famous navy seal - britt slabinsky
Navy

18 Most Famous Navy SEALS (and 3 Controversial Ones)

Frogmen, The Teams, The Men with Green Faces—no matter what you call them, Navy SEALs are probably the most famous warriors in the American military. Tracing their roots back to WWII, SEALs have proven over and over again to be masters of warfare in every environment. In fact, that’s what SEAL means. Sea, Air and Land.

While every SEAL is an American hero, the following is a list of 17 famous Navy SEALs, plus an additional 3 SEALs whose names are pure legend.

Note: This list is based on the estimated monthly search volume for every Navy SEAL that has a Wikipedia page.

Jump to a famous Navy SEAL

18. Britt Slabinski

17. Danny Dietz

16. Michael Murphy

15. Craig Sawyer

14. Brandon Webb

13. Johnny Kim

12. Don Shipley
11. Richard Marcinko

10. William McRaven

9. Kristin Beck

8. Rob O'Neill

7. Scott Taylor

6. Marcus Luttrell
5. Ryan Zinke

4. David Goggins

3. Jesse Ventura

2. Jocko Willink

1. Chris Kyle

18. Britt Slabinski – BUD/S Class 164

britt slabinski - famous navy seal
Britt Slabinsky received the Medal Of Honor for his heroic actions in the Battle Of Takur Ghar.

Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator Britt Slabinski was awarded the Medal of Honor in 2002 for his unbelievably heroic actions in Afghanistan. [Ref: 1]

When an RPG hit an American helicopter, Petty Officer Neil Roberts fell to an enemy-controlled mountaintop below.

Without hesitation, Slabinski led a team of operators up the 10,000-foot snowy peak on a daring rescue mission.

Traversing up the mountain was an act of extreme selflessness. Enemy fire in the forms of bullets, mortars, and grenades came at Slabinski and his team from strong-held positions.

Britt Slabinsky receives the medal of honor from president trump

Determined to reach the fallen man, the Navy SEAL charged onward. Slabinski took out Taliban bunker after bunker, all the while calling in air support and reinforcements.

Once he reached Roberts, he threw the wounded man over his shoulder and waded through waist-deep snow firing his rifle single-handedly.

Over the next fourteen hours, Slabinski provided medical aid and maintained tactical superiority, resulting in him being one of the most famous SEALs ever known.

You can hear his full story directly from him in the Youtube video below:

17. Danny Dietz – BUD/S Class 232

danny dietz - famous navy seal
Dietz was KIA on the ‘Lone Survivor’ mission

Petty Officer Danny Dietz was part of the famous four-man SEAL team portrayed in the 2014 film, Lone Survivor.

Tragically, Dietz was one of the three Navy SEALs who didn’t survive—not including the sixteen special operators, eight of whom were also SEALs, who died while attempting to rescue Dietz’s team.

Reportedly, Dietz’s team was on the trail of a high-level Taliban target when they were ambushed.

The four-man SEAL team single-handedly held off hundreds of enemy combatants for hours.

In addition to the multiple gunshot wounds each SEAL received, the team also fell from cliff edge after cliff edge while seeking cover. Eventually, the team was separated and Dietz died alone.

danny dietz memorial
Danny Dietz memorial

His body was found a few months later, and the Navy SEAL was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross, the United States’ second highest citation for valor. [Ref: 2]

16. Michael Murphy – BUD/S Class 236

Michael p. Murphy
Image: Wikimedia.org

When I originally wrote this article, I actually didn’t include Mike Murphy.

This list of famous Navy SEALs is based off of the number of monthly google searches that are done for each of these guys.

Believe it or not, Mike Murphy isn’t searched as much as you would think.

With that said, I think it’s only reasonable to include him on this list, given his outstanding accomplishments.

After graduating from The Pennsylvania State University in 1998, Murphy accepted an appointment to Officer Candidate School in Pensacola, FL.

After being commissioned as an Ensign, he went on to attend BUD/S, graduating with class 236.

You can see his class photo below:

mike murphy buds class 236 graduation photo
Image: Navy.mil

Mike Murphy was the team leader of the infamous “Lone Survivor” incident I mentioned above.

He was KIA during Operation Red Wings, and was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal Of Honor due to his heroic actions. [Ref: 3]

15. Craig Sawyer – BUD/S Class: 149

craig sawyer - famous navy seal
Sawyer founded a Hollywood consulting firm upon retiring from the SEALs.

Navy SEAL Craig Sawyer, though a formidable force in the battlefield, makes the list because of the work he’s done after separating from the service.

Tactical Insider, Sawyer’s Hollywood consulting firm, advises producers, directors, and actors on what military procedures should look like.

