By PAUL SIMS
Before graduating from the U.S. Air Force Academy, Starkville native Steve Van Landingham chose to go in a different direction.
“I decided (the Air Force) might not be as challenging as I’d hoped,” he said, adding he looked for a more demanding job in general and settled on the Navy.
While he still earned a degree in operations research from the Air Force Academy, he was commissioned into the Navy as an ensign in May 1992.
Earlier this month, Van Landingham took command of SEAL Team Three, the first team he was assigned to after completing his BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition / SEAL) training in 1993. The team is one of eight such groups.
The commander’s responsibility is “to train SEALs for deployment, then take them on deployment,” Van Landingham said.
“ ... Each branch of the military focuses on a different skill set, although largely at least between the Army and the Navy we all conduct the same missions,” he said. “SEALs are better at kinetic operations as a whole,” Van Landingham said, clarifying that kinetic operations are such actions as “assaults, take downs on ships, structures and buildings.” Special Forces in the Army are trained for foreign internal defense, teaching a country and its military how to “build infrastructure and basic soldering skills so they can secure themselves,” he said.
These approaches were the case before Sept. 11, 2001.
Since then, “we’ve all kind of migrated over to ... FID; ... so we’re working with their militaries,
training them to be better, training them to be more organized and basically run themselves,” Van Landingham said.
SEAL Team Three, based in the San Diego, Calif. area, is one of four teams on the West Coast. Four teams are located on the East Coast.
The team consists of about 200 personnel in both SEAL and support roles.
His first assignment as a SEAL was as an assistant platoon commander in SEAL Team Three, completing one deployment. Then, he went on to Naval Postgraduate School, where he earned a master’s degree in special operations/low intensity conflict in December 1997.
He moved on to SEAL Team Two, deploying with the unit as a platoon commander.
In 2001, he reported to Naval Special Warfare Deployment Group, serving as an element leader on several deployments. Then, he SEAL Team Eight in 2004, deploying as a troop commander.
He later served as a deputy commander of the Naval Special Warfare Task Group in an area of operations.
In 2007, Van Landingham was assigned to the Joint Special Operations Command, where he worked to develop exercises to examine aspects of Joint Special Operations war-fighting. He made three deployments.
In 2009, he joined Naval Special Warfare Group One, where he served as the operations officer before deploying as the deputy commander of a joint special operations task force.
Van Landingham holds the rank of commander, the equivalent in other military branches of a lieutenant colonel. The Starkville native is a Starkville High School graduate. His grandfather, J.B. Van Landingham, is a 1938 Naval Academy graduate.
He and his wife Wendy have four children.
In discussing his upbringing in Starkville, Van Landingham said: “Starkville and SHS gave me all the opportunities that basically established the foundation of who I became. I wouldn’t have changed anything. Starkville was great for a lot of different opportunities I was able to do and I hope my kids are able to grow up in an environment like that.”