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KEVIN LYLES
VIETNAM: US UNIFORMS IN COLOUR PHOTOGRAPHS

TEAM MEMBER, US NAVY SEALS

Of all the unconventional units that the US military fielded in Vietnam, arguably the most effective were the US Navy SEAL teams. Taking their name from the three elements in which they operated - Sea, Air and Land - the SEALs were the Navy's special warfare experts. Formed in 1962, the SEALs arrived in Vietnam in 1966 to counter the growing VC presence in the Mekong Delta region. The SEAL teams that served in Vietnam were each approximately 200 strong. The principal operational unit of the SEAL team was the three-man fire element, often working alongside SF personnel attached to MACV/SOG.

From their mobile bases in the waterways of the Delta the SEAL teams conducted a variety of hunter-killer and intelligence gathering missions. One of the main tasks entrusted to them was the disruption of the VC infrastructure by eliminating key personnel. SEALs were also trained as combat swimmers and underwater demolition experts. SEALs assigned to SOG were reported to have conducted demolitions operations in Haiphong harbour in North Vietnam. The SEAL teams were withdrawn from Vietnam along with conventional units in late 1972, though it is likely that some SEAL personnel were involved in special operations in support of the South Vietnamese government after this date. The SEAL'S ability to enter an area, kill and withdraw without being detected made them especially feared by the VC and NVA.

In common with other unconventional units SEALs used an enormous variety of uniforms and equipment in order to accomplish an equal variety of missions. Special ERDL camouflage SEAL jackets were issued which incorporated integral floatation bladders for use in inundated areas. The jackets were manufactured in variants designed to meet the needs of rifleman, grenadier and radio operator. SEALs also made use of captured enemy clothing, tiger-stripe shorts, and even civilian denim jeans - sometimes going barefoot to further confuse the enemy.

Headgear here is a triangular bandage worn as a headwrap in typical SEAL fashion. Another item often associated with the SEALs was a camouflage beret, though the usual range of locally-made headgear was also seen. The face and hands are camouflaged with removable pigment in typically thorough SEAL style.

The mixture of two types of camouflage garments was not uncommon. Here an early poplin ERDL tropical coat has been cut down and tucked into a pair of tiger-stripe pattern trousers. The shirt is worn fully buttoned for maximum camouflage, and the trousers are unbloused in order not to trap water.

Equipment is minimal,in keeping with mission requirements such as a 'hit' on a VC courier or tax collector. The web belt holds two M1956 universal pouches at the rear and a pair of canteen covers are being used as ammunition pouches. A locally-made leather holster is also worn on the belt. Captured Communist weapons, here a Soviet AK-47 assault rifle, were often carried because their signature would be confusing to the enemy. Spare magazines are carried in the canteen carriers.

The handgun is a 9mm Smith and Wesson MK.22 Model O silenced pistol, known as the 'Hush Puppy' due to its original function of silencing enemy sentry dogs; in Vietnam this became a generic term for any pistol fitted with a silencer. The silencer was carried separately, being attached to the weapon shortly before the target was engaged.

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