The private Internet site for Navy SEALs lit up like the Fourth of July all day Monday as SEALs past and present exchanged attaboys over the killing of Osama bin Laden.
"The activity on our private website has been phenomenal," said Roger Guerra of Fort Worth, president of the North Texas UDT/SEAL Association. "The whole community is full of pride. I'm tickled to death it was teammates that did it."
The raid on the compound where bin Laden lived was reportedly led by SEALs, specifically SEAL Team 6, an elite group of operators that focuses on counterterrorism.
It wasn't clear Monday why the SEALs were chosen for the mission, as opposed to another unit within the Joint Special Operations Command. But Guerra, who served as a SEAL from 1968 to 1972, said that the modern teams' missions have little to do with the "frogmen" of old and that they are anything but an aquatic-only unit.
Because SEAL teams often operate in the shadows of the military structure on highly classified missions, this weekend's publicity is a bit uncomfortable, said Guerra and Dick Couch, a retired Navy captain and SEAL.
The SEALs have engaged with the American people more in recent years through the SEAL physical fitness challenge, where people can see whether they can handle what SEALs are required to do. An event in Keller in 2009 drew close to 600 people.
"It's a two-edged sword," Guerra said. "We're building the ranks, and if people don't know about you, how do you get to that supply of talented, smart, never-quit young men? So there's a certain amount of wanting everyone to know what we do, but there is also a certain amount of not wanting everyone to know what you do."
Couch said he suspects that most SEALs would rather not get public credit for killing bin Laden, out of concern of "payback" from bin Laden's allies.
"The guys, I'm sure, feel very good about their accomplishment, and they are delighted they were tapped for the mission," Couch said. "You live your whole life for that special of a mission. But they don't need a lot of public recognition for it. If they're having a beer with the guys and their commander or their peers say, 'Good job,' that's about all they need. I'm sure they would have liked it more low-key."
Couch also said that while the SEALs are in the limelight, he suspects that other services and other specialists helped, too.
"These are very complex missions," he said. "They're a part of it, but I can assure you that the assault element had a lot of other professionals."
Matt Kelm, a retired SEAL who lives in Oklahoma, said the bin Laden mission "is good for the image" and may help recruiting. But he said the SEALs are professionals who know it's not the end of what they do.
"You can't ask for anything better than what they did," he said. "It's a great catch. But things are not over."