The U.S. Navy’s Sea, Air, and Land (SEAL) teams are America’s premier maritime special operations force. First baptized by fire during the Vietnam War, Navy SEALs have been trusted with our nation’s most important missions, from daring high seas rescues to taking down one of the world’s most notorious terrorists, Usama Bin Laden.
Several books and movies have covered the SEALs in both fictional and non-fiction exploits worldwide, but unfortunately, they aren’t always accurate. So we spoke to a couple of real Team Guys to find out more about the culture and history behind the trident.
The structure of Navy SEAL Teams
The U.S. Navy Special Warfare Command is home to approximately 2,900 active-duty Navy SEALs, 325 reserve component SEALs, and hundreds of other special operations and support personnel.
Several different SEAL Teams exist:
- Two SEAL Delivery Vehicle (SDV) Teams
- SEAL Teams 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, and 10
- SEAL Teams 17 and 18 (reserve component)
- The Joint Special Operations Command’s Development Group (DEVGRU), sometimes referred to as SEAL Team 6.
All even-numbered teams are located on the East Coast, primarily at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, Virginia, and all odd-numbered ones on the West Coast at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, California. Each SEAL Team has its own geographic areas of responsibility around the world, so their training typically covers the environments they will operate in — jungle, desert, urban, arctic, coastal, undersea, and maritime.
What is the symbology behind the Navy SEAL trident badge?
Rick Woolard, the president of the board of directors of the Navy SEAL Museum, is one of the first SEALs to be assigned to the Teams during the Vietnam War. He said for the longest time, UDT divers and SEALs only wore their jump wings on their uniforms. But in the late 1960s, the idea was to establish unique unit insignias for each.
The Army Institute of Heraldry developed four designs, two for UDT divers and two for the SEALs. Gold insignias were for officers, and silver insignias were for enlisted. The UDT badge is an anchor representing the U.S. Navy, crossed with a cocked flintlock pistol and trident. The flintlock pistol represents land warfare and a state of constant readiness, while the trident represents Nepture and the maritime nature of their work.
The SEAL insignia has a similar design but incorporates a bald eagle. The eagle symbolizes the airborne operations and holds the trident and a cocked flintlock pistol. However, as UDT teams transferred to the SEAL Teams, the officer SEAL insignia was selected as the official unit insignia.
“So, that was adopted as the breast insignia for all UDT divers and SEALs,” Woolard said. “That’s the one that everybody sees today.”
What actually happens during Hell Week?
Training evolutions during BUD/S can change from year to year or class to class. Trevor Thompson, a former Navy SEAL of 8 years, recalled his Hell Week experience as right on par with the week’s name.
“You do everything you’ve done physically up to that point. So, all the obstacle courses, all the log physical training, all the boat bullshit, all the swimming, all the running that you did in the first three weeks,” Thompson said. “You do it in a week.”
Thompson said there’s no individual thing that is difficult in Hell Week, but lack of sleep, constant physical strain, and the overall stress of the combined events make the fourth week of BUD/S … well, hell.
According to a Navy report, 21% of candidates who start Hell Week will quit or fail. So, if you make it that far, just don’t quit — you’ve got an almost 80% chance of becoming a Navy SEAL!
Why are Navy SEALs called frogmen?
There is a lot of lore around Navy SEALs and why they are called ‘frogmen,’ but they aren’t the original group of guys to be called that. Underwater Demolition Team divers, or UDT divers, were first called frogmen during World War II.
“I mean, somebody, somewhere, looked over the side of a ship and saw some guys swimming down there and say, ‘what are those guys — that look like frogs that — like frog men? They had fins on, and you have to realize that swim fins from 1944 to 1945 were a new kind of a new invention,” Woolard said. “They hadn’t been around for very long at all.”
‘Frogmen’ is still used to describe SEALs, and you’ll see clever depictions of frogs on SEAL Team t-shirts and challenge coins. But Thompson, who served from 2007 to 2015, said he usually heard SEALs referred to as “Team guys” more often than Frogmen.
What does a SEAL do in the Navy?
Naval Special Warfare Command’s mission is to provide maritime special operations forces to conduct full spectrum operations, unilaterally or with partners, to support national objectives.
As a main component of NSWC, Navy SEALs conduct a wide range of missions, including special reconnaissance, direct action, unconventional warfare, maintaining forward presence, foreign internal defense, information warfare, security assistance, counter-drug operations, personnel recovery, and hostage rescue.
“SEALs are an asymmetrically capable, small unit of commandos with a focus on maritime ability,” Thompson said. “They have a high level of training, unit cohesion, and the ability to do things quickly — and in coordination with other units.”
