Secret Warriors

Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf had a very big problem. For months, KH-11 spy satellites and high-flying TR-1 reconnaissance planes had circled over Saddam Hussein's air defenses, looking for holes. They had found none. Unless the allies could find a way to break through the early-warning radars ringing Iraq, the air raid on heavily defended Baghdad might become an Iraqi turkey shoot. Schwarzkopf feared that he would lose scores, even hundreds, of planes on the first night of the air war. That night was now only a few days away.

Sitting on the couch in his command center, Schwarzkopf listened warily to Col. George Gray, the sandy-haired leader of the Air Force's top commando unit, the First Special Operations Wing. Colonel Gray explained his plan. A task force of MH-53J Pave Low helicopters, backed by Army AH-64 Apache attack choppers, would sneak across the Iraqi border and punch a hole in Saddam's early-warning screen. The attack would take split-second timing; if it failed, the air defenses around Baghdad would light up like the Fourth of July. As he knelt on Schwarzkopf's carpet with his maps spread out, Colonel Gray tried to show his commander why his men would succeed.

Schwarzkopf said nothing. Like many Regular Army men, the field commander of Operation Desert Storm was skeptical of special-operations forces. The movies might glamorize secret commandos like Delta Force and the Navy SEALs, but to an old foot soldier like Schwarzkopf they were nothing but trouble--weirdos and "snake-eaters" who had to be rescued by the regular grunts when their harebrained operations went awry. Still, Schwarzkopf listened. He had no alternative.

After a long silence, Schwarzkopf fixed the commando leader with his blue eyes. "Colonel, are you going to guarantee me 100 percent success on this mission?"

Gray breathed deeply. He could feel a trickle of sweat down his back. "Yes, sir," he answered.

"Well," said General Schwarzkopf, "then you can start the war."

The mission was a 100 percent success. Gray's commandos pierced the radar screen; undetected, hundreds of allied planes poured through, dropping their bombs on Baghdad before the Iraqis could even fire back. Allied losses on the first night: zero.

Thousands of proud veterans of Operation Desert Storm will march in victory parades like the one last Saturday in Washington and this week in New York. But there will be no celebrations for the special-operations forces. The secret warriors prefer it that way. They don't want to be known as Rambos. They like to think of themselves as "quiet professionals." Though numbering only 9,400 out of the allies' half-million-odd men and women in the gulf, "these were the people who put the brains behind the brawn in Desert Storm," says Andy Messing, a former Green Beret major who directs the National Defense Council Foundation. The part played by special-operations forces in the gulf war is virtually unknown to the public. Fragmentary reports, of Green Berets stalking in the desert, of an Air Force commando AC-130 gunship downed during the battle for Khafji, appeared in the press during the war. But to determine the true role of special forces in the gulf, NEWSWEEK interviewed scores of commandos, of all ranks, who had quietly returned to their bases around the United States. What became clear is that special forces played a critical role in securing a victory that was swift, sure and relatively cost-free to the allies.

On the surface it seems like Operation Desert Storm benefited from a series of lucky breaks. Baghdad was caught napping by airstrikes. The ground forces sailed through Iraqi minefields virtually unscathed. Iraqi defenders were completely hoodwinked by a faked amphibious landing off Kuwait's gulf coast. The risky "Hail Mary" flanking maneuver into southern Iraq was not surprised by a counterattack. Israel stayed out of the war. In fact, however, each of these fortuitous developments owed more to covert special operations than to good luck. Among them:

Saddam's air defenses were asleep that first night because of the tactical shot of Novocain delivered by Gray's air commandos.

A psychological-operations team, using the largest nonnuclear bomb in the Pentagon's arsenal, produced an intelligence windfall that gave Schwarzkopf maps of the Kuwaiti minefields.

A team of six Navy Sea Air Land (SEAL) commandos fooled the Iraqis into believing they were an amphibious invasion force of several thousand Marines. Several Iraqi divisions were diverted east to repel the phony invasion--allowing Schwarzkopf's army to maneuver around to the west.

Army Special Forces teams slipped into Iraq before the ground war to act as human tripwires, warning Schwarzkopf's commanders every time Saddam's Republican Guard moved.

A top-secret team from Delta Force, America's elite counterterrorist unit, played an instrumental role in tracking down and destroying Scud missiles aimed at Israel. On the last day of the war, Delta Force helped wipe out 26 Scuds that Saddam was preparing to launch at Israel in a last-ditch attempt to drag the Israelis into the war.

