Some Tough Hombres

Originally posted 5/26/10

I haven't written yet about my trip to San Diego a couple of weeks ago yet, and a few words on the subject are overdue. I was able to visit the Navy SEALs training facility while there, and get a better sense of what it takes to be a SEAL, and what they do for our country.

Let me start by saying that I was woefully uninformed about the SEALs before making the trip -- most of my information came from watching Demi Moore in the movie "G.I. Jane", which I discovered, did illustrate some of the early training activity pretty well. The part about there being female SEALs, however, is pure fiction. None have ever been admitted to the training program, and after seeing what the men have to do, I can't imagine how any woman could pass the physical requirements.

Our group organizer handed each of us a copy of "The Finishing School", by Dick Couch. Anyone interested in getting a better understanding of the SEALs, beyond than the few comments I can present here, should buy a copy and read it.

I always considered myself to be made of a fairly stuff. While I was not the strongest, the fastest or the most nimble person, I've always had a strong ability to persevere. I could not, however, even in my best days, have ever even passed the entrance requirements for the SEALs program -- 100 push ups in 2 minutes, 100 sit-ups in 2 minutes, 20 pull ups, and a three mile run in 18 minutes (I certainly would have failed the last one!). From those standards, the SEAL candidates are expected to reimprove their physical fitness regularly throughout the program.

The BUD/S program has been extensively written about -- this is the one where they have "hell week" a five day period of team exercises and training where the candidates get to sleep a total of four hours. They told me that 70%-80% of the candidates fail to make it as SEALs, and of that 80% opt out on their own (the rest are injuries, or a few that don't have the capability to meet the standards, despite having the will). "hell week" is the time when the drop-out rate is at its greatest.

Beyond BUD/S the guys go through a series of schools that teach them land warfare, combat swimming, marksmanship, diving, and all kinds of other skills. Once they finish those schools (the 'Finishing School'), the are assigned to teams who deploy on a two year cycle. Each six month deployment is preceded by eighteen months of training. I get the impression that they train -- at full throttle -- continuously from the day they enroll in BUD/S until the day they retire.

We had dinner with a group of SEALs one of the evenings. These were experienced guys, who had been on deployment several times, and who had undoubtedly seen some action when deployed. At my table was a SEAL with a sniper rating, who had the following conversation with one of my friends.

"So, why did you decide to become a sniper?" asked the Nebraska guy.