A large, black torpedo glides toward the shore. Battery-powered, it barely hums. The sides crack open, and SCUBA divers emerge. Laden with gear, they swim and trudge to the beach, rifles trained inland, and sneak through the woods to their target.
These are the Navy SEALS of a special warfare group based out of Pearl Harbor, who could be coming soon to a beach near you.
The Navy held an open house May 2 in Poulsbo, Washington, to inform the public of its plans to expand the SEAL training area. Submersible insertion and extraction training has been conducted mostly invisibly here for 30 years, including since 2014 at Scenic Beach, Illahee and Blake Island state parks in Kitsap County, Washington. The underwater vehicles and their teams have been seen at the Tracyton and Evergreen-Rotary Park boat ramps.
Students in Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL class 279 participate in a surf passage exercise during the first phase of training at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado. (U.S. Navy photo by Kyle Gahlau)
They're looking for more options and diversity to meet different training objectives. It could be public or private property, with the owner's or manager's consent. The assessment area includes most of the Kitsap County shoreline, minus tribal lands. Areas will be eliminated through an environmental process or because they don't meet the Navy's needs, until 25 to 30 percent remains, said Anna Whalen, one of a small army of subject matter experts armed with educational posters at the North Kitsap High School commons.
"This area is a very advanced marine environment. There's nothing like it in the United States," said Chief Warrant Officer Daniel, training officer in charge of the group. Daniel asked that his last name be withheld for security reasons.
Local currents and tides provide unique challenges for the teams, particularly the pilot, who, along with the navigator, stays with the submersible. Up to six divers are launched. They go ashore on missions of up to 72 hours, observed by hidden trainers.
"We're looking to identify unique training sites to carry on with our undersea mission," Daniel said. "Every different training location provides a particular training skill set."
"The biggest thing we tell people is how low-impact this training is. The intent of the training is to stay stealth. We do not want to impact what happens out here to the public."
A sprinkling of residents moved from station to station May 2. Some expressed concerns. Others volunteered their beaches. Seventy-year-old Brooke Thompson of Bainbridge Island sees the expansion as a Navy overreach and a waste of taxpayer dollars.
U.S. Navy SEALs splash into the water from a combat rubber raiding craft attached to an 11-meter rigid hull inflatable boat, during a capabilities exercise, at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek - Fort Story. (U.S. Navy Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Gary L. Johnson III.)
"They've been doing this for 30 years," she said. "Why do they need to extend into our public lands? The Department of Defense has a lot of land in this area, so they really should be using that."
Mack Johnson, who lives near Bangor, also said the Navy has other places to conduct cold-water training. He is worried about residents "stumbling over commandos" and public parks being closed for training. Nationally, he prefers diplomacy over military actions.
"I think we could be creating enemies through the process of getting ready to defeat them," he said.
Further reading: How Elite Navy SEALs Are Made
Kim Highfield, a retired NCIS employee who owns 460 feet of Hood Canal waterfront, said he'd be honored for the SEALS to use the property.
"We love the Navy SEALS," he said. "We'd love to help them out if we could."
Byron Farber of Kingston, who represents the Navy League, supports the expansion.
"Their activities disturb the environment less than the average family having a day at the beach," he said. "People have to realize these (SEALS) are the ones standing between us and the bad guys of the world. Thank God they're here."
The environmental study will take about a year, followed by more public meetings, said Navy spokesman Sean Hughes. Input and suggestions on the proposed training activities and locations are welcome until May 18. Visit this link for more information.