U.S. Navy wants to use more Washington state parks for stealth SEAL training

The Navy wants to step up special-operations training at state parks along Western Washington coastlines, releasing a proposal that would more than quintuple the number of sites.

US Navy wants to use more Washington state parks for stealth SEAL training
U.S. Navy SEALs jumping from a USAF C-17 Globemaster III  in a range of parachute insertion techniques including High Altitude Low Opening (HALO) (Picture source: U.S. Navy)

The Navy currently has a permit to conduct exercises at five state parks. The preferred option in a planning document calls for the possible use of 29 parks ranging from Cape Disappointment, at the state’s southwest tip, to Deception Pass in northwest Washington. The training would not interfere with normal park operations. In addition to the parks, the Navy is considering private lands as well as other public sites such as the Port of Anacortes, a Tacoma wastewater plant and a closed prison on McNeil Island. The training would not interfere with normal park operations.

This is part of a broader push in recent years by the Navy and Army to increase the scope of training activities in Washington, an effort that has stirred criticism in a state with a tradition of environmental and citizen activism.

Most of the Navy training would unfold at night, often involving submersible diving vessels and SEAL swimmers stealthily coming ashore and making their way to designated locations. That might be quite a spectacle for a camper walking a nighttime beach, but such glimpses of the SEALs are supposed to be rare.

“The whole point of this is to do it without being seen,” said Sheila Murray, a public-affairs deputy at Navy Region Northwest. Murray said the training will help prepare the SEALs for secret missions in hostile territory where getting spotted from shore could have deadly consequences.

“But to train in more parks, the Naval Special Warfare Command first needs permission from the state Parks and Recreation Commission. So far, the Navy has yet to submit a permit request for the commission to consider. “Their assessment just puts out all the various activities that they could want included”, said Virginia Painter, a spokeswoman for the states Parks and Recreation Commission. “That doesn’t mean that those activities are going to happen ... We would be concerned about anything that would affect the visitor’s experience, environment and safety.”

The SEALs — Sea, Air and Land Teams — are elite forces that have been involved in some of the military’s most high-stakes covert missions, such as the 2011 raid on a compound in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden.