Mike Kueber's Blog

May 11, 2011

Why the SEALs?

If you are like me, you have wondered why the Navy SEALs were given the dangerous mission of killing Osama bin Laden in a mountainous desert in Pakistan.  Although the acronym “SEAL” means “sea, air, and land,” the operative word is “sea.”  America must surely have Special Forces whose training has not been diluted by all the sea training that SEALs receive.

Because the news reports have failed to address this issue, I asked my world’s resident Cliff Clavin.  (Cliff was the postman on “Cheer” who seemed to know everything, or at least he thought he did.)  He explained that the Army Rangers and Green Berets were like high school athletes, the Delta Forces were like college athletes, and SEALs were like professional athletes.

The first part of his explanation made sense because Delta Forces are recruited from the ranks of the Army Rangers and Special Forces (Green Berets), so that makes them the elite of the elite.  But the SEALs recruit their members from the ranks of sailors, whose reputation for fighting is not much better than airmen, so how can they possibly be better qualified than Delta Force?

I decided to conduct some internet research.  That research revealed that the United States Special Operations Command (USSOC), which was created in 1987 in response to Carter’s failed rescue mission in 1980 (Operation Eagle Claw), consists of more than 50,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines.  Its major operational units are (1) the United States Army Special Operations Command, (2) the United States Naval Special Warfare Command, (3) the Air Force Special Operations Command, and (4) the United States Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command – all of which report to a four-star officer.

Within the USSOC, there is a much smaller, secretive component called the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).  A major responsibility of the JSOC is to conduct clandestine, covert, highly classified missions through its Special Mission Units:

  • The Army’s Delta Forces; and
  • The Navy’s Special Warfare Development Group (called DEVGRU; formerly SEAL Team #6)

Thus, the DEVGRU personnel who killed Osama were, in fact, the elite of the elite; they were on level above SEALs. 

The question remains, however, why DEVGRU instead of Delta Forces.  A cynic might suggest some inter-service rivalry is at play because the commander of JSOC, William McRaven, is a SEAL and a vice admiral in the Navy (three stars).  According to news reports, however, McRaven has been so successful in achieving mission objectives as commander of JSOC that President Obama had already nominated him for the four-star USSOC command prior to the Osama mission.  Based on that track record of success, I think a charge of favoritism has less credibility.  But I would still be interested in hearing McRaven or Panetta tell us, “Why the SEALs instead of Delta Forces?”