Richard Marcinko Seal Team Six

Richard Marcinko, who died at the age of 81, left his mark on the American military as the founding commander of Seal Team Six, one of the elite units of the United States special forces that would later carry out.

A veteran of the Vietnam War, he led the group for its first three years and received more than 30 medals and commendations during his career with the US Navy. His direct and abrasive leadership style brought great success, but often sparked conflict with superiors. Some accused him of fostering a reckless culture at Seal Team Six. Off the battlefield, Marcinko faced legal battles and was briefly jailed for defrauding the United States government.

Despite this, he played a vital role in boosting America’s counterterrorism capabilities at the end of the Cold War. His larger-than-life personality, and his helped cement the Seal Team Six’s place in military folklore and popular culture. Marcinko was born in 1940 in Lansford, a small mining town in Pennsylvania. His parents were immigrants from Slovakia and Herzegovina, and all the men in his family were miners, Marcinko recalled in Rogue Warrior.

Life was simple and life was difficult, and I suppose some of them might have wanted to get up on their own, but most were too poor to buy boots,” he wrote. After dropping out of high school, Marcinko tried to enlist in the US Marine Corps, but he was rejected because he had not received a high school diploma. After enlisting in the US Navy at age 18, he was dispatched to Vietnam with Seal Team Two as a commissioned officer in 1967.

During the conflict, Marcinko was awarded the Vietnamese Cross for gallantry and won the first of four bronze stars. He said in his autobiography that the North Vietnamese had put a bounty on his head, such was his success on the battlefield. I’m good at war,” he once told People magazine. “Even in Vietnam, the system prevented me from hunting and killing as many enemies as I would have liked.

After two tours in Vietnam and assignments in the US and Cambodia, Marcinko was promoted to command his former unit, Seal Team Two, from 1974 to 1976. In 1980, the United States launched a failed operation, dubbed the Eagle’s Claw, to rescue 53 Americans taken hostage at the country’s embassy in Iran. In light of the debacle, Marcinko was chosen to command a new counterterrorism unit dedicated to the Navy.

At the time there were only two Seal teams (Sea, Air, and Land), and he called in his new unit Seal Team Six, hoping to confuse enemy nations about the size of the force. He trained the new unit hard, claiming they had a larger ammunition allowance than the entire U.S. Marine Corps. He also earned a reputation for breaking the rules and garnered a nonconformist image for Seal Team Six within the military community.

In Rogue Warrior, he wrote that drinking together, and sometimes participating in bar fights, was important to team cohesion. But the team’s “bad boy” culture was not well received by all the military, including William McRaven (now an admiral), who joined Seal Team Six as a junior officer and would later lead the raid on Bin Laden in 2011. The officer complained of difficulties keeping his troops in line and was temporarily expelled from the unit.

Despite these concerns, Marcinko was praised for his work and led the team for three years, at a time when two-year commands were the norm. After his time with Seal Team Six, the navy called on him to create another special unit, called Red Cell, to test security at military and intelligence sites. The team managed to plant bombs near Air Force One and infiltrate a nuclear submarine base, among other things.