Naming Naval Special Warfare's Bull Frog is a rare and unique tradition. US Navy photo.
Rear Adm. Dick Lyon served 41 years in the United States Navy, first with the Scouts & Raiders, then with the Underwater Demolitions Teams, and finally with the SEALs. He made history twice during his career. In 1974, he became the first SEAL to ever achieve the rank of admiral. Then, upon his retirement a decade later, he was anointed the SEAL Teams’ first Bull Frog — a distinction less than 20 others have earned since.
But what, exactly, is a Bull Frog?
Rear Adm. Keith B. Davids, commander, Naval Special Warfare Command, presents a representative trophy during the Bull Frog turnover at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado. “The Bull Frog” title is given to the longest continuously serving active-duty US Navy SEAL. NSW is the nation’s elite maritime special operations force that gains and maintains access and placement for the Fleet and Joint Force. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Alex Perlman.
Simply put, the Bull Frog title is bestowed upon the longest continuously serving active-duty SEAL. When a Bull Frog retires, the next longest-serving UDT/SEAL assumes his place. Naval Special Warfare Command honors this changing of the guard with a ceremony during which the new Bull Frog is presented with a trophy — a bronze bullfrog — that is engraved with the names and dates of service of all the SEALS who carried the title before him.
The Bull Frog name has its own history. A “Bull Ensign” — or the senior ensign of a ship’s wardroom — is responsible for “bullishly” mentoring junior ensigns. The term “Frog” is a reference to the SEAL’s predecessors, the UDT frogmen, who were active from the 1940s until the 1980s, when the last UDTs were transformed into SEAL Teams.
A zoomed-in view of the Bull Frog trophy, which has been presented to fewer than 20 UDT frogmen and Navy SEALs in history. Department of Defense photo by Staff Sgt. Sean K. Harp.
While Lyon was the first SEAL to be called Bull Frog, the title was informal until 2007, when Rear Adm. Joseph D. Kernan signed a mandate to make it official.
Some notable Bull Frogs who earned the title after Lyon include Adm. Eric T. Olsen, the eighth commander of US Special Operations Command; Adm. William McRaven, who famously commanded the raid to kill Usama Bin Laden; and Master Chief Rudy Bosch, a SEAL legend who served in Vietnam and later competed on the first season of CBS’ Survivor.
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Matt Fratus is a history staff writer for Coffee or Die. He prides himself on uncovering the most fascinating tales of history by sharing them through any means of engaging storytelling. He writes for his micro-blog @LateNightHistory on Instagram, where he shares the story behind the image. He is also the host of the Late Night History podcast. When not writing about history, Matt enjoys volunteering for One More Wave and rooting for Boston sports teams.