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Navy SEALs 'make James Bond look like a wimp'

Greg E. Mathieson, Sr. / (C) 2012 Greg E. Mathieson Sr. /

A flying HUMMVEE is just one of many projects in development by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. It is featured in a chapter on the "Future of U.S. Naval Special Warfare" in a new book on the Navy SEALs by Greg Mathieson.

MIAMI – Since the U.S. Navy began its special Sea, Air, Land Teams, commonly known as the U.S. Navy SEALs, in 1962, little about them has been made public.

That was on purpose.

“Most of us who were career SEALs had the sense we didn’t need publicity,” said Jack Saunders, who was a U.S. Navy SEAL from 1965 to 1986.

Greg E. Mathieson, Sr. / (C) 2012 Greg E. Mathieson Sr. /

"Sleeping Beauty" submersible canoes being launched by OSS (Office of Strategic Services) Maritime Unit personnel, the forefathers of today's CIA and Navy SEAL Teams. Here the mini submersible is launched during training operations in the Pacific Theater during the 1940's.

To this day, those who were there at the beginning wish the SEALs were still a secret.

But since the raid on Osama bin Laden almost two years ago on May 2, 2011, interest in the secrets of the SEALs has only grown

For photographer Greg Mathieson, the timing could not be better.

Mathieson has spent the last six years photographing and researching the SEALs.

He recently published a definitive book on the SEALS with David Gatley titled, “United States Naval Special Warfare/U.S. Navy SEALs.” 

Greg E. Mathieson, Sr. / (C) 2012 Greg E. Mathieson Sr. /

Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewman (SWCC) move though rivers at a high rate of speed in specially designed Riverine boats which are outfitted with heavy weapons and mini-guns capable of firing 2,000-6,000 rounds a minute.

This is not an outsider’s peek inside the SEALs. Rather, Mathieson was given unique access to the inner workings of the secretive group because the Navy blessed his project.

President George W. Bush wrote an opening tribute for the book and former secretaries of the Navy John Lehman and Donald Winter contributed as well.

“No one has ever done a book like this on the SEALs before,” Mathieson said; previously reporters were only given access to training. “Until now, no one has ever been allowed to go with them on submarines, to Iraq with them in a hot zone, to Afghanistan.

Greg E. Mathieson, Sr. / (C) 2012 Greg E. Mathieson Sr. /

Navy SEALs undergo a lot of water training – including a program known as "drown proofing." In this part of training, students have their hands tied behind their backs and descend to the bottom of the pool to recover their face mask with in their teeth.

“I was able to go into their arms rooms. I saw all their toys. It’s like I walked into Q’s lab in a James Bond movie.”

Mathieson added that he wanted to clear up some of the SEALs' lone-wolf misconceptions.

“For every SEAL in the field, there are 20 support people -– including women. I don’t think people understand that.”

The book has been a long time in the making.

“I tried to start this [project] 30 years ago when I was in Honduras and I met a SEAL. I wrote a letter to Adm. George Worthington back then and was denied complete access. Fast forward and Adm. Worthington had retired, but we had stayed in touch. He opened doors because he saw this was a story that really should be told and with that, I had access.”

Much of the material Mathieson has uncovered was, at one time, classified intelligence. 

Greg E. Mathieson, Sr. / (C) 2012 Greg E. Mathieson Sr. /

Boxes of secret documents on the establishment and operations of the U.S. Navy SEALs had remained unopened and classified for some 50 years, until they were declassified for the book.

The book uncovers and details a plan, $20 million in the making so far, for a flying HUMMVEE that will allow SEALs to hover in a war zone and use that position to surprise the enemy. It is part of a U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency project that is still in development.

Mathieson used the Freedom of Information Act to uncover old secrets -- and with Worthington’s help, he knew what questions to ask.

“When I got the documents declassified on the SEALs from 1961 to 1962, I found that the U.S. Military was creating all sorts of devices.

“The most amazing was the SADM, Strategic Atomic Demolition Munition. This was a 160-pound atomic bomb that was the size of a basketball. It had an underwater casing that SEALs would tie to their chest, jump out of planes and then place wherever ordered. Think about it, this was long before micro-circuitry and the advances we take for granted today. It existed, but the SADM was never used.”

Greg E. Mathieson, Sr. / (C) 2012 Greg E. Mathieson Sr. /

Department of Defense Combat Correspondents during Desert Storm aboard the USS Curtz with SEAL Team 5 and helicopters of the 160th Night Stalkers. Greg Mathieson is seen with the tan shirt and a camera around his neck. NBC News Correspondent Kerry Sanders is seen in the blue striped shirt.

By way of full disclosure, I’ve known Mathieson since the Gulf War began in 1990 to remove Saddam Hussein's Iraqi troops from Kuwait. We met when we were working as Defense Department Combat Correspondents aboard the USS Curtz with SEAL Team 5 and helicopters of the 160th Night Stalkers.

Each night the SEALs would climb on a “little bird,” a helicopter that sounded no louder than a electric lawn mower. The SEALs would land in Kuwait, place laser tags at strategic locations and then leave. Those laser tags were then used to guide missiles to their targets.

Matheison explained that introduction to the SEALs piqued his interest.

Greg E. Mathieson, Sr. / (C) 2012 Greg E. Mathieson Sr. /

U.S. Naval Special Warfare Combatant-crew Crewman fires a 50 caliber machine gun from a Riverine boat in the darkness of night as seen through night vision goggles at a classified training location.

“I would run into SEALs everywhere I went, but no one really knew what they did. There are only 2,400 SEALs today. Back then, it was even smaller. I just wanted to know more. These guys make James Bond look like a wimp. Who wouldn’t want to know more?”

SEALs say little and share little, but somehow after decades of contact, the SEALs let Mathieson into their inner circle. Now he’s produced some of the most compelling images of their work that were secret -- until now.

Who will want to read and see this book?

“People who want to know about our greatest warriors,” said Mathieson. “What everyone does know is the SEALs are the guys who took down Osama bin Laden.” But he added, “These guys do so much that no one knows about. Now we get a look at them and their weapons.

Greg E. Mathieson, Sr. / (C) 2012 Greg E. Mathieson Sr. /

The first Hush Puppy pistol made exclusively for the U.S. Navy SEALs. The 9-mm pistol with sound suppressor was developed to quietly kill enemy guard dogs during night time operations in Vietnam.