The United States military has been known for its extraordinary special operations forces, and among these forces, the Navy SEALs stand out as one of the most elite groups. The SEAL acronym stands for Sea, Air, and Land, which represents the three environments in which these warriors are trained to operate. One of the most renowned and controversial figures in the history of the SEALs is Richard “Dick” Marcinko, the founder of the legendary SEAL Team Six. This article will delve into Marcinko’s achievements and his crucial role in the creation of the unit that has become synonymous with high-risk, high-impact missions.
Early Years and Vietnam Service
Dick Marcinko’s military career began when he enlisted in the Navy in 1958. His dedication and skill earned him a commission in 1965, after graduating from the Navy’s postgraduate school. He served two tours in Vietnam, commanding a fearsome SEAL platoon and receiving numerous commendations, including the Silver Star, four Bronze Stars with combat “V,” two Navy Commendation Medals, and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star.
During the Vietnam War, Marcinko led what would become known as the Navy’s most successful SEAL operation: the May 1967 assault on Ilo Ilo Han. He and his team killed many Viet Cong and destroyed six of their sampans. Marcinko’s second deployment with SEAL Team Two involved assisting Army Special Forces during the Tet Offensive at Chau Doc.
The Bounty on His Head
Richard Marcinko’s success in the Vietnam War did not go unnoticed by the North Vietnamese Army (NVA). His consistent triumphs on the battlefield led the NVA to see him as a significant threat, and they took the unprecedented step of placing a bounty on his head. The bounty, set at 50,000 piastres, was a testament to the impact Marcinko had in the fight against the NVA forces.
The offer was open to anyone who could provide proof of having killed the formidable SEAL leader. However, the bounty remained unclaimed throughout the war, as Marcinko continued to lead his men in successful operations and strike fear into the hearts of his enemies.
The Birth of SEAL Team Six
Following the failed Operation Eagle Claw in 1980, a mission to rescue American hostages in Tehran, the Navy tasked Marcinko with designing and developing a dedicated counterterrorism team. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Thomas B. Hayward selected him as the first commanding officer of the unit. Despite the existence of only two SEAL teams at the time, Marcinko named the new group “SEAL Team Six” to deceive foreign intelligence into believing there were more SEAL teams in operation. He also hand-picked members from existing SEAL teams and Underwater Demolition Teams to form the new unit. Marcinko led SEAL Team Six for three years, laying the foundation for the elite force it is today. Recognizing the need for swift action, Marcinko assembled the initial core of SEAL Team 6 by selecting a group of SEALs from ST-2 who had undergone counterterrorism training.
Lieutenant Commander Norman Carly was among this initial group, and he was chosen as the first Executive Officer (XO) of SEAL Team 6, becoming Marcinko’s second-in-command. To complete the team, Marcinko hand-picked close friends and “drinking buddies” from both East and West Coast SEAL Teams.
Marcinko’s charisma and storytelling abilities made him an unforgettable figure. He demanded loyalty and dedication from his men, and he often surprised them with impromptu “training ops.” These exercises were designed to test the team’s response time and operational readiness but sometimes devolved into alcohol-fueled escapades, bar fights, and run-ins with the law. For Marcinko, these events were meant to build unit cohesion, camaraderie, and test the resilience of his men.
Creating Red Cell and Challenging Security
In addition to founding SEAL Team Six, Marcinko was responsible for creating another vital unit known as Red Cell. This team of 13 men, composed of members from SEAL Team Six and Marine Force Recon, was tasked with infiltrating secure areas, such as nuclear submarines, Navy ships, and even Air Force One. The purpose of Red Cell was to expose vulnerabilities and test the security of military installations. Under Marcinko’s leadership, Red Cell successfully infiltrated numerous high-security areas without detection, leading to significant improvements in the security of these facilities.
After retiring from the Navy, Marcinko continued to apply his expertise by becoming the CEO of SOS Temps Inc., a private security firm. He also created Richard Marcinko Inc., a motivational training and team-building company, and Red Cell International, Inc., which conducts vulnerability assessments for high-value properties and high-risk targets.
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