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Special Forces: The Navy SEALs

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 2 1

Navy SEAL Trident – photo courtesy of The U.S.  Navy

The Navy SEALs are one of the elite groups of Special Forces of the United States.  Highly skilled and efficient, these men carry out their duties with little fanfare.  "SEAL" is always capitalized in reference to members of the Naval Special Warfare community. The acronym is derived from their capacity to operate at sea, in the air, and on land.  The SEAL motto is “The Only Easy Day was Yesterday.”

 The Navy SEAL Teams are responsible to perform missions strategically important to the United States.   They conduct direct action missions to neutralize enemy forces.  These are considered “capture/kill” missions and include offensive strikes against enemy targets using tactics such as raids, ambushes and assaults.  SEALs conduct special reconnaissance to observe and report; considered covert/intelligence missions. These operations are to report on enemy activity or to provide better understanding of the operational situation.  These missions include tracking enemy units, monitoring military and civilian activity, and gathering information regarding beach and water conditions prior to beach landings.  Counter terrorism operations are to eliminate threats and are considered pre-emptive/strike missions.  These missions are direct action against terrorist groups in order to prevent terrorist activities.  Foreign internal defense entails training allies and is considered counter/strike missions. These missions train and assist foreign personnel to increase their capacity to respond to threats.  

History of the Navy SEALs 

The roots of the SEALs go back to World War II. During World War II there was a need for a beach reconnaissance force and thus the Scouts and Raiders were born.  A selected group of Army and Navy personnel took Amphibious Training; their mission was to identify and reconnoiter the objective beach, maintain a position and guide the assault troops to the landing beach. The first group included Phil H. Bucklew, the "Father of Naval Special Warfare." In addition to the Scouts and Raiders, the Navy SEALs have origins in Naval Combat Demolition Units, Office of Strategic Services Operational Swimmers, Underwater Demotion Teams and Mortor Torpedo Boat Squadrons of World War II.  While none of these organizations exist presently, the SEAL units carry the torch onward. 

During President John F. Kennedy’s term, he expressed the desire for services to develop unconventional warfare capability.  In response, the U.S. Navy established SEAL Teams One and Two in January of 1962.  The team consisted entirely of personnel from the Underwater Demolit

Navy SEALS - Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy Photographer: JO1 (SS) Peter D. Sundberg
ion Teams and the newly formed SEAL team’s mission was to conduct guerilla warfare and clandestine operations in maritime and riverine environments. SEAL activity in Vietnam started immediately, initially as advisors.  

Configuration of SEAL Teams 

Currently SEAL units are based in three locations.  Based at Coronado, California are the Naval Special Warfare Command, the Naval Special Warfare Center, the Naval Special Warfare Group 3, Naval Special Warfare Group 11 and Reserve SEAL Team 17 which is one of the NSWG-11’s SEAL Teams. The Naval Special Warfare Command provides vision, leadership, resources, doctrinal guidance and oversight to all Navy SEALs. The Naval Special Warfare Center runs the SEAL training curriculum and the NSWG-1 which oversees SEAL Teams 1, 3, 5, and 7.  NSWG-3 commands NSW undersea forces and NSWG-11 controls all of the NSW Reservists.  

Little Creek, Virginia Beach is home to NSWG-2 and its SEAL Teams 2, 4, 10, and 18, a Reserve unit. NSWG-4 is responsible for all of NSW’s special boat teams and is also based at Little Creek.  The Navy’s only SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team is based in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The command conducts underwater delivery and insertion of SEAL Teams using flooded mini-submarines.  

The total number of Navy SEALs assigned to Naval Special Warfare Command is approximately 2,000.  There are currently eight SEAL Teams under the NSW Command; SEAL Teams 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, and 10.  Each team consists of approximately 300 personnel which includes troops and support staff.  A SEAL Team has a Staff Headquarters element and three 40-man Troops. Troop core skills consist of Sniper, Communicator, Breacher, Close Air Support, Corpsman, Maritime/Engineering, Point-man/Navigator (Rural/Urban/Protective Security), Interrogator, Primary Driver/Navigator, Sensitive Site Exploitation, Heavy Weapons Operator, Lead Climber, Air Operations Master, Explosive Ordnance Disposal, Lead Diver/Navigator, Technical Surveillance, and Advanced Special Operations. 

Requirements for Entering SEAL Training 

All candidates must meet basic requirements for enlistment or commission in the Navy.  In addition, the Navy SEALs require candidates to meet rigorous physical and mental requirements.  To access the physical fitness of potential candidates, the following are used: 

  •  Pre-enlistment medical screening
  •  Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB)
  •  Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT)
  •  Computerized-Special Operations Resilience Test (C-SORT)
  •  SEAL Physical Screening Test (SEAL PST) 

The ASVAB and AFQT are used to assess a candidate's mental sharpness and ability to learn; the C-SORT screens his maturity and mental resilience.  

To qualify for a Navy SEAL contract, candidates must meet the minimum requirements of the SEAL PST (Physical Screening Test) which must be administered by a NSW coordinator or mentor.  Candidates desiring selection for Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) can increase their chances by having optimum PST scores.  The SEAL PST Calculator helps prospective candidates compare their scores of fitness level to actual BUD/S entry level scores. The following are the SEAL PST elements along with minimum and optimum requirements: 

  • 500 yard swim - 10 minute rest; breast or side stroke:  minimum= 12.5 minutes / optimum= 9 minutes
  •  Maximum push-ups in 2 minutes - 2 minute rest; minimum= 50 / optimum= 90
  •  Maximum curl-ups in 2 minutes - 2 minute rest; minimum= 50 / optimum= 85
  •  Maximum pull-ups in 2 minutes - 10 minute rest; minimum= 10 / optimum= 18
  •  1.5 mile run - done in shorts and running shoes; minimum= 10.5 minutes / optimum= 9.5 minutes 

The ASVAB assesses an applicant's mental sharpness and ability to learn. The ASVAB is generally administered at a Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS). The standard ASVAB contains the following subtests:  

  • Word Knowledge (WK)
  •  Arithmetic Reasoning (AR)
  •  Mechanical Comprehension (MC)
  •  Shop Information (SI)
  •  Automotive Information (AI)
  •  Electronics Information (EI)
  •  Mathematics Knowledge (MK)
  •  General Science (GS)
  •  Paragraph Comprehension (PC)
  •  Assembling Objects (AO)
  •  Verbal Expression (VE) - a scaled combination of WK+PC 

Minimum scores on several combinations of the above sub-tests must be met for candidates to advance.  

