Ever since the raid on UBL’s compound, there has been an epidemic of guys claiming they were Navy SEALs, when in fact they aren’t.
It’s gotten so bad that some estimates put it at 1,000 phony SEALs for every 1 real SEAL.
The math works out like this:
2,450 Active Duty SEALs X 1,000 / SEAL = 2,450,000 phony Navy SEALs
You’re chances of meeting a real life (living) Navy SEAL are about 1 in 3 million.
Not very good odds, is it?
So how exactly do you check to see if someone was a Navy SEAL?
Here are 11 steps / questions to help you get the right answer.
Note: The author of this post was never a Navy SEAL, and doesn’t claim to be. We simply posted this article in the hopes of stymieing a surge of bogus Navy SEAL claims.
Everything below was thoroughly researched and checked for accuracy.
11 Ways to Verify a Legit Navy SEAL
1. Contact Don Shipley
If you’re looking to find out 100% if someone was a SEAL or not, Don Shipley is your guy.
A former SEAL himself, Shipley used to run a Youtube channel called “Phony Navy SEAL Of The Week”.
Each week he (and sometimes his wife Diane) call up phony Navy SEALs and confront them about their claims.
Unfortunately, Shipleys Youtube channel was terminated in February of 2019.
According to Youtube, it was terminated “due to multiple or severe violations of Youtube’s policy prohibiting content designed to harass, bully or threaten”.
However, in 2017 Shipley actually moved off of youtube to his own site, videos.extremesealexperience.com.
It’s a paid membership site that costs just $10 a month, and will give you access to all of his “Phony SEAL Of The Week” videos, among many others.
Membership to his site also includes free and unlimited SEAL verification.
Don Shipley is one of only a handful of SEALs that have access to the SEAL database, which is a listing of every Navy SEAL and UDT since their inception.
The database contains information on:
- What class a guy was in
- The exact date the class graduated
- What SEAL Team the guy went to
- And other info
If someone claims to be a SEAL, he can quickly verify with 100% accuracy whether or not the claims are true.
If you don’t want to fork over the $10 per month to sign up, but still want to find out if someone was a SEAL, Shipley also offers a one-time fee for SEAL verification.
Related Article: 17 Famous Navy SEALs (and 3 Controversial Ones)
It costs only $20, and he will also issue you a verification letter that states whether or not the person was ever a SEAL.
You can learn more on his official site here.
2. “Have You Ever Shot A Draeger?”
One of Shipley’s favorite lines when he’s questioning the clowns claiming to be SEALs is: “Have you ever shot a Draeger?”
Most phonies will have no idea what he’s talking about, and will assume he means a weapon.
Well, a Draeger is not a weapon.
It’s a dive rig that ALL SEALs use as part of their dive training in 2nd phase of BUD/S, as well as real-world operations.
A quick and easy way to trip up a potential fake navy SEAL is to ask him something like:
“What was it like shooting the Draeger?”
“Is a Draeger a semi-auto or fully-auto weapon?”
Or something to that effect.
If he claims anything other than it being a dive rig, you know he’s an impostor.
Related Article – Navy SEAL Weapons and Gear: 24 Rifles, Handguns, Shotguns, and More
3. Where On The BUD/S Compound Is The Bell?
In BUD/S, there is a bell.
It’s not just any old bell, either.
It’s a bell that crushes dreams, echoes throughout the BUD/S compound, and endlessly haunts students.
When a student DOR’s, he’s instructed to ring the bell 3 times and place his helmet in the line of quitters.
If you’ve ever been to BUD/S, you know what the bell is.
However, not everyone knows where the bell is.
One way to trip up a potential SEAL impostor is to ask him where on the BUD/S compound is the bell.
One technique I’ve seen Shipley use is to ask the phony if he could guide him to the bell from the front entrance of the BUD/S compound.
It’s pretty simple. From the front doors of the Phil H. Bucklew center, you go through 2 sets of glass doors to the BUD/S grinder.
Immediately walking in to the grinder, you make a right and will see the bell right in front of the first phase office.
If you were to question a potentially fake Navy SEAL, you could simply pose it as a curiosity-like question.
“Did you ever think about ringing the bell? Where is the bell at the BUD/S training center anyway?”
Or something to that effect.
One other thing to note is that occasionally the instructors will bring the bell with the class throughout their training day.
Related Article – BUD/S Class 234: Where Are They Now?
4. What Is The Name Of The BUD/S Training Compound In Coronado?
This is somewhat related to the question above.
Most phony SEALs won’t even have an idea of what the name of the SEAL Training center is even called.
The Naval Special Warfare Center, also known as the Phil H. Bucklew center after the “father of US Naval Special Warfare”.
If the guy claiming to be a SEAL doesn’t know the name of the center, or even who Bucklew was, he’s likely NOT a SEAL.
Quick Note: SEAL training also used to be conducted at Little Creek, VA for a period of time.
5. What’s The First Obstacle On The O-Course?
So the obstacle course, or O-course, is a 20 obstacle course that all first phase trainees have to complete in 12 minutes or less.
