The US Navy SEALs
The US Navy SEALs are America's premier naval special operations force. SEAL is an acronym for
and and highlights the arenas that SEALs can operate in. Whether the US military needs enemy ships destroyed in a fortified harbor or enemy beach defenses softened up, the SEALs stand ready to serve with their unique abilities. SEALs can swim or parachute into their area of operations and are proficient at not only underwater ops and demolitions but also reconnaissance and small-unit tactics.
In the early 1960's, it became apparent to the US leadership that their armed forces needed teams of highly flexible units that could perform special and difficult missions in theaters all over the world. The US Army had the Rangers and the newly formed Special Forces; the Marines had Recon. The closest the US Navy had were the UDT's ( Underwater Demolitions Teams ), which focused on underwater mapping and demolitions. It was decided to take members of the already highly effective UDT's and turn them into a fighting force that could fight anywhere there was water.
On January 1, 1962 the Navy SEALs (
) were created by President John F. Kennedy as a maritime special operations unit capable of a multitude of missions anywhere in the world. SEAL Team one and SEAL Team Two were the original teams, with ST1 being formed on the West coast and ST2 on the East. The training was hard and support from the Navy brass was under whelming; ST2's original leader had to purchase AR-15's out of his own pocket to furnish the team with the weapons they needed. But due to good leadership, training, and teamwork, the newly-formed SEAL Teams were among the first called to mobilize during the 1962 Cuban Missile crisis.
SEALs began deploying to Vietnam almost immediately after their formation, originally as teachers and advisors to Vietnamese military forces. Later on they served in direction assaults and patrols though the Mekong Delta and Rung Sat Special Zone. Small teams of six to eight SEALs would patrol to an ambush area or village to gain intelligence. Rather than merely kill enemy soldiers the SEALs would target the VC and NVA infrastructure, focusing on leaders and political figures rather than the simple foot soldiers. So effective were they that the vietnamese named them "Men with green Faces" and promised large rewards to the soldier who killed or captured a SEAL. To their credit, no SEAL was captured or lost to NVA/VC soldiers, although there were many casualties.
After the war the SEALs were placed on the low end of the priority list, like many other US special operations forces units. Equipment was old and run down, and training curtailed. Once again the attitude that special forces units were nothing but crooks and a drain on resources was rearing its ugly head. However, with the disastrous failure of Operation Eagle Claw came the realization of what the draw downs had done to American readiness and the abilities of the Special Forces units. Renewed funding and priority was given to the SEALs. The badly needed support came at just the right time, although it would take the rest of the decade for the SEALs to reap the benefits of this new support.
In 1983, tensions between the US and the tiny Island-nation of Grenada caused the US to invade the island to ensure the safety of the US citizens living there. SEAL Teams Four and Six were attached to the US forces to aid in the islands assault. Although the US fared better in Grenada than they had earlier during Eagle Claw and the Mayaguez rescue, there were still significant problems to be ironed out. Conventional officers did not know how to use the SEALs attached to or helping their units and treated them as conventional forces. Delays in an airborne insertion caused the death of four ST6 members when their daytime calm sea insertion was pushed back to night time and a bad storm.
Members of SEAL Team Four were kept busy, first planning for an assault that was later given to SEAL Team six as a first combat exercise. Undeterred by the change in Ops, Team Four provided a beach reconnaissance for the US Marine Corps landing at Pearls Airfield. Two days later they were relocated to the west side of the island where they performed three other beach recons and several shipboard assaults. Another beach assault to locate some missing American students was called off at the last moment when a political decision was made to let the Army find and rescue them. For the most part, Grenada was a failure in leadership and communications, but they were failures that the SEALs learned from.
Panama was another mission that saw successes and failures in SEAL operations. The US high command was given te mission of capturing the Panamanian Leader, Manuel Noriega, who was wanted for creating a large operation that was smuggling drugs past American borders. The SEALs were given two missions; both involved preventing Noriega's escape. One team was to disable two fast boats while the other would disable his lear jet at Patilla airfield. The disabling of the boats went well ( Although it was a difficult mission and their forces came under fire, the SEALs' explosives destroyed both boats, one of the engines of one of the boats wound up across the harbor! ), but the assault at Patilla airfield ended in disaster, with four SEAL's killed. For more about the assault at Patilla read the case study.
