DEVGRU / SEAL Team 6 – Shadow Warriors

Why was DEVGRU chosen over Delta Force for the Operation Neptune Spear? SEAL Team 6 Gold Squadron
DEVGRU Gold Squadron after a muddy operation (Photo: Reddit)

The DEVGRU / SEAL Team 6 (ST6) is an elite special operations team in the US Navy under the direct command of  Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). It is a special operation forces unit which is considered as Tier 1 or Special Missions Unit alongside Army Delta Force and 24th Special Tactics Squadron.

The SEAL Team 6 is, in fact, Naval Special Warfare Development Group (NSWDG), commonly known as DEVGRU (DEVelopment GRoUp). Under JSOC, they are often referred to as Task Force Blue.

History

The SEAL Team 6 has origins in a Navy unit created in the aftermath of failed operation in Iran, codenamed Operation Eagle Claw. The unit was known as the Development Group (DEVGRU). The Joint Chiefs of Staff created a task force known as the TAT (Terrorist Action Team) in the dawn of the Iran hostage crisis in 1979. One of the representatives in the TAT was Richard Marcinko, who will later be appointed as the first commanding officer of newly created Seal Team 6. He will be dubbed as the father of Seal Team 6.

Members of DEVGRU during Operation Enduring Freedom
SEAL Team 6 (DEVGRU) at Camp Doha, Kuwait – preparing for operation Enduring Freedom (Photo: XY)

At the time TAT had only one objective, to develop a plan to free the American hostages held in Iran. In the wake of the disaster at the Desert One base in Iran, the Navy saw the need for a full-time counter-terrorist unit and tasked Richard Marcinko with its design and development.

The origin of the name SEAL Team 6

The unit was named as Seal Team 6 in order to confuse Soviet intelligence as to the number of actual SEAL teams in existence. At that time, there were only SEAL Team 1 and SEAL Team 2. The first members of the unit were picked from the UDT/SEAL community. The official birthdate of SEAL Team 6 was in November 1980. Upon formal commissioning, the unit was sent to the intense and progressive six-month-long training.

In a short time, SEAL Team 6 was mission-ready and has become the U.S. Navy’s premier hostage rescue and counter-terrorism unit. Marcinko held the command of SEAL Team Six for three years, from 1980 to July 1983, instead of the typical two-year command in the Navy at the time. SEAL Team 6 started with 75 operators.

According to Marcinko, the annual ammunition training allowance for the command was larger than that of the entire U.S. Marine Corps at the time. The SEAL Team 6 has virtually unlimited resources at its disposal. In 1984, Marcinko and a dozen members of SEAL Team 6 would go on to form “Red Cell” (also known as OP-06D), a special unit designed to test the security of American military installations.

Richard Marcinko’s controversies

In 1987, SEAL Team 6 was dissolved. Reasons for the disbanding are varied, but there are rumors it was because of the bad reputation of the unit within the Navy. The main reason for this was the unit’s founder Cdr. Richard Marcinko. His controversial running of the unit gave Seal Team 6 many enemies. Later, Marcinko will be charged for conspiracy and bribery. He was sentenced to 2 years in prison.

After Marcinko left, a new unit named the “Naval Special Warfare Development Group” was formed, essentially as SEAL Team 6’s successor. The name SEAL Team 6 is often used in reference to DEVGRU.

Mission

Their full mission is classified and secrecy about DEVGRU still rolls around, but, it is known that their mission is thought to include preemptive, pro-active counter-terrorist operations, counter-proliferation (efforts to prevent the spread of both conventional weapons and WMD), as well as the elimination or recovery of high-value targets (HVTs) from hostile or unfriendly nations and territories.

DEVGRU is Tier 1 Special Mission Unit authorized the use of preemptive actions against terrorists and their facilities all around the world. Since the Global War on Terror started, DEVGRU (SEAL Team 6) has evolved into a multi-functional special operations unit with a worldwide operational mandate.

DEVGRU / SEAL Team 6 operators posing for photo during training
US Navy SEAL Team 6 operators at an undisclosed location and at the unknown mission (Photo: Unknown author)

According to the Navy, the Naval Special Warfare Development Group mission is “to provide centralized management for the test, evaluation, and development of equipment technology and Techniques, Tactics and Procedures for Naval Special Warfare”.

There is a lot of secrecy surrounding DEVGRU, officially it’s responsible for the developing and testing of naval special warfare weapons, techniques, and equipment.

DEVGRU and the Army’s Delta Force train and deploy together on counter-terrorism missions usually as part of a joint special operations task force (JSOTF).

Selection and Training

It’s hard to become a SEAL, even harder to make it to the DEVGRU. The dropout rate is 80% going thru BUD/s. Then once the operators are to Green Team, 50% of those SEALs fail selection. If you pass, your picture is put up on a board and the team either approves of you or rejects you. I think it has to be unanimous to approve or you’re rejected. The SEAL community is rather small so a good chance everyone knows you or has heard of you.

