Deep within the US Navy, an elite force of special covert commandos remains a closely guarded secret from the Soviet threat. Trained to be among the best in the world, equipped with the latest technology, this group of violent renegade soldiers exist for one purpose: to protect America from the threat of communism and terrorism by sea, by air, and by land.
Sounds like a comic book, doesn't it? Well, the team is real. President John F. Kennedy created the Navy Sea Air Land commandos, or Navy SEALs, in the '60s, where they served in The Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Gulf War, and beyond to The War on Terror. Before, in World War 2, they were sent to reconnoiter enemy beaches before an invasion. They would measure the depth of the water, look for any natural features that might hang up a landing craft, and destroy any man made obstacles. They did this while under enemy fire from the beach.
Several images might come to mind in thinking about SEALs: black-clad frogmen who swim from America to their destination halfway across the world, tiger-striped jungle fighters from Vietnam, and bug-eyed crazies who underwent Training from Hell to become the ultimate warrior. These views are only slightly exaggerated; SEALs are intended to be all three.
For special forces in general see The Modern-Day Rambo.
A brief history of Navy SEALS:
- The American Civil War: Lieutenant William Barker Cushing of the Union Navy executes a daring raid behind Confederate lines, that will eventually have all the hallmarks of a Navy Special Warfare operation. He stealthily inserted a team of sailors via a rowboat up the Roanoake River into Hampton Roads Harbor, Virginia to destroy or capture the Confederate ironclad CSS Albermarl. He succeeded in sinking the ship with planted explosive charges, but unfortunately his naval career was cut short by mental illness.
- World War II: After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, America saw the need for coastal reconnaissance and beach-landing forces. Thus, the team known as the Scouts & Raiders were born, where they operated in Europe and Africa, where they supported the invading Americans against the German forces, including the Normandy invasion. At the same time, the Navy Combat Demolition Units would blow up beach obstacles preceding a landing.
However, the first concept of SEALs came with the OSS Operational Swimmers, recruiting Italian Frogmen commandos who would be dropped behind enemy lines to spy and conduct raids, conducting Naval operations and sabotage. The Navy Underwater Demolitions Team, who were teams of demolitions experts blowing up underwater obstacles, would later adopt the idea and form the Navy SEALs.
- The Korean War: During Korea the concept of Navy SEALS would be expanded upon, where they proved that not only were they naturally capable of using their underwater and demolitions training but proved to be just as fearsome on land, employing their skills in destroying bridges, tunnels and railways. UDT Lieutenant Ted Fielding basically said, "Hey, you don't need a dedicated team for specific targets, we know this and we're ready to step it up." For his actions he earned the Silver Star and promotion to Captain, and greatly expanded and deepened the modus operandi of SEALS who were seen as their area of operations simply in the water, the expansion and deepening would serve greatly in an upcoming conflict.
- The Vietnam War: At the behest of John F. Kennedy, Navy divers and swimmers were formed into the elite team they are known as today, with the creation of SEAL Team One and SEAL Team Two. Utilizing the lessons learned from the success of World War Two and Korea prospects were put through Training from Hell to become not just maritime commandos, but land based scouts and raiders, infiltrators, saboteurs and assassins. The two platoons would be sent to Vietnam but there was a problem: SEALS had a good grasp of what they could do and what their mission capabilities were, where the regular chain of command thought they knew their tactics and how best to deploy, leading to a degree of Jurisdiction Friction. Many used the war as a testing bed to develop new ideas and test out exactly how far, how dark, and how tough they could push themselves, whether it be relying on their skills and instincts to survive or throw out the rules that didn't make sense in favor of better ones. One in particular would be then Lieutenant Richard Marcinko, the Rogue Warrior, who would go on to command Team Two and whip them into shape and the lessons learned would lead to the formation of a new counterterrorist team.
- The Cold War:
- SEAL Team Six: After Marcinko was removed from command of SEAL Team Two, he was involved as an adviser on Desert One, the rescue of hostages in Iran. The mission ended in tragedy, and a follow-up mission was planned with the idea of forming a Joint Task Force for the mission. Marcinko delivered the brief, but before he did, he read through it and changed the involvement of SEALs from an element to a command, which would greatly expand and broaden their involvement in counterterrorism. His edit went through when the JTF was formed; however, in doing so, he created the problem of there being no SEAL Team focused on terrorism, so he had to create one. After drafting the proposal being given the blessing of his superiors, he ran roughshod over the Navy in recruiting members for the team, as well as the specialized equipment and standards he demanded.