AFQT results are returned as percentiles from 1-99. The Navy requires an AFQT score of at least 35. Men who succeed at BUD/S traditionally have AFQT scores of 78 or better. The C-SORT, is designed to assess a prospective SEAL candidate's mental toughness or resilience. The test includes multiple sections designed to assess abilities in three areas:  

  1. Performance strategies
  2.  Psychological resilience
  3.  Personality traits 

 Performance strategies test for capabilities such as self-talk, personal goal-setting and emotional control. Psychological resilience focuses on assessing other areas such as an individual's ability to deal with cognitive challenges and threats and acceptance of life situations.

The scores on the sections of the C-SORT are combined into a band score on a scale of one to four.  A band score of four indicates the most mentally resilient while a one indicates a low level. Each prospective SEAL candidate can only take the C-SORT one time. In order to be eligible for the SEAL program, the C-SORT band score is combined with the run and swim time. A low C-SORT and slow combined swim times means a candidate will not be considered for the SEAL program.  Though a candidate is not able to re-take the C-SORT, he can improve his PST score and re-take the Delayed Entry Program qualif

Navy SEALS Emerging from Water – Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy photographer: unknown
ying PST to move into the qualifying band to become eligible for a SEAL contract.  

Other general requirements must be met by the candidates.  Applicants must be between the ages of 17-28 years old.  Highly qualified men who are age 29 or 30 years may obtain a waiver. Men with prior enlisted service as a Navy SEAL who are seeking positions as SEAL officers can request waivers up to age 33.

Vision must be correctable to 20/25; uncorrected vision must be at least 20/70 in the worst eye and 20/40 in the best. Candidates who are color blind are disqualified.  Candidates must be U.S. citizens and able to obtain a secret security clearance.  At this time, females are disqualified from the SEAL program.  

Once these requirements are met, candidates attend BUD/S; an intense six month training program.  During BUD/S candidates are further tested on their physical and mental strength as well as their leadership abilities and abilities to work as a team.  BUD/S starts with a three-week

Navy SEAL BUD/S Training – photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy – photographer: Photographer's Mate 2nd Class Eric S. Logsdon
Indoctrination Course which is followed by three phases: seven-week physical conditioning, eight-week diving, and ten-week land warfare.  

Classes typically lose 70-80% of their trainees due to “drop on request” (DOR) by the trainee or injuries sustained during training. Instructors also drop trainees who fail to complete specific requirements of the training.  Most trainees are eliminated prior to the completion of Hell Week, a grueling week where trainees are put through 132 hours of continuous physical activity.  

SEAL Team Six 

Probably the most famous, yet least well known SEAL Team is SEAL Team Six, also called DEVGRU (United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group).  This team is operationally under the command of the Joint Special Operations Command and most of the information regarding this team is classified.  

DEVGRU was formed after the Iran hostage crisis as a counter-terrorist unit. Richard Marcinko was one of two U.S. Navy representatives for a Joint Chief of Staff task force during the crisis. When the mission to rescue the hostages failed, Marcinko was given the task to design and develop a full-time counter terrorist unit.  Marcinko was the first commanding officer of this unit.  Initially the unit was dubbed MOB 6 (Mobility 6) and Sixth Platoon, but eventually came to be called SEAL Team Six.  At the time, there were only two SEAL teams and Marcinko wanted to confuse Soviet intelligence as to the number of actual SEAL teams in existence. Marcinko hand-picked the members for the unit and it became the premier counter-terrorist unit.  It has been compared to the U.S. Army Delta Force unit.  

DEVGRU is divided into color-coded line squadrons, which are commanded by senior officers:

  • Red Squadron (Assault), Blue Squadron (Assault),
  • Gold Squadron (Premier Assault Team)
  • Silver Squadron (Assault)
  • Gray Squadron (Boat Crews)
  • Black Squadron (Reconnaissance and Surveillance Team) 

Applicants for SEAL Team Six come from the other SEAL Teams.  Little is known about the selection and training process due to the classification of the team.  It can be assumed the training is at a more intense level for the elite group of Special Forces.  

DEVGRU’s full mission is classified, though it is thought to include counter-proliferation, pre-emptive, pro-active counter-terrorist operations, and the elimination or recovery of high-value targets (HVTs) from unfriendly nations. Due to the classified nature of the unit, few missions are made public.  The Osama bin Laden mission was made public after completion; howeve

Navy SEAL Patrolling – Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy Photographer: Photographer's Mate 1st Class Arlo Abrahamson-
r, much of the details remain classified.  

As the nature of warfare has changed over the years, the Special Forces have become a necessary piece of a country’s military.  The United States trains its units well and the country can rest assured the Navy SEALS are on the job.








The copyright of the article “Special Forces – The Navy SEALS”   is owned by Cheryl Weldon and permission to republish in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.



Feb 1, 2013 5:40pm
When I was in the Army I thought about Special Forces but didn't have the courage to sign up. I admire the people who do and also admire your coverage in the above article--2 thumbs up and a rating from me.
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