The operators who are willing to try to join SEAL Team 6 (DEVGRU) must first spend 5 years in one of the regular SEAL teams then they can apply. First, they are going through a PT test. It consists of three days of physical and psychological testing that includes a Physical Screening Test (PST) where candidates must exceed the minimum requirements and perform at their highest level possible.

Navy SEALs during the BUD/s with a wood
Navy SEALs during the BUD/s (Photo: XY)

Next phase, the candidate is interviewed by a panel of Team 6 members. If the candidate is chosen, he is sent to the Green Team for a six- to eight-month Operators Training Course. It is an evaluation team where candidates do a lot of physical things, CQB, spending a lot of time at “Kill house” and more.

The training course attrition rate is high, usually around 50 percent; during one selection course, out of the original 20 candidates, 12 completed the course. Those who do not pass the selection phase are returned to their previous assignments and are able to try again in the future. The others are assigned to the one DEVGRU squadrons.

An interesting fact is that the Central Intelligence Agency’s highly secretive Special Activities Division (SAD) and more specifically its elite Special Operations Group (SOG) often works with, and recruits from, DEVGRU.

Organization

DEVGRU is divided into color-coded line squadrons:

  • Red Squadron (Assault)
  • Gold Squadron (Assault)
  • Blue Squadron (Assault)
  • Silver Squadron (Assault)
  • Black Squadron (Intelligence, Reconnaissance, & Surveillance)
  • Gray Squadron (Mobility Teams, Transportation/Divers)
  • Green Team (Selection/Training)

Ranks in Navy SEAL 6 / DEVGRU

Each assault squadron, usually led by a Commander (O-5), is divided into three troops of enlisted SEALs, often called assaulters. Each of these troops is commanded by a senior commissioned officer, which is usually a Lieutenant Commander (O-4). A troop chief also serves as an adviser to the troop commander and is the highest-enlisted SEAL in the troop, usually a Master Chief Petty Officer (E-9).

A DEVGRU troop is further divided into smaller teams of SEALs.[23] These individual teams of assaulters are led by senior enlisted SEALs; usually a Senior Chief Petty Officer (E-8), sometimes a Chief Petty Officer (E-7). The rest of these teams are filled out with more Chief Petty Officers and Petty Officers First Class; each member with a respective role.

Squadrons in DEVGRU

Each assault squadron also has a specific nickname. Examples include Gold Squadron’s Knights, Red Squadron’s Indians, Blue Squadron’s Pirates, Gray Squadron’s Vikings, etc. The assault squadrons are supported by a variety of support personnel, including cryptologists, communicators, EOD technicians, dog handlers, and sometimes airmen from the United States Air Force 24th Special Tactics Squadron, the Air Force’s JSOC element.

According to the GAO report on special operations forces, in the fiscal year of 2014, DEVGRU had a total of 1,787 authorized positions, of which 1,342 are military and 445 are civilian.

Notable commanding officers

Command of DEVGRU became a captain’s billet, following Richard Marcinko’s departure. Notable Commanding Officers include:

  • Eric T. Olson – 1994 to 1997
  • Albert M. Calland III – 1997 to 1999
  • Joseph D. Kernan – 1999 to 2003
  • Edward G. Winters, III – 2003 to 2005
  • Brian L. Losey – 2005 to 2007
  • Scott P. Moore – 2007 to 2009

Operations

SEAL Team 6 / DEVGRU performs high-risk operations. Such operations include the successful rescue of Jessica Buchanan and Poul Hagen Thisted, the attempted rescue of Linda Norgrove, the successful rescue of American doctor Dilip Joseph and in 1991, the successful recovery of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his family during a coup that deposed him.

They are responsible for the raid that led to the death of most wanted terrorist ever, Osama Bin Laden. They also captured Radislav Krstic, a suspected and later convicted for the massacre at Srebrenica during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. They also detained a dictator Manuel Noriega. They participated in Somalia raids on Mohamed Farah Aidid and that operation appeared in Hollywood blockbuster Black Hawk Down.

GPNVG-18 night vision goggles used by SEAL Team 6 in Operation Neptune Spear (target GERONIMO - Osama Bin Laden) in 2011
GPNVG-18 night vision goggles used by SEAL Team 6 in Operation Neptune Spear (target GERONIMO – Osama Bin Laden) in 2011 (Photo: Pinterest/Navy SEALs)

Osama bin Laden, the leader of the notorious al-Qaida and main perpetrator of the 9/11 attacks was killed by the DEVGRU operators in Operation Neptune Spear. That operation has become one of the most publicly recognized special operations missions in military history.

They took part in hundreds, even thousand covert ops since they were founded. Some of them are:

  • Operation Urgent Fury (1983),
  • Operation Just Cause (1989),
  • Operation Pokeweed (1990),
  • Operation Desert Storm (1991),
  • Battle of Mogadishu (1993),
  • the hunt on war criminals in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1998),
  • an attempt to rescue Linda Norgrove (2010),
  • the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq (2001-present),
  • Operation Neptune Spear – the killing of Osama bin Laden (2011),
  • Al-Shabaab raids in Somalia (2013)
  • the battle against ISIS (2015-2019)
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