All of these missions were extremely dangerous. Indeed, several of them produced the only real man-to-man fire fights of the war. The covert work demanded all the skills and training--and the particular breed of character--of a group of highly specialized warriors, This is their story.


Colonel Gray of the air commandos may have felt confident about his plan to punch through Baghdad's defenses, but the lead pilot who had to execute the mission--Maj. Bob Leonik--was anything but cocksure. True, the $26 million Pave Low helicopter that Leonik would fly was the best in the world. Crammed with exotic navigation gear--ring laser gyros, a global positioning system, doppler radars, computerized maps to follow like a Nintendo game--the Pave Low could fly anywhere in the worst possible weather to drop commandos exactly on their targets. Electronic-warfare black boxes blinded enemy radars and surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). Still, flying 150 miles an hour no more than 50 feet over the desert in the dark of night was enough to give Leonik nightmares.

The heat played havoc with communications. Leonik found that peering through his helmet's night-vision goggles was like "looking through a toilet-tube roll with a green shade on it." Sand in the air obscured the ground from the sky. Four helicopters had already plowed into Saudi sand dunes because pilots became disoriented.

The men of Leonik's Green Hornets squadron laugh at the myth of the "Right Stuff" pilot who drinks hard, raises hell and flies by the seat of his pants. Commando pilots are detail men, nitpickers who plot courses and grid coordinates to the last foot. Reliability, not just daring, is the quality for which they are chosen and trained. Leonik, 37, is soft-spoken, but his calm belies an inner intensity.

The raid on the Iraqi early-warning stations had to be planned down to the last second. To open a corridor wide enough for the allied air force, two of these radar stations had to be destroyed. The stations were electronically linked in pairs. It was thus necessary to knock out two at once, or one of the two would have time to alert Baghdad.

At precisely 2:20 Saudi time on the morning of Jan. 17, Leonik's Pave Low crossed the Iraqi border. Task Force Normandy was divided into two teams of choppers. Each consisted of two Pave Lows to lead the way and four Apaches to deliver the knockout missiles. The redundancy was critical: the air commandos were acutely aware of the need not to repeat the mistakes of Desert One, the botched 1980 hostage-rescue attempt in Iran that had to be aborted because of helicopter failure.

Leonik zigzagged around Bedouin camps to avoid being heard, ducked into wadis (desert gulches) to fly under radar screens and weaved through a maze of Iraqi observation posts. In the pitch dark, he was relying totally on the computers and sensors in his cockpit. Over and over he thought, "I hope I'm in the right place." The wrong place meant a head-on collision with a sand dune. A single Iraqi soldier could bring down his chopper with a .22. Leonik's heart skipped when a navigation computer went blank on his console, but a flip of a switch brought up a backup.

About eight miles from the target, the Pave Lows dropped glowing chemical sticks to the ground to position the Apaches. Suddenly, an Iraqi sentry at the main ground-control center spotted the choppers and turned to run toward the bunker. He never made it. A laser-guided Hellfire missile from an Apache ripped the compound just as he opened the door--within two seconds of the designated time of attack. Within five seconds, the second radar station also vanished in a fireball. "They did it!" Leonik shouted into his intercom.

Back at headquarters, Schwarzkopf, who was monitoring the Pave Low radio traffic, heard the code word for success: "California." "Thank God," he said.

On the trip home Leonik glanced up from his cockpit. Overhead the skies looked like an interstate highway at rush hour. The entire allied air force was streaming through the corridor opened by Task Force Normandy. Recalled Leonik: "I felt like I was on the 50-yard line of a football game, yelling 'Go! Go! Go!'"


Lt. Gen. Walter Boomer, the commander of the U.S. Marines in the gulf, had visions of his men bogged down in the minefields of Kuwait, slowly being picked off by Iraqi artillery. He had to find a way through.

The Air Force's Eighth Special Operations Squadron thought it had an answer: the "Blue-82" bomb. At 15,000 pounds, the bomb is the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. Also called the Daisy Cutter, the BLU-82 was used to carve out and level airfields in Vietnam. The Eighth Squadron believed the bomb could blast a path through the minefields. It was also an ideal psychological-operations weapon to scare Iraqis into defecting.

