The public description of Naval Special Warfare’s Development Group for years has reflected its name. An organization whose primary purpose was to develop tactics and strategies supporting operations from the sea, air or land. This was the accepted description of DEVGRU.
Naval Special Warfare Development Group was tasked with the management and testing of both current and emerging technologies relevant to all of Naval Special Warfare’s units. This is true, but recent events have taught us that “testing” wasn’t the only thing they were up to. While these duties do describe DEVGRU’s mission they don’t entirely depict what lies beneath.
Commanded by a Navy Captain (O-6), NSW Development Group is the Naval Component of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). Formerly known as SEAL Team Six, until it was disbanded in 1987, DEVGRU and its Army counterpart, Delta Force, are the United State’s primary counter-terrorism units.
Originally DEVGRU was created as a maritime unit and has since been expanded, and accepted, as an entity which can operate in any and all areas. DEVGRU often works with the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA’s) Special Activities Division (SAD) as well as their Special Operations Group (SOG). Both highly secretive organizations with an increasingly impressive track record. The elimination of Osama Bin Laden not being the least of which.
DEVGRU, and the other units they support, have become famous for their high-risk personnel/hostage rescues and extractions as well as the elimination of terrorist and pirate threats.
In The Beginning
Between November 4, 1979, and January 20, 1981, for 444 days, Fifty-two Americans were held hostage after a group of Iranian students took over a US Embassy in Tehran.
The crisis was undoubtedly politically complicated and negotiations were failing. Just over 5 months into the hostages’ detainment a daring rescue was launched. On April 24, 1980, the United States military departed the USS Nimitz and USS Coral Sea to launching an epic rescue attempt. After the deaths of 8 American servicemen, one Iranian civilian, and the destruction of two aircraft the mission was a failure.
Much like after the bloody beach landings of World War II the Navy was committed to learn and evolve from their misfortune. It was this mission, “Operation Eagle Claw” that led the Navy to develop a full-time counter-terrorism unit and it would be Richard Marcinko who would do it.
The SEAL Teams are known, and not always appreciated, for their innovation. Even prior to the Iran Hostage crisis they had begun Counter-Terrorism (CT) training. All 12 Platoons, East and West Coast, were engaged; but, SEAL Team Two (East Coast) had taken it all a step further creating what was known as “MOB Six” (Mobility Six) the nucleus from which the legendary SEAL Team 6 would grow from.
Marcinko became the first Commanding officer of this new unit. Though at the time there were only two SEAL Teams, Marcinko chose to name his new team SEAL Team 6 in an effort, some say, to confuse Soviet intelligence officers as to how many SEAL Teams there actually were.
SEAL Team 6 Plankowners
Plankowners – Traditionally the original members of a ship’s crew when commissioned. This tradition has been carried forward to apply to any member of a newly commissioned command. In the world of Special Operations Plankowners are often the best and the brightest and in the case of SEAL Team 6, this was a fact.
Since the unit would have a world-wide mandate and would have to continuously blend in and work among local populations Marcinko would need to handpick the men. Given access to the best warriors on earth, Marcinko plucked the best and the brightest from the existing UDT / SEAL community.
Those with combat experience and language skills made the top of the list and others with tremendous potential-filled in behind.
Marcinko had only 6 months to make his new counter-terrorism unit operational. Formally created in October 1980, Marcinko and 75 shooters went to work creating the legendary SEAL Team Six.
Comprised of the best of the best the new unit was limitless when it came to resources. It has been said, and I believe it, that the annual training allowance for this new covert super unit was more than what was given to the entire Marine Corps.
The short and demanding work up emphasized and stressed shooting skills in every possible environment. This “Shooters” approach has permeated all of the SEAL Teams since creating the finest marksmen on the planet.
For what was no doubt a variety of reasons in 1987 SEAL Team Six was disbanded and a new unit was stood up under the title of “Naval Special Warfare Development Group” (DEVGRU). Comprised of former SEAL Team Six members, DEVGRU transcended beyond its checkered past.
The Modern Unit
As one would expect, and hope, details about DEVGRU are classified and unknown to the world. Recent operations such as the elimination of Osama Bin Laden, the rescuing of Captain Phillips and more have jettisoned their name and some details into the public domain, attracting more and more candidates to Naval Special Warfare.
Today’s DEVGRU is as selective and exclusive as ever. Only after someone has become an experienced SEAL are they even considered for this unit. For this reason, it’s typical that candidates will already be well into their 30s, producing a more mature operator for this elite group.
Since the men of DEVGRU come from the best operators of the SEAL Teams, it might seem as if DEVGRU is “poaching” from the SEAL community as they attract those with proven and valuable experience. While at a certain level this is true it’s important to understand that DEVGRU doesn’t get all of the top operators. Being that they’re stationed on the East coast limits them only to the candidates willing to relocate.
DEVGRU presents a demanding screening process. Only those who have produced an excellent reputation for themselves, and are in peak physical condition, are allowed to even try. Prior to selection, candidates are interviewed by a very discerning board. Records are scanned and reputations checked. If they are “selected” the wannabe DEVGRU operator is put through a demanding training and selection process called “Green Team”.
The training inside of Green Team is of a high operational tempo and extremely demanding. Green Team carries with it an extremely high attrition rate. Candidates are constantly observed and scrutinized by DEVGRU instructors. Imagine being put into the highest pressure training scenarios known to man while having your every move observed by demanding and seasoned Tier-one operators. Stressful!
Besides the stress of constant observation, there’s the matter of life and death. The job of a SEAL isn’t exactly “OSHA” compliant. The demands of war require all Special Operations forces to train and operate on the periphery of human existence. And the intensity and high-risk training conducted by DEVGRU is at the highest. From BUD/S to Green Team the SEAL Teams suffer serious injuries and sometimes deaths.
So only after a rigorous selection process and six months of dangerous training and constant observation will someone, who was already a Navy SEAL, be accepted into an operational squad within DEVGRU. It is literally “The elite of the elite.”