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Navy SEALS Imposters Exposed by Ozarks Resident

Flag with Navy Seals Trident (Credit: U.S. Navy)

Steve Robinson knows what it’s like to be a Navy SEAL.  The Forsyth resident served in the special unit just as the Vietnam War was ending.  The last SEAL platoon to be deployed to Vietnam left the continental U.S. when Robinson was finishing his final training.  But he served with SEAL Team One in three deployable platoons--each time a deployment was scheduled it was curtailed.

He found himself a spot on the In-Shore, Undersea Warfare Group One where he taught SEAL security tactics and communication to reservists.  When he had the opportunity to volunteer for the Marine Mammal Program, he jumped at the chance.  The program, run by members of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal, or bomb squad, trained sea lions in the retrieval of missiles that had missed a target and fallen to the ocean floor.  They also trained dolphins to detect swimmers in the water who might be planning to blow up a dock facility and support facilities for the Brown Water Navy.

"And to mark their location by bumping into them and thus releasing a little buoy that would pop to the surface with a flashing light and a pinger and that sort of thing, and I volunteered to be swimmer target for the dolphins," he said.

That involved a 600 pound dolphin hitting him the small of the back at about ten miles per hour for at least an hour.  He swam nearly a dozen times as target and ended up in the hospital in a body cast—no longer able to perform the duties of a SEAL.

He was discharged from the Navy in November 1978 after nearly nine years on active duty.

Once Robinson retired from a career as blacksmith at Silver Dollar City and as owner of Moose Creek Forge Shop in Forsyth, he found a new calling.

He and his wife were at a Highland Games in Kentucky where Robinson was demonstrating his blacksmithing skills when a man walked by wearing a kilt and military shirt with a Navy SEAL trident emblem on it.

"And I curtailed what I was doing quickly, went over, informed him that I was a Navy SEAL, and I sure would like to meet a teammate--I hadn't talked with another SEAL for many many years.  He began to regale me with all of his accomplishments, and as soon as he started talking, it became clear to me that he was an imposter," he said.

Robinson got the man’s contact information and through an Internet search, found out that his suspicions were correct.

He wrote the man a letter, which resulted in an apology from the man and a promise to never do it again.

From that, Robinson was asked to join AuthentiSEALS, a group of SEALS answering inquiries online from people wanting to know if someone was telling the truth about his or her military history.

Since his earlier injuries had left him disabled and unable to work in the forge shop, he checked 20 to 50 claims each day and sometimes more from early 2001 until the end of 2012.

"It started out as two or three hours per day, and, within two years, I was working 14 to 18 hours a day, and my wife was calling herself an AuthentiSEAL widow," he said.

In 2002, Robinson collected information from the entire year before and turned it into a book, “No Guts, No Glory:  Unmasking Navy SEAL Imposters.”  It lists 97 case histories, which he describes as “the bizarre, the twisted, the comical, the most unbelievable things that you can imagine someone claiming.”

He’s outraged that people claim to be Navy SEALS when they’re not.

"It absolutely galls and appalls all of us that someone who has absolutely no military training would seek to use the reputation and the legacy and the honor, which our men earned with their sweat and blood, for their own personal gain," he said.

In January, 2002, Robinson fielded more than 1,182 unique names sent to him for verification—only three turned out to be real SEALS.  He says it’s a huge problem, and it’s getting worse.  But, he hopes that by posting names of imposters online, others will be discouraged from making similar false claims.

When evidence of fraud is found, it’s turned over to federal, state or local prosecutors.  And there are many websites, he says, that publicize the names of those who falsely claim to be veterans of military special units.

"In in effort to do what the Supreme Court called for and this is the focusing of public disdain and outcry and outrage so that these perpetrators might be embarrassed into ceasing their false claims," he said.

According to Robinson, it’s easy to submit a name of someone you suspect of being an imposter for inquiry—just go to and click on “report form.”  He says they don’t always get an answer but they do the best they can, and it takes time.  Your identity, he says, will not be disclosed to the person about whom you’re inquiring.

Robinson says he likes to think he’s made a difference in the war on imposters, and at the very least, he knows he’s pioneered the process.

He’s mostly retired from the search but still manages to get involved in a case from time to time.  He serves on the Board of Directors for the POW Network and its subsidiary, the Fake Warrior Project.

The man who took over his job, retired Navy SEAL Don Shipley, has taken what Robinson did to the next level—he posts videos each week on YouTube called “Phony SEAL of the Week,” telling about a person he caught lying about their military history.

For KSMU News, I’m Michele Skalicky.