Richard Marcinko

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Richard Marcinko, who has died at the age of 81, made his mark on the US military as founding commander of Seal Team Six, one of America’s elite special forces units which would later carry out a deadly raid against Osama Bin Laden.

A Vietnam War veteran, he led the group for its first three years, and was awarded more than 30 medals and citations during his career with the US Navy.

His direct and abrasive leadership style brought great success but often caused conflict with superiors. Some accused him of encouraging a reckless, “bad boy” culture at Seal Team Six.

Off the battlefield, Marcinko faced legal battles and was briefly jailed for defrauding the US government.

Despite this, he played a vital role in boosting America’s counter-terrorism capabilities at the tail end of the Cold War.

His larger-than-life personality, and his autobiography Rogue Warrior, helped to cement Seal Team Six’s place in military folklore and popular culture.

Richard Marcinko

‘I’m good at war’

Marcinko was born in 1940 in Lansford, a small mining town in Pennsylvania.

His parents were immigrants from Slovakia and Herzegovina, and all the men in his family were miners, Marcinko recalled in Rogue Warrior.

“Life was simple and life was hard, and I guess some of them might have wanted to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, but most were too poor to buy boots,” he wrote.

After dropping out of high school, Marcinko tried to enlist in the US Marines but was rejected because he hadn’t received a high school diploma.

After enlisting in the US Navy at 18, he was deployed in 1967 to Vietnam with Seal Team Two as a commissioned officer.

During the conflict, Marcinko was decorated with the Vietnamese Cross for Gallantry and won the first of four Bronze Stars.

He said in his autobiography that the North Vietnamese had placed a bounty on his head, such was his success on the battlefield.

“I’m good at war,” he once told People Magazine. “Even in Vietnam, the system kept me from hunting and killing as many of the enemy as I would have liked.”

Bar fights and kidnapped admirals

Richard Marcinko

Following two tours in Vietnam, and assignments in the US and Cambodia, Marcinko was promoted to command his old unit, Seal Team Two, from 1974-76.

In 1980, the US launched a failed operation – dubbed Eagle Claw – to rescue 53 Americans taken hostage at the country’s embassy in Iran.

In light of the debacle, Marcinko was chosen to command a new, dedicated counter-terrorism unit for the navy.

Only two Seal (Sea, Air, and Land) teams existed at the time, and he called his new unit Seal Team Six, hoping to confuse enemy nations about the size of the force.

He trained the new unit hard, claiming that they had a larger allowance for ammunition than the entire US Marine Corps.

He also gained a reputation for flouting the rules, and garnered a maverick image for Seal Team Six within the military community.

In Rogue Warrior, he wrote that drinking together – and sometimes getting into bar fights – was important for team cohesion.

But the team’s “bad boy” culture was not welcomed by everyone in the military, including William McRaven (now an admiral), who joined Seal Team Six as a junior officer and would later lead the raid against Bin Laden in 2011.

The officer complained of difficulties with keeping his troops in line and was temporarily pushed out of the unit.

Despite these concerns, Marcinko was lauded for his work and led the team for three years, at a time when two-year commands were the norm.

After his time with Seal Team Six, he was tapped by the navy to create another special unit, named Red Cell, to test security at military and intelligence sites.

The team managed to plant bombs near Air Force One and infiltrate a nuclear submarine base among other things.

‘An unrelenting drive for success’

Marcinko retired from the Navy in 1989, and later faced legal troubles that he attributed to his success with Red Cell.

In 1990 he was convicted of defrauding the government over contracts for hand grenades. He was initially given a 21-month prison sentence, but was released after 15 months.

In 1992 he told broadcaster CBS he’d been “singled out” because his Red Cell exploits had embarrassed US Navy officials.

Admiral James Lyons – who had chosen Marcinko to lead Red Cell – denied there was any vendetta. He told People Magazine that “the general take was that Red Cell was a good thing”, and said Marcinko could “get carried away”.

Rogue Warrior sold millions of copies. Marcinko also co-wrote several works of military fiction, ran a private security firm, hosted a radio talk show and served as a consultant for movies and TV shows, including 24.

A first-person shooter video game named Rogue Warrior was released in 2009, with Marcinko as its protagonist, voiced by actor Mickey Rourke. It was widely slated by critics as one of the worst games ever made.

Though a polarizing character in some circles, Marcinko left an undeniable mark on the US military and its counter-terrorism capabilities.

“While we had some disagreements… I always respected his boldness, his ingenuity and his unrelenting drive for success,” Admiral McRaven told the New York Times. “I hope he will be remembered for his numerous contributions to the Seal community.”

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