Richard Marcinko – the first commanding officer of SEAL Team 6

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

The story behind a rogue warrior, Richard Marcinko nicknamed Demo Dick, who supposedly was the first commanding officer of U.S. Navy SEAL Team 6 is full of intrigues and controversies. Richard Marcinko was born November 21, 1940, and he is a retired U.S. Navy SEAL 6 commander and Vietnam War veteran.

Richard Marcinko was the founder and first commanding officer of SEAL Team 6 and Red Cell, a secretive unit designed to test the effectiveness of American tactics or personnel.

The original Red Cell was a 14-man team composed of 13 former members of SEAL Team 6 and one Force Recon Marine. The unit was also known as OP-O6D which had been organized to attempt to infiltrate and otherwise test the security of U.S. military bases and other installations sensitive to U.S. security interests.

Early Life And Education

Richard Marcinko was born in Lansford, Pennsylvania and is of Slovak descent.

After attending Admiral Farragut Academy in Toms River, New Jersey, he enlisted in the US Navy in 1958 and worked as a teletype operator at the Naval Air Station in Naples, Italy, but after some difficulty, he eventually worked his way into the Navy’s Underwater Demolition Teams.

Richard "Dick" Marcinko, 2011
Richard Marcinko, 2011

The majority of his assignments were in direct combat roles or crisis management positions in direct support of the National Command Authority, which collectively refers to the President of the United States and the Secretary of Defense.

Combat engagements

Vietnam – first part

On May 18, 1967, Marcinko led his team in an assault on Ilo Ilo Hon (Ilo Ilo Island), where they killed a large number of Vietcong and destroyed six of their sampans.

* A flat bottom Asian skiff usually propelled by two oars.

The U.S. Navy called this action “The most successful SEAL operation in the Mekong Delta” and for long it was a synonym for the successful operation of that type.

For leading it, Richard Marcinko was awarded the first of his four Bronze Stars, as well as a Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star.

Vietnam – part two

Richard Marcinko returned to Vietnam with SEAL Team 2 after a few months of stateside as Officer-in-Charge of Eighth Platoon.

During the Tet Offensive, Marcinko ordered his platoon to assist U.S. Army Special Forces at Chau Doc, and what began as an urban street battle turned into a rescue mission of American nurses and a schoolteacher trapped in the city’s church and hospital.

After completing his second tour in Vietnam and a two-year stateside staff assignment, Marcinko was promoted to Lieutenant Commander.


In 1973 he reported for duty as a Naval Attaché to Cambodia where he spent fourteen months advising, and actively assisting the Cambodians in their fight with the Khmer Rouge. Dick left Cambodia in 1975 and became the commanding officer of SEAL Team 2.

From SEAL Team 2 he attended the USAF Air Command & Staff College in Montgomery, Alabama and earned an MA in Political Science from Auburn University.

He was then stationed at the Pentagon where he served as a special operations planner assigned to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The Origin OF The Name “SEAL Team 6”.

During the Iran Hostage Crisis in 1979, Marcinko was one of two 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.

Operation Eagle Claw (or Operation Evening Light or Operation Rice Bowl) was an American military operation ordered by U.S. President Jimmy Carter to attempt to end the Iran hostage crisis by rescuing 52 Americans held captive at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on April 24, 1980. Its failure, and the humiliating public debacle that ensued, damaged American prestige worldwide.

In the wake of the Eagle Claw failure, the Navy saw the need for a full-time dedicated counter-terrorist team and tasked Marcinko with its design and development.

Richard "Dick" Marcinko, founder of Navy SEAL Team 6 and Red Cell
Richard “Dick” Marcinko, founder of Navy SEAL Team 6 and Red Cell (Photo: XY)

Marcinko was the first commanding officer of this new unit, and although the Navy only had two SEAL teams at the time, Marcinko named the unit SEAL Team Six in order to confuse other nations, specifically the Soviet Union, into believing that the United States had three other SEAL teams that they were unaware of!

He personally selected the unit’s members from across the U.S. Navy’s special operations community, including a special counter-terrorism tactics section of SEAL Team Two, codenamed MOB-6.

SEAL Team 6 would later become the Navy’s premier counter-terrorist unit, similar to its Army counterpart, Delta Force.

While typically a two-year command in the Navy at the time, Marcinko commanded SEAL Team 6 for three years, from August 1980 to July 1983.

Red Cell – a secretive unit for infiltration of supposedly secure facilities

After relinquishing command of SEAL Team SIX, Marcinko was tasked by Vice Admiral James “Ace” Lyons, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations, with the design of a unit to test the Navy’s vulnerability to terrorism.

This unit was the Naval Security Coordination Team OP-06D, unofficially named Red Cell.

In 1984, Red Cell had 13 men from SEAL Team 6 (Marcinko and twelve other hand-picked by himself) and one from Marine Force Recon.

Marcinko’s team then tested the security of naval bases, nuclear submarines, ships, civilian airports, and an American embassy.

And under Marcinko’s leadership, the team was able to infiltrate seemingly impenetrable, highly secured bases, nuclear submarines, ships, and other purported “secure areas” such as Air Force One, and then disappear without incident.

These actions indicated that the cause of such a vulnerable military resulted from the replacement of Marine and Naval Military Police by contracted private security agencies often staffed by retired military personnel.

Richard Marcinko’s Retirement And Prison

Commander Marcinko retired from the Navy on February 1, 1989, with thirty years, three months and seventeen days of enlisted and commissioned active duty service.

But in 1990, Marcinko was sentenced to prison for twenty-one months and fined $10,000 for his role in a mission that exposed security lapses at sensitive military installations and actually served 15 months of the sentence! Marcinko still claims his innocence and often states that the Navy singled him out because the higher-ranking officials were embarrassed.

Civilian career

Marcinko has written multiple best selling novels including Rogue Warrior. He has written multiple books on management and leadership techniques,  professional lectures to law enforcement and business executives, and dynamic hands-on training for U.S. and foreign hostage rescue teams. He is the CEO of a private security firm known as Red Cell which is based in Washington D.C. He has his own talk show called America on Watch with Richard Marcinko. Marcinko even acts as a cooperate adviser occasionally for companies like At&t, Motorola, and General Motors. He speaks in issues such as cooperate security team building, strategic planning, and operational management.

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