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The Pursuit of Diversity in Naval Special Warfare

by Ensign Andrea Perez, Naval Special Warfare Group 2
19 October 2022 Naval Special Warfare has been the nation’s premier maritime special operations force for 60 years—with a legacy dating to World War II—and to maintain that title, NSW leadership believes fostering a culture of diversity and inclusion is a critical factor to current and future success.
Since the birth of the SEAL teams, NSW’s commitment to embracing diversity, equality and inclusion left a positive and lasting impact on its culture. Accepting the best and fully qualified candidates has directly resulted in developing [as the SEAL Ethos reads], ‘common citizens with an uncommon desire to succeed,’ into America’s finest warriors.
Naval Special Warfare’s long history of inclusion began during the height of WW II in 1945, prior to the establishment of the SEAL teams, when Engineman 2nd Class Fred “Tiz” Morrison became one of only six Sailors to complete training for the newly formed Underwater Demolition Teams. He was the first Black UDT Frogman and later became the first Black UDT instructor. In the years to follow, UDTs would provide the manpower required to build the first SEAL teams.
In 1957, William Goines joined two foreign naval officers, five Army Rangers, four U.S. Navy officers and 85 enlisted Sailors for Frogmen training. He became one of only 13 to pass three-weeks of training and several years later, after undergoing individual interviews with his leadership, now retired Master Chief Petty Officer Goines became one of 40 Sailors, and the only Black man, selected to join the newly formed SEAL Team 2. At the time, he was the first and only Black man on either SEAL team.
With an eye towards tomorrow’s fight, NSW leadership recognizes it has to work hard to move the needle and welcomes each diversity accomplishment along the way.
“I believe that effectively recruiting, retaining, and developing a diverse Force will give NSW a significant competitive advantage,” said Rear Adm. Keith Davids, commander, Naval Special Warfare Command. “Talent knows no color, class, gender, or creed. Diversity is a force multiplier and makes us a stronger and more capable fighting force. Having a diversity of perspective and experience will bring us the mix of skills, knowledge, ideas and creativity that we require to solve our nation’s toughest problems.”
In 2020, Cmdr. Blythe Blakistone made history when she became the first woman to command an NSW unit - Tactical Communications Command 1, which supports SEAL Teams, other special operations forces, and conventional forces worldwide by providing tactical communications in all environments and levels of conflict.
A year later, in July 2021, another historic milestone followed for NSW when the first female SWCC candidate graduated from training. She earned and was accepted into a community where only about 35% of candidates successfully complete training. Jobs as SEAL and SWCC operators have been open to women Sailors since 2016, and since then, only 18 women have attempted the physically and mentally challenging training.
With an eye towards tomorrow’s fight, the Naval Special Warfare Assessment Command (NSWAC) was established Aug. 18, 2022. NSWAC’s mission is to conduct diversified outreach, increase assessment of NSW candidates, and assess leaders at all levels for strategic selectivity and development of its people. NSWAC conducts outreach and assessment for prospective candidates and selects individuals based on character, cognitive and leadership attributes.
NSWAC outreach events span across the country and educate young leaders about career opportunities within Naval Special Warfare. The NSWAC Outreach team, utilizing active-duty SEAL and SWCC operators, engages with the public at sporting events, high schools, universities and more. One of the main lines of effort for NSWAC Outreach is supporting events that promote diversity, equity and inclusion. Highlights of NSWAC’s outreach efforts include women’s professional soccer games, historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and women’s wrestling tournaments.
NSWAC not only conducts outreach, but also assessment. One of its assessment programs is SEAL Officer Assessment and Selection (SOAS). SOAS is a two-week program that assesses potential SEAL officer candidates against their peers in an equitable training environment. Prospective candidates are selected based on the following characteristics: academic performance, commitment, communication skills, conduct, honor, integrity, leadership, peer evaluations and physical fitness.
“The assessment and selection techniques, goals and strategies NSW implements now, will directly affect how well we are able to navigate future threats, as we transition from an era focused on counterterrorism to that of strategic competition with near-peer competitors,” said Command Master Chief Deryck Dickerson, NSWAC. “This is why optimizing Naval Special Warfare’s organizational makeup now – hiring the most qualified, talented and capable people for the job – and fostering a culture of cohesion built upon diversity, will empower our workforce and maximize our capabilities to compete and win across all warfighting domains.”
The Department of the Defense is committed to diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.
In September 2021, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday outlined a goal for the U.S. Navy to become the most diverse U.S. military service branch throughout the next 20 years. According to a 2020 DoD study, the Navy already holds the top spot for diversity when it comes to minority enlisted service members – more than 40% higher than any other service.
On March 29, 2022, U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) released its Diversity and Inclusion Implementation Action Plan for Fiscal Year 2022 – 2023, which outlines strategic actions, priorities, initiatives and measures of success in implementation of the 2021 USSOCOM Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan.
Concurrently, in a memorandum to all SOF personnel, U.S. Special Operations Command leadership acknowledged that the ‘talent pool’ from which it draws its force has changed in a myriad of ways. In parallel with the increasingly complex operational environment, and since the demographics, experience, motivation, and mindset of our nation have evolved so much, SOF’s approach to diversity and inclusion has become crucial to optimizing its organizational makeup for future warfighting.
Since 1962, Naval Special Warfare has been the nation’s premier maritime special operations force – a highly reliable and lethal force – always ready to conduct full-spectrum operations, unilaterally or with partners, in support of national objectives, and uniquely positioned to extend the Fleet’s reach, delivering all-domain options for Naval and joint force commanders.
As a component of Naval Special Warfare, Naval Special Warfare Group 2 (NSWG-2) strives to produce, support and deploy the finest maritime commandos on the planet, enabling Naval Special Warfare to conduct full-spectrum operations, unilaterally or with partners, to support national objectives.
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