Armies generally prefer to shoot, not talk. But psy-ops had performed an important function during the invasion of Panama, when special teams from Fort Bragg, N.C., had saved lives by talking Panamanian soldiers out of their strongholds. In the gulf the Fourth Psychological Operations Group out of Bragg dropped some 29 million leaflets on dug-in Iraqi forces and set up a special radio program to woo defectors. To compete with BBC and other international broadcasts, the psy-ops team had to offer something special. What the "Voice of the Gulf " began broadcasting, along with prayers from the Koran and testimonials from well-treated Iraqi prisoners, was precise information on the units to be bombed each day. Iraqi soldiers began tuning in to the "Voice of the Gulf." "It's a quick way to increase your market share," said psy-ops commander Col. Layton Dunbar, with a smile. Almost three quarters of the defectors coming over the border said the leaflets and broadcasts influenced their decision to go AWOL.

The men of the Eighth Squadron believed that the BLU-82 bomb could send an even more powerful message. In the early-morning hours of Feb. 7, Maj. Skip Davenport's MC-130E Combat Talon cargo plane lumbered off the runway. In its belly sat the massive bomb. Behind Major Davenport, a companion plane lifted off, carrying another BLU-82 (Davenport and his wingman became known as the Blues Brothers).

The day before, their target area had been rained with leaflets warning the soldiers below: "Tomorrow if you don't surrender we're going to drop on you the largest conventional weapon in the world." The Iraqis who dared to sleep that night found out the allies weren't kidding. The explosion of a Daisy Cutter looks like an atomic bomb detonating. In the southwest corner of Kuwait that night, an enormous mushroom cloud flared into the dark. Sound travels for miles in the barren desert, and soon Iraqi radio nets along the border crackled with traffic. Col. Jesse Johnson, Schwarzkopf's special-operations commander, cabled a message back to the U.S. Special Operations Command headquarters in Florida: "We're not too sure how you say 'Jesus Christ' in Iraqi." A British SAS commando team on a secret reconnaissance mission near the explosion frantically radioed back to its headquarters: "Sir, the blokes have just nuked Kuwait!"

The next day a Combat Talon swept over the bomb site for another leaflet drop with a follow-up message: "You have just been hit with the largest conventional bomb in the world. More are on the way." The victims below didn't need much more convincing. The day after the BLU-82 attack, an Iraqi battalion commander and his staff raced across the border to surrender. Among the defectors was the commander's intelligence officer, clutching maps of the minefields along the Kuwait border. The intelligence bonanza enabled Central Command officers to pick out the gaps and weak spots in the mine defenses. When the ground war began Marine and allied forces breached them within hours.

Over the horizon from the Kuwaiti coast floated an armada of ships, containing some 17,000 Marines poised to hit the beaches. But the only amphibious invasion of Kuwait was conducted by a half-dozen Navy SEALs. They were enough.

As darkness fell on Saturday, Feb. 23, the day before the allies were to launch the ground war, Lt. Tom Dietz and five SEAL swimmer scouts raced out of their Saudi coastal base at Ras al-Mishab in a pair of Fountain-33 speedboats. Powered by 1,000-horsepower MerCruiser engines, the Fountains zoomed 40 miles an hour up the Kuwaiti coastline, bouncing as high as five feet off the waves. In a routine chop the pounding can be severe enough to break a man's knee. The water in the gulf that night was a bone-chilling 50 degrees Fahrenheit. More worrisome, it was infested with mines. The Navy speedboat operators sailed blind, lights out, knowing that if their thin-shelled craft struck a mine they would be instantly vaporized.

At about 10 p.m. Dietz's speedboat stopped 15 miles off the Kuwaiti coast. His team untied the Zodiac rubber raiding craft lashed to the bow. For a month the SEALs had been secretly swimming up to the Kuwaiti beaches to scout the shoreline for possible amphibious landings--and found them all heavily defended and mined. Dietz's two motorized Zodiacs puttered slowly to the shore, stopping every few miles so the commandos could look and listen.

Five hundred yards from the beach, the Zodiac drivers killed the engines. The SEALs slipped quietly over the side. Each carried buoys to be strung out during the swim to the beach, plus a haversack packed with 20 pounds of C-4 explosives. The Iraqis would think the four-foot-wide buoys were being used as markers for incoming amphibious ships. The haversacks had dual timers (one served as a backup) that would detonate the C-4 two hours after being set. The charges had to go off at exactly 1 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 24, three hours before the allies began breaching minefields along the Kuwait border. The timing was critical. The Iraqis had to be given the opportunity to react to the diversion--to move troops east to respond, rather than reinforcing the west where the real attack would come.

