SEAL Training Hell Week Information

US Navy SEAL maritime operations qualification training exercise
U.S. Navy / Handout / Getty Images News / Getty Images

Of all the battles a SEAL (Sea, Air, Land) must fight, none is more important than their first– the battle of mind over body.

The voice was back. That small, self-doubting messenger returned to pitch its familiar monologue, “This is BS! Why are you putting yourself through this? You are never gonna make it all the way, so quit now and call it a day!”

Basic Underwater Demolitions and SEAL (BUD/S) instructors know the human machine is capable of amazing endurance even in the harshest of conditions and environments, but they also know the mind must be made to ignore the pleading of the body.

As their name suggests, SEALs are trained to conduct operations in any arena, and successful candidates spend 18 to 24 months in training before being assigned to teams. Every step is a challenge, and each test is progressively more difficult. On average, 70 percent of candidates never make it past Phase One.

For most, the greatest challenge lies in Week 4 of Phase One. A grueling 5.5 days, the continuous training ultimately determines who has the ability and mindset to endure.

"Welcome to Hell Week."

Trainees are constantly in motion; constantly cold, hungry and wet. Mud is everywhere–it covers uniforms, hands and faces. Sand burns eyes and chafes raw skin. Medical personnel stand by for emergencies and then monitor the exhausted trainees. Sleep is fleeting–a mere three to four hours granted near the conclusion of the week. The trainees consume up to 7,000 calories a day and still lose weight.

The inner voice mimics the BUD/S instructor pacing the line of waterlogged men with his bullhorn. “If you quit now you could go get a room at one of those luxury hotels down the beach and do nothing but sleep for an entire day!

Throughout Hell Week, BUD/S instructors continually remind candidates that they can “Drop-On-Request” (DOR) any time they feel they can’t go on by simply ringing a shiny brass bell that hangs prominently within the camp for all to see.

“The belief that BUD/S is about physical strength is a common misconception. Actually, it’s 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical,” said a BUD/S instructor at the San Diego facility. “(Students) just decide that they are too cold, too sandy, too sore or too wet to go on. It’s their minds that give up on them, not their bodies.”

“Whaddaya think? All you have to do is get up and go smack the hell out of that shiny, brass bell. You KNOW you want to. …”

It is not the physical trials of Hell Week that are difficult so much as its duration: a continual 132 hours of physical labor.

Through the long days and nights of Hell Week, candidates learn to rely on one another to keep awake and stay motivated. They tap one another on the shoulder or thigh periodically and wait for a reassuring pat in response that says, “I’m still hangin’ in there, how ‘bout you?” They cheer loudly when they notice a mate struggling to complete his mission and use the same as fuel when they themselves feel drained. They learn to silence that inner voice urging them to give in and ring that hideous, beautiful bell.

Sleep. He would do anything for it. He couldn’t remember what day it was, or when he had last had sleep. But, he knew it felt good, and NOTHING about “Hell Week” felt good. He had been cold and wet for days. There were open sores along his inner thigh now from being constantly soaked. And every time he moved, the coarse, wet camouflage raked over the wounds, sending lightening bolts of pain through his body. Maybe the voice was right. Maybe he should just get up, walk over, and ring that bell.

Commanding officer's recommendation (prepared as a result of the panel) should include information concerning the member’s military and professional performance, degree and scope of technical competence and supervisory ability in present rating, potential to perform as a commissioned officer, and ability to accomplish officer technical management and specialist functions of the program(s) and category(ies) requested.

Only those individuals who have clearly demonstrated sustained superior performance, outstanding leadership abilities, and the potential to serve as commissioned officers should be recommended for these programs. A candidate must receive a favorable endorsement from the commanding officer (unit CO for SELRES personnel) to be eligible to apply to become an LDO.

If a commanding officer feels an individual is not qualified for LDO, the commander will not forward the package. Individuals not receiving a favorable endorsement are to be counseled on what they need to do to improve their records to ultimately receive a favorable endorsement.

Selection Boards

Separate selection boards (one for active duty and one for inactive duty) meet at the Navy Personnel Command annually to consider applicants for the active duty and inactive duty LDO programs.

Appointment to Limited Duty Officer

CWOs selected for LDO will be appointed in the permanent grade of LTJG (paygrade O-2) in the Navy (or Naval Reserves for inactive duty personnel). CWOs selected for LDO with at least 4 years and 1 day of cumulative active duty service to include (ADSW/AT) will be appointed in the permanent grade of LTJG (paygrade O-2E).

Enlisted personnel selected for LDO will be appointed in the permanent grade of ensign (paygrade O-1) in the Navy (or Naval Reserves for inactive duty personnel). Enlisted personnel selected for LDO with more than 4 years of active duty service will be appointed in the permanent grade of ensign (paygrade O-1E).

Selectees will be appointed as LDOs only if they continue to meet all eligibility standards as specified previously.

Active Duty selectees must agree to remain on active duty for 4 years from the date of acceptance of appointment and may be required to transfer from current duty location.

Selectees under the inactive duty program must continue serving in the Ready Reserve until the appointment is tendered. Upon acceptance, each selectee must agree to remain in the Ready Reserve for a period of 3 years from the date of acceptance of appointment.

Candidates must break through ice-encrusted waters, jump in without the protection of their dry-suit, tread water for three to four minutes, pull themselves out of the water, then dry their clothes and gear off.

While some might question the necessity of being inducted into this “Polar Bear Club,” SEAL candidates once again silence inner doubts and follow instructions as given. Even in the later phases of SQT, candidates call upon their mental determination to pull them through.

“I kept thinking of that scene in the movie ‘Armageddon,’” said a fellow SEAL candidate and boatswain’s mate 3rd class. “The rescue team going to the asteroid asked about the environment in space, and as NASA engineers described it, the heroes replied, ‘Worst possible environment imaginable, that’s all you had to tell us.’

That’s pretty much what Cold-Weather Training was like for me: worst possible environment imaginable.”

After the completion of Cold-weather Survival Training, they are awarded their trident badge and Navy Enlisted Classification code at Naval Special Warfare Center, Coronado, Calif.

With terrorist threats on the rise around the world, SEALs are needed more than ever. Yet, even with a pressing need for more such men, training of candidates remains as tough as it has ever been.

The 24-month training process will continue to separate the determined candidates from the undecided.

As Navy SEALs put their lives on the line defending America, each member of that team must know without a doubt that the man fighting next to him will not give in or punk out when things start to get rough.

“NO! Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!” he silently screamed at the pessimistic voice as the sea came at him again. It worked! He focused once again on the other SEAL candidates linked arm-in-arm with him in the wet sand. He could hear their combined sputterings and groans. He also heard the crash of the surf, but the defeatist voice inside his head was gone–at least for the moment. Someone had to ring the bell before the group could crawl out of the icy water, but it wasn’t going to be him, damn it! He gritted his chattering teeth and prepared for the next wave. “After all,” he told himself sternly, “what’s a little water to a SEAL?”

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