Written by: Tom Hawkins on December 26, 2011
Most of us woke up on the morning of Aug. 6, 2011, to learn the devastating news that our nation had lost 17 courageous U.S. Navy SEALs along with five other Naval Special Warfare (NSW) personnel, Air Force Special Operations support personnel, U.S. Army air crew, and an Afghan security element. This happened when their CH-47 helicopter crashed after being hit with a rocket-propelled grenade in Afghanistan’s eastern Wardak province. As a former SEAL Team operator, and with a son currently serving as a SEAL, this kind of news is simply the worst. Sadly, too, there have been equally devastating missions, including June 28, 2005, when 11 other terrific SEALs lost their lives – also in Afghanistan – during a foiled mission and doomed rescue attempt, where another Chinook crashed with all aboard.
Men don’t get assigned to a SEAL Team; they volunteer for this routinely extreme and often arduous duty. From World War II and into the modern-day conflict, very exceptional men have volunteered for some very tough assignments, and many have made the ultimate sacrifice. But who are these men? What is their heritage? And what is it that separates them from all others?
Navy SEALs trace their capability origins back to four formidable legacy units formed during World War II. They were the Amphibious Scouts and Raiders, formed in August 1942 for amphibious reconnaissance and commando operations in Europe and the South Pacific; Naval Combat Demolition Units (NCDUs), assault demolitioneers formed in June 1943 and trained almost exclusively for beach obstacle-clearance operations at Normandy and Southern France; Underwater Demolition Teams (UDTs), combat swimmers formed in December 1944 to conduct hydrographic reconnaissance and demolition of obstacles before amphibious landings throughout the Pacific; and the maritime operators of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS).
There was for many years a prevailing understanding that UDT and SEAL Team origins derived from a school and training program set up at the Amphibious Training Base (ATB) at Fort Pierce, Fla., in June 1943. This story was perpetuated by newspaper articles and books written during the postwar period, and, as a result, it became the common understanding among the SEAL and UDT men for decades thereafter. While the great majority of training was conducted at Fort Pierce, recently discovered documentation now portrays a larger picture. Please visit Defensemedianetwork.com for the rest of this article.