The Pacific Command recognized Vietnam as a potential hot spot for conventional forces. At the beginning of 1962, the UDTs started hydrographic surveys and along with other branches of the US Military, the Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) was formed. In March 1962, SEALs were deployed to South Vietnam as advisers for the purpose of training Army of the Republic of Vietnam commandos in the same methods they were trained themselves.
The Central Intelligence Agency began using SEALs in covert operations in early 1963. The SEALs were involved in the CIA sponsored Phoenix Program where it targeted key North Vietnamese Army personnel and Vietcong sympathizers for capture and assassination.
The SEALs were initially deployed in and around Da Nang, training the South Vietnamese in combat diving, demolitions, and guerrilla/anti-guerrilla tactics. As the war continued, the SEALs found themselves positioned in the Rung Sat Special Zone where they were to disrupt the enemy supply and troop movements and in the Mekong Delta to fulfill riverine operations, fighting on the inland waterways.
Combat with the Viet Cong was direct. Unlike the conventional warfare methods of firing artillery into a coordinate location, the SEALs operated within inches of their targets. Into the late 1960s, the SEALs were successful in a new style of warfare, effective in anti-guerrilla and guerrilla actions. SEALs brought a personal war to the enemy in a previously safe area. In Vietnam, Navy SEAL kill ratio was extraordinary, with over 100 enemy dead for every SEAL casualty. The Viet Cong referred to them as “the men with green faces,” due to the camouflage face paint the SEALs wore during combat missions.
SEALs continued to make forays into North Vietnam and Laos, and covertly into Cambodia, controlled by the Studies and Observations Group. The SEALs from Team Two started a unique deployment of SEAL team members working alone with South Vietnamese Commandos (ARVN). In 1967, a SEAL unit named Detachment Bravo (Det Bravo) was formed to operate these mixed US and ARVN units, which were called South Vietnamese Provincial Reconnaissance Units (PRUs).
At the beginning of 1968, the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong orchestrated a major offensive against South Vietnam: the “Tet Offensive.” The North hoped it would prove to be America’s Dien Bien Phu, attempting to break the American public’s desire to continue the war. As propaganda, the Tet Offensive was successful in adding to the American protest of the Vietnam war. However, North Vietnam suffered tremendous casualties, and from a purely military standpoint, the Tet Offensive was a major disaster for the Communists.
By 1970, President Richard Nixon initiated a Plan of Vietnamization, which would remove the US from the Vietnam conflict and return the responsibility of defense back to the South Vietnamese. Conventional forces were being withdrawn; the last SEAL adviser left Vietnam in March 1973 and Vietnam fell to the communists in 1975. The SEALs were among the highest decorated units for their size in the war. SEALs were awarded two Navy Crosses, 42 Silver stars, 402 Bronze Stars, 2 Legions of Merit, 352 Commendation Medals, 3 Presidential Unit Citations and 3 Medals of Honors.