget for training larger than the USMC, Demo Dick trained his warriors so that they could dynamically enter a room and place two shots with their S&W Model 66 into the center of a playing card anywhere in the room faster than you could read this sentence. Their accuracy was proven as other persons, even VIP’s were allowed to sit in the “kill house” as the team entered and hit their targets! While ST6 has had its recent share of publicity, most of what they have done and will do is still unknown and will remain that way, but to say that they have shaped our history by protecting our nation with their lives is an understatement.

The Teams
Although their basic tools have greatly evolved from a plexiglass slate, lead-line, KaBar and stiff swim fins from World War II, some things have not changed. The SEALs still are proud to be “Frogmen” and be part of “The Teams.” They still wear their UDT shorts with pride, with the top button unfastened, just like their WWII UDT ancestors. All SEALs still suffer through Basic Underwater Demolition SEAL (BUDS) training, so tough that in at least one instance resulted in the entire class not completing it. The hand-picked volunteers are stressed, challenged and physically taxed with constant running, lifting and paddling their rubber boats through icy water day after day. During the final Hell Week, the remaining candidates are stretched to their physical and mental limits to weed out anyone who might quit on an Op or fail in combat. But that is just the beginning for the candidates that finish the final evolution and are told to secure from Hell Week. Then it is on to dive training followed by tactical training on San Clemente Island—then to a team where the education really begins.

Frogmen All
NCDU Frogmen have blown obstacles at Point Du Hoc while Rangers scaled the cliffs under fire on D-Day. UDT Frogmen swam ashore before many landings in the Pacific in WWII, sometimes leaving seaward facing signs that said “Welcome US Marines!” as well as using demo on tunnels and bridges in Korea. SEAL Frogmen fought in Vietnam, in the mountains of Afghanistan and the cities of Iraq. Other SEAL Frogmen fought their way out of Mogadishu with Delta Force and the Rangers, took out pirates off of Somalia and eliminated Osama bin Laden.

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