It’s such a treacherous course that even active-duty SEALs sometimes use it as part of their deployment workups.
Anyone, and I mean ANYONE, that has been through the O-course as many times as a trainee has will know the names of EVERY obstacle on the course.
So what is the first obstacle on the O-Course?
It’s 2 sets of parallel bars next to each other, where the person running the course has to shuffle across the bars using their arms.
Here’s a full list of all of the obstacles on the Navy SEAL O-course in order from start to finish:
1. Parallel Bars
3. Low Wall
4. High Wall
5. Barbed Wire
6. Cargo Net
7. Balance Logs
8. Hooyah Logs
9. Transfer Rope
10. Dirty Name
11. Hooyah Logs
13. Burma Bridge
14. Hooyah Logs
15. Slide For Life
16. Rope Swing
18. Incline Wall
19. Spider Wall
It should be easy to trip up a phony SEAL by asking them to name any of the obstacles on the O-Course.
6. What Color Was Your Helmet In Phase 1, 2, 3?
All BUD/S students wear helmets throughout their training.
SEAL training is divided up into 3 phases:
- 1st Phase: 8 weeks of physical pain and conditioning that has the infamous “Hell Week” in it.
- 2nd Phase: Known as the dive phase, where students learn basic combat diving and swimming techniques.
- 3rd Phase: The land warfare phase, where BUD/S students spend 7 weeks learning basic weapons, demolitions, land navigation, and small-unit tactics.
Throughout each phase, students wear helmets that have their last name and BUD/S class stenciled on them.
The color of the helmet is different for each phase:
- 1st phase: Green
- 2nd phase: Blue
- 3rd phase: Red
If the guy you’re talking to can’t answer a simple question like “what color was your 2nd phase helmet?”, then he likely wasn’t a SEAL.
Quick Tip: Another thing you can ask is the color of the T-Shirt. Students just starting out in first phase wear white t-shirts.
Once they pass Hell Week, they are given brown T-Shirts.
Related Article – Navy SEAL Ranks And Pay: How Much Do SEALS Make Anyway?
7. FOIA Request
Many fake Navy SEALs will claim that their records have been deemed classified, they were burned in the 1973 records center fire (barely any Navy records were touched, btw), or some other B.S.
This is simply not true…
As Don Shipley has pointed out in some of his videos, there is no such thing as “classified records”.
While the missions SEALs do can (and often are) be classified, the fact that someone was ever a Navy SEAL and/or attended BUD/S does not mean that their information isn’t publicly available.
BUD/S is an unclassified school, no more classified that attending cooking school in the Navy.
One way to prove whether or not someone was a Navy SEAL is to do a FOIA request.
The Freedom Of Information Act, or FOIA request, and gives “the public the right to request access to the records from any federal agency”.
It’s essentially a written request in which you describe the information you need, in the format you want it in, in as much detail as possible.
They will be able to tell you what branch of the military the individual signed up for, the date he entered and left, and what exactly he did while serving.
You can learn how to make a FOIA request in this article.
8. He claims he was based in SEAL Team 2 on the West Coast
This is another common one. You’ll bump into a guy who claims he was a former SEAL at a bar, gathering of friends, etc.
He’ll start dropping the SEAL bomb, and if you ask him what Team he was assigned to, he may say something like “I was over at Team 2 in San Diego”.
Immediate red flag…
All of the odd numbered Teams (1, 3, 5, and 7) are based in Coronado, CA.
All of the even numbered Teams (2, 4, 8, and 10) are based in Little Creek, VA.
SEAL Team 6 (aka DEVGRU) is based in Dam Neck, VA.
Occasionally, you will get a fake that claims he was stationed on the USS Ronald Reagan or USS Enterprise.
SEALs are not stationed on ships. They may take a ride on them to get to their area of operations, but they do not become a part of the ships company.
9. He’s The Guy That Shot Bin Laden
If a guy claiming to be a SEAL says he was the one who shot Osama Bin Laden, you can rest assured that you’re likely talking to a fake.
It’s been pretty well established by multiple accounts that former SEAL Rob O’Neill is the guy who shot UBL.
Was he the one that actually fired the fatal shot?
But for the purposes of this article, if he’s claiming he shot UBL, you can be sure it’s total B.S..
10. I Was Dishonorably Discharged For Striking An Officer
Haven’t you guys ever seen the movie “Under Siege”?
Remember the part where Casey Ryback (Steven Seagal) punches Commander Krill (Gary Busey) after he spits in his soup?
Here’s a quick refresher:
If a guy is claiming to be a SEAL and mentions something like this, he’s probably a fake.
As Shipley has pointed out in several of his videos, these guys conjure up stories from movies.
“I refused to kill women and children, so they booted me out of the SEALS”
That’s Hacksaw Ridge…
“I was sent behind enemy lines to terminate a rogue special forces soldier bent on vigilante justice”
That was Apocalypse Now…
If the story sounds a little too unbelievable, it likely is.
Related Article – 6 Best Navy SEAL Documentaries Of All Time
11. He Served On SEAL Team 9
This is one I had actually never heard of until now.
