The United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group (NSWDG), commonly known as DEVGRU and informally by its former name SEAL Team Six (ST6), is one of the United States’ four secretive counter-terrorism and Special Mission Units (SMUs).
The vast majority of information about DEVGRU is highly classified, and details of its activities are not commented on by either the White House or the Department of Defense. While DEVGRU is administratively supported by the Naval Special Warfare Command, it is operationally commanded by the Joint Special Operations Command. It is based at Training Support Center Hampton Roads, Virginia Beach, Virginia, known as FTC Dam Neck until 2004..
The origins of ST6 can be traced to the aftermath of Operation Eagle Claw, the failed 1980 attempt to rescue American hostages at the U.S. Embassy in Iran. During the Iran hostage crisis in 1979, Richard Marcinko was one of two U.S. Navy representatives for a Joint Chiefs of Staff task force known as the TAT (Terrorist Action Team). The purpose of the TAT was to develop a plan to free the American hostages held in Iran, which culminated in Operation Eagle Claw. In the wake of the operation’s disaster at the Desert One base in Iran, the Navy saw the need for a full-time dedicated Counter-Terrorist Team, and tasked Marcinko with its design and development.
Marcinko was the first commanding officer of this new unit, which he named SEAL Team Six. At the time there were only two United States Navy SEAL (Sea, Air and Land) teams; Marcinko purportedly named the unit Team Six in order to confuse Soviet intelligence as to the number of SEAL teams. The men in the unit were hand-picked by Marcinko from across the U.S. Navy’s Special Operations personnel. SEAL Team Six became known as the U.S. Navy’s primary counter-terrorist unit. It has been compared to the U.S. Army’s Delta Force. Marcinko held the command of SEAL Team Six for three years, from 1980 to 1983, instead of the typical two-year command stint in the Navy at the time. SEAL Team Six was formally created in October 1980, and an intense, progressive work-up training program made the unit mission-ready six months later. The existing SEAL teams, including 12 platoons in SEAL Team One on the West Coast, had already begun counter-terrorism training; they formed a dedicated two-platoon group known as “MOB Six” (Mobility Six) in anticipation of a maritime scenario requiring a counter-terrorism response, and had begun training to that end. The main area that separates SEAL Team Six/DevGru from the other “regular” SEAL teams is its funding. The team was given a large amount of money and are able to buy the best weapons and equipment available.
Richard Marcinko, founder of SEAL Team Six, and its first C.O.
In 1987, a new unit was formed, given the official title of “Naval Special Warfare Development Group” (abbreviated to NAVSPECWARDEVGRU, or DEVGRU) after SEAL Team Six was dissolved. Reasons for the disbanding are varied, but the name SEAL Team Six is often used in reference to DEVGRU because of their similarities as a maritime counter-terrorism unit.
In a 2010 article, Marc Ambinder wrote that DEVGRU’s designation had been changed by the Defense Department to a new name; the name itself was classified. 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (Delta Force), was renamed Army Compartmented Elements (ACE).Despite the official name changes, Team 6’s original name remains widely recognized; Disney filed to trademark “SEAL Team 6” the day after the Bin Laden raid.
RECRUITMENT, SELECTION, AND TRAINING
In the early stages of creating SEAL Team Six, Marcinko was given only six months to get ST6 up and running. This meant that there was a timing issue and Marcinko had little time to create a proper selection course, similar to that of Delta Force, and as a result hand-picked the first plankowners of the unit after assessing their Navy records and interviewing each man. It has been said that Marcinko regretted not having enough time to set up a proper selection process and course. All applicants came from the Underwater Demolition Teams (UDTs) and East and West Coast SEAL teams. Marcinko’s criteria for recruiting applicants was combat experience so he would know they could perform under fire; language skills were vital, as the unit would have a worldwide mandate to communicate with the local population if needed; union skills, to be able to blend in as civilians during an operation; and finally SEAL skills. Members of SEAL Team Six were selected in part because of the different specialist skills of each man.
The training schedule was intense. A former Team member claims that in one year SEAL Team Six fired more rounds of ammunition than the entire U.S. Marine Corps. The emphasis was on shooting skills, range firing, close-quarters battle (CQB), and stress shooting in a variety of conditions.
Information about the unit is mostly highly classified, so little information is available about recruitment and selection. What is known is that the selection and training for the unit has not changed dramatically since its creation. All applicants come from the “regular” SEAL teams, unless applying for support positions (there have been open advertisements on the web for support personnel).