According to the Navy, SEALs rotate between training iterations and deployments, but their training is often just as dangerous as their combat operations.
What is the culture like in a SEAL team?
Woolard described a tight-knit team setting within the SEALs. Though he has not been on the Teams since 1990, he said it’s likely a similar setting today.
“You do everything you can to be an effective operator. You never want to be the weak link. You never want to let down the men on the right, left, front, and back of you,” Woolard said. “Because those are the guys you’re fighting for.”
Thompson said while he was on the Teams, the culture revolved around training for or deploying to war.
“When I was in, it was ‘war, war, war, war, war, war.’ Nobody gave a fuck about anything else at that time,” Thompson said. “Train for war because we’re going.”
Woolard and Thompson both said that SEALs have to earn their trident every day and that mindset fuels the culture — the hard work doesn’t stop when you graduate BUD/S. Serving in one of the Navy’s most elite special operations teams is a demanding field of work.
How many Navy SEALs have received the Medal of Honor?
Seven SEALs have been awarded the Medal of Honor since the unit’s inception in the 1960s.
- Navy Lt. j.g. (SEAL) Joseph R. Kerrey – Vietnam
- Navy Lt. (SEAL) Thomas R. Norris – Vietnam
- Navy Engineman 2nd Class (SEAL) Michael E. Thornton – Vietnam
- Navy Lt. (SEAL) Michael P. Murphy – posthumously – Afghanistan
- Navy SCPO (SEAL) Edward C. Byers Jr. – Afghanistan
- Navy Master Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Britt K. Slabinski – Afghanistan
- Petty Officer 2nd Class (SEAL) Michael A. Monsoor – posthumously – Iraq
Lt. Murphy’s act of heroism in exposing himself to certain death to call for help for his compromised SEAL reconnaissance team is possibly one of the most well-known stories behind a SEAL Medal of Honor recipient. His story was popularized after the debut of Peter Berg’s Lone Survivor, starring Mark Wahlberg as Marcus Luttrell.
An excerpt from Murphy’s Medal of Honor citation explains what he really did that day:
“In the face of almost certain death, he fought his way into open terrain to gain a better position to transmit a call. This deliberate, heroic act deprived him of cover, exposing him to direct enemy fire. Finally achieving contact with his headquarters, Lieutenant Murphy maintained his exposed position while he provided his location and requested immediate support for his team. In his final act of bravery, he continued to engage the enemy until he was mortally wounded, gallantly giving his life for his country and for the cause of freedom.”
What do Navy SEALs do after the Navy?
Some SEALs have become entrepreneurs or celebrity coaches — like Jocko Willink — or financial analysts, law enforcement, brewers, defense contracting, and many other careers. SEALs seek careers in all areas of the workforce, and Woolard pointed out that around 30 to 40% of SEALs attend college before earning their trident, so they often have an idea of what they want to do when they get out of the Navy.
“Failure is not an option. You don’t want to lose. So, if you take a temporary setback, you’re very resilient. You want to get right back up and get right back into the fight,” Woolard said. “I think that’s the spirit that the guys bring from the Teams into the civilian world that helps them to be successful.”
Woolard said that SEALs apply their no-quit attitudes to whatever they do but, using lessons learned over decades at war, can learn from and bounce back quickly from failures or setbacks. That’s why so many SEALs are successful in whatever careers they pursue.
FAQs about life as a Navy SEAL
You have questions, Task & Purpose has answers.
Q: How much do Navy SEALs get paid?
A: SEALs are subject to the same pay grades as the rest of the Navy but also receive special incentive pay for things like airborne, dive, and demolition duty. Rank and time in service also affect how much they make, along with differences in Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) rates, which vary by region.
For example, an E-6 Navy SEAL with dependants stationed at NAB Coronado with six years of service would make approximately $104,206.80 per year, not including extra pay associated with deployments or retention bonuses.
Q: How dangerous is it to be a Navy SEAL?
A: The level of danger is comparable to any of the U.S. military’s special operations forces. Anytime a task can result in death, it’s dangerous. SEALs perform underwater, airborne, and land-based operations that all carry unique risks.
Q: How many Navy SEALs quit during training?
A: According to the Navy, an average of 68% of the starting BUD/S class drops out for quitting, administrative, medical, or other performance-related circumstances.
Q: Are Navy SEALs required to write a book about their time in the military?
A: They aren’t required to, per se, but we’d like to think it’s strongly encouraged. Check out our list of the best Navy SEAL books available.
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