Navy SEALS Established
January 1, 1962
The United States Navy Sea Air and Land teams (Navy SEALs) are the Navy’s primary special operations force as a component of the Naval Special Warfare Command. Among the SEALs’ main functions are conducting small-unit maritime military operations that originate from, and return to, an ocean, river, delta, swamp, or coastline and the SEALs are trained to operate in all environments for which they are named (sea, air, and land). Modern day Navy SEALs can trace their roots back to World War II. The Navy recognized the need for covert reconnaissance of coastal defenses and landing beaches. The Amphibious Scout and Raider School was established in 1942 in Fort Pierce, Florida as a result of this recognition. The Scouts and Raiders were formed in September of that year from the joint Army-Marine-Navy unit the Observer group just nine months after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
At the start of the Vietnam War, President John F. Kennedy recognized the need for unconventional warfare and special operations as a measure to combat guerilla warfare. On May 25, 1961, Kennedy spoke of his deep respect for the United States Army Special Forces in a speech to Congress. In this speech, where he also announced the government’s plan to put a man on the moon, 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 credit Kennedy with creating the Navy SEALs when, in fact, his announcement was simply a formal acknowledgement of a process that had been underway since the Korean War.
The Navy then needed to determine its role within the special operations arena. In March 1961, Admiral Arleigh Burke, Chief of Naval Operations, recommended the establishment of guerilla and counter-guerilla units. These units would be able to operate from sea, air, or land, thus creating the Navy SEALs. The original SEALs came from the Navy’s Underwater Demolition Teams (UDTs), which had already gained extensive experience in commando warfare in Korea. However, the UDTs were still necessary to the Navy’s amphibious force so they were not completely disbanded.
The first two teams were formed in January 1962 and stationed on both coasts of the United States: Team One at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado in San Diego, California, and Team Two at Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and were formed entirely with personnel from UDTs. The SEALs mission was to conduct counter-guerilla warfare and clandestine operations in maritime and river environments. Men of the newly formed SEAL teams were trained in unconventional areas such as hand-to-hand combat, demolitions, high-altitude parachuting, and foreign languages. The SEALs attended UDT replacement training and spent some time training in UDTs. Upon being accepted into a SEAL team, they would undergo a SEAL Basic Indoctrination training class at camp Kerry in the Cuyamaca Mountains then they would enter a platoon and conduct platoon training.
Since its founding, the SEALs have played important roles in the Vietnam War, the Iran-Iraq War, the Persian Gulf War, the Somali Intervention, the War in Afghanistan, and continue to play major roles in other conflicts since. Over time, additional teams have been created, bringing the number to eight today. As of 2018, all active SEALs are male members of the United States Navy. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)’s highly secretive and elite Special Operations Group recruits operators from SEAL teams. This cooperation still exists today, as evidenced by military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.