Special Forces…and why they are so special: part 3

Navy SEALS

Today’s SEAL (Sea, Air, Land) teams trace their history to the first group of volunteers selected from the Naval Construction Battalions (SeaBees) in the spring of 1943. These volunteers were organized into special teams called Navy Combat Demolition Units (NCDUs). The units were tasked with reconnoitering and clearing beach obstacles for troops going ashore during amphibious landings and evolved into Combat Swimmer Reconnaissance Units.

The NCDUs distinguished themselves during World War II in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. In 1947, the Navy organized its first underwater offensive strike units. During the Korean Conflict, these Underwater Demolition Teams (UDTs) took part in the landing at Inchon as well as other missions, including demolition raids on bridges and tunnels accessible from the water. They also conducted limited minesweeping operations in harbors and rivers.

During the 1960s, each branch of the armed forces formed its own counterinsurgency force. The Navy utilized UDT personnel to form separate units called SEAL teams. January 1962 marked the commissioning of SEAL Team ONE in the Pacific Fleet and SEAL Team TWO in the Atlantic Fleet. These teams were developed to conduct unconventional warfare, counter-guerilla warfare, and clandestine operations in both blue and brown water environments.

In 1983, existing UDTs were re-designated as SEAL teams and/or SEAL Delivery Vehicle Teams and the requirement for hydrographic reconnaissance and underwater demolition became SEAL missions.

SEAL teams go through what is considered by some to be the toughest military training in the world. Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training is conducted at the Naval Special Warfare Center in Coronado. Students encounter obstacles that develop and test their stamina, leadership, and ability to work as a team.

The most important trait that distinguishes Navy SEALs from other Special Operations Groups is that SEALs are maritime special forces, as they strike from and return to the sea. SEALs take their name from the elements in and from which they operate. Their stealth and clandestine methods of operation allow them to conduct multiple missions against targets that larger forces cannot approach undetected.

Like the Army Special Forces Enlistment Program, the Navy has a program called SEAL Challenge, which provides an opportunity for applicants to enlist with a guarantee to try out to become a Navy SEAL.

Just to qualify to attend SEAL training, applicants must pass a Physical Fitness Screening which includes the following:

  • 500-yard swim using breast and/or sidestroke in under 12 minutes and 30 seconds (10-minute rest)
  • Perform a minimum of 42 push-ups in 2 minutes (2-minute rest)
  • Perform a minimum of 50 sit-ups in 2 minutes (2-minute rest)
  • Perform a minimum of 6 pull-ups (no time limit) (10-minute rest)
  • Run 1½ miles wearing boots and long pants in under 11 minutes and 30 seconds

The screening is just a warm-up for BUD/S. BUD/S is about six months long, and divided into three phases:

  • First Phase (Basic Conditioning): First Phase trains, develops, and assesses SEAL candidates in physical conditioning, water competency, teamwork, and mental tenacity. This phase is eight weeks long. Physical conditioning with running, swimming, and calisthenics grows harder as the weeks progress. Trainees participate in weekly four-mile timed runs in boots, timed obstacle courses, swim distances up to two miles wearing fins in the ocean, and learn small boat seamanship. The first three weeks of First Phase prepares candidates for the fourth week, better known as “Hell Week.” During this week, applicants participate in five and one-half days of continuous training, with a maximum of four hours sleep total. This week is designed as the ultimate test of one’s physical and mental motivation while in First Phase.
  • Second Phase (Diving): Diving Phase trains, develops, and qualifies SEAL candidates as competent basic combat swimmers. This phase is eight weeks long. During this period, physical training continues and becomes even more intensive. Second Phase concentrates on combat SCUBA. This is a skill that separates SEALs from all other Special Operations forces.
  • Third Phase (Land Warfare): Third Phase trains, develops and qualifies SEAL candidates in basic weapons, demolition, and small unit tactics. This phase of training is nine weeks in length. Physical training continues to become more strenuous as the run distance increases and the minimum passing times are lowered for the runs, swims, and obstacle course. Third Phase concentrates on teaching land navigation, small-unit tactics, patrolling techniques, rappelling, marksmanship, and military explosives. The final three and one-half weeks of the Third Phase are spent on San Clemente Island, where students apply all the techniques they have acquired during training.

Following Phase III, SEALS attend Army Jump School and then are assigned to a SEAL Team for an additional 6 to 12 months of on-the-job training.

SEAL West Coast Teams are based in San Diego, California, while the East Coast Teams make their home in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

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