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From Salt and Sand: 60 Years of Navy SEALs

by Petty Officer 1st Class Daniel Gaither Naval Special Warfare Group ONE
03 November 2022 SEAL Team 1 welcomed frogmen of the past and present to celebrate 60 years of rich SEAL history in a ceremony at Silver Strand Training Complex on Oct. 29.

Retired and active operators, representing warfighters from every era of American combat since the Vietnam War, reunited with former teammates. Enlisted Sailors and officers alike stood united by the trident they had all earned and worn on their chests.

SEAL Team 1 Chaplain Lt. Cmdr. Aman Grant commemorated the nearby beach that had been the forging ground for America's most formidable warriors during his opening invocation.

"For 60 years, these American men, who loved the Constitution of our country, American men who had self-sacrifice twisted in their DNA, American men who lived to the beat of a different drum, American men who were both quiet yet deadly, loud and proud!" Grant pronounced powerfully. "For 60 years, these men were birthed into SEALs from this Pacific salt and Coronado sand."

Grant's sermon to 60 years of SEAL history received roaring applause from past and present SEALs, who shared memories of perseverance and being pushed to their limits just a few miles down the beach.

The Naval Special Warfare community's history predates the SEAL teams' establishment by twenty years. In August 1942, the Amphibious Scouts and Raiders (Joint) and the Special Mission Naval Demolition Unit were established at Amphibious Training Base Little Creek, Virginia, to perform specific missions during Operation Torch – the allied invasion of North Africa – in November 1942.

Soon after, the Cold War brought a new era of conflict and geopolitics, calling for a new type of warfighter.

In his 1961 inaugural address, President John F. Kennedy assured the world of America's resolve against the challenges it may soon face.

"Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty," said Kennedy. "This much we pledge--and more."

Less than one full year later, Kennedy established the first SEAL teams at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, California, and Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, Virginia, in January 1962, pulling Sailors from preexisting underwater demolition teams. There was no celebration or ceremony to mark the occasion, only the quiet understanding the U.S. Navy needed an unconventional maritime warfare capability.

For the 60 original members of SEAL Team 1, also known as its plank owners, their mission was to conduct unconventional warfare, counter-guerrilla warfare, and clandestine operations. They would soon face their first test in Vietnam.

Sixty years later, the operators of SEAL Team 1 stand upon the shoulders of those first 60.

Since the inception of the SEAL Teams, their operations have spanned the globe, participating in every major U.S. conflict. The geography and the capabilities may have changed, but not the type of person needed to meet the challenges.

"Our new kit is a bit upgraded, but I think you'll recognize the traits of our young warriors are no different from our founders in January of 1962," said Cmdr. Marty Timmons, SEAL Team 1's 30th and current commanding officer.

The strength of the SEAL community derives from the individuals at the teams, and the dedication they have to each other, inside and out of the combat zone.

Celebrating the 60th anniversary of the SEAL Teams honors that dedication. Throughout months of planning, members at all levels used every group chat and contact distro list they could find to contact SEAL Team 1 alumni near and far to make the trip to Coronado.

The planning efforts resulted in an attendance of nearly 300 guests, including approximately 150 retired SEAL Team 1 alumni.

Current members of SEAL Team 1 greeted past teammates and their families. Connecting guests with the past, the team hosted static displays of new and old SEAL gear and uniforms, weapons displays, old underwater demolition handbooks, and photos and medals provided by some of the plank-owning members of SEAL Team 1.

It was an opportunity for retired operators to reminisce and share lessons with current operators, as people who had previously walked in their shoes and knew their journey well.

In his address to the crowd, Timmons thanked the former SEAL Team 1 members and their families for making the trip to celebrate the milestone. He also honored the Gold Star families of the SEALs who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Timmons gave special recognition to two plank owners in attendance, James Kinney, SEAL Team 1's first executive officer, and Arthur Abbett, whom he thanked "for being the true pathfinders for our community."

Timmons then introduced the ceremony's guest of honor, retired Rear Adm. Thomas "The Hulk" Richards.

A SEAL legend for many in the crowd, Richards went to Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) after his commissioning in 1969 and completed training with Class 55 in April 1970. He was assigned to SEAL Team 1 and deployed to South Vietnam from August 1970 to February 1971, where he was wounded in a firefight with the Viet Cong and later awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his actions.

While Richards did not get a chance to deploy again to Vietnam after recovering from his wounds, the remainder of his 30-year career would cover all facets of Naval Special Warfare. He went on to serve several staff and command positions before returning to SEAL Team 1 as its 13th commanding officer from 1986 to 1988. Richards finished his service as the commander of Naval Special Warfare Command from 1996 to 1999, where he led the next generation of SEALs into the modern era.

Richards spoke on the shared trials the SEALs in attendance had overcome, the ever-widening scope of the Naval Special Warfare mission from when he joined to now, and how the lessons from those who had gone before still applied today.

“Commitment, focus, dedication, personal sacrifice, the ability to persevere under extreme duress, these characteristics are the reason why we are still here 60 years later as the premier special operations team that we are,” said Richards “I have always said that the best attribute that we have as SEALS, and the best weapon we bring to the table or the fight, is that we are the best problem solvers across the Department of Defense. Period.”

The 60th anniversary concluded with a Star Ceremony to honor the recent passing of three SEAL Team 1 plank owners. It is a tradition that serves to honor the memory of the SEAL community's founding members, remind current command members of the Naval Special Warfare legacy, and provide surviving families with a connection to the service of their loved ones.

Ronald Gauthier joined UDT-12 in 1961 and joined SEAL Team 1 in 1962, where he served until 1965. He continued to serve in the Naval Reserves from 1983 to 1999. His three daughters placed a star next to his name on the SEAL Team 1 plank owner plaque.

Peter Slempa enlisted in 1954, joining UDT-11 in 1957. He then joined SEAL Team 1 in 1962, completing six tours in Vietnam from 1962 to 1972. Slempa would become SEAL Team 1's first command master chief and later serve as the team commander for the Leap Frogs. His brother-in-law placed a star on the SEAL Team 1 plank owner plaque next to his name.

Jack Perkins enlisted at 17 in 1948 and joined SEAL Team 1 in 1962 from his underwater demolition team. He served multiple tours in Vietnam and retired as a chief petty officer. His wife placed a star on the SEAL Team 1 plank owner plaque next to his name.

Since 1962, Naval Special Warfare has been the nation's premier maritime special operations force – a highly reliable and lethal force –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.

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