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How To Check If Someone Was A Navy SEAL

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 6 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.

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

1.  Contact Don Shipley

If you’re looking to find out 100% if someone was a SEAL or not, Don Shipley is your guy.

don shipley - famous navy seal
Don Shipley is a retired Navy SEAL with access to the SEAL database.

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”.

This is what you see if you try and visit Don Shipleys former Youtube Channel.

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 Shipleys 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, as well as real-world operations.

Lar V Draeger rebreather is NOT a weapon. Image: Wikimedia.org

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 ArticleNavy 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.

buds bell
Bell at BUD/S

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.

bell in front of first phase office at BUDS

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.

Answer?

It’s pretty simple.  From the front doors of the Phil H. Bucklew center, you go through 2 sets of sliding 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.

where is the bell on the BUDS compound

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 ArticleBUD/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.

5.  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 where helmets that have their last name and BUD/S class stenciled on them.

helmets at buds

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.

pre hell week vs post hell week

Once they pass Hell Week, they are given brown T-Shirts.

Related ArticleNavy SEAL Ranks And Pay: How Much Do SEALS Make Anyway?

6. 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”.

sample foia request letter
A sample FOIA request form.

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.

7.  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.

where the SEAL Teams are located

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.

Also B.S….

SEALs are not stationed on ships.

8.  He’s The Guy That Shot Bin Laden

If a guy claiming to be a SEAL says he was the one who shot 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.

the man who shot bin laden
Rob O’Neill

Was he the one that actually fired the fatal shot?

Who knows…

But for the purposes of this article, if he’s claiming he shot UBL, you can be sure it’s B.S.

9. 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 Article6 Best Navy SEAL Documentaries Of All Time

10. He Served On SEAL Team 9

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 likely lying to you.

How To NOT Check 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.

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.

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…

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.

Conclusion

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.

The next time you come across someone claiming to be a SEAL, use some of the tips on this page to confirm your suspicions.

Related articles:

If you’ve make it this far, you might want to check out some of our other content regarding SEALs:

Navy SEAL Copypasta (Clean Version)

Navy SEAL Cadence: A List Of The 10 Most Popular SEAL Running Cadences

Navy SEAL Creed / Ethos

Delta Force vs. Navy SEALs: Differences In Training, Selection, and More

[kkstarratings]

References

https://www.draeger.com/en-us_us/Federal-Government/Applications/Military/Military-Special-Operations/Military-Diving

https://www.foia.gov/about.html

Navy Medal Of Honor, Navy Cross, and Silver Star recipients: https://valor.defense.gov/

National Personnel Records Center Fire

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.

16 Replies to “How To Check If Someone Was A Navy SEAL

  1. Very informative. Thanks for publishing. My son in law’s father served in Vietnam as a UDT. Doesn’t talk much about it. Was awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star. Robert Ray Alexander. Thanks to these guys that served. I myself went to college at the Citadel and was in the Naval Science program in 1977 and many instructors were war vets.

    1. Hey Kurt,
      I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there’s a good chance he’s a phony SEAL. I just looked up his name in the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor, which lists all Purple Heart recipients since World War 1. The only Robert Alexander that served in the Navy is a Robert Dean Alexander, who was awarded the purple heart for his actions in World War 2.

      I cross checked it with another database (the Hall of Valor project) and the only two Robert Alexanders that received any commendations during the Vietnam War were a Robert Minter Alexander (Air Force) and a Robert Bruce Alexander (Marine Corps).

      Not saying with 100% certainty that he isn’t what he says he is, but just thought you should be aware.

      And thank you for your service, sir.

      1. Rob V., you need to take a minute and think carefully about what you are doing, here.

        The National Purple Heart Hall of Honor absolutely does not list “all Purple Hearts since World War 1.” The site explicitly says, “if you did not receive a search result for the person you entered, this likely means that the person has not been enrolled in the Roll of Honor. Enrollment is voluntary as there is no comprehensive list of Purple Heart recipients…”

        Similarly, the Hall of Valor project explicitly says, “We are in the midst of a multi-year effort to identify recipients of Silver Star and below. For these awards, absence of a name should not be considered evidence that an individual did not receive an award. Track our progress on our Awards page.”