How did actor Matthew Marsden, a civilian with no military training, portray such a convincing Army Ranger in the 2001 film Black Hawk Down?

That was Tactical Insider at work. [Ref: 4]

In addition to his work in film, Sawyer makes constant appearances on FOX News, CBS, The History Channel, and even Animal Planet.

The Taliban isn’t the only force that needs to fear Sawyer—in 2013, Sawyer led a team into Africa to hunt down illegal rhino poachers.

14. Brandon Webb – BUD/S Class: 215

brandon webb - famous navy seal
Webb is an accomplished SEAL sniper turned entrepreneur and investor.

Brandon Webb, former Navy SEAL sniper and sniper instructor. In ten years, Webb deployed to the Middle East four times.

As one of the most talented snipers of his day, Webb held the prestigious position of sniper course manager at the Naval Special Warfare school.

After leaving the Navy, Webb made a name for himself as a correspondent to such news sources as ABC’s Good Morning America, NBC’s Today Show, FOX News, CNN, and The New York Times. [Ref: 5]

brandon webb on fox news
Brandon Webb on Fox News.

Additionally, Webb is an avid entrepreneur and investor. His company, Hurricane Group, provides lifestyle advice for men with digital publishing and eCommerce.

Last but not least, Webb is a multiple New York Times bestselling author, having published over five books, including memoirs and self-help guides.

13. Jonny Kim – BUD/S Class: 247

johnny kim - famous navy seal
SEAL, Doctor, and Astronaut. Is there anything Kim can’t do?

I don’t know which is more impressive: that Jonny Kim is a decorated Navy SEAL, or that he has a Doctorate of Medicine from Harvard Medical School. [Ref: 6]

Kim enlisted in the Navy right after high school.

After he graduated BUD/S, he deployed with SEAL Team 3 as a member of Task Force Bruiser under the command of Jocko Willink and alongside Chris Kyle.

Kim did two deployments to the Middle East, and, since leaving the Navy and graduating from Harvard, has gone on to become a resident physician at Massachusetts General Hospital.

In 2017, Kim was selected to be the primary doctor of NASA Astronaut Group 22. I guess mastering earth was just too easy for this Navy SEAL.

12. Don Shipley – BUD/S Class: 131

don shipley - famous navy seal
Shipley is an internet sensation, with his “Phony Navy SEAL Of The Week” Youtube videos watched by millions.

Besides the fact that falsely claiming to be a Navy SEAL is unethical, men like Don Shipley have made such acts of stolen valor particularly dangerous.

After serving 23 years in the Navy as a SEAL, Shipley has become an internet sensation due to his Youtube channel which features videos of Shipley and his wife, Dianne, confronting fake Navy SEALs.

Shipley calls his videos “Phony Navy SEAL of the week” and, as the name implies, there are more than enough imposters out there to keep the Shipleys busy.

Related Article: How To Check If Someone Was A Navy SEAL

While the FBI estimates that for every living SEAL there are 300 men claiming to be SEALs, Shipley, based on his personal interactions with hundreds of these fakers, estimates that number as significantly low.

Instead, he estimates in somewhere in the realm of 1,000 for every living, breathing Navy SEAL.

Even after retirement, Shipley unyielding service to honor the SEAL brotherhood easily earns him a place as one of the most famous Navy SEALs.

11. Richard Marcinko – BUD/S Class: 26

richard marcinko - famous navy seal
Marcinko was the founder of SEAL Team 6, and went on to become a popular author and public speaker.

When the Navy decided that it needed a special unit to lead direct action operations against a rising terrorist threat, they called on Navy SEAL Richard Marcinko.

Thus, the infamous SEAL Team 6 was born.

But even before the legendary Team 6, Marcinko gained a reputation as a world-class killer due to his two deployments as a SEAL to Vietnam.

Marcinko played a vital role in the Tet Offensive in 1968 when he led a mission to rescue American nurses and a schoolteacher.

Marcinko’s heroism in Vietnam led to his being the creator and first commander of SEAL Team 6 and, later, handpicking the members for the Navy’s Red Cell, a unit designed to evaluate the Navy’s security.

In 1990, after retiring from over thirty years in the Navy, Marcinko and a few fellow Navy SEALs were indicted for acts of conspiracy among other charges.

He was sentenced to 21 months in a federal prison.

Since getting out, Marcinko has written about being framed in his memoir, Rogue Warrior.

Marcinko made my famous Navy SEALs list before there even was a list!

10. William McRaven – BUD/S Class: 95

admiral william mcraven - famous navy seal
McRaven commanded JSOC and oversaw Operation Neptune Spear, which was the raid on UBL’s compound.

