The Official Navy SEAL Podcast

By Naval Special Warfare Podcast

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 Mar 31, 2019


Our mission is to explain the training and selection process, requirements, standards and accomplishments of Naval Special Warfare.

Episode Date
28 Upper Body Strength
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Training for the toughest special operations job in the world isn't easy. We consulted the Director of Fitness at the Naval Special Warfare Center for some tips. The beginning of our series on fitness focuses on the upper body.
Jan 23, 2020
27 Behind the Scenes with the Leap Frogs
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Here's a sneak peek at how the Navy Leap Frogs parachute demonstration team prepare for and execute a jump into Sam Boyd stadium in Las Vegas prior to the Rugby Sevens game. Special audio from the Leap Frogs in flight! For more info check out MUSIC INTRO 00:16 Leap Frog: (LF): ...ATC may hold us to the south and have us do a south to north… 00:22 DF: The jumpers are huddled up on the ground near a parked helicopter as they finalize gear inspections. 00:27 LF: Luke’s in, stay extended three seconds. Stay extended. So, hey, go heavy…ready for me to go down. Ready. Coming down. 00:31 DF: Here they simulate the plan for exit, canopy opening, and inflight maneuvers. Mimicking their planned actions physically and verbally, counting and repositioning themselves to engrain and review the jump plan. 00:43 LF: Come in right, come in right, come in right. We’ll try to bang in a 180. If we can’t fit in a 180, no issues, we can both land either side… 00:52 RADIO: We have lift off. MUSIC INTRO 00:54 DF: A fear of falling comes naturally to almost everyone. What does not, however, is confidence and composure when free falling through the sky, headed straight for the ground. This confidence is earned through rigorous training and education evolutions. I’m Daniel Fletcher, today we go on location with the U.S. Navy's elite parachute demonstration team, the Leap Frogs. We’ll meet up with former guest, Luke Vesci, and the rest of the Leap Frog as they prepare to jump into Sam Boyd Stadium for the USA Ruby Sevens Championship match in Las Vegas, Nevada. 01:34 DF: These are the guys I’m looking for. How’s it going? I don’t think I’ve met you. 01:39 DF: I meet the team in the hotel lobby before walking outside to discuss the day’s plan. All of them dressed to match in Leap Frog uniforms or custom navy blue and yellow jumpsuits, professional and focused. 01:50 LF: This is Sean, who’s going to be our DZSO, so he will be mic’d up on the ground. 01:55 DF: After introductions, we walk out to the parking structure and circle up to hear from the jump master. He gathers the team to confirm the day’s schedule and brief the group about any updates. 02:03 LF: General overview for the day today, we’re going to head over to Sam Boyd Stadium. We’re going to do our site survey. As soon as we get there, we’ll link up with the guys from US Rugby 7. The helicopter’s going to land at 12:05. If everything looks good, winds look good, weather looks good, then we’re going to take off at 12:50. Streamers, 12:55, 13:00 TOT, 4,500 feet for the three of us getting out for the practice jump into Sam Boyd today. After that, we’ll just get a good wrap up, debrief, make sure everything is prepped and ready for tomorrow and then go from there. Any questions, concerns? 02:41 DF: After the briefing, the team loads their gear into three vans, and we drive out of the hotel parking structure. 2:50 During the convoy to the stadium, the three vans move as one unit, unwilling to separate. 2:56 The ordinary act of following a friend to the game, becomes today’s first display of coordinated precision, movement and tactics. 03:05 DF: We arrive at the stadium and are ushered through parking security. 03:09 LF: just as a reminder, this grass is these guys’ livelihood, so don’t step on the lines, try to stay off of the edges and everything like that as we’re walking around. 03:13 DF: After a short walk, we arrive at the edge of the field. The grass an almost neon-green, abuzz with turf workers and freshly sprayed game-day paint. 03:24 LF: Ready to go? 03:25 LF: Yeah. I think so. Today’s looking good. 03:27 LF: Do you need anything from our side? 03:28 LF: You know, I think we’re good right now. 03:29 DF: The team is joined on the field by one of the event directors. 03:32 LF: ….Discuss any contingencies, do our brief and our dirt dive, and weather looks good, so we’re going to definitely push forward for the practice jump for today. 