US Navy Special Warfare Operators believed to be from Naval Special Warfare Group One, Coronado, CA, interrogate an enemy combatant following a direct action mission conducted in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, IVO Baghdad, Iraq, May 2003.
In keeping with Red Squadron’s appropriation of Native American culture, Howard came up with the idea to bestow 14-inch hatchets on each SEAL who had 1 year of service in the squadron. The hatchets, paid for by private donations, were custom-made by Daniel Winkler who designed several of the period tomahawks and knives used in the movie “The Last of the Mohicans.” The hatchets were stamped with a Native American warrior in a headdress and crossed tomahawks.
At first the hatchets appeared to be merely symbolic, because such heavy, awkward weapons had no place in the gear of a special operator. There’s no military purpose for it, someone said.
For some men, however, the hatchets soon became more than symbolic as they were used at times to hack dead fighters in Iraq and Afghanistan. Others used them to kill militants in hand-to-hand combat.
During the first deployments in both Iraq and Afghanistan, it was common practice to take fingers, scalp, or skin from slain enemy combatants for ID purposes. One former SEAL Team 6 leader told me that he feared the practice would lead to members of the unit using the DNA samples as an excuse to mutilate and desecrate the dead. By 2007, when Howard and Red Squadron showed up with their hatchets in Iraq, internal reports of operators using the weapons to hack dead and dying militants were provided to both the commanding officer of SEAL Team 6 at that time and his deputy.
Howard rallied his SEALs and others before missions and deployments by telling them to “bloody the hatchet.” One SEAL said that Howard’s words were meant to be inspirational, like those of a coach, and were not an order to use the hatchets to commit war crimes. Others were much more critical. Howard was often heard asking his operators whether they’d gotten “blood on your hatchet” when they returned from a deployment.-- The Intercept, online article, Jan 2017