SEAL training is known as the toughest and most demanding in world. Grueling physical challenges all day everyday test a man’s mental fortitude as he’s pushed to his limits.
To become a SEAL there are 4 distinct stages one must travel through. Passing through a draft, completing prep school, making it through BUD/S and finally qualifying as a SEAL in SEAL Qualification Training.
Once a man completes these stages of training he is then allowed to begin his career as a SEAL. I say begin because merely earning your Trident is not enough. The SEAL Teams have a famous saying “The only easy day was yesterday” which means a SEAL never stops earning his Trident. It’s something he must do everyday.
For those who want to be a SEAL they’ll find their first challenge is just getting themselves to Coronado California where SEAL training begins.
Stage I: The Draft
In an effort to curve the incredibly high attrition rates experienced during SEAL training NSW has implemented a draft. Today’s wannabe SEAL can no longer just sign up, pass a physical screening test and head off to BUD/S.
Today those who want to be a SEAL must tryout prior to receiving a contract. The candidate must first go through a Navy Recruiter and gain access to the SEAL draft by completing a pre-enlistment physical.
Once determined to physically fit for training he must then attend a weekly training session with “Dive Motivators” where he will be given the opportunity to earn a chance at going to BUD/S.
As soon as one of the Dive Motivators becomes convinced that the candidate has what it takes he will facilitate the candidates entry into Naval Special Warfare’s Preparatory School. At this point the candidate has now earned the opportunity to try and officially enter SEAL training.
Yes you read it correctly. At this point he has only earned the opportunity to be given an opportunity. The level of commitment one must have to become a SEAL begins being tested immediately as candidates are required to “Leap” towards SEAL training with no net to catch them if they miss.
Stage II: Naval Special Warfare Preparatory School
Originally this course title had me a bit confused. This is actually Navy Boot Camp with some very early mornings and some very late nights.
A candidate heads off to Great Lakes, Illinois. Once there he will be assigned to what’s called “The 800 Division”. What this means is that training begins early in the morning before normal Navy Boot Camp classes and training continues after. So besides just Boot Camp SEAL candidates will be participating in additional training and screening. The entire purpose is to improve the candidates physical ability to pass BUD/S, which, if the candidate progresses will be just a few months away.
At the end of the course the candidate is expected to pass a modified Physical Screening test that roughly doubles the distances required to get into BUD/S.
Here are the standards straight from the NSW Website:
1000-yard swim – with fins (20 minutes or under)
Push-ups: at least 70 (two-minute time limit)
Pull-ups: at least 10 (two-minute time limit)
Curl-ups: at least 60 (two-minute time limit)
Four-mile run – with shoes + pants (31 minutes or under)
As an ultimate test of one’s commitment the consequence for not making to or through training is the “Fleet” or simply put the regular Navy.
I’ll take pause here and make it clear that I have nothing against the regular Navy. Why it’s such an issue is because there is nothing close to being a SEAL in the Navy. Meaning that if you wanted to get dirty in the mud, go to combat, jump out of airplanes and conduct secret missions there is nothing similar to that represented in the conventional Navy.
As a result the candidates who get hurt, quit or don’t pass are removed from the SEAL pipeline and reclassified to a regular Navy job.
Stage III: You’re Going to BUD/S
BUD/S, the first but not the last of many obstacles one must overcome to become a SEAL. This course has been designed to test a man in many things, but ultimately it determines a man’s will to succeed under any and every condition.
When you first enter BUD/S there is roughly a three-week orientation phase. During this time candidates will be exposed to all of the elements of BUD/S training giving them the opportunity to acclimate and prepare for what’s to come.
This orientation phase is much like being in phase I of training. The only major difference is the tempo and intensity.
First Phase: Basic Conditioning Phase
For 7 weeks straight the BUD/S student will undergo constant physical conditioning. During this first phase of training each individual is observed carefully and independently. The purpose of this is to ensure that someone is fit both physically and mentally before he’s put in situations where he could hurt others.
Each week, and for the rest of one’s career, these men are expected to do more, go faster, swim further and get stronger. “The only easy day is yesterday” is a mantra adhered to from this point on.
Weekly the men of First Phase must pass an ever demanding timed run, a timed obstacle course, and a two-mile timed ocean swim. As a form of test and evaluation this may sound simple enough, but it’s important to keep in mind that these men are also undergoing upwards of 10 hours of physical training a day. Staying healthy and uninjured is as much a test as any timed evolution.
