“Shocking and unprecedented,” that’s how ousted Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer describes President Trump’s intervention in the Navy SEALs Trident scandal. Spencer was fired this week over the controversy.
He made his comments Wednesday in an op-ed published in The Washington Post. Spencer says Trump called him twice over the case of Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher. Gallagher was charged with multiple crimes including killing a wounded ISIS fighter but was convicted only of a lesser offense of posing with the corpse of that captive.
President Trump ordered Gallagher moved out of the brig while awaiting trial. Later the president overturned his demotion after his conviction.
Spencer who’d been the Navy Secretary since 2017 questioned the commander in chief’s intervention in a “low-level” disciplinary action against a service member.
“The president has very little understanding of what it means to be in the military, to fight ethically or to be governed by a uniform set of rules and practices,” Spencer writes in the Post.
Be that as it may, it appears Gallagher will keep his Trident, even as he retires, after a stellar career of eight Special Forces missions — perhaps, one too many.
In addition, the new acting secretary of the Navy, Thomas B. Modly, said in a statement that he had ordered a halt to a review process for the three other officers — Lt. Cmdr. Robert Breisch, Lt. Jacob Portier, and Lt. Thomas MacNeil. The three will be allowed to keep the Trident pins that signify membership in the SEALs.
The three officers were implicated in various ways in the court-martial of SEAL platoon leader Gallagher.
So what exactly, is the Trident, and what does it mean to those who proudly wear it, and those who command it.
The US Navy’s SEAL commando force is arguably the most famous elite force on the planet, according to Popular Mechanics.
Trained in warfare on land and sea, SEALs have fought continuously since 9/11 in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria — and likely places the general public won’t know about.
The treasured symbol of the SEALs is the Trident, a gold pin identifying the wearer as part of a select group of those who have endured SEAL training and are certified special warfare operators — among the best in the world at what they do.
In the early 1960s, when then-President John F. Kennedy put his support behind the US Army’s Special Forces, the Navy decided to create its own commando force, the SEALs. Like the green beret of the Special Forces, the SEAL’s Trident has come to symbolize an elite fighting force. SEALs have served in the Vietnam War and every conflict since involving the US.
The Trident is composed of four objects: an anchor, eagle, trident, and pistol. As the Pritzker Military Museum & Library explains:
The anchor signifies the Navy as the branch of service. The eagle symbolizes the air and holds an item in each talon. In the right talon is the trident, which symbolizes Neptune, the Roman God of the sea. In the left talon is a cocked flintlock pistol, which symbolizes land warfare and a state of constant readiness.
The Trident also has a number of playful nicknames, including “the Budweiser,” after its resemblance to the Anheuser-Busch company logo that appears on every can of Bud beer. Another nickname is “Chicken on a Fork,” though one of the most popular nicknames among SEALs is simply, “the Bird.”
The Trident is issued after a gruelling, 65-week-long training program that starts with the infamous Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training and concludes with SEAL Qualification Training, whose topics include battlefield medicine, communications, land navigation, marksmanship, close quarters defense and combat, tactics, demolition, maritime operations, combat swimming, and tactical parachuting.
Only 25% will make it through.
The Trident was originally worn in both gold and silver — gold for officers and silver for enlisted. This was changed in 1970, when a gold trident became standard for all SEALs. This change was reportedly made due to the fact that both officers and enlisted personnel attend SEAL training side-by-side, without concern for rank.
In several films and TV shows depicting SEALs, the commandos are laid to rest in a cemetery as their teammates pound their Tridents into the coffin.
The “Navy SEALs creed,” also sheds insight as to what the Trident means to those that wear it. The creed, made official in 2005, says:
My Trident is a symbol of honor and heritage. Bestowed upon me by the heroes that have gone before, it embodies the trust of those I have sworn to protect. By wearing the Trident I accept the responsibility of my chosen profession and way of life. It is a privilege that I must earn every day.
According to the Navy Times, most SEALs agree that the force has suffered from the attention surrounding the case that led President Trump to restore Gallagher’s rank.
“It’s incredibly divisive and polarizing within our own community,” one SEAL said. “In some ways, it’s pitting frogman against frogman, and it’s really hard to know what to do. We’re not well-equipped to deal with so much public exposure and political interference.”
The SEAL, who still serves in the military, spoke on condition of anonymity, citing fear that his comments could harm his career.
The case has spurred conversations among the ranks about how to move past the uproar while also addressing the problems that led to it. SEALs still in uniform and those who are retired told The Associated Press that the debate is raging in private online forums.
Bill Brown, an enlisted SEAL who left the service in 2005, reached out Friday to the Navy’s top SEAL, Rear Adm. Collin Green, to let him know many SEALs felt about the issue.
“I told him, ‘With all due respect, admiral, sometimes you’ve got to let a guy ride out into the sunset,’” he said.
Jeff Eggers, a retired combat veteran SEAL who served 20 years before retiring in 2013, said a certain degree of public scrutiny can be good, but the force works best in the shadows and holding its own accountable.
Still, he said, the case has raised important debates among SEALs about how much the force needs to focus on good order and discipline while also encouraging risk taking.
In the end, the answers must come from the SEALs and their leaders with civilian oversight, said Eggers, who served on the National Security Council during the Obama administration. The process the military has built to deal with war crimes should be trusted, he said.
“Let accountability rest at the appropriate level, and that’s how we get this right,” he said.“That’s why we have commanders and senior enlisted advisers. We have to trust them with that.”