The United States Navy Sea, Air and Land Teams, commonly known as Navy SEAL, are America’s premier special operations forces. In recent years they gained widespread media coverage after SEAL Team Six, the unit specialising in counter-terrorism, eliminated Osama Bin Laden. We take a look at what it takes to become a member of this elite fighting force.
An Elite Group
The Navy SEAL course is extremely popular. Almost half of all US Navy recruits express an interest in joining the SEALs but the vast majority do not meet the required standard.
They must pass several mental and physical tests before gaining acceptance to the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEALs (BUD/S) training course, the first phase of the Navy SEAL training course proper.
The mental tests assess attributes such as mental sharpness, ability to learn, maturity and mental resilience.
The physical test consists of multiple challenges including a 450-metre swim and 50 sit-ups within a time limit.
It is reported that only 35% make it through this screening phase.
First Step of Many
Successful candidates move on to the first part of what will be up to two and a half years of Navy SEAL training.
As well as learning skills, such as diving and land warfare, trainees face timed physical conditioning tests of increasing difficulty every week. These include six-kilometre runs wearing boots and three-kilometre swims in the ocean wearing fins.
The training is both mentally and physically gruelling. The goal is to prepare future SEALs for the extreme conditions they will face on missions by pushing them past their limits.
BUD/S lasts for 24 weeks, but the defining event happens early on, in the third week. The infamous “Hell Week”.
Hell Week’s brutality is legendary. It is the most arduous training regime in the US military. Its purpose is to separate the best from the rest – and to save the US military from wasting further expensive training.
Trainees are tested in physical endurance, mental toughness, cold and pain tolerance, teamwork, the ability to perform under severe physical and mental stress, and sleep deprivation.
Over five and a half days, trainees are in constant motion, doing sit-ups, push-ups, swimming, running, paddling, carrying boats and much, much more. All the while battling the elements – soaking wet, covered in mud, chafed by sand and whipped by cold ocean winds.
They also get less than four hours of sleep a night. Some trainees are so exhausted they fall asleep while eating meals, while others fall asleep paddling and have to be saved from the water by their comrades.
During this whole time, instructors with megaphones try and coax the trainees into quitting. They try to break their mental resolve by mimicking the internal voice that throws their actions and will into doubt. They even tempt the trainees to give up by offering them coffee and doughnuts.
No surprise that the average pass rate for Hell Week is only 25%. However, the overwhelming majority of those who survive the tortuous endurance test go on to become fully fledged Navy SEALs.
A Gold Standard
US Navy SEALs are recognised and respected worldwide as an elite group. They have influenced the formation and training of special operations forces in multiple countries.
In Southeast Asia alone, Thai Navy SEALs, Philippine Naval Special Warfare Group and Singapore Commandos have all trained with or modelled themselves on US Navy SEALs. Given their high standards and impressive history, it is easy to see why.