Navy SEAL William McRaven, though maybe not the most recognizable name on this list, might just be the most important.

As the commander of the Joint Special Operations Command, McRaven organized Operation Neptune, the mission that took out Osama bin Laden.

But McRaven’s career hasn’t always been behind the lines. In Vietnam, McRaven served as a SEAL under Richard Marcinko.

admiral mcraven with john kerry
Admiral William Mcraven with john Kerry

However, Marcinko fired McRaven due to the two men butting heads, with McRaven accusing Marcinko of being too reckless in the field. At over thirty-seven years of service, McRaven is the longest serving SEAL in naval history having only retired in 2014.

Recently, McRaven used the social media platform Twitter to express support for the former head of the CIA, John O. Brennan.

Writing directly to President Trump, he stated “Revoke my security clearance too, Mr. President.”

9. Kristin Beck – BUD/S Class: 179

kristin beck - famous navy seal
Kristin Beck was a SEAL Team 6 operator before she made her transition.

Born Christopher Beck, Navy SEAL Kristin Beck is the first SEAL to publicly come out as a trans woman.

As an active duty Navy SEAL, Beck served as a member of the infamous SEAL Team 6 in the 1990s, receiving such awards as the Bronze Star and a Purple Heart for her heroism.

Of course, it was Beck’s transformation that made her famous. According to an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Beck said that throughout her entire military career, “No one ever met the real me.”

Beck has gone on to write a book about her life as the first trans woman Navy SEAL titled Warrior Princess, but what’s almost just as inspiring is the amount of support Beck claims to have received from the SEAL community.

8. Robert O’Neill – BUD/S Class: 208

Rob O'Neill - famous navy seal
O’Neill fired the fatal shots at Osama Bin Laden.

Before joining the Navy, Robert O’Neill tried to enlist in the Marine Corps to become a sniper.

For a reason that may never be known, the Marines turned him down, and O’Neill went on to become a sniper in the Navy SEALs.

As a member of SEAL Team 6 (also known as DEVGRU), O’Neill claims that he is was the point man that dealt the fatal shots to Osama bin Laden.

Whether or not O’Neill’s claims are true, other Navy SEALs have accused O’Neill of violating their warrior ethos, particularly the section that states that no SEAL shall “advertise the nature of my work, nor seek recognition for my actions.

Regardless, O’Neill is a decorated warrior who supported more than 400 missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Just to even be on the mission to eliminate OBL makes him one of the most badass Navy SEALs on this list.

These days, O’Neill spends his time as a public speaker and FOX News commentator.

He made the news recently after he was pulled over and charged with a DUI.  Those charges were subsequently dropped, and now has a clean record.

Related Article: Can You Join The Military With A DUI?

7. Scott Taylor – BUD/S Class: 219

scott taylor - famous navy seal
Taylor served as both a SEAL and a state representative.

Navy SEAL Scott Taylor just can’t get enough of serving his country. As a SEAL, Taylor was a sniper in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Additionally, seeing as how Taylor is fluent in Spanish, he also served in multiple missions in South America.

When an injury forced Taylor into the role of a marksmanship instructor, he started to focus his goals in other areas of service.

In less than ten years after getting out of the Navy, SEAL Scott Taylor served as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates from 2014 to 2017 and as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

As a politician, Taylor personally opposes abortion, but he does support the allowance of all Americans to serve in the military.

As quoted in the Daily Press, Taylor said of anyone wanting serve in the military, “…gay, straight, transgender or not. If you are ready to go, cool.”

6. Marcus Luttrell – BUD/S Class: 226/228

marcus luttrell - famous navy seal
If you’ve seen the movie Lone Survivor, then Luttrell needs no introduction.

If you know anything about Navy SEALs, then the name Marcus Luttrell should resonate with you.

Luttrell is famous for being the sole survivor of the 2005 tragic mission, Operation Red Wings.

The mission was an attempt to kill or capture a high value target, but when the SEAL Team was spotted by a few unarmed herdsmen—whom they could not engage due to the rules of engagement—the team was comprised.

What ensued was a firefight between the four-man SEAL Team and more than two hundred Taliban fighters.

Marcus Luttrell speaks with father of Michael Murphy.

The SEALs endured hours of machine gun fire and rocket attacks, ultimately resulting in the death of three of the four Americans.

Luttrell was knocked unconsciousness with multiple broken bones including a broken back.

He was found by an Afghan local who tended to his wounds and eventually reported his position to the US Embassy, actions that surely saved Luttrell’s life.

As you’re probably already aware, his story was adapted into a major motion picture called “Lone Survivor”.