It is in the fourth week of training that Hell Week occurs. An incredibly physically and unfathomably mentally demanding five-and-a-half day evolution created by LT Draper Kauffman of the Naval Combat Demolition Units (NCDUs). Everyday consists of no less than 20 hours of physical training and a plethora of mental challenges. Within this week each man will have ran more than 200 miles with most of the miles being ran with a boat pounding on his head.
Though Hell Week is a “Team Evolution” in its structure, your always with your boat crew, it’s very much an individual accomplishment as each man is under the constant watch of the instructors as they work to weed out those who are not cutout for such punishing conditions.
Hell Week Ends and Training Begins
One of my most memorable moments of SEAL training was after Hell Week. Before one goes through Hell Week it’s likely that they would consider Hell Week the pinnacle of training.
Unfortunately, during the 5th week of training you realize that Hell Week is nothing more than preparation for the rest of training. Again… “The only easy day was yesterday”. Things are just getting started.
After the completion of Hell Week the class begins to learn how to conduct hydrographic surveys. Hours and hours of frigid underwater soundings reminding any would be SEAL of their heritage and the work of the Scouts and Raiders that got all of this started.
It is during this first phase of training where most of the Drop on Requests (DORs) occur. The mental and physical demands of training quickly help a man reconcile his desire to become a SEAL.
I’ve seen all types of people show up to SEAL training. Some have shown up out of shape and uncoordinated and some have shown up as incredible athletes. The only single thing I’ve ever witnessed that made a difference as to whether someone will make it or not is their level of commitment. This means if a man shows up resolved to keep going no matter what, regardless of any physical challenges, he will most likely make it through training.
Second Phase – Combat Diving
With over 10 weeks of training under your belt, a successful Hell Week and the transition to “Dive Phase” every candidate is feeling pretty good about things at this point. That is until the first day of second phase.
The first evolution of Second Phase is a conditioning drill that catches just about everybody off guard. The only true way to describe it is that you get your ass handed to you as the instructors remind you that you still have a long way to go. “The only easy day was yesterday”.
For the rest of the phase, assuming nobody messes up, you spend a bulk of your time in dive classes and underwater breathing pure oxygen from what’s called a “Rebreather” . The final hurdle in second phase is called “Pool comp”. It is here that the instructors rip your regulator out of your mouth, tie your hoses in knots and spin you around until near drowning occurs.
If you’re not comfortable in the water this will either fix that forever or terrify you for the rest of your life.
Third Phase – Land Warfare and Demolition Training
Your final seven weeks of training include basic weapons, land navigation, small unit tactics, rappelling, demolitions and marksmanship. It is only after being in training for now over 18 weeks that a SEAL candidate is trusted with weapons and explosives powerful enough to kill an entire class. You can begin to see why such a selection process is required on the front end.
The second half of Third phase is conducted on San Clemente Island (The rock) just next to Catalina in California and it lasts about 30 days. Well better said it last 30 days and 30 nights. The first quote you hear upon arrival is “Welcome to the rock where no one can hear you scream”.
I remember it was just about the 2nd week of training on the island when I realized that the instructors were truly committed to the mantra “The only easy day was yesterday”. With just a few hours a sleep each night the training and demand for performance never relented once.
After a successful Third Phase men have proved themselves committed to becoming a SEAL. Shortly after returning from the “Island” graduation takes place and it is only now that these dedicated men can attend SEAL Qualification Training (SQT) where they will have their chance to earn the coveted trident and be called a SEAL.
STAGE IV: SEAL Qualification Training (SQT). Earning your trident.
SEAL Qualification Training is much like a mini version of a SEAL Platoon’s workup for deployment. Because of the independent and dangerous nature of SEAL missions all candidates undergo survival, evasion, resistance and escape (SERE) training prior to completing SQT.
During SQT candidates undergo extensive training in weapons, small unit tactics, ambushes, cold weather training, small boat operations, demolitions, and extensive land navigation.
Also during SQT candidates will become qualified in static-line and freefall parachuting. The freefall program includes both High Altitude Low Opening (HALO) and High Altitude High Opening (HAHO).
This “Fourth Stage” is the final stage one goes through and upon graduation the SEAL Trident is awarded. It is now that a man can enter a SEAL team, as a new guy, and begin to prove himself as an operator.
Again… “The only easy day was yesterday”