SEALs had been present in the Persian Gulf well before the Persian Gulf War broke out with the SEAL participation in Operation Earnest Will. Active in Earnest Will from 1987 until 1989, the SEALs were part of a policing force that was to prevent the Iranians from seeding mines in a maritime seaway used by many of the world's oil tankers. As part of a large special operations task force, SEALs aided in the patrolling and searching of ships suspected of planting mines. The SEALs participated in a shipboard assault on the Iran Ajr, a ship found laying mines by US Army scout helicopters that fired on the helicopters when ordered to stop. The ship and crew was captured with no US casualties.
The SEALs also took part in an aborted oil-rig assault designed as a retaliatory action for the mine that crippled the
SEALs were present in the gulf when Iraq invaded Kuwait in August of 1990. Soon after the Iraqi invasion of kuwait NAVSPECWAR deployed a group for the first time, consisting of members of SEAL Team 5, Navy Special Boat Units, and three Kuwait i combat craft and marine units that had managed to make it across the border before the Iraqi's sealed it off. Eventually SEALs from Teams One, Three, and Five were in country and serving in various missions.
SEALs were attached to
Units to help retrieve downed pilots, in one case rescuing a pilot who'd managed to pilot his crippled F-16 fighter off the coast of Kuwait before ejecting; he was rescued by the SEALs and the SH-60 Seahawk 35 minutes after they'd gotten word of his approximate position. SEALs were also dropped from SH-60's and SH-3's to disable mines found on patrols, and were responsible for destroying 25 mines over 92 patrol missions. Members of SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team One (SDVT-1) also deployed on mine hunting missions, using the forward scanning sonar of their Mk9 SDV's to locate the undersea explosives. Using the SDV's they managed to clean over 27 square miles of mines in 16 days without the Iraqi's discovering their efforts.
SEALs operated with the Special Boat units to patrol the water border between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. There were many different missions for these detachments to do, ranging from providing information on enemy emplacements to preventing Iraqi fast-attack boats from operating. In one mission, SEALs crept onto an Iraqi-held Kuwait i beach and planted explosives that later detonated, fooling the Iraqi command into thinking that a large-scale landing was imminent and causing two division of Iraqis to move from their front line positions to the coast in preparation for a seaborne assault that never happened. SEALs were also the first into Kuwait city, racing ahead of Allied forces to scout for Iraqi resistance in
SEALs also operated with members of the US Army's 1st SFO(D) as part of "Task Force 11" hunting down members of the Taliban government and Al Qaeda leadership. SEALs performed reconnaissance missions, lying in observation posts or activly scouting in what were known as SSE ( Sensitive Site Exploitation ) missions. Platoons from SEAL Teams Two, Three, and Eight operated in Afghanistan, sometimes using Desert Patrol Vehicles carried in by helicopters but also patroling on foot after helicopter insertion.
In January of 2002 a planned simple 12 hour intelligence gathering mission turned into a nine-day bonanza of exploration and destruction. Nearly a million pounds of ammunition and equipment was found in an extensive network of seventy caves and tunnels in a narrow valley at Zhawar Kili in eastern Afghanistan, near the Pakistan border. Some of the tunnels were brick-lined and supported by steel I-beams and the entire complex, above ground and below, was so complex that Chenowth Fast Attack Vehicle were flown in to help provide support. Some of the explosives and equipment were blown in place but the heavier vehicles had to be destroyed by precision guided munitions dropped by Navy aircraft. In all, more than 400,000 pounds ordinance was dropped on targets designated by SEALs and EOD members. In the end, the SEALs had helped deny Al Qaeda not only weapons and munitions, but also communications networks, training classrooms, living quarters, and office space filled with paperwork.
SEALs partnered with Danish Special Forces in the capture of Taliban Mullah Khairullah Kahirkhawa in February of 2002. Operators of a Predator reconnaissance vehicle orbiting the hills in the Paktia province had seen the Mullah leave a building and messaged the headquarters at Camp Rhino. SEALs and Danish commandos quickly loaded a US Air Force MH-53M Pave Low and headed out within fifteen minutes of the call with an Army AH-64A Apache as escort. An hour and a half after the first notice, the Mullah was on the ground in US custody.
Two SEALs were wounded September 1, 2002 in an intelligence gathering mission in the Oruzgan province of Southern Afghanistan. One SEAL, ABH1 Neal Roberts, was killed in action on the mountaintop of Takur Ghar after he fell out of a shot-up Army MH-47E Chinook that later had to be crash landed away from the mountaintop. Two other SEALs were badly wounded in a later attempt to save Roberts, which ultimately saw one more helicopter shot down and many US Soldiers killed. Another SEAL, CPO Matthew Bourgeois was killed and another SEAL wounded by an enemy mine on March 28, 2002 during breaching training at Tarnak Farms near Kandahar. In the end, At least seven separate platoons from SEAL Teams Two, Three, and Eight served in Afghanistan during the initial invasion and early occupation.