- Red Cell: After relinquishing command of SEAL Six, Marcinko was approached by one of his superiors about a threat both considered no one saw coming: terrorism. Marcinko explained the lapses in security he saw before being tasked with creating, essentially, a terrorist group that would attack American targets to show weaknesses in their security. According to accounts from his biography and fictional novels, Red Cell blew up Air Force One, kidnapped an admiral protected by Navy Investigation Services because he was concerned they weren't enough to protect him, infiltrated Camp David at the behest of Nancy Reagan, and nuclear sub pens where they could have either stolen the subs or blown them up. So the story goes, a witch hunt was launched because Marcinko exposed these secrets, and he was eventually removed from command, the incident was covered up (hence JAG stating the episode based on his exploits were fiction), and Marcinko served prison time.
- The War on Terror: After the 9/11 attacks, SEALs were deployed to the Persian Gulf to intercept suspected Taliban vessels, before moving in on Afghanistan to perform recon and help escort Marines to launch the attack, no doubt the mother of all bodyguards. They would continue to work in country over the following weeks and months, specifically when they themselves were captured and had to be rescued by other elite, badass special forces. They would later secure Iraqi oil when the country was invaded, saved a hijacked ship from Somali pirates, and on May 1, 2011, were sent on a covert operation into Pakistan at the behest of Barack Obama. This was the mission every SEAL writer dreams of: a high-stakes infiltration and strike that could potentially result in World War III. That dream was realized when, with the aid of intelligence agencies, the SEALs were able to track down and kill Osama bin Laden, with the news a Real Life example of And There Was Much Rejoicing, with sports events interrupted by the news and the legendary SEALs writing themselves into the history books in the process.
Tropes associated with Navy SEALs:
- Badass Boast: When creating Team Six Richard Marcinko proposed the logo; a globe with a horseshoe lid, and Badass Creed WGMATATS: We Get More Ass Than A Toilet Seat.
- Badass Crew: A natural requirement.
- Colbert Bump: Not that they weren't popular before, but after the assassination of Bin Laden they became a very big deal, appearing and being mentioned in everything from Archer to Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Call of Duty and everything in between. And yes, they were brought up on The Colbert Report where Stephen Colbert had a huge man crush on the team.
- Dented Iron: Many SEAL candidates will pick up injuries during BUD/S training.
- Determinator: SEALs are taught to be this, with trainees who gut it out more valued than those who might be more skilled or find the training easier. Richard Marcinko tells a story of a guy Roy Bohem trained, who had to dive for buckets and swim as far as he can before surfacing. Instead he walked the length of the pool without coming up for air. When asked what the hell he was doing he explains, "I can't swim," and thus was taught how to because he Did. Not. Quit.
- Drill Sergeant Nasty: SEAL instructors are not assholes like the media depicts military trainers, but they teach survival escape and evasion tactics playing the part of the enemy in case SEALS are captured so they have an idea of what to expect, then they get real nasty. Constant hazing, sabotaging trainees equipment until they get the idea to post guards, shooting at them, running through explosives, keeping them awake, or forcing those who are slow to exercise until they either collapse or quit. They are not assholes in doing this, those who do not quit no matter how much they struggle are held in high regard by the instructors and considered the best in the world, even more so than those who do well. Also it should be noted that true combat situations are far more unforgiving than even the harshest instructor could ever hope to be, the harder your training the more prepared you will be when your life is on the line.
- Indeed, the sign outside SEAL Training in Little Creek says, "The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in combat." Harsher SEALs change it to bleed and die.
- Follow the Leader: The SEALs inspired a lot of other countries to create similar naval commando units. The Royal Thai Navy even calls their naval special forces SEALs.
- Fun with Acronyms: Depending on who you ask, SEAL either means "Sea Air Land" or "Sleep Eat And Live it up".
- Improbable Aiming Skills: Required in training. SEAL Team Six was given an ammo budget bigger than the Marines, which they burnt through to develop their aiming skills.
- Ninja: About as close as you can get to a modern-day version... with guns.
- The Spartan Way: See Training from Hell immediately below, to become a SEAL involves swimming, running, lifting, swimming, underwater navigation, navigating through explosive laden obstacle courses while being shot at, swimming, constant harassment and abuse, navigating a series of tall logs spaced far apart without falling, swimming, survival evasion and escape from enemy patrols, withstanding interrogation, and swimming. Those who pass move on to demolitions and parachute work.
- Training from Hell: Only 2530% of recruits get through SEAL training successfully. The rest are either rolled out because their injuries prevent them from continuing, or they quit. Most likely during "Hell Week", where they get maybe three hours sleep over five days of constant torture.
- After Hell Week comes the dive phase and more physical conditioning, which is where more trainees drop. It's not uncommon to see a recruit who passed Hell Week getting dropped due to injuries that haven't healed sufficiently.
