Botwc Firsts

America’s First Black Navy SEAL is on a Mission to Diversify the Elite Unit

America’s First Black Navy SEAL is on a Mission to Diversify the Elite Unit

Photo Credit: Bill Tiernan

Photo Credit: Bill Tiernan

William Goines, 82, was one of the original U.S. Navy SEALs, a military team that was created by President John F. Kennedy in 1962, reports NBC News. 

It wasn’t until later in his career when Goines realized that he was the unit’s first African-American member. Now, more than 30 years after his 1987 retirement, the former master chief from the SEALs is on a mission to recruit more people of color to the unit. 

According to data from the U.S. Navy, of the more than 3,000 active duty SEALs today, just 1.3 percent are African-American and 8.8 percent are Hispanic. Goines says he believes part of the cause for these low numbers is the fact that there are very few swimming pools in minority neighborhoods, therefore leading to a low number of Black and brown children who know how to swim. He explains that training to become a Navy SEAL is very intense and it requires a lot of strength in the sea, air and on land.

“In my travels around, I found that a lot of predominantly Black schools don’t have swimming pools,” he told NBC News. “There are public swimming pools, but with very little instruction.”

Goines recalls his own experience of learning how to swim as a child in the racially segregated area of Lockland, Ohio. During that time, he says, a whistle would blow signaling a cue for people of color to leave the pool. As they exited, he said officials would drain the water and refill it for the white people to take a swim. That experience, Goines explains, is what fueled his desire to learn how to swim on his own, which eventually made him prepared for the SEALs. 

The 82-year-old, who travels up and down the East Coast speaking to young people about the military, says that over the span of his 30-year career, he jumped out of moving planes on stealth missions, swam for miles unaided and survived the trenches of Vietnam. 

“When I left the Navy, I had 640 free falls and 194 static line jumps,” he says. 

Today, his efforts to get more people who look like him into the Navy SEALs is slowly paying off as he helps to identify top candidates to send to the unit’s recruiting office. 

“The SEAL team is dangerous, I wouldn’t lie to you,” NBC News reports him telling ROTC students at Booker T. Washington High School in Norfolk, Virginia. “The instructors are there to see how much you could take and if little things can bother you, that’s going to affect your entire mission.”

Master Chief William Goines, Because of YOU!