The Navy SEALs is a highly trained military group that can participate in sea, air, and land missions. John F. Kennedy originally proposed such a group during a 1961 speech to Congress. Over the next few years, the Navy assembled its special operations forces to participate in domestic and international affairs.
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The Vietnam Conflict
While President Kennedy introduced this idea to the world at large in May 1961, Arleigh Burke, the Chief of Naval Operations, had recommended the creation of a special forces unit capable of guerrilla and anti-guerrilla operations.
At the time, the United States was struggling to defeat enemy forces in Vietnam. Vietnamese enemies had several advantages that allowed them to consistently defeat the US’s more advanced weaponry. They, for instance, were familiar enough with the landscape to use guerrilla tactics effectively.
Creating the Navy SEALs
The first Navy SEALs were recruited from the Underwater Demolition Team. Members of this elite squad already had extensive experience fighting in Korea. They also had training that surpassed that of the average sailor or soldier. Even with their exceptional skills, they needed additional training to become one of the world’s most elite military forces.
The original SEALs teams were introduced to unconventional training that included demolitions, high-altitude parachuting, and hand-to-hand combat. The sailors were also trained in foreign languages so they could easily communicate with allies and enemies around the world.
The SEALs First Missions
Even though the SEALs were an elite force of the Navy, their first missions were sponsored by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). In 1963, the CIA sent the SEALs to participate in covert operations in Vietnam. The mission, called Phoenix Program, focused on capturing and assassinating Vietcong sympathizers.
Over time, the SEALs became more focused on disrupting the Vietcong’s supply lines. Unlike most US military forces, the SEALs did not engage enemy forces from a distance. Instead, they fought the enemy in close proximity, often infiltrating camps.
Ending the Vietnam Conflict
Despite the exceptional skills offered by the Navy SEALs, the United States only had marginal success in Vietnam. In 1970, President Nixon announced that US forces would withdraw from the region. By this time, Vietnam had officially divided into the North and South countries that currently exist. The US left South Vietnam to handle its own military and security affairs. The last Navy SEAL, however, did not leave the area until 1973.
The SEALs is a very small group of focused military personnel, but its members were some of the most highly decorated after the conflict ended. The SEALs received
- Two Navy Crosses, the second highest decoration for valor
- 42 Silver stars, the third highest decoration for valor
- 402 Bronze stars, the fourth highest decoration for valor
The SEALs also received 352 Commendation Medals and three Medals of Honor.
In upcoming years, the Navy SEALs were involved in some of the most pertinent military operations involving US forces, including the Invasion of Grenada, the Iran-Iraq War, and the Somali Intervention.