Swimming abreast, the team watched the shore. Each member had a German Heckler and Koch submachine gun slung across his back and a pistol strapped to his side, but they would be no match for one Iraqi machine-gunner on the beach. Every hundred yards the team stopped. Dietz pulled out a pocket night-vision scope, wrapped in a Glad bag, to scan the beach for any activity. The smoke from oil fires made the night even more black. The beach sand was a bright white. No sign of life.

At the shoreline, the team spread out and unloaded its haversacks in about a foot of water. Using hand signals, Dietz ordered the timers set. The SEALs slithered back into the ocean. As they approached the Zodiacs, the speedboats closed in and began peppering the shore with .50-caliber machine-gun fire for a half hour to wake up the coastal bunkers. Every five minutes, two-pound charges were dropped off the sides of the boats and detonated. Then at 1 a.m. on the dot, the haversacks blew, lighting up a swath of the beach in balls of flames. Dietz radioed back the code word ("Pamela") for "mission accomplished."

Eight hours later, the SEALs of Task Force Mike sat exhausted in a secure debriefing room at Ras al-Mishab. A message came in to Dietz from Commodore Ray Smith, the SEAL commander in the Persian Gulf. It began with "Bravo Zulu," Navy lingo for congratulations. "Your mission was a success. Elements of two separate Iraqi divisions moved to the beach immediately after your operation. Pass it on to your men. Job well done."

The Green Berets, the Army's elite commando units, had been chafing for action since September. Back in the early days of the crisis the U.S. Special Operations Command had proposed secret missions inside Iraq to stir up rebellion against Saddam. Schwarzkopf thought organizing Iraqi dissidents would be a waste of time. If American soldiers were discovered it might accidentally start the war, which was the last thing the White House wanted.

The only American assets allowed to cross the borders before the war were CIA agents who were mostly Middle East nationals on Langley's payroll. Several dozen CIA operatives infiltrated into southern and northern Iraq to help allied pilots evade capture if they were shot down. In Kuwait the agency slipped in Arab operatives trained in commando tactics to organize resistance cells. The Kuwaiti resistance set up escape and evasion routes for downed pilots and a cellular-phone linkup with Johnson's special-ops command in Riyadh to pass along intelligence on bomb targets.

Once the war started, the Green Berets got the green light to begin "special recon" missions. The CIA had warned Schwarzkopf's generals that the tanks and trucks they wanted to send across southern Iraq for the Hail Mary play would become bogged down in the sandy terrain. Pentagon maps for the region were incomplete. Six-man Special Forces "A" teams secretly helicoptered into Iraq, scooping up soil samples to take back to Riyadh. The teams carried camcorders and digitized still cameras that transmitted photos back to headquarters. The soil samples showed the ground would be firm enough, and the pictures gave commanders a close-up view of their battlefield. But the Green Berets' most dangerous missions were yet to come.

As dawn broke on the Saturday before the ground war began, M/Sgt. Jeffrey Sims, Sgt. 1/c Ronald Torbett and S/Sgt. Roy Tabron inched up a periscope out of their spider hole deep in enemy territory. Sims, the team leader, flipped on his SATCOM radio and began sending coded messages to his headquarters in Saudi Arabia. As the U.S. Army XVIII and VII Corps swept through southern Iraq to encircle the Republican Guard, Schwarzkopf had to be sure that his flanking maneuver was not cut off by Iraqi reserves counterattacking from the north. Sims, Torbett and Tabron were part of more than a dozen Army Special Forces teams secretly helicoptered into southern Iraq before the ground war began. Their job was to instantly send a warning if the Iraqis tried to lay a trap.

The three sergeants were on one of the deepest backdoor recons the Green Berets would make: north of the Euphrates River, less than a hundred miles from Baghdad, to watch one of the main roads from Iraq to Kuwait. They had spent the night digging the hole for their "hide site," reinforcing it with prefabricated material. (Green Berets had perfected hide-site techniques by examining the tunnels dug by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War.) For weeks before the recon, Special Forces teams practiced digging the holes and living in them for days. Elaborate techniques were used to camouflage the tops and disguise any odors that might attract animals.