- Undying Loyalty: They say a natural bond develops between men who are forced to share hellish experiences together, where they are forced to rely upon one another or else they die. When you crank those hellish experiences up to 11, then you get the Navy SEALs. When John F. Kennedy tasked Roy Boehm with creating the SEALs, the veteran frogman told his Commander-in-Chief, "I did not vote for you, sir, but I'll die for you."
Media where SEALs appear
- The CIA in Jormungand requests the deployment of the "Night Nine" a.k.a. SEAL Team 9's Alpha Platoon to eliminate Koko Hekmatyar's HCLI crew late in the second season. note They are the only enemies that take zero casualties against HCLI, and the only reason HCLI survives is because Koko uses her quantum computer to screw with Night Nine's GPS and send them in the wrong direction, right up to the Cuban border. And even then they came very close to killing off Koko's crew.
- In Full Metal Panic!, Mithril operative "Spec" is an ex-Navy SEAL.
- Charlie Sheen's movie Navy SEALs has a reporter who has contacts among terrorists but refuses to divulge information to Michael Biehn's character about terrorist possessing surface-to-air missiles. He takes her into a kill house (where the teams practice fighting inside buildings) and has a team actually engage around them, to give the reporter an idea of how it feels being helpless around a bunch of armed attackers, to get her to divulge the information needed to rescue the captured US personnel.
- The Rock had actual SEALs perform the diving scenes as well as part of the team sent against the renegade Marines.
- Except for the first film, the Behind Enemy Lines movies are about Navy SEALs who get Trapped Behind Enemy Lines and have to fight their way out (North Korea in the 2nd film, Colombia in the 3rd, Congo in the 4th).
- Act of Valor depicts a SEAL team, played by real SEALs using real tactics, tasked with taking down a terrorist cell planning to engage in a massive act of terrorism against the US.
- Zero Dark Thirty climaxes with the real life killing of Osama bin Laden by SEAL Team Six.
- Captain Phillips also ends with Navy SEALs making a simultaneous triple kill on three Somali pirates while on a moving boat being rocked by unstable waves, two of the three targets moving around a hostage, and at night. This is too good to be true... except this did happen in real life.
- Lone Survivor is about Operation Red Wings, in which a recon team from SEAL Team 10 was cut off from support and attempted to retreat from the Taliban.
- American Sniper is a biopic based on SEAL Team 3 sniper Chris Kyle's autobiography of the same name.
- Under Siege and its sequel Under Siege 2: Dark Territory feature Steven Seagal as ex-SEAL Chief Petty Officer Casey Ryback.
- Broken Arrow features an ex-SEAL mook.
- Jarhead 2: Field of Fire (which is an In Name Only sequel to 2005's Jarhead) has its plot move into gear when a SEAL Team 10 Senior Chief and another SEAL flag down the main characters, who are a Marine squad simply running a supply convoy, to escort a VIP to safety (a fictional equivalent of Malala Yousafzai). The Senior Chief and his Team 10 mate don't last very long, and as they were the last members of their unit, the Marines find themselves in charge of a high-risk mission they are completely unprepared for.
- Rogue Warrior is the autobiography of Richard Marcinko, Commander of SEAL Team Two and creator and Commander of Team Six. He turned it into a franchise of fictional stories based on his experience, Real Life self help books and even a video game.
- Lone Survivor is a memoir of a 2005 botched operation in Afghanistan by SEAL Team Ten to kill an Afghan warlord written by the operation's Sole Survivor Marcus Luttrell. In 2014, it was made into a movie starring Mark Wahlberg as Luttrell.
- An addition by Rorke Denver, note Damn few, is about his own experiences in the unit from acceptance to retiring with senior rank, including combat experience in South America and the Middle East.
- Without Remorse by Tom Clancy is the origin story of Ryanverse character John Clark. The novel outlines how former SEAL Chief Petty Officer John Kelly became John Clark.
- When Eliza Dushku is hit on and asked out on a date when she plays an FBI agent in The Big Bang Theory, she asks if her Navy SEAL husband is also invited. Dushku is known for playing Faith in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Echo in Dollhouse, and Rubi in Wet, in other words badasses. So shes matched up with the ultimate badass for one hell of a cockblock.
- Admiral Chegwidden in JAG was a SEAL before he transferred to surface warfare (rising to command a destroyer) and then going to law school to join the JAG Corps and becoming JAG himself. This was initially depicted as being career calculation as Chegwidden was introduced with aspiration towards becoming Chief of Naval Operations. On the odd occasion he is involved in a incident he shows he can still be badass into his sixties.
