U.S. NAVY CWO SPECIAL WARFARE OPERATOR (SO) SHOULDER BOARDS

Although the Sailors serving today in the Special Warfare Operator rating (SO) can trace their lineage back to the Underwater Demolition Teams and Amphibious Scouts and Rangers that were created in World War II, it was the January, 1962 commissioning of SEAL teams that launched the development of the tactics, weapons, training, and philosophy of the modern Navy SEALs.

The directive that outlined the SEAL teams’ duties and mission goals can be found in a Naval Warfare Information Publication titled “SEAL Team in Naval Special Warfare,” issued by Rear Admiral Alan Reed in December, 1961. Looking at the document today, the scope of the SEAL Teams’ mission is astonishingly broad, obviously based upon the possibilities that are available when conducting covert commando operations. Specifically, SEAL Teams were directed to craft special capabilities to carry out missions not just to achieve military goals, but also for “political [and] economic purposes within an area occupied by the enemy” using “sabotage, demolition, and other clandestine activities.” It also authorized SEAL Teams to train fellow U.S. Allied, forces, and indigenous “personnel” in clandestine operations.

This emphasis on clandestine operations involving local residents made the SEAL Teams a tantalizing choice of unit to the Central Intelligence Agency, and in 1963 the Agency began sending SEAL Teams on missions involving the ambush of enemy supply units (which meant entering neighboring countries like Laos and Cambodia) and capturing North Vietnamese officers. SEAL Teams were also employed by the CIA in the highly controversial Phoenix Program, which targeted Viet Cong informants, operatives, and supporters based in South Vietnam.

Unquestionably the most famous collaboration between the CIA and Navy SEALs is the 2011 raid that resulted in the death of Osama Bin Laden, but the very nature of the CIA’s work means that the role of Navy SEALs in missions originating with the Agency remain classified for extended periods of time. It is not a secret, however, that the CIA recruits many of the members of its Special Operations Group, which is a subset of the Special Activities Division, from Navy SEAL Teams.

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