SEALs have continued to operate in Afghanistan, providing skill smuch needed in the continuing search for Taliban and terrorist elements. One Team 3 SEAL, Interior Communications Electrician First Class Petty Officer Thomas E. Retzer died from wounds sustained when his convoy was ambushed enemy forces on June 25th, 2003 near the town of Gardez in Eastern Iraq. It is reported that two other SEALs may have been wounded in the same action.
SEALS were also active in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. At this point most of what they did is still classified, but it is known that around 250 SEALs were deployed in and around Iraq preceeding the start of hostilities.
Five four-man teams were inserted by
Air Force Pave Low
helicopters into key points at the Faw oil refinery/port and held these critical points until releived by Royal Commandos. In doing so, they helped prevent destruction or sabotage of the facilities, allowing the new government a quicker ability to fund themselves and avoiding massive environmental disruption. Additionally, two Oil-transfer terminals were assaulted and captured without a single shot being fired by SEALs on March 20, 2003.
SEALs also captured and held the Mukarayin Dam, 57 miles from Baghdad, for five days in April to prevent the dam's destruction by forces loyal to Saddam Hussein, which would have flooded much of Baghdad. With members of Poland's GROM assisting, the SEALs fast-roped from Pave Lows and first captured the dam, powerstation, and related buildings and then searched the dam for hidden explosives that may have been set before their arrival. There was no resistance nor were any charges found.
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On April 1st, SEALs were part of the group that rescued Private Lynch from a hospital and recovered the bodies of nine Army soldiers who had died in an ambush.
Direct actions are small unit raids, ambushes, and assaults. Special Reconnaissance entails operations such as beach surveys, observation posts, and surveillance operations (such as shadowing an enemy unit and reporting their position). Unconventional warfare (UW) and foreign internal defense (FID) both involve training other soldiers. However UW involves training guerrilla forces behind enemy lines whereas FID involves training other government's troops in a non-combat area (For example, SEALs trained Kuwait soldiers in naval special warfare tactics after the Gulf War). Counter-terrorist operations involve both direct action against terrorist operations or anti terrorist actions which take on more of a preventive role.
These missions can also blend together. For example, in the Vietnam War SEALs conducted prisoner snatches from time to time. Not only would these prisoners provide valuable information ( Special Reconnaissance ), but the sudden disappearance of one of their team mates would have a negative effect on the moral and fighting ability of the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong guerrillas ( Unconventional Warfare ).
It takes a special person to earn the Budweiser, the symbol of the teams SEAL training is an arduous affair lasting six months and includes the infamous " Hell Week ". Even if a prospective member passes the training, there is a six-month probation period before they are allowed to pin on the coveted golden Budweiser.
The basic SEAL "layout"
SEALs separate their gear into three categories, or lines. First line Gear is the everyday essentials needed for survival. Cammies (pardon me: Battle Dress Uniforms ), weapons, maps, compass, and watches are all first line gear. If the other lines of equipment are lost or abandoned the first line gear will give the operator a chance at surviving and escaping any would-be captors. Other items such as an MRE ( the infamous MEAL, READY to EAT ), pocket knife, and "dummy cord" (about 25 ft. of parachute suspension line) are also included into this group.
Second line gear are necessary extras that are included in load bearing equipment or tactical vests. It is gear that is quickly available should the need arise. Equipment such as ammunition (five to seven magazines), hand grenades, water (and purification tablets), and medical supplies are all considered second line equipment.
Third line gear are supplies needed for a mission but aren't as critical for immediate use. Radios and batteries (for calling in that heavenly air support), claymore mines, ponchos, water filters, and night vision goggles are all included in third line gear. Medical corpsmen fit their medical gear into this category.
SEALs operate in small units; the smallest is the swim team, which consists of a pair of SEALs. If a team of SEALs were inserting onto a beach from a CRRC (Combat Rubber Raiding Craft) a swim team might swim ashore before hand to secure the beach and silence any guards in the vicinity. After the beach was secure, the rest of the team in the CRRC would come ashore. The total team size might be four or eight (in multiples of two) depending on mission requirements.
There are currently eight SEAL Teams in the US Navy; four based on the West Coast at Coronado and four in Little Creek, Virginia. Each SEAL Team is composed of six platoons of SEALS and is attached to a Naval Special Warfare Squadron that is comprised of a SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team, a Special Boat Team , EOD, a Mobile communications detachment, and tactical cryptology support.