Someone sent me an email last week trying to verify if one of his “buddies” was actually a SEAL.
In the email, he stated that he served with SEAL Team 9.
Something seemed off about that, so I did a little digging and realized, there’s actually no such thing as a “SEAL Team 9”.
As I mentioned earlier, there are 4 teams in Coronado (1, 3, 5, and 7), and 4 teams in Little Creek, Virginia (2, 4, 8, and 10).
SEAL Team 6 doesn’t count, because they’re basically their own thing.
There are also 2 additional “reserve” SEAL Teams, 17 and 18, which are made up of reserve members.
However, there is NO such thing as a “SEAL Team 9”.
If someone is claiming that, they are lying to you.
How To NOT Verify If Someone Was A SEAL
1. “What BUD/S Class were you in?”
This is a common way people think they can trip up a fraudulent seal claim.
Sure, if he says he was in Class 2 Zero Bravo or Class 899 (which will graduate in about 200 years), then you know he’s likely a phony.
But what do you say if he comes back with a class that might potentially match up?
Say “Class 202” or “Class 165”???
Do you know when Class 165 graduated? Neither do i…
On top of that, there are no publicly available records of BUD/S classes by year, or rosters for that matter.
Quick Note: For a few years (early 70’s-ish), BUD/S classes were designated like the other training classes in the Navy.
For example, Class 52 was designated 7102, which stood for the 2nd class of 1971.
Class 51 would have been designated 7101 (1st class of 1971), and so on.
I’m reiterating this because, like I mentioned earlier, asking ‘what BUD/S class were you in?’ is simply not a good idea.
2. “Who Was Your Swim Buddy?”
Related to the above. Seriously, how would you know if a guy was someone’s swim buddy?
The same goes for a commanding officer, guys he might have served on a SEAL Team with, etc.
Unless you were a SEAL yourself, there’s no way you’re going to know whether or not the answer is B.S.
6 Other Fake Navy SEAL Claims You May Encounter
1. “My whole unit was captured”
No SEAL has ever been taken prisoner of war. If a guy claiming to be a SEAL ever mentions that, you know he’s full of it. (Source)
2. “Yeah, I was a SEAL. I was stationed on the USS Enterprise”
SEALs aren’t stationed on ships. They get to and from areas of operations / conduct training operations from ships, but they are NOT stationed on them.
3. “My records are only accessible to the POTUS”
His records are classified and no one can access them. No such thing.
4. Awards / Commendations
He’s claiming he has a Medal Of Honor, Purple Heart, Navy Cross, and / or a Distinguished Service Cross. You can easily find this information online, I’ve put links to search each in the references box below.
Additionally, many phony SEALs will spell awards and citations incorrectly. They’ll say they have an ‘Accommodation metal’, instead of a ‘Commendation Medal’.
All SEALs pay serious attention to detail, and would be very difficult to imagine one making a spelling error such as that.
5. “I was so good, I didn’t need to go to BUD/S”
They didn’t have to go through BUD/S to become a SEAL. The SEALS came to them and recruited them. Bulls$%t…
Special Note: The only exception to this that I’m aware of is that Navy SEAL corpsman in Vietnam did NOT need to attend / graduate from BUD/S.
It was tough finding enough men to join the service during the Vietnam war, and the Navy SEALs were no exception.
Because of this, they did not require corpsman to go to BUD/S. Instead, they essentially received ‘on the job’ training.
If they didn’t cut it, they were booted off the team.
A perfect example of this is none other than Erasmo ‘Doc Rio’ Riojas, who served on SEAL Team 2 as a corpsman.
Doc is one of the most decorated SEALs of the Vietnam War, with 2 Bronze Stars and 5 Purple Hearts.
6. “I was a Marine and they transferred me to the SEALs”
They were in the Army or Marines and didn’t have to go through BUD/S training. Not happening. All SEALs, regardless of what branch they may have previously served in, go through BUD/S.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many SEAL Teams are there?
There are currently 8 SEAL Teams in the Navy. SEAL Teams 1, 3, 5, and 7 are based out of Coronado, CA, and SEAL Teams 2, 4, 8, and 10 are based out of Little Creek, VA.
How many Navy SEALs are there?
There are currently 2,450 active-duty Navy SEALs, and roughly 7,000 retired SEALs still alive.
How many BUD/S classes have their been?
As of January 2020, there have been a total of 336 SEAL classes that have completed BUD/S training.
What percentage of Navy SEALs make it through training?
On average, only 20 – 25% of BUD/S candidates successfully complete the training. The SEAL training pipeline is one of the most demanding in the world of special forces.
As I mentioned earlier, there are a TON of guys claiming they were (or are) Navy SEALS.
Not only is it unethical, but in many cases it’s actually illegal. (see stolen valor)
The next time you come across someone claiming to be a SEAL, use some of the tips on this page to confirm your suspicions.
If you’ve make it this far, you might want to check out some of our other content regarding SEALs:
Navy Medal Of Honor, Navy Cross, and Silver Star recipients: https://valor.defense.gov/
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