Virginia city wants to honour SEALs - but doesn't know how

Virginia city wants to honour SEALs - but doesn't know howWashington, May 4 : Virginia Beach Mayor Wills Sessoms is thrilled that a navy SEALs unit based just outside his city killed Osama bin Laden. He wants to honour the special force operatives -- but has no idea who the SEALs were, or how to find them.

The unit that carried out the daring raid on bin Laden's compound in Pakistan Sunday is renowned for its secrecy, reports the Washington Post.

"This community is extremely proud. I'd like to come up with a way to have a city celebration of some kind. If we can... but it's challenging," said Sessoms, who wants to include the SEALs in the city's Patriotic Festival in June.

The Naval Special Warfare Development Group - long known as SEAL Team Six - was formed in 1980 after failed attempts to rescue US hostages from Iran.

The elite counterterrorism unit operates from a military facility in Dam Neck, just outside Virginia Beach. There are six other groups, based elsewhere, and a total of 2,300 active-duty SEAL officers, reports the Post.

Other Virginia politicians overlooked such details. Former Republican senator and current candidate George Allen tweeted: "As Virginians were hit at the Pentagon on 9-11 & USS Cole, it is appropriate that a VA-based SEAL Team brought justice directly to #Osama."

What makes SEALs special is the gruelling training they endure. About 200 candidates are in each Basic Underwater Demolition class. By the end, about 30-35 remain.

And once they become SEALs, the training never ends, a former SEAL commando said. The men who took out bin Laden spent weeks rehearsing the raid on a replica of the compound, as well as rehearsing different potential scenarios - including taking bin Laden alive.

Former SEAL Mark Divine said the experience is so unique that it can make it harder to relate to someone who doesn't spend their days jumping out of planes or swimming two miles in frigid waters in total darkness.

Virginia Beach residents refer to them as "team guys".

"You don't hardly know they are there unless they are your neighbour," Sessoms said.

Locals know how to spot a SEAL especially when they venture out among civilians.

"You can kind of tell. They're extremely fit. They all kind of dress in a similar way, wear the same type of sunglasses," Divine said. "You can start to notice these guys by the way they carry themselves."

The burden their work places on families is also unique, Sessoms said. Members' wives and children "don't know when they are leaving and where they are, when they are gone and when they are coming home. It's all quiet and hidden".

SEAL families have a support group, the Virginia Beach-based Navy SEAL Foundation, which has seen its donations surge since bin Laden's death.

Director of development David Guernsey said the foundation received $6,000 in donations on Monday alone and that many online donations came with notes attached that thanked the SEALs for their services.(IANS)