Since 9/11, the Navy SEALs (Sea, Air, and Land) have been among the “go to” operatives for killing and capturing al Qaeda and the Taliban. They are one of the weapons of choice as proven experts in urban warfare, close quarters combat, counterinsurgency operations, and the most critical clandestine military operations. They clearly are a driving force in whatever direction our national security interests take them. The SEAL role is multipurpose, multifunctional, often joint, and at times the solo entity in targeting terrorists in a comprehensive- and personality-focused targeting methodology, focused against high payoff targets in the Global War on Terrorism.
There is a veil of concealment over the sometimes-ethereal world of special operations warriors. It is a mystery to those outside their elite circle, even to their family members. SEALs have a high level of mental strength; their training is designed to “weed out” the weak. SEAL training is not for the faint of heart. Physical fitness, mental toughness, ability to learn difficult languages, willingness to go face to face with life-altering circumstances is what makes them extraordinary warriors. They are warriors who pride themselves on stealth, secrecy, teamwork, and mission accomplishment, and are able to keep the most furtive and clandestine missions cloistered.
Becoming a Navy SEAL is about feeling confident in the most uncomfortable situations and paying particularly close attention to those details that could get you killed or keep you alive. You don’t have to be the biggest and “baddest,” but you do have to have the mental toughness to survive. Silence is the hallmark of these special operations warriors. While most people don’t know much about what our Navy SEALs do, the world owes these operators much more than they can imagine.
An individual chooses to become a Navy SEAL not because of the fame or gratitude, but as an individual choice to be the best part of an elite squad. A SEAL truly believes he can make a difference, whether it’s alone or in small teams. Their commitment goes deeper than just their love of country. They are trained warriors who know they have completed a mission beyond the norm without needing the “pat on the back” or “job well done.” They recognize within themselves or with a small team their significant mission accomplishments.
The unit’s acronym “SEAL” is consequent to their aptitude to function and maneuver at sea, in the air, and on land. However, what sets them apart from other military units around the world is their ability to work underwater. The experience gained from operating in the ocean and fresh water environs has formed their uniqueness and individuality and, as a result, they are regarded as being among the most expertly trained amphibious warfare units in the world. Navy SEALs are trained and have been deployed in a wide variety of full-spectrum operations, special reconnaissance operations, unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, hostage rescue, counterterrorism, and other clandestine missions around the world.
Navy SEAL Families
Over the past 10 years of persistent conflict, the divorce rate among the military has greatly increased. Single-parent families are no longer an anomaly. Some think that it can be attractive to be married to a Navy SEAL; however, they don’t have typical marriages. SEALs can be away upward of 250 days a year, off and on, making it a year-round tour. And because high-risk missions are highly classified, family members and spouses are left to speculate when, where, how, and if their SEAL will ever come home. That’s when this type of marriage becomes a reality. Fear constantly reveals itself during each deployment. Spouses form a bond with other families of SEALs. They forge an indissoluble union, not just with each other, but with other SEALs, because that warrior may be the one to save your brother in arms, ensuring a safe homecoming to his family. The Navy has long studied ways to build on that unity, developing programs to bring aboard new support programs to help reduce the strain of long and mysterious deployments. Wives will tell you that the stronger and better your marriage is, the better SEAL you are and can be. It is said that when a special operations warrior doesn’t have to worry about the home front, it means that he can focus more on the mission at hand.
Children of SEALs are especially vulnerable during deployments. Their unique developmental perspective and limited life experiences put them at a heightened risk for emotional distress during extended separation periods. They will inevitably feel the sting of a military deployment, but they do not always have the ability to communicate how they are truly feeling. One organization that helps families of Navy SEALs sustain the grueling days of multiple deployments or the unfortunate death of a comrade is the Navy SEAL Foundation, headquartered in Virginia Beach, Va. Organizations like the Navy SEAL Foundation provide special inspiration to the children as well. Not only do they focus on their education, but also they believe that motivation is important in building their future. The Navy SEAL Foundation also provides for command and seasonal family events: the Easter egg roll, holiday parties, children’s camping events, and sports days.
The Navy SEAL Foundation
Earlier this year, two successful organizations dedicated to supporting the naval special warfare community came together to form a single unified support entity for Navy special operations forces (SOF) warriors and their families. The SEAL-Naval Special Warfare Foundation and the Navy SEAL Warrior Fund merged to create the new Navy SEAL Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides support in times of hardship and celebrates U.S. Navy SEALs, Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen (SWCC), naval special warfare support personnel, and their families.
“We’ve brought together two very successful organizations dedicated to supporting the naval special warfare community,” said retired Vice Adm. Albert “Bert” Calland, III, chairman of the Navy SEAL Foundation. “The merger makes it easier for families to come to one place for assistance and support, while enabling the foundation to respond rapidly to their needs.”
The center for all this combined activity is the SEAL Heritage Center (SHC), located on the Little Creek, Norfolk, Va., campus of the Joint Expeditionary Base. The Navy SEAL Foundation’s mission is to provide assistance to the naval special warfare (NSW) community during times of tragedy, as well as to provide special events, educational opportunities, and projects that honor these warriors.
