The distinctive, all-cotton, almost-too-short-for-comfort shorts have been the iconic symbol of Naval Special Warfare since World War II. And despite six decades of advancements in garment technology, present-day SEAL candidates are issued exactly the same shorts as those issued to the Navy's original Frogmen who manned the first Underwater Demolition Teams.
Curious as to why the phenomenon of UDT shorts persists, I called the Navy UDT-SEAL Museum in Fort Pierce, Florida for insights. The authority on all things Frogman, who better to explain the staying power of this military relic?
I will have to research this, answered the Museum's curator when asked why the UDT short endures. Traditions in uniforms is not something we normally focus on.
In fairness, she had never likely been posed this question. But, like me, she was curious. My call prompted the curator to phone a World War II-era Frogman for an explanation.
From him, she learned the shorts were issued by the Navy to all UDT members, varying slightly in fabric texture and color according to the unique manufacturer. More interesting was the fact that UDT shorts were issued only to Frogmen. Servicemen from no other warfare community received the garment in their sea bags.
The spirit of this tradition lives to the present day. I thought about trying on a pair of UDT shorts for a run down the beach and quick swim in the surf, but my own Naval heritage prevented me. I was an Aviator, not a SEAL. Just as I would resent a Frogman's wearing a leather flight jacket, so, too, would I expect a SEAL not to appreciate my running around in the exclusive threads of his community.
Of course, this can all be taken too far. For those turning laps in the pool at their local YMCA, oblivious to the Navy's inter-community norms, UDT shorts are a source of motivation, because they represent they idea of the Frogman. Nothing more. And, strangely, some people just think they're cool.
Whatever the case, UDT shorts endure as the tangible legacy and symbol of our nation's most elite fighting force. If you rank among the thousands who find inspiration in the spirit of Naval Special Warfare, pick up a pair today.