In fact, you can see Luttrel acting as one of the Navy SEALs in several scenes in the movie.

marcus luttrell cameo in lone survivor

5. Ryan Zinke – BUD/S Class: 136

ryan zinke - famous navy seal
Previously a member of the US House Of Representatives, Zinke now serves as Secretary of The Interior under the Trump administration.

Navy SEAL Ryan Zinke is yet another warrior to make a name for himself after his military career.

One year after retiring from the Navy, Zinke served as a member of the Montana Senate from 2009 to 2013.

Two years later, Zinke became a Montanan member of the U.S. House of Representatives for a four-year term.

Zinke with former governor Rick Perry

Already an impressive politician, in 2017, Zinke’s political career really took off when President Trump appointed him to be the 52nd Secretary of the Interior.

Unfortunately for Zinke, in October of 2018, an investigation into Zinke’s personal expenditures revealed that he’d been unethically using funds for personal reasons.

The investigation ultimately led to Zinke leaving his post three months later.

4. David Goggins – BUD/S Class: 235

david goggins - famous navy seal
Goggins is a championship Ultramarathon runner, Triathlete, and once held the record for Most Pull-Ups in 24 hours (4,030 pull-ups in 17 hours).

The story of David Goggins is so inspirational because his life story is relatable to many of us today.

After serving four years in the Air Force, Goggins suffered from depression and obesity.

In his motivational speeches, Goggins talks about his this feeling of at once wanting to do something amazing with his life while at the same time barely being able to get off the couch.

At 300 pounds, Goggins was told that he would never complete the rigors of BUD/S.

david goggins at the buds obstacle course

Not only did Goggins prove them wrong, he’s gone on to be known for his incredible feats of physical strength and endurance.

In addition to at one time holding the world record for most pull-ups done in 24 hours, since 2005, Goggins has been running and winning ultramarathons in order to raise money.

Goggins alone has raised over 2 million dollars for Special Operations Warrior Foundation, an organization which raises scholarship money for the children of fallen special operations soldiers.

Goggins feats have earned him the nickname “Toughest Man in the World.”

Related Article: 6 Ways To Check If Someone Was In The Military

3. Jesse Ventura – BUD/S Class: 58

jesse ventura - famous navy seal
Ventura has done it all, and almost made #1 on our list.

Radio show host, actor, author, governor, professional wrestler—what hasn’t Jesse Ventura done?

Oh yeah! He was a freakin’ Navy SEAL in the Vietnam War!

After serving for six years, Ventura entered the world of professional wrestling, giving himself the nickname Jesse “The Body” Ventura. Ventura was known for his colorful commentary and hilarious persona that he’d put on while in the ring, and he endured a long career in the World Wrestling Foundation eventually being entered in the 2004 WWE Hall of Fame.

Moving from acting in the ring to acting for the screen was a natural transition for Ventura.

Who can forget Ventura as the tobacco chewing behemoth in 1987’s Predator?

“This stuff will make you a god$@%! sexual Tyrannosaurus! Just like me…”

Following Schwarzenegger’s lead, Ventura entered politics as a Reform Party Candidate and quickly won the 1998 Minnesota gubernatorial race.

In recent years, Ventura has made headlines for filing a defamation suit against fellow-deceased Navy SEAL Chris Kyle who claimed he punched Ventura out in a bar in southern California.

jocko willink - famous navy seal
Willink runs a successful weekly podcast that he does in conjunction with his friend Echo Charles.

Born John Gretton Willink, “Jocko” joined the Navy in 1990.

As a Navy SEAL, Jocko served on SEAL Teams ONE and THREE, at one point taking part in the operation that seized a Russian tanker in the Gulf of Oman.

However, most famously, Jocko was the commander of Task Force Bruiser during the Battle of Ramadi during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2006.

Under Willink’s command were other famous Navy SEALs, including Medal of Honor winner Michael Monsoor, now astronaut Jonny Kim, and legendary sniper Chris Kyle.

Since leaving the Navy in 2010, Willink has co-authored the leadership manual, Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win, as well as starting the leadership training program Echelon Front and starting his own podcast, The Jocko Podcast.

1. Chris Kyle – BUD/S Class: 233

chris kyle - famous navy seal
Kyle was the most lethal sniper in US history, and his life was adapted in to a major motion picture.

Kyle makes number one on the list of most famous Navy SEALs because his actions in Iraq raised the standards for what a SEAL is capable of.

Although his official kill count states that Kyle took out 150 enemies during his four tours in Iraq, according to Kyle’s memoir, the bestseller American Sniper, Kyle’s real number is over 200.