Still, Sims's team could not escape an inquisitive child. As they peered out of their hole Saturday, an Iraqi girl no more than 7 years old walked by. The commandos held their breath. She stopped, stared for a moment at the small slit in the ground. Slowly she lifted the lid and gazed wide-eyed at the three Green Berets in their desert fatigues and camouflage face paint. Tabron's heart jumped. The three commandos quickly aimed their 9-mm pistols, equipped with silencers, right at the girl's head. The girl could have easily been shot and dragged into the hole. The mission could continue. "But we couldn't live with ourselves," said Tabron. She was spared.

The child screamed and ran for her father. He returned with her to the hide site. The Green Berets jumped out and tried to calm the father. No luck. He ran off with his daughter to alert Iraqi soldiers. Soon Sims, Torbett and Tabron were surrounded by about a hundred Iraqi infantrymen. Sims called in Air Force F-16 Falcons on a strafing run. As Torbett and Tabron picked off Iraqi soldiers who came within 50 yards of their ditch, the three Green Berets prayed for a chopper to come quickly.

Chief Warrant Officer James (Monk) Crisafulli was one of the top MH-60 Black Hawk pilots in the 160th Aviation Regiment, the Special Operations Command's elite helicopter unit. But this was one mission chopper pilots dread: flying into enemy territory in daylight and landing in the middle of a fire fight. Next to Crisafulli was Chief Warrant Officer Randy (Beast Man) Stephens. Two crewmen manned machine guns; a couple of Green Berets hopped aboard to help if there were casualties. Crisafulli and Stephens roared off at 160 miles an hour, flying so low to the ground they had to jerk the Black Hawk up at one point to avoid hitting a camel.

Sims's team was about to be overrun on one flank. As the Black Hawk neared, the Green Beret leader fired a pen flare to mark their position. Crisafulli hopped a telephone line, swung the chopper around, then dropped it like a stone between Sims's ditch and the advancing Iraqi flank just yards away. The Black Hawk crewmen and Green Berets blazed away with machine guns. "We're taking hits!" the crew chief yelled on his intercom. Three rounds struck the rotor blade and a self-sealing tank, another whizzed past the pilots' heads. Sims, Torbett and Tabron scrambled aboard and the helicopter lifted off. Nine enemy lay dead. The rescuers and Green Berets escaped without a scratch.

There were other harrowing missions by the Green Berets. Direct-action teams attacked command bunkers and sabotaged communications lines. One eight-man recon team, caught deep in Iraq, fought off 150 enemy soldiers for more than six hours. By the time helicopters rescued them, the Green Berets and their air cover had killed 130. But most teams slipped in and out undetected, gathering intelligence on the Republican Guard. Schwarzkopf's western flankers were never caught off guard.

Saddam's Scud attacks on Israel hadn't claimed many lives, but they threatened to provoke the Israelis into responding. Washington was desperate to keep Israel out of the war. It became increasingly imperative to hunt down Saddam's Scud launchers and destroy them.

Hundreds of allied warplanes were diverted to Scud hunting. An elaborate command-and-control system went into place to spot the Scud launches and dispatch F-15E Eagles to destroy the launchers. But the allies were destroying the launchers only after they fired. To win the Scud war, the missiles had to be hit before they were launched. Israel secretly test-fired a nuclear-capable missile into the Mediterranean Sea to signal Washington that it was prepared to use atomic weapons to stop the attacks. It was time to mobilize Delta Force, the commando unit so secret that the Pentagon still refuses to admit its existence.

In western Saudi Arabia, Maj. Gen. Wayne Downing, commander of the Pentagon's counterterrorist units, formed a secret "fusion cell" made up of A-10 Thunderbolts, Delta Force and British SAS commandos. Air Force Pave Lows dropped commandos into western Iraq; others roamed the countryside in desert-mobility vehicles. Iraqi mobile Scud batteries received their targeting orders from fixed command-and-control centers. A network of compounds and storage facilities supplied the batteries. Delta and SAS saboteurs began destroying these facilities in lightning night raids. Hiding in the dunes, commandos "painted" mobile Scuds with laser target designators and called in airstrikes. In two weeks the fusion cell destroyed more than a dozen Scud sites.