        Without reliable evidence, you just publicly suggested that Mr. Robert Ray Alexander is “likely” a lifelong inveterate liar and a fraud. Think about that.

        1. Right, which is why I said “Not saying with 100% certainty that he isn’t what he says he is, but just thought you should be aware.” On a related note, did you know that the FBI says there are 1,000 Fake Navy SEALs for every real one? There’s an epidemic of phony SEALs in this country, and the odds are stacked in my favor that my “suggestion” is likely right.

          In fact, those odds are 1,000 to 1 in my favor.

          However, you are right about the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor and Hall of Valor project, I will get that changed up shortly.

          1. Just FYI, there are actually also foreign enrollment BUD/S graduates, I don’t think those guys are listed in the database.

          2. Hey Owl,
            Anyone who graduated from BUD/S, regardless of whether or not they were / are foreign enrolees, will be listed in the database.

            Rob V.

  2. There is a dog trainer in Brooklyn NY named Charles Henderson who always states he was in BUDs in 1987 Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training Class 146 Special Warfare
    Also Navy Combat Search and Rescue Swimmer School 1988
    He used to years back always write “I received training at Navy SEALs BUD training school…” He would kind of infer that he was a SEAL. Some people started making comments and stating they felt he was a BS artist. He now just lists the above listed Navy Search and Rescue training and BUDs as experience. Never says he completed or became a SEAL. He is a shameless self promoter, exaggerator and at times outright liar about certain claims. I just want to know if he did attend these trainings and did he become a SEAL also. He is a rather portly rotund guy. I just can’t see it. Also claims he played football at Columbia University in 1992-1996.

  3. There is just one thing wrong with this format or tool of verification. The Phonies can look at it too.
    Food for thought.

    1. Yeah, I thought of that when I was writing the article, and it crossed my mind again just the other day. I feel like it’s better to have the info out there and take the chance vs. keeping it under wraps. Additionally, there’s no way the phonies are going to pull a fast one on Don Shipley.

      If you take nothing else away from this article, when in doubt, contact him.

      1. I’ve contacted Mr Shipley regarding my ex and received an email back stating that he was NOT a SEAL as he has always claimed. Are there other resources where I can check his claims without spending money other than the FOIA? I’m ill and unemployed, so I can’t really afford it, but I’m also sick of him using his claims to receive accolades and perks from people with stars in their eyes when he boasts about it.

        1. Hey Delana,
          Sorry for the late reply! If Don said he wasn’t a SEAL, then he wasn’t a SEAL. There really isn’t anything else you need to do or check otherwise. Don should have sent you a letter of verification, which is as good as gold.

          Rob V.

          1. Yeah I think all you need to do is ask him to send you one and he will. Just email him back and tell him you’d like a letter of verification.

  4. I despise these fake SEALS. I had the privilege to be stationed with and work alongside Navy SEALS back in the early to mid 80s. I was part of a 3 man boat crew for SEAFOX, one of the many different spec war boats within the boat units (now called boat teams). I requested to serve there when i left Iceland Navcomm station Keflavik. Great guys. Detached with them to the Caribbean for a year. Went through SERE training, had a great time. When i tell friends or folks who ask where i was stationed in the Navy, Ill bring up the spec war community. I always go out of my way to say i was NOT a SEAL but worked with and for them. Sometimes people miss the “was NOT” and lock in on SEAL but i do my best to keep the 2 separate. I could never embarrass myself or the Teams by trying to say i was a SEAL. i can’t imagine those who try to convince folks that they were one. Go get em Don.

  5. A lot of this is correct, however in 1972 we wore green t-shirts, not white. The classes got t-shirts later than the early 70’s. And I never paid attention to the name of BUD/S. I was in class 68 and graduated with class 69, and named Honor graduate. Just info to let you know I have personal knowledge

    1. You are correct, Craig. And for anyone else doubting if Craig is a real SEAL, I just verified him with Don Shipley. He’s legit.

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