Every ounce of their being has been forged by war. Not a single tactic, technique or procedure hasn't been bought and paid for by their own blood. Every laser, parachute, weapon, suppressor, trigger, button and stitch on their uniform has a purpose.

They've been called ghosts, guerrillas, assassins and heroes. To know them one must start at the beginning and then from there go further back in time. Like any amphibian these "frogs" evolved from the finest species of the sea to become the most lethal and effective warriors this planet will ever know.

My God! What have we done?

1961 President Kennedy – Many believe this to be the Beginning

"I am directing the Secretary of Defense to expand rapidly and substantially, in cooperation with our Allies, the orientation of existing forces for the conduct of non-nuclear war, paramilitary operations, and sub-limited or unconventional wars. In addition, our special forces and unconventional warfare units will be increased and reoriented. Throughout the services new emphasis must be placed on the special skills and languages which are required to work with local populations."

U.S Navy Established SEAL Teams

In response to President Kennedy's desire to develop an unconventional warfare capability, the U.S. Navy took the final evolutionary step by taking members from the Underwater Demolition Teams and forming SEAL Teams One and Two in January of 1962.

Their mission was to conduct counter guerilla warfare and clandestine operations in maritime and riverine environments – they did that and then some. To learn about how they operated in Vietnam describes best what these men, after decades of war and evolution, had become.

Vietnam Missions

Shortly after their "official" constitution, SEALs found themselves in Vietnam inventing and defining modern warfare while working as autonomous commandos, intelligence operatives, interrogators, military strategists and "ghosts" supporting the ominous "Phoenix" program.

SEAL platoons operated autonomously by developing their own intelligence, coordinating their own support and executing self driven missions to destroy the enemy from within.

The VC (Viet Cong) forces had become comfortable and felt secure by operating at night in a Guerilla style manner. Creeping about under the cover of darkness, their missions went unchecked by their more conventional opponents. They owned the water, land, jungles and the night. This was working well for them until the US Government unleashed a new breed of warrior. The Navy SEALs.

A SEAL commander would often gather his own intelligence on the enemy. This phase of "gathering" would continue until he was sufficiently satisfied that a mission could be executed. At that point the commander would visit the surrounding conventional forces and tell them that his team would be operating in their area at some point within the next few days. They wouldn't tell them where nor would they say when. Since the SEALs operated so deep in enemy territory there was little concern of "Blue on Blue" contact.

In the dark of night SEALs would slowly and quietly infiltrate the VC controlled areas to set up ambushes. As the VC moved into their trap, the SEALs attacked, capturing and killing the VC from out of nowhere. For the first time Americans were not fighting in a conventional way. The SEALs were not worried about doing things the "right" way they were 100% focused on doing things the "effective" way.

Because SEALs trained and deployed together in 6 month blocks they were incredibly cohesive units. This allowed their small numbers to produce big results in comparison to other conventional forces who would rotate individuals in and attach them to already existing units.

This deployment style remains effective to this day. By the time my SEAL platoon deployed I could tell who was who just by the way they moved through a kill-house.

Ghosts – The Phoenix Program

The Phoenix program, a very misunderstood and controversial program, was established to destroy the political infrastructure of the Lao Dong Party known as the "Viet Cong." The SEALs working in coordination with the CIA would capture, interrogate and often kill key members of the VC political structure in support of this mission.

Often the program would become subject of controversy as critics would label them as Assassins.

The CIA & the SEALs worked with the South Vietnamese to identify and capture members of the VC so that they could interrogate them to collect intelligence to develop target packages.

From there, the information was sent to field units that would then enter the villages, from which the suspected VC targets were operating, and capture or kill them depending on their level of cooperation. Undoubtedly stories of these mysterious abductions had many a hardened communist leader telling "Ghost" stories.

The Results

Though the critics would refer to the Phoenix teams as tortuous assassins they were much more than that. The Phoenix teams personally removed several thousand members of the VC and aided conventional forces in the removal of many more.

For an incredibly small amount of operatives their impact was enormously large. A ratio that has done nothing but become more impressive since.

When one considers how effective these newly formed SEAL Teams were in Vietnam, you have to wonder how it happened. How did they become so amazing, so fierce, so effective, so quickly?

The truth is that it didn't happen "just like that". It's a common belief that SEALs were formed by President Kennedy. This is actually inaccurate. President Kennedy constituted the SEAL teams; but, evolution formed them.

To truly understand how these men earned titles such as "ghosts" and "assassins" so quickly you have to know how they evolved. You have to go back to WWII and uncover the secretive "frogmen" of the OSS.


About Eric Davis

Eric Davis served our country as a U.S. Navy SEAL and decorated veteran of the Global War on Terror. Eric has been recognized as one of the premier sniper instructors in the U.S. military and has served as a Master Training Specialist at the SEAL sniper school. Davis is also the host of The Loadout Room, author at SOFREP, a GovX "Insider" and founder of the human performance company Average Frog. Follow him, and all his exploits, on Twitter @EricDavis215

Leave a comment:

James F.

5/19/2014 12:41 PM

Great post Eric! I've been reading about the evolution of the SEAL teams for as long as I can remember.

Eric D.

5/19/2014 1:44 PM

They are ever changing. I'm on my way to the SOFIC conference now and expect to see some more new stuff.

roy C.

5/20/2014 2:01 AM

thank you for your service

Robert M.

5/20/2014 7:35 AM

God Bless our Servicemen and women! - I worked with a couple of these (we thought they were nuts!) courageous, high spirited and DEDICATED personnel! Thank you for everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) you do and stand for to make this country safe and remain free!!!

Janet S.

9/6/2014 2:49 PM

When I was a teen-I used to lifeguard at a naval pool in indian Head Md. I became aquainted withe many of the origal Seals known at the frog men -under water demolitian teams. I know now probably most have passed on or are as old as I am-but it was my privilage to know the first. J. spangler