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The famous Navy SEAL emblem goes by many different names. Depending on who you talk to, it might be called “The Budweiser” for its striking resemblance to the Anheuser-Busch logo or the Navy SEAL trident since a major feature of the emblem is, in fact, Poseidon’s trident from ancient mythology.
Still, many Navy SEALs simply call it “The Bird” and it means a great deal to those who have earned it. Here, we’re going over why the Navy SEAL emblem means so much and more about the history and traditions associated with it.
The Navy SEAL Emblem
Navy SEALs receive their emblem or trident on their graduation day from SEAL Qualification Training (SQT). SQT is the final training period for Navy SEAL candidates and it comes after some of the most grueling months of their lives.
Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL Training (BUD/S) is often considered the worst of the training process and only 10% of those hoping to one day become a Navy SEAL graduate from BUD/S.
BUD/S starts with a three-week indoctrination period before the candidates embark on three seven-week long phases. Phase One includes “Hell Week” and it’s probably what you think of when you think about Navy SEAL training. Only a third of those who start “Hell Week” will make it through the five and a half-day ordeal.
During BUD/S you learn everything you need to know about becoming a SEAL, from completing underwater missions to running 200 miles in a single week. It’s intense and, as we mentioned, not many make it through. And all of BUD/S training takes place before a candidate even enters SQT.
SQT is a 26-week course that is just as intense as BUD/S, but for the most part, if you’re strong enough physically and mentally to make it to SQT, you’re probably right for the job. It takes months and months of some of the hardest work they’ve ever done to earn a Navy SEAL emblem to wear. Simply making it through training is enough to take pride in the trident.
A Brief History of the Navy SEAL Emblem
The Navy SEALs themselves were founded by President John F. Kennedy on January 1, 1962 but the insignia wasn’t put in place until October 16, 1970. It was initially offered in two grades: gold for officers and silver for enlisted. But, the silver emblems were done away with in 1978, making it one of the few breast insignias without a distinction between enlisted men and officers.
The Navy SEAL emblem consists of an eagle clutching a Navy anchor, trident, and flintlock pistol. It’s meant to represent all the elements of the land, air, and sea – each of which SEALs are masters of.
Navy SEALs were originally born out of the Underwater Demolition Teams of World War II who were also known as the “frogmen.” The current Navy SEAL emblem added the eagle to the frogmen’s emblem which makes sense as a natural progression from UDTs to Navy SEALs as we know them today.
What does the Navy SEAL emblem mean to SEALs?
Well, after enduring Navy SEAL training, completing what was sure to be at least one gruesome deployment, and the undeniable bond Navy SEALs would feel for one another, the Navy SEAL emblem means a great deal to those who wear it.
One of the longest-held traditions associated with the Navy SEAL emblem occurs when a comrade dies. You’ve probably seen it in films and TV shows that during the funeral of a fallen Navy SEAL, his fellow SEALs, one by one pound their emblems with their bare fists into his coffin. The deceased is therefore buried with the birds of all his friends who served by his side.
So, not only is this emblem a symbol of pride for what they’ve accomplished in their military careers, Navy SEALs find meaning in the emblem as a final goodbye to their fallen brothers.
Recently, this meaning has been tested, however.
There are some situations in which a Navy SEAL might lose their bird. No – we don’t mean physically lose it. (Fun fact: Replacements are available online for $13.50) We mean that a Navy SEAL could lose the right to wear one which subtly means ex-communication from the SEAL community.
In November 2019, Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher was at risk of losing his Navy SEAL emblem. He was court-martialed in the summer of 2019 for his behavior in Iraq. He was cleared of all his charges, except for one and there was a debate on whether he should keep his ability to wear the trident.
In the end, Gallagher is allowed to wear his Navy SEAL insignia despite the charge but some worried that this would affect the value and meaning associated with wearing the emblem in the first place.
In a New York Times article, an active-duty Navy SEAL responded to the story by saying that most of the SEALs he knows are staying out of “the Gallagher drama” and said that they “did not feel as if their own pin was worth less now that the chief had been allowed to retain his.”
A Navy SEAL can certainly have their trident revoked though. Gallagher’s case simply seems to be an outlier. Some SEALs might lose the right to wear their emblem due to poor performance. Others might choose to resign from the job. But losing or giving up the right to your Navy SEAL emblem is a big deal.
The revocation of a Navy SEAL emblem may seem like a standard administrative procedure, but it will actually prevent that person from re-entering the reserves or having really any association with the SEALs at all. Basically, if you lose your pin, there’s no going back.
Overall, it’s incredible how much an emblem worth a monetary value of less than $20 can truly mean so much to Navy SEALs. But, these people are such a strong-willed group of individuals who have seen and done unimaginable things so, on the other hand, it makes sense that they have a strong sense of community, tied together by this small bird on a pin.