- There was also the episode Rogue detailing a SEAL Captain launching mock terrorist attacks to expose weaknesses in military installations. Despite the disclaimer the story is fiction it is clearly based on Rogue Warrior.
- Agent Sam Hanna of NCIS: Los Angeles was a SEAL who still has occasional dealings with them, and is held in very high regard by his brethren.
- Sam Axe in Burn Notice is a retired SEAL (played by none other than Bruce Campbell); he managed to retire at the grade of Commander, receiving a promotion from Lt. Commander his last day of duty. This shows in his general attitude: he might be an overweight womanizing boozer, but then as a retired SEAL he has every right to be overweight and drink (and as for the womanizing—look at the page image caption!), and he is definitely the most by-the-book member of Team Westen (Michael having been a CIA field agent and Fiona having been an IRA operative/weapons expert, Sam is the most likely to appeal to reason and law—as befits a career officer).note
- The reboot of Hawaii Five-0 re-imagines Steve McGarrett as a Navy SEAL, and the pilot begins with Steve in the middle of a SEAL mission in South Korea. When asked to head the governor's special task force, Steve becomes a Cowboy Cop, taking his SEAL training and applying it to solve major crimes. Series 2 introduces his SEAL instructor Joe White, a man who can still hold his own in a fight.
- The series Lethal Weapon reboots Matt Riggs from a Vietnam era Green Beret to a modern day SEAL.
- Jesse Ventura, in the lead up to SummerSlam, said this.
I am the only professional wrestler who can legitimately say he was a Navy SEAL. I AM the real deal when it comes to being a pro wrestler and former Navy SEAL. I know Demo Dick Marcinko, Commander, he is a friend of mine. I also climbed the rope ladder a week ago on board the USS Pearl Harbor - I was given eight bells and a salute from both the Captain and the Executive Officer.
- Graceland is a series about undercover agents from various US law enforcement groups (FBI, Customs, DEA, etc.) working and living together. Part of the backstory of FBI Agent Johnny Tuttoro is that he was a SEAL candidate who was badly injured on the last day of Hell Week and unable to continue training afterward. Unusually, almost every stereotype about the SEALs is subverted or defied, as Johnny is an easy going prankster who gets little respect from many of the other agents, is considered somewhat unreliable undercover and thus is generally relegated to leading the support team, (which everyone essentially considers the second string part of the job) and tends to wind up in Ladykiller in Love scenarios where nothing can happen, while all the other male agents aside from Jakes have had better luck.
- 2017's big new drama Six is the first ever TV drama to be based on real SEAL Team missions of the Navy (the name based on just one of these, Team Six, which featured in many special forces missions on behalf of the Navy and the armed forces). Its main characters are a squad of SEALs on a mission to rescue their commander.
- Another drama that debuted in September 2017, SEAL Team, stars David Boreanaz as head of DEVGRU a.k.a. SEAL Team Six's Bravo Team.
- In The Brave, Preach's background is that of a former Navy SEAL.
- Jane Doe of Blind Spot breaks the mold by not only breaking the stereotype super aggressive professional, but by being female.
- Obviously, Sony's SOCOM: US Navy SEALs series.
- One of the units available in Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2. Elites who wipe out enemy soldiers, can swim and blow up buildings. Of course, this being a Command and Conquer game, they are absolutely helpless against vehicles.
- As well as Delta Force in the video game...um, Delta Force, players can also choose to play as SEALs, among other special forces in Task Force Dagger.
- The Navy SEAL is the Americans' special unit in Civilization IV
- Surprisingly averted for most of the Call of Duty and Modern Warfare series. The SEALs don't show up onscreen until Modern Warfare 2 (where their slogan provides a level name), and you don't play one until Call of Duty: Black Ops II.
- The modern Medal of Honor games focused on the absolute cream of the crop special forces such as Tier 1 including SEALs as well as Team Six. Several members were actually caught out advising on uniforms and tactics, and docked several month's pay.
- In Splinter Cell, Sam Fisher was a former Navy SEAL before he became an NSA agent. This is in contrast to the Splinter Cell novels, where he was a former CIA agent instead. In Blacklist SEAL Team Six is mentioned to have been killed off in the Middle East to highlight how much of a threat the Engineers are. Late in the game, Fisher assists another SEAL team in Louisiana in fighting off an Engineer attack at an oil refinery.
- SEAL Team Six was the first counter-terrorist faction to be implemented into Counter-Strike, and Navy Seals have appeared in every game since.
- SEAL Team 10 is featured in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty as a Redshirt Army that quickly gets wiped out on the Big Shell after a failed attempt to rescue the President.
- The Navy SEAL is one of the many Counter-Terrorist Units in Rainbow Six Siege, their two operators are Blackbeard and Valkyrie.