DeSantis said he deployed ‘alongside’ Navy SEALs, not that he was one himself

The claim: Ron DeSantis said he was a Navy SEAL

An Aug. 25 Instagram post (direct link, archive link) shows a photo of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis with a scowl on his face.

“Ron DeSantis says he was a Navy SEAL,” reads part of the text in the image. “He was NOT.”

The post received more than 1,000 likes in 11 days.

Follow us on Facebook! Like our page to get updates throughout the day on our latest debunks

Our rating: False

There is no record of DeSantis claiming to be a Navy SEAL. During the Aug. 23 Republican presidential debate, he said he “was assigned with” and “deployed to Iraq alongside” SEALs – not that he was one himself.

DeSantis referred to SEALs twice during debate

The Instagram post quotes a post on X, formerly Twitter, from Tristan Snell, the former assistant attorney general in New York.

Snell made the post 16 minutes after the Aug. 23 Republican primary debate ended, timing that strongly suggests it referred to comments DeSantis, a presidential hopeful, made during the debate. USA TODAY reached out to Snell for clarification but did not immediately receive a response.

Fact check: Video edited to show woman telling Ron DeSantis he’ll never be president

DeSantis brought up SEALs twice during the debate but did not claim to be one himself in either instance.

The first mention came in response to a question about Jan. 6, 2021, and former Vice President Mike Pence’s refusal to overturn President Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election despite pressure from then-President Donald Trump. DeSantis said talking about the Capitol riots distracts from the upcoming election and favors Democrats.

“I learned in the military – I was assigned with U.S. Navy SEALs in Iraq – that you focus on the mission above all else,” he said. “You can’t get distracted. So Republicans, we’ve got to look forward and we’ve got to make sure that we’re bringing the message that can win in November 2024.”

He also referenced the SEALs while answering a question about mandatory military service. He argued it should be voluntary.

“I’m somebody that volunteered to serve, inspired by Sept. 11, and I deployed to Iraq alongside U.S. Navy SEALs in places like Fallujah, Ramadi,” DeSantis said. “And it’s something that I think has taught me, when you go in that type of environment, anything you have, your personal agenda, you check it at the door.”

DeSantis enlisted in the Navy during his second year at Harvard Law School in 2004 and served as a Navy lawyer in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

DeSantis served with a SEAL team in Iraq from 2007 to 2008 as a senior legal adviser to Navy Capt. Dane Thorleifson, the commander of the Special Operations Task Force-West in Fallujah, The Miami Herald reported in 2018.

His job there was to ensure missions were planned in accordance with the law and that special forces abided by U.S. and international rules. This included ensuring the humane treatment of captured enemies, the Herald reported.

There are no credible news reports about DeSantis claiming to be a Navy SEAL at any other time.

DeSantis campaign spokesperson Andrew Romeo declined to comment.

USA TODAY reached out to the user who shared the post but did not immediately receive a response.

Our fact-check sources:

  • Fox News (YouTube), Aug. 23, DeSantis: I got no beef with Mike Pence!

  • Rev. Aug. 24, Fox News Republican Presidential Primary Debate

  • Rev, Aug. 24, Fox News Republican Presidential Primary Debate Transcript

  • The Miami Herald, Sept. 21, 2018, Ron DeSantis touts his military record, but as a lawyer what did he do in Iraq?

  • Tampa Bay Times, March 7, What’s known about Ron DeSantis’ time in the Navy at Guantanamo Bay

Thank you for supporting our journalism. You can subscribe to our print edition, ad-free app or e-newspaper here.

Our fact-check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: No, DeSantis did not claim during GOP debate to be a SEAL | Fact check

Leave a Comment