There is always rivalry within the U.S. special operations community, as we here at SOFREP have documented on multiple occasions (see here and here). While the debate rages as to which of the various commando units is the baddest of the badass, this author thinks that we can all agree that the Navy SEALs own space, as far as SpecOps goes.

“How dare you, Fru!” is what you might be thinking to yourself if you are a Ranger aficionado or a green beanie groupie. Well, “pipe down,” is what I say back to you. The SEAL dominance of the off-Earth battlespace is unrivaled within the SOF world. Deal with it.

Let us start by examining the first Navy SEAL astronaut, Captain (Retired) William M. “Bill” Shepherd, USN.

Captain (ret.) William M. Shepherd

Navy SEALs Invade Outer Space
Captain (Retired) William M. “Bill” Shepherd, USN

Picture, if you will, a  young Captain Shepherd, then a lowly butterbar ensign, going through Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training—in Class 64—performing the ever-treacherous rock portage evolution at BUD/S. In rock portage, SEAL trainees paddle their rubber boats over large rocks on the shore of Coronado beach, while praying to God that they avoid having their heads dashed upon the partially submerged obstructions in the turbulent surf zone. “Shep,” as his fellow SEALs referred to him, found himself in the water, going head-first into one such obstruction. Stumbling out of the surf, blood gushing from a laceration on his forehead, the young ensign immediately tried to rush back into the water to go out again with his boat crew.

There, in one short BUD/S vignette, you find the true Shep.

Bill Shepherd graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1971, with a bachelor’s of science degree in aerospace engineering. He then entered BUD/S training and graduated in 1972. One SEAL who went through BUD/S with Shep remembered him as an absolute animal on the infamous BUD/S O-course, and commented that he was considered one of the best marksmen many of the BUD/S instructors had ever seen up to that point.

Shepherd went on to serve in Underwater Demolition Team ELEVEN (UDT-11), back when the UDT teams still existed, as well as SEAL Teams ONE and TWO, and Special Boat Unit TWENTY (SBU-20). He also spent three years as a special projects officer at a “Navy field unit,” where he worked on classified developmental projects in the early 1980s. Moving on.

Not satisfied with just one degree, in 1978, Shepherd also earned a masters of science degree in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (not too shabby), as well as an engineering degree in ocean engineering. In a 2005 letter recommending Shep for a place in the National Museum of Aviation Hall of Honor, then-Deputy Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, SEAL Admiral Eric T. Olson, called Shepherd a “most extraordinary SEAL operator, engineer, intelligence professional, and astronaut.” That is quite a list of descriptors.