What are the most prestigious jobs in the world? Being a Formula 1 driver ranks quite highly, as does being a professional footballer or George Clooney. But after the assassination of Osama bin Laden, at the beginning of May, being a SEAL is right up there.
After a decade of hunting the world’s most wanted terrorist, a CIA-led Navy SEAL squadron, stormed bin Laden’s Pakistan compound and killed him. These SEALs (Sea, Air, Land), known as Team Six, form a counterterrorism group, so specialised, no-one can apply to join it. Operatives are recruited from existing SEAL teams; Team Six is the elite of the elite.
The name Team Six was created to confuse Soviet intelligence about the number of operational SEAL units at the time (only two others) and its official name is the Naval Special Warfare Development Group.
Team Six was formed in response to the disastrous 1980 American hostage rescue in Iran, when America’s top rescue squad lost eight men, seven helicopters and a plane, even before engaging the enemy. It operates outside military protocol, at the highest level of classification and often outside the boundaries of international law. Members are not allowed to talk about Team Six and are sworn to secrecy.
America’s silent killers were already semi-legendary before their takedown of bin Laden. The image of SEALs is that they are gung-ho, they drink snake venom and have the tradition of kissing the cheek of their dead victims. So what should you expect if you are invited to become one of the coolest guys on the planet?
Training takes two years and is a gruelling mixture of brain and brawn, culminating in five days of simulated battle stress, ‘Hell Week’, where candidates are subjected to bullets, bombs, tests of extreme endurance and ruthless interrogations.
The men (and they are all men) can ring a bell to quit Hell Week at any time and two thirds of them do. There are approximately 2,500 SEALs and around 200 in Team Six. An ex-SEAL in a recent interview with the BBC, said the average SEAL is 5’ 8”, lean and incredibly fit. If you meet someone who claims to be a Navy SEAL, chances are, they’re lying.
SEALs may be America’s darlings today, but this has not always been the case.
During the 1983 invasion of Grenada, four SEALs drowned, in 1984 a rescue attempt of a CIA operative, in Beirut, failed and in 1987 Team Six made the news after confessing to exploiting the clandestine nature of their job; stealing scuba equipment, forging travel receipts and training vouchers.
Former SEAL and US senator, Bob Kerry, says recruitment to the SEALs is difficult; “Recruiting is a big problem and retention an even bigger one. 90% of a SEAL’s life is training, preparation and being bored to death.”
So if you think you can help and have what it takes to join the SEALs, first sign up for the US Navy and wait for that invitation to join the world’s coolest club. But remember; if you do get to join this band of heroes, you can’t tell anyone.