Naval Special Warfare Bears Ground Combat Burden While Preparing for Blue Water Future

By James Colbert and Marsha Halteman

By James Colbert and Marsha Halteman

On April 1 and July 14, JINSA officers and members visited Naval Special Warfare (NSW) Command headquarters at Coronado, California and the Naval Amphibious Base at Little Creek, Virginia, respectively for an update on the operations of the Navy’s SEAL (Sea, Air and Land) and SWCC (Special Warfare Combat Crewman) teams. SWCC are Special Warfare Combat Crewmen, the sailors and officers that operate the various boats from which SEALs deploy and derive support. Adm. Leon “Bud” Edney, USN (ret.), a member of JINSA’s Board of Advisors, accompanied the delegation in Coronado. At Little Creek, Rear Admiral Mark R. Milliken, USN (ret.), a participant in JINSA’s 2008 Trip to Israel for Flag and General Officers accompanied the JINSA group.

Building on JINSA’s long history of close relations with the America’s special operations units, the visits served as an update for the organization’s leadership, members of which last visited Little Creek in November 2007 and Coronado in 2005.

NSW in Detail

Naval Special Warfare Group One, located at the Coronado base, comprises SEAL Teams 1, 3, 5, and 7 while Naval Special Warfare Group Two, located at the Little Creek base, is home to SEAL Teams 2, 4, 8, and 10. Each team is comprised of some 160 SEALs. Additionally, a SEAL Delivery Vehicle (SDV) unit, SDVT-1, operating manned submersibles, their operators and a SEAL team, is located in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

The night before the visits to both bases, JINSA hosted Naval Special Warfare members and their spouses for a reception and dinner. At Little Creek, the commander of Naval Special Warfare Group 2, Captain Timothy J. Szymanski, offered remarks. “I want to thank JINSA for recognizing the Navy Special Warfare Command as a community and at the individual level.” He noted that JINSA had recognized senior Navy leadership such as U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) Commander Admiral Eric T. Olson (himself a SEAL officer) and Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead with its Henry M. Jackson Distinguished Service Award as well as honoring the Navy’s fallen and living heroes through its Grateful Nation Award. At the earlier Coronado visit, the commander of Naval Special Warfare Group One, Captain Alexander L. Krongard, discussed challenges facing NSW in the prosecution of the war in Afghanistan at a pre-base visit dinner.

Long Deployments Stress Force

Both commanders noted that most of the young officers and NCOs present at the dinners as well as the ones the JINSA groups would be meeting on the bases, have been deployed abroad for five of the last 10 years and had not slept in their own beds for seven of the last 10 years owing to intensive stateside training when not deployed abroad.

JINSA delegation members received a series of detailed briefings on all aspects of NSW tactics, developments and deployments. Rear Adm. Gary Bonelli, Deputy Commander of Naval Special Warfare Command, met the JINSA groups at both bases. Adm. Bonelli emphasized that the small community of some 2,900 of these elite commandos has seen extensive combat in Afghanistan over the last several years as well as in Iraq.

The multiple and long deployments made necessary by the war’s demands for NSW warriors’ special skills is something the Navy has confronted head on with new and intensified support programs for the SEALs, their spouses and their families. That is what NSW is all about, Bonelli reminded his listeners, the people. Unlike the regular Army, Navy and Air Force, the special operations community is people-centric, and the most utilized weapon is the individual warrior not an airplane, ship or tank.

Bonelli later discussed NSW’s importance at a time when the United States is the target of terror organizations worldwide. He also thanked JINSA for its past and ongoing support of the men and women of NSW.

NSW Grows as Demand Increases

Bonelli said that, at the strategic level, total personnel assigned to NSW was expected to grow even as defense budget cuts are expected, so high is the demand for their services. Right now there are some 2,000 enlisted SEALs, 220 SEAL officers and 750 personnel in the SWCC community. An additional 1,000 personnel serve in NSW support jobs and there are some 6,700 in the NSW reserves. All told, Naval Special Warfare command accounts for just 1.8 percent of the total personnel in the U.S. armed forces.

By 2016, it is estimated that NSW will grow to 11,000 total personnel while total numbers of personnel within USSOCOM grows to 64,000. USSOCOM, the only unified command with its own budget, controls the special operating forces of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. Bonelli said that NSW recruiting is doing very well. In the past, a sailor had to serve a tour of duty before requesting to attend SEAL qualifications. To streamline the process, Navy recruits can opt to try out for the SEALs immediately after basic training. Bonelli said that today 75 to 80 percent of those attempting to become SEALs come straight from civilian world.

NSW manpower needs will grow, Bonelli said, as the branch transitions from a dominating focus on land warfare in Afghanistan and Iraq back to a sea-based posture with global responsibilities. In a bid to increase the number of SEALs, NSW has increased the number of 24-week Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) school classes per year to six although the severity of the training has not lessened. So, even though the pass rate has not increased the total number of sailors making it through does. If a sailor does pass the grueling BUD/S regimen – the dropout rate is 80 percent – he continues to the 28-week SEAL Qualification Training (SQT) program to learn advanced skills in everything from parachuting to combat first aid to operating the latest in high tech communications gear. Following that are many more weeks of specialized training geared specifically to each SEAL’s role in the team.

Becoming More Global

In fact, operating globally has intensified NSW’s emphasis on acculturating its forces to the regions they are expected to operate in. This means the required learning of foreign languages as well as tailored history and culture seminars. Such course work adds six months to the traditional two-and-a-half year SEAL training time. Quite simply, the Navy’s elite warriors are taking a page from the Army’s Green Berets with this new emphasis on regionalization and working more closely with indigenous forces and civilians. Concomitantly, there is a push to attract minorities and the foreign-born to the NSW community.

At both Coronado and Little Creek, Special Boat Teams 12 and 20 demonstrated the capabilities of the two types of craft in their inventory, the Mark V 81-foot, medium range boat used for insertion and extraction of SEALs and other Special Operations forces in low to medium threat environments and the 11-meter Rigid Inflatable Boat, a high speed, high buoyancy, extreme weather boat tasked with insertion and extraction of SEALs from enemy occupied beaches.

CAPEX Send Off

The visit to Little Creek concluded with the unique opportunity to observe a full rehearsal for an upcoming Capabilities Exercise where, on a Chesapeake Bay beach, SEAL teams demonstrated a wide range of their skills including precision parachuting, beach infiltration and obstacle destruction, beach extraction by boat, sniping targets, boat operations close to shore, helicopter infiltration by fast roping, the taking down of a terrorist hideout and helicopter extraction utilizing the Special Patrol Infiltration/Exfiltration System (SPIES) whereby team members hook themselves to a long rope from the helicopter and are then lifted into the air and flown away, using their arms to stabilize themselves and prevent spinning.

As of 2010, the Grateful Nation Award has been presented eight times to an individual selected by each of the five armed services and USSOCOM. Of the 16 slots dedicated to them, the Navy and the USSOCOM chose a SEAL to receive the award eight times (two of the recipients were posthumous). Truly, this is a reflection of the combat burden born by the SEAL teams in Afghanistan and Iraq and recognized by their commands.

Colbert is JINSA’s Director for Policy and Communications. Halteman is JINSA’s Director for Law Enforcement & Military Programs.