Richard Marcinko, founder of US Navy SEAL team 6, dies at 81

  • Richard Marcinko, founder and first commander of SEAL Team Six, passed away on Christmas Day.
  • Marcinko has had a long and unique career, gaining attention for his leadership and unconventional style.
  • Despite the imperfections in his record, Marcinko is remembered by many as a visionary in special operations.

At the end of a turbulent year, the Navy SEAL community has lost one of its most influential and controversial members.

Retired Cmdr. Richard “Dick” Marcinko, the founder and first commander of the elite SEAL Team Six, died at age 81 on Christmas Day.

The military career of the famous Navy SEAL got off to a bad start. When a young Marcinko went to his local Marine Corps recruiting office to enlist, he was shown the door because he did not have a high school diploma.

But the Navy accepted an enthusiastic Marcinko as their radio. Eager for adventure and hardship, Marcinko volunteered for Naval Special Warfare and graduated from the grueling underwater demolition training, before being assigned to Underwater Demolition Team 21.

Seeing his natural leadership and promises, his superiors recommended Marcinko for the Naval Officer Candidate School, and he quickly became an officer. He was then deployed to Vietnam with SEAL Team Two.

Richard marcinko

Marcinko, then commander of the US Navy, in 1978

US Navy


“Demo Dick”, as it became known, was highly decorated, winning the Silver Star, the third highest award for bravery under fire, and four Bronze Stars, as well as the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry on both missions combat in Vietnam.

The North Vietnamese feared him so much that they put a price on his head.

After the Vietnam War, Marcinko was the commander of SEAL Team Two from 1974 to 1976.

In this role, he began to develop a counterterrorism capability for special naval warfare. Initially, it was only a cell, known as “Mobility 6”, within SEAL Team Two.

But when the Iranian hostage crisis highlighted the need for a dedicated counterterrorism force, the Navy tasked Marcinko with developing an equivalent to the Army’s Delta Force.

JOINT Team 6

richard marcinko

Richard Marcinko.

YouTube / AUMAlumni


There were only two SEAL teams at the time, but Marcinko, a natural bluffer, chose to call the new unit SEAL Team Six to trick Soviet intelligence into believing that there were multiple teams.

In forming SEAL Team Six – later renamed Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU) – Marcinko selected its operators from the crème de la crème of Naval Special Warfare, choosing SEALs with combat experience. The unit’s board owners included Navy SEAL legends such as Medal of Honor recipient Mike Thornton.

During the early days of the unit, Marcinko fired one of his junior officers. It’s not uncommon, but it’s not the last time the SEALs saw this junior officer, whose name was William McRaven.

McRaven rebounded from what could have been a career-ending development and went on to lead the US Special Operations Command and its sub-command, the Joint Special Operations Command, both of which oversee the SEAL Six team. McRaven also commanded Operation Neptune Spear, the SEAL Team Six mission that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in 2011.

Marcinko succeeded in establishing the Navy’s counterterrorism unit, but his controversial ways soon clashed with the leadership of the Navy and SOCOM. The operators of the SEAL Six team were efficient but looked more like pirates than professional troops.

“Marcinko was truly the first famous SEAL. He worked hard and partied. He wore his unconventional ways in everything he did, and he was largely successful if you look back,” a Navy SEAL operator, who was not authorized to speak to the press, Insider said.

“Some might say he ‘poisoned’ the unit he created, but it was Dick. Whatever his vices, Dick Marcinko left his mark in SEAL history and shaped it as few others, ”SEAL said.

In 1983, Marcinko relinquished command of his unit and moved to the “Red Cell,” a small unit designed to test and find vulnerabilities in some of the Pentagon’s more classified facilities.

Marcinko was “an end-to-end team guy,” but gained a mixed reputation, said a former Navy SEAL officer. “On the one hand, he created Development Group [SEAL Team Six], but on the other hand, it encouraged bad culture. We recently saw the ugly aspects of this culture all over the news. “

The controversy followed Marcinko out of service. In 1989 he was charged with receiving $ 100,000 from an arms dealer in order to secure a contract with the Navy for hand grenades. The former frogman denied the charges, but ended up serving 15 months of a 21-month sentence in federal prison.

Despite the imperfections in his record, Marcinko left a mark on the US special ops community, and many remember a visionary who knew how to play with the system and manage the bureaucracy.

“Whatever your opinion of him, the man was a leader, there’s no doubt about it. He had that aura of leadership that drives people to do things, to act. It’s natural leadership that you can’t. not teach, “a former Navy SEAL officer told Insider. . “Those lucky few to have it immediately stood out.”

Stavros Atlamazoglou is a Special Operations Defense Journalist, Hellenic Army Veteran (national service with the 575th Navy Battalion and Army HQ) and a graduate of Johns Hopkins University.

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