CORONADO, Calif. (NNS) -- January marks the 45th anniversary of the inception of the Navy's SEAL (Sea, Air, Land) Teams. From those early days of the SEALs, it has been the intense training and brother-like bond for their teammates that has forged the core of the Naval Special Warfare community.
Prior to 1962 there were forces in place that did some of the jobs performed by today's SEALs, many whose roots and manpower were integral in the forming of the first teams.
"The SEALs officially came from the Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT)," according to Roger B. Clapp, Naval Special Warfare Command force historian. "But you can really trace the SEAL heritage back to the scouts and raiders and naval combat demolition units which were active only during World War II."
"They needed 100 volunteers for this demolition outfit," said retired Lt. Joseph DiMartino, who found himself a 17-year-old seaman on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944. DiMartino stayed in the community and eventually became one of the original members or 'plank owners' for SEAL Team Two.
"It was a lot of training, I mean we had a line of schools that we had to go through and they were fantastic," he said. "Like Ft. Bragg special weapons - you know, all kind of foreign weapons, HALO (High Altitude Low Opening) parachuting."
Back in the early days, the SEALs technology was not as advanced as today.
"We had swim trunks, blue and gold shirts, coral shoes and a k-bar," said retired Master Chief Boiler Technician (SEAL) Peter P. Slempa Jr., SEAL Team One plank owner. "The only weapon that was reliable in the surf was the .45 cal. 'grease gun'."
Slempa also echoed the rigorous training schedule.
"The training pipeline was hectic," he said. "We attended Army basic airborne at Ft. Benning, arctic survival with the Royal Canadian Air Force and jungle survival in Panama."
In addition, Slempa said they received Vietnamese language training and other training as it became available.
Slempa added that the caliber of personnel has not changed though.
"We were and are the best there is," he said.
"Today's SPECWAR SEALs are the best fighting force the armed forces have," DiMartino added.
"A lot of people think we make SEALs here," said Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator (SEAL) Daniel Gearhart, Basic Underwater Demolition / SEAL (BUD/S) 1st Phase Leading Chief Petty Officer. "We don't. We find them. It's like diamond mining, you gotta throw out a lot of dirt and you gotta dig through and get your hands dirty and find SEALs, because you don't make them."
Gearhart is not the first member of his family to be a SEAL.
"My father was in Class 32, UDT 11 and team one," he said.
"I grew up around ... all these guys back in the day that were running around my house that are legends in the frogman community now, guys that we all stand on their shoulders because of what they did," said Gearhart. "I grew up around those guys and thought it was kind of neat and the lifestyle was attractive to me."
Twenty years later, Gearhart imparts his wisdom to new recruits, drawing from the chiefs and senior chiefs who were in Vietnam and trained him.
"The student has changed," he said, "When I went through I was the norm. I was a young kid, didn't really fit into the college mode, and didn't really want to start a 9 to 5 - I wanted more. And now the young recruit that comes in usually has a college degree or some college. He's a lot smarter. They ask a lot more questions, so the training has changed to meet what we need, but the rudimentary core elements of our training haven't."
Gearhart added that while a lot of the training has evolved, it hasn't necessarily changed, and while some of the specific missions for deployed SEALs may have changed, the overall mission has not.
"We are, I think the first choice when it comes to hitting the target. I think battlefield commanders want SEALs to do the job and they wanted them back then because they were the best at it. They want them in Afghanistan and Iraq now because they're going to get the job done," he said.
When asked for the fondest memory that he was able to share, Gearhart unhesitatingly stated, "The day I got my Trident, absolutely."
Instructors like Gearhart ensure the strength of the SEAL community for many years to come. The men who laid that foundation still find themselves missing the action, even in their golden years.
"It's just the way we were, the teams and the men, the camaraderie, it lives with you forever. I mean, you never forget your buddy. You never forget your shipmate. You never forget the team. You never forget the operations and everything. That's what comes back, memories of all of the good times and the bad times - but always the good times," DiMartino said. "I'm very proud and happy to have been part of the military, part of the SEALs, part of special warfare and if I was a younger man I would still love to be back in there with them."
For more information on Naval Special Warfare visit the website: www.seal.navy.mil