“If an active-duty member of our community has been injured or killed in action, we are there – helping the family with everything from the memorial service to arranging for transportation for family members who live at a distance,” said James A. Smith, the foundation’s executive director. “The whole idea is to take the burden of cost away from the families and help them with the planning. They have enough to concern themselves with during this time.”
Smith brings a first-hand perspective to the job. He is presently on active duty and is transitioning from 29 years of SEAL operational and leadership experience in special operations into the Navy SEAL Foundation executive director position. He graduated Basic Underwater/SEAL (BUD/S) training in December 1983, as part of Class #125. Throughout his career, he received numerous honors and awards, including the Legion of Merit and the Bronze Star Medal with “V” Device for valor.
The philosophy and direction of the Navy SEAL foundation is guided by a board of directors, many of whom, like Smith, are former U.S. Navy SEALs and high-ranking retired military leaders. Since the merger, the board has moved swiftly to develop a branding campaign, raising funds and looking into ways to make life easier for Navy SEAL families.
In addition to providing tragedy assistance, the Foundation hosts family events to boost morale; awards scholarships and provides educational assistance to active-duty personnel, their spouses, and children; and works to preserve the history and heritage of the NSW community. Today, there are approximately 5,400 naval special warfare active-duty personnel, including 2,450 SEALs and 600 Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen, operating in locations across the globe.
“These warriors are at the ‘tip of the spear’ in the Global War on Terror, exhibiting extraordinary skill, courage, and commitment,” said Calland, who commanded U.S. Central Command’s SOF units after 9/11, concluded his active-duty career as deputy director of the CIA, and is presently an executive vice president for security and intelligence integration at CACI International, Inc. “It’s paramount for the foundation to support their families and support staff here at home.”
The SEAL Heritage Center
Recently, the Seal Heritage Center was built, providing a facility dedicated to assisting the naval special warfare community during times of tragedy, as well as to provide special events, educational opportunities, and projects that honor warriors. The land was provided by the U.S. Navy on the Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek. The SHC has 18,000 square feet of working space, equipped with a large open hall offering room for a variety of events; an auditorium for briefings, meetings, and memorial services; a conference room for smaller meetings; and facilities for meal preparation, providing a range of services to meet the needs of the NSW organizations.
The center houses a library with a collection of historical information and educational materials, and also includes a memorial roll call to fallen teammates, and Heritage Hall. The SHC is also designed to be a facility where families can receive support services, hold recreational and social events for children of deployed personnel, and host NSW functions and memorials.
There are many existing and future needs for the SHC. At this time, the center’s estimated usage rate will exceed 300 days a year, with multiple events a day, and will provide for more than 1,600 hours of education and training, celebration, and information dissemination. Additionally, the center will offer a location to honor and memorialize those heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation‘s freedom.
Supporters of NSF Events
Special sporting events are also part of the foundation’s fundraising efforts and one of its most successful programs is a partnership with the PGA TOUR called “Birdies for the Brave.” Held at selected PGA TOUR golf courses throughout the country, the events offer individuals the opportunity to play in a professional tournament setting while supporting the military community.
“It’s a wonderful experience, and the return we receive is tremendous, not just in dollars – but in the enthusiasm and support we [receive] from players all over the United States,” said Kristi Cummings, a board member who champions the events on behalf of the Navy SEAL Foundation.
PGA TOUR players Vijay Singh, Jerry Kelly, and Frank Lickliter II play at some of the events and are huge supporters of the Navy SEAL Foundation. The Navy SEAL Foundation is one of only six military homefront groups that the PGA TOUR supports through this initiative. This year, Birdies for the Brave will take place in 24 cities, from Boston to San Francisco, and San Antonio to Minneapolis-Saint Paul.
View a complete listing of event sites.
How You Can Help
The Navy SEAL Foundation offers numerous donation opportunities, including planned giving and an endowment fund. Donations are tax deductible, and 90 cents of every dollar spent by the Navy SEAL Foundation supports its mission program and services.
Also, because the SEAL and SWCC history is being eternally written, the Navy SEAL Foundation is committed to creating a research library and archive with online capabilities to support those interested in NSW research and writing programs. This includes the financial support endowed by the Navy SEAL Foundation, but also requires the support of any and all wishing to contribute to this unique history program through the donation of photographs, film records, diaries, copies of military orders, or papers of any kind related to NSW. The foundation asks that any artifacts be donated to the National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum.
The Navy SEAL Foundation has liaised in the development and funding of monuments and memorials across the country from San Diego, Calif., Virginia Beach, Va., the Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C., to Utah Beach on the coast of Normandy, France. These and other monuments are raised to focus and highlight the endeavors and accomplishments of naval special warfare personnel, so that we may understand and preserve NSW’s heritage for future generations to come.
Since 9/11, the naval special warfare (NSW) community has lost many men during training and in combat operations, at home, and on distant foreign shores. The loss of each is mourned and honored. The Navy SEAL Foundation is dedicated to helping support the families of the fallen. Play your part and support this noble organization and their cause.
This article first appeared in The Year in Special Operations 2011-2012 Edition.