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Dissecting the Bull Frog – Exploring an NSW Tradition

06 April 2023

From Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Alexander Perlman

CORONADO, Calif. - When the U.S. Navy established the Underwater Demolition Teams (UDTs) during World War II, the heroic Sailors that we now know as Navy SEALs were commonly referred to as “Frogmen.” Today’s Naval Special Warfare (NSW) community pays homage to its predecessors by using the same nickname.

However, a lesser-known word used to label the most experienced of SEALs exists. While the modern SEAL is synonymous with “Frogman,” only a special few can claim the coveted title —“Bull Frog”. A nod to both the legacy of Frogmen and the naval tradition of a “Bull Ensign” in every wardroom. The idea of the Bull Frog pulls upon NSW’s heritage and the naval tradition of cultivating leadership within a community.

Cmdr. Steve Elias, NSW’s 17th Bull Frog, explained that the senior ensign at a command is considered a bull because they are responsible for bullishly guiding junior ensigns to success and serve as the focal point of the wardroom’s expression of spirit and pride. Wardrooms grant that senior ensign the title of Bull Ensign.

“In that vein, Rear Adm. Richard Lyon, the first SEAL flag officer adopted the term Bull Frog as a parallel in our warfare specialty,” said Elias. “The only requirement to become the Bull Frog is to be the longest, continuously serving active-duty SEAL on duty at the time of receiving the title from their predecessor.”

Although Rear Adm. Lyon adopted the term once he retired in 1981, former commander, Naval Special Warfare Command (NSWC), Rear Adm. Joseph D. Kernan made it official with a Navy instruction in 2007.

When a Bull Frog retires, NSWC officially passes the title on during a ceremony. The former Bull Frog hands over an engraved trophy adorned with a small wooden frog on top and the names of former Bull Frogs inscribed on the side to the newly recognized Bull Frog.

“I’m humbled just to have received a trophy with my name and the dates of cumulative service following the completion of my BUD/S training,” said Elias. “The highlight of this title is just being called the Bull Frog by current and former teammates who transitioned to the civilian sector. It really feels cool to say it now.”

The Bull Frog name highlights some of the key traits that are valued in the NSW and the SEAL community - adaptability, strength, and leadership.

“A lot of great people have served in the Navy, so they understand the tradition,” said Elias. “Most SEALs take pride in themselves staying in great physical shape; it’s part of the culture. I may not be as strong or as fast as I was in the past, but I am still a really competitive guy.”

While it may not be the most well-known tradition in the Navy, the passing of the Bull Frog has been an important part of SEAL culture, serving to honor and recognize the contributions of the most senior members of the team while also ensuring that their legacy and wisdom live on through the next generation of SEALs.

"I never thought I would be that man, but it happened,” said Elias. “I like the challenge that comes with being a SEAL and being a role model to this day.”


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