It can be inferred from the quality of their pool of applicants that those considered are in peak physical condition, maintain an excellent reputation as operators within the Naval Special Warfare community, and have done operational deployments with a SEAL Team that provided invaluable experience. As a result, the candidate will usually be in his 30s. As ST6 was recruiting the best and brightest SEALs/UDTs from the regular teams, this created animosity between the unit and the “regular” teams, who considered that their best SEALs were being poached for the unit.
Candidates are interviewed by a review board to deem whether the candidate is suitable to undertake the selection phase. Those who pass the stringent recruitment and selection process will be selected to attend a six- to seven-month Operators Training Course. Candidates will screen with the unit’s training wing known as “Green Team.” The training course attrition rate is high; during one selection course, out of the original 20 candidates, 12 completed the course. All candidates are watched closely by DEVGRU instructors and evaluated on whether they are suitable to join the individual squadrons. Howard Wasdin, a former member of SEAL Team Six said in a recent interview that 16 applied for SEAL Team Six selection course and only two were accepted. Those who do not pass the selection phase are returned to their previous assignments and unlikely to be able to try again in the future.
Like all Special Operations Forces units that have an extremely intensive and high-risk training schedule, there can be serious injuries and deaths. SEAL Team Six/DEVGRU has lost several operators during training, including parachute accidents and close-quarters battle training accidents. It is presumed that the unit’s assessment process for potential new recruits is different from what a SEAL operator experienced in his previous career, and much of the training tests the candidate’s mental capacity rather than his physical condition, as he will have already completed Basic Underwater Demolitions/SEAL training.
Candidates are put through a variety of advanced training courses led by civilian or military instructors. These can include free-climbing, advanced unarmed combat techniques, defensive and offensive driving, advanced diving, and Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) training. All candidates must perform at the top level during selection, and the unit instructors evaluate the candidate during the training process. Selected candidates are assigned to one of the Tactical Development and Evaluation Squadrons; the others are returned to their previous units. Unlike the other regular SEAL Teams, SEAL Team Six operators were able to go to almost any of the best schools anywhere and train in whatever they wanted depending on the unit’s requirements. In a recent interview, Howard Wasdin, a former member of SEAL Team Six said that he volunteered to be sent on a sniper course as SEAL Team Six required more snipers. He said that he could have chosen any sniper school available but personally chose the Marine Scout Sniper School as he thought this was the best available in the world.
THE KILLING OF BIN LADEN
The United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group (NSWDG), commonly known as DEVGRU and informally by its former name SEAL Team Six (ST6), is one of the United States’ four secretive counter-terrorism and Special Mission Units (SMUs). The vast majority of information about DEVGRU is highly classified, and details of its activities are not commented on by either the White House or the Department of Defense. While DEVGRU is administratively supported by the Naval Special Warfare Command, it is operationally commanded by the Joint Special Operations Command. It is based at Training Support Center Hampton Roads, Virginia Beach, Virginia, known as FTC Dam Neck until 2004. The military team that killed Osama Bin Laden is an elite special forces group unofficially called Seal Team 6. Officially, the team’s name is classified and not available to the public, technically there is no team 6. A Tier-One counter-terrorism force similar to the Army’s elusive Delta group, Team 6’s mission rarely make it to paper much less the newspaper. It shows how important the publicity about Bin Laden’s killing is to the U.S. that this morning, Team 6 is front-page news. The members of Team 6 are all “black” operatives. They exist outside military protocol, engage in operations that are at the highest level of classification and often outside the boundaries of international law. To maintain plausible deniability in case they are caught, records of black operations are rarely, if ever, kept. The development of SEAL Team 6 was in direct response to the 1980 attempt to rescue the American hostages held in Iran. The mission was a terrific failure that fell apart at many points and illustrated the need for a dedicated counter-terrorist team capable of operating with the utmost secrecy. The Team was labeled 6 at the time to confuse Soviet intelligence about the number of SEAL teams in operation at the time. There were only two others. Team 6 poached the top operatives from other SEAL units and trained them even more intensely from there. Even among proven SEALs the attrition rate for Team 6 is reported to be nearly half. There are no names available for current Team 6 members, but the CIA does recruit heavily from their numbers for their Special Operations Group, so it makes sense that they were chosen to work with the CIA on this mission. Team 6 is normally devoted to missions with maritime authority: ship rescues, oil rigs, naval bases or land bases accessible by water. There are no waterways near Bin Laden’s compound. When a former Navy SEAL was called for a comment about this article all he could say was: “You know I’d love to help you man, but I can’t say a word about Team 6. There is no Team 6.”