03:38 ED: And what’s the protocol for tomorrow in terms of the timing? 03:42 LF: For us really, you just have to let us know when, exactly, do you want us out of the airplane? When exactly do you want to start the anthem? We kind of work it backwards to when do you want us touching down on the ground. 03:51 ED: Yep, that’s perfect. 03:53 LF: Whenever you get me the schedule, we can kind of go from there. Because we’ll sort of deconstruct and say, “Okay, they want us on the ground at 13:06,” so that means from 5,000 feet, you’re going to depart the plane at this time. It should be timed to the point where he hits his last note, flag touches down one last time, “Ladies and gentleman, your United States Navy Parachute Team, the Leap Frogs,” turn, wave, the crowd goes crazy, and we haul off the field. 04:22 ED: I got your music just an hour ago, so I’ll load that in. When do you typically play that? 04:26 LF: Generally, one minute prior to them departing the aircraft. That’s when the music kicks off. 04:28 DF: After an initial discussion about timing we turn our attention to the landing zone. 04:32 ED: Thanks, boys, we appreciate you guys coming out, man. It’s going to be good. 04:35 DF: So, whenever you guys are doing site survey, you’re looking at stadium shape, wind. What other stuff are you looking for? 04:41 LF: Obstacles, cables, you know, light poles, things like that, kind of, and then, you know, depending on where the wind’s coming from, it’s going to dictate the pattern that we’re going to fly to. So, obviously, we want the safest pattern possible with the best crowd perspective. 04:51 DF: Is there any of this that you do beforehand? To what extent can you plan beforehand? 04:56 LF: We always take a look ahead of time just to kind of have a general overview and idea of the area and we use Google Earth, things like that to get that 3D look at the stadium as well. 05:06 DF: So, it’s kind of just like last minute checks, were we right about what we thought? Are there other obstacles? 05:11 LF: The only thing that, you couldn’t really see on the imagery is whenever they have the field goal nets. You can’t really see the nets on imagery, but you kind of assume that they’re there; but this one, I mean, there’s only the four main light posts, three on that side, two on this side. 05:25 LF: And like Luke was talking about earlier, about looking around the stadium and assessing all the obstacles, it’s kind of a double assessment how does it affect our pattern as far as safety, but also how is it going to affect the winds in here so we know, which areas have the gentlest wind, and which places are going to be relatively turbulent. 05:43 DF: One element has more impact on the success and safety of a parachute demonstration than anything else. Wind. The team must monitor the constantly changing wind direction and speed at all altitudes in order to insure the parachutes generate the lift required to safely fly them to the ground. 06:02 DF: Do you guys mind maybe give me a little unpack of the tool that you’re using? 06:06 LF: Sure, we’re looking at a tool – aviation tool – it gives us every thousand feet what the winds are being recorded at, a direction and speed. [DF: Real time, basically?] Yeah, it will actually forecast through, but the thing that we run into is unlike going to a skydiving drop zone that’s normally co-located with an airport, we’re actually, as you see right now, at a stadium, there is no sensors here grabbing that information. So, we have to do a mixture of, reading those numbers, but then also getting our own data locally, so that’s what we’re going to do before we jump. That gives us the assessment of exactly where we’re at. 06:45 LF: They get to see what’s going on up above the stadium and then us on the ground, we’re relaying to them what direction the wind is coming at them cause it could completely switch. What we want to do is pick the best direction for them to land into the wind. We choose the direction they land on the ground from what we’re feeling on the ground, and then the streamers tell them what they need to do up above so that they can set up for the ground landing. 7:07 DF: The final wind assessment is taken with a remarkably low-tech yet critically reliable tool; streamers. These highly visible fabric strips, similar to what you would see atop goal posts, are dropped from the sky by the team just before leaving the aircraft. The direction of these streamers is observed by the team on the ground and radioed back to the team in the air as a final check for wind direction at altitude. 