On Feb. 27, the final day of the war, allied reconnaissance spotted a terrifying last-gasp gambit by Saddam Hussein. Iraqi crews moved 26 Scud missiles near the western border for a barrage attack on Israel. The fusion cell scrambled. All 26 were destroyed. Schwarzkopf sent a private message to the secret cell: "You guys kept Israel out of the war."

But at a price. As the troops returned home to flag-waving parades, a quiet service was held at the John F. Kennedy Memorial Chapel in the Special Forces compound at Fort Bragg. No announcements were made of the ceremony. Invitations went out by word of mouth. Inside sat the Delta Force and the families of Patrick Hurley, Otto Clark and Eloy Rodriguez Jr. The three Delta commandos died when the Black Hawk flying them back from a Scud-hunting mission crashed into a sand dune. On the altar sat three sets of jump boots, three green berets. The squadron commander called the roll. "Here," said each Delta member. But there was silence after three names. Hurley, Clark and Rodriguez. A bugler sounded taps. In death, they would he remembered as they fought, in secret.

Special Operations Command in Tampa, Fla., oversees the 45,000 members of the special-ops forces--the elite of each branch of the U.S. military.

The 30,000-member special-forces group is based at Fort Bragg, N.C. It includes the famed Green Berets, the Army Rangers, a covert-attack helicopter regiment and psychological-warfare and civil-affairs experts.

In Coronado, Calif., the 4,000 troops and support personnel of the Navy's Sea Air Land commandos (SEALs), special boat squadrons and SEAL delivery teams train in furtive amphibious assault techniques.

Based at Hurlburt Field, Fla., the 9,000-member special-ops air units focus on secret infiltration and aircover missions.

Schooled in counterterrorism, the group comprises the Navy's SEAL Team 6 and Delta Force, an Army unit so secret not even its logo (drawing, bottom) is publicized. These real-life ninjas number just 1,300 members, including support staff.

The commando inches up to the enemy headquarters bunker. From a wristwatch radio connected to a throat mike, he calls in his coordinates. His mission has been subliminally fed into his brain by tape recorders while he was asleep. His "sensory enhancement" pill sharpens his hearing. He projects a 3-D hologram of himself at the guardhouse to divert the enemy sentries, then aims his shoulder-fired "Brilliant Pebbles" rocket launcher at the bunker.

The commando of the future is still a picture on a drawing board at U.S. Special Operations Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla. But unconventional warfare is becoming increasingly high tech. Long gone are the days of the Green Beret alone in the jungle with just his machete and an M-16 rifle. Today the Special Operations Command, which trains and equips the special-ops forces, has its own research-and-development shop to investigate new weapons and gadgets. Some are already in force. Green Berets in Desert Storm packed portable computers whose data could be transmitted on secure radios via satellites. Air Force commandos wore special night-vision goggles as they homed in on their targets. Special Ops headquarters tapped into a new computer network called Socrates for instant intelligence from the CIA and Pentagon. Navy SEALs cruised around Kuwait City in Fast Attack Vehicles (page 24), black dune buggies with machine guns and antitank rocket launchers mounted on them. The $50,000 vehicle, which looks like it came from a "Mad Max" movie, sent Iraqi soldiers scurrying when it barreled down the road.

In the future, the Green Beret command hopes to develop "chameleonic" suits that change colors so soldiers will still be camouflaged as they move from one background to another. The suits and undershirts would be made of a lightweight, bulletproof material. The Green Berets are also investigating "exoskeletal frames" that commandos would wear like RoboCop to give them superhuman strength for carrying heavy loads and breaking down doors. Special Forces officers may one day talk into electronic "speech translators" that will simultaneously convert their English into the language of the country that they're in. Navy SEALS are studying sports medicine, special diets and electrically heated diver suits to help frogmen endure physically arduous missions in frigid waters. The SEALs are also developing a tiny computer for scuba gear that would project a digital heads-up display on a diver's mask showing his coordinates underwater and warning him of enemy boats nearby.

Sometimes, however, the commando gear must be more practical than high tech. During Desert Storm the SEALs' headquarters in Coronado, Calif., received an urgent request from its team stationed with amphibious ships in the Persian Gulf: "Send 50 boogie boards." The SEALs needed the small surfboards for swimming long distances. A SEAL supply officer went to a local surf shop. The boogie boards were on a plane to Saudi Arabia within a week.