Chris Kyle signing a copy of his book - American Sniper

Kyle was such a force in Iraq that Iraqi militants actually put a price on his head.

At its highest, the enemy was hunting Kyle for an $80,000 purse.

Additionally, Kyle earned the nickname the “Devil of Ramadi.” Kyle left the Navy in 2009 and moved back to his native Texas.

In 2012, Kyle released his book, and after a few months he’d be involved with fellow SEAL Jesse Ventura in a defamation lawsuit.

However, before the case was finished, Kyle and his friend Chad Littlefield were tragically killed. On February 2nd, 2013, Kyle and Littlefield took former Marine Eddie Ray Routh to a shooting range as part of a program that helped veterans who were suffering from PTSD.

At the range, Routh shot both men in the head. Neither Kyle’s nor Littlefield’s pistols had been fired.

3 Controversial / Scandalous Navy SEALs

Unfortunately, not all Navy SEALs have kept up their military bearing of honor and integrity in their personal and professional lives. Because of this, the following three Frogmen have earned their places on the list of Scandalous Navy SEALs.

3. Carl Higbie – BUD/S Class: 253

carl higbie - famous navy seals
Higbie has supported some controversial policies.

While serving in the Navy, SEAL Carl Higbie wrote Battle on the Home Front: A Navy SEAL’s Mission to Save the American Dream.

Although many SEALs have written about their experiences, the sensitive content in Higbie’s book led to his security clearance being downgraded from “top secret,” as well as his discharge being changed from “honorable” to “general.” Higbie’s recklessness only continued from there.

After a failed congressional campaign in 2014, Higbie became a spokesperson for Great America, a political action committee who advocates for Trump.

It was Higbie’s outspoken controversial comments in the years that he was a spokesman for the Great America PAC.

In 2016, during an interview on FOX News, Higbie promoted the registry of all Muslims in America, citing the WWII internment of Japanese-Americans as evidence.

If that wasn’t enough, Higbie publicly defended previous Trump advisor Steve Bannon from accusations of Anti-Semitism, misogyny, and racism.

2. Erik Prince – BUD/S Class: 188

erik prince - famous navy seal
Prince founded Blackwater, a private military contracting firm that was involved in some controversial incidents.

Erik Prince is probably the richest Navy SEAL to date, due to his creation of the highly profitable private contractor company Blackwater (now known as Academi).

Blackwater played a major role in the way warfare is conducted today.

Since the late 1990s, Blackwater has won governmental contracts to perform military operations overseas.

For over a decade, Blackwater was mostly unknown to civilians, until, in 2007, a group of Blackwater contractors were charged with the murder of 14 Iraqi civilians.

Prince denies the accusations, but over the years more incidents have surfaced shedding a negative light on the contracting group.

Other incidents include more questionable killings of Iraqi soldiers and civilians, misfiled reports, and a lawsuit by families of fallen Blackwater contractors who claim that the company refused to provide the details of their loved ones deaths.

1. Eric Greitens – BUD/S Class: 237

eric greitens - famous navy seals
Greitens was arrested and later resigned from his position as Governor of Missouri.

At first look, Eric Greitens is an extraordinary veteran. Greitens received his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Oxford where he was both a Rhodes and a Truman scholar.

After the military, Greitens created the veteran advocacy group: Mission Continues. While Greitens claimed he didn’t earn a salary, records show he received upwards of $200,000.

In 2016, Greitens became Governor of Missouri where he made huge tax cuts, proposed a stay of execution for a death row inmate due to forensic technology, and banned his employees from accepting gifts.

However, in 2018, a hair stylist of Greitins’ accused him of blackmail. Greitins confessed, but what the Missouri Governor did not confess to was that he tied up, blindfolded, undressed, and took pictures of her, threatening that if she ever told anyone about the affair, he’d release the photographs.

The accusations against Greitens led his arrest and resignation.

18 Most Famous Navy SEALS (and 3 Controversial Ones)
4.3 (86.67%) 3 vote[s]
Rob V.
Rob V.
Rob V. is the founder of OperationMilitaryKids.org. While he never actually served in the US Military, he has a passion for writing about military related topics. Born and raised in Woodbridge, NJ, he graduated from the New Jersey Institute Of Technology with an MBA in eCommerce. His hobbies include beach volleyball, target shooting, and lifting. Rob is also a commercially rated pilot with over 1,500 hours of flight time.

3 Replies to “18 Most Famous Navy SEALS (and 3 Controversial Ones)

  1. Probably would have put Ventura in the infamous/controversial section. Him continuing his lawsuit against Kyle’s widow and estate didn’t endear him to many.

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