07:30 LF: When we talk about entering the stadium, we’re looking at like the 50-yard line as basically where we come in, straight towards the 50-yard line and then fly the pattern with inside the bowl of the stadium. 07:39 DF: Oh, wow, okay. I didn’t realize you ever were making turns inside the stadium. Are you guys normally aiming for dead center of the stadium or the field? 07:43 LF: No, we actually try to stay off the paint. You know, they work really hard to make this paint look really nice. So, we try to stay off the paint as much as possible. 07:55 DF: We receive a phone call. The helicopter is on its way. 07:59 LF: Helo’s inbound. 08:00 LF: Helo is inbound. We’ll kind of finish the walk-around, and head out and start prepping… 08:05 DF: While the site survey continues, the singer who will be performing the National Anthem at tomorrow’s game is given a chance to practice over the stadiums sound system. I suddenly notice that the team has completely stopped working. Together, they are standing still at attention. Honoring the collective historic spirit of our armed services’ pride and sacrifice. Seeing the Navy Leap Frog team at attention serves as a poignant reminder that this group is committed to duty, sacrifice, and a larger cause symbolized by our red white and blue. 08:45 DF: The helicopter is now within earshot and we leave the field. 08:50 DF: Do you guys know what kind of helicopter it is? 08:51 LF: It’s an AS350 Bravo 2, the A-Star, is what they call it. These guys actually do a lot of the tours of the Grand Canyon and the Vegas tours and things like that. It’s the same aircraft we actually used in San Diego, same type of airplane we use in San Diego for the SWCC Comp back in June or July last year. 09:08 DF: The jumpers will be free falling through the sky within 30 minutes and back at the vans there is a noticeable shift in the group’s energy. 09:21 DF: We get into the vans to drive over to the parked helicopter. 09:34 LF: There she is in all her beauty. 09:36 DF: We spot the helicopter and park the vans in the grass beside it, and unload the parachutes. 09:41 LF: ATC may hold us to the south and have us do a south to north regardless of uppers, just based on traffic and things like that. So there’s a chance that we might be having a south to north run. 09:53 DF: After a brief conversation about the changing winds and air traffic control the team begins what is known as a “dirt dive.” The jumpers huddle up on the ground near the parked helicopter as they finalize gear inspections. 10:05 LF: Ready for me to come down? Coming down. 10:08 DF: Here they simulate the plan for exit, canopy opening and in-flight maneuvers. 10:12 LF: Honestly, it’ll be pretty much just on you when you want to put the flag out. We’ll try to keep you in the three stack until 2,000, but if position only, we got to put you up for… 10:21 DF: Mimicking their planned actions physically and verbally, counting and repositioning themselves to engrain and review the jump plan. 10:28 LF: ...ready and bring it up, nice and carve it in. Boom, separate and avoid the paint. Cool. 10:40 DF: Andrew, todays jump master, calls air traffic control to confirm that the team is tracking for an on-time jump and flight time. 10:47 LF: Hey, I just want to call and give you guys an update. Winds are looking good for our jump here at Sam Boyd Stadium today. We’re going to be taking off in landmark 28 from Sam Boyd. We’re going to go wheels up at 12:50. Do a streamer pass at 12:55 from 41 MSL, 25 AGL, and from there, we’re going to climb up to 61 MSL, 4,500 AGL, for three jumpers getting out right at 13:00. Awesome, sounds good. Thanks. 11:17 LF: So, that was to Las Vegas TRACON, or the air traffic control guys. This stadium sits right on the approach for McCarran International Airport for their two six run, which is their main run in, so with it being Friday in Vegas, there’s a ton of air traffic coming in, so we’re just calling to mitigate with them all of the potential aircraft issues. Whenever it’s time for us to jump, they’re going to move them to a different runway, give us the airspace for the 14 minutes or so and then let them back in. 11:43 DF: Do you know who the pilot is for the day? 11:44 LF: Yes, he’s a retired Navy commander helo pilot. When he found out that he was working with the jump team, he was pretty excited. So, what we’re going to do is, before we jump out, I’m going to present him with our coin. It’s kind of like the Navy tradition, you know, so I’ll shake his hand, and we’ll jump out. 12;02 DF: He’s going to have a story. He’s going to be so excited. 12:03 LF: Yeah he’ll like that. 12:06 DF: It’s remarkably casual for this part of the jump or the not jump, the planning, you know. I mean it’s a lot that goes into it at this point, between talking to FAA, all the other plans, travel, packing, kind of calm before the storm. 12:19 LF: Well, you know, the trip lead, days and days before this, he is talking to the local towers, coordinating with the aircraft guys, FAA, last minute waivers and NOTAMS and different things like that, so the trip lead really takes the brunt of it on his shoulders. 12:35 LF: Yeah, there’s a lot of administrative stuff, a lot of training, a lot man hours that go into each of the jumps, but I definitely think everybody on the team feels very lucky to be doing this job we’re really just doing this on behalf of NSW to kind of represent for the entire community. 12:51 DF: The pilot arrives to meet the team next to the parked helicopter. 12:43 LF: Nice to meet you [INTROS] 13:00 LF: So, we’ve done our site survey. Everything looks good inside. And I just talked to TRACON… they’re tracking a 12:50 wheels up, 12:55 streamers and 13:00 three jumpers away. They’re still good with the altitudes that we discussed yesterday, streamers at 2,500 AGL and jumpers at 4,500 AGL, so it’s looking good on their side. We were looking for the exit, just to kind of get us all out in as little time as possible. I think I’m actually going to spot and jump master, and then whenever it’s time, ready to go, I’m going to climb out onto the strut, move to the rear side of the door. Then Bennett’s going to get out and strut, and he’s going to cue the exit, ready, set, go. He’ll lead off, I’m going to bleed off, and then Luke will chase us out. We’re going to be opening within a couple of seconds of exit and basically building and flying it in from there. 13:48 LF: All right, guys, I’m going to close you out. Watch your elbows, knees. 14:10 DF: The helicopter takes off and heads to altitude. 14:13 RADIO: We have lift off. 14:14 DF: As the Drop Zone Safety Officer informs them of the constantly evolving wind conditions on the field. 14:22 RADIO: At the lip 11 to 12 at the current moment. 14:33 DF: Streamers are dropped by the jump team from the helicopter to measure the current wind direction and speed just before the jump. 14:40 LF: Streamer data as follows, 100 yards northeast, push on the lower end. How copy? 14:43 DF: This information is relayed to the DZSO on the field as a final check for wind conditions at altitude. 14:50 RADIO: 100 yards northeast. 14:55 LF: Affirmative. Push was on the lower end, 1,500 and below. [RADIO] Roger climbing altitude…Winds on the 11 to 13, occasional gust of 15. 15:10 RADIO: We are headed to altitude at this time. 15:13 LF: High bird DZ, roger, two minutes. You are clear to drop. 15:18 RADIO: Copy all clear. See you on the ground. 15:21 [AUDIO OF JUMPERS LEAVING THE HELICOPTER] 16:56 DF: Two of the jumpers break off of the group formation and fly down landing close together, the third, flying a huge American flag beneath him, lands last. 17:13 DF: The support team rushes to collect the flag as it touches down and the jumpers collect their canopies. 17:21 DF: The whole team quickly gathers up to begin an immediate debrief, recounting any timing or execution issues when the jump is still fresh in their minds. 17:28 ANNOUNCER: On behalf of the United States Navy, Navy Recruiting Command and Naval Special Warfare, it gives me great pleasure to present to you, your United States Navy Parachute Team, the Leap Frogs! 17:56 DF: They will repeat this entire detailed process tomorrow and across America throughout the year in over 50 different locations. Executing the Navy Leap Frogs mission to display Special Warfare excellence. Arriving on time, on target.
Jul 15, 2019
26 NSW: A Psychological Approach
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Special Operations training is more than physical endurance. It's a mind game, and you've got to get your mind right. We talked with our command psychologist to better understand how humans mentally adapt to the challenges of hardship. For more info check out 00:16 Intro: Anyone whose pushed their personal limits knows it’s the mind that must be trained to overcome barriers and that peak performance requires more than physical capability. I’m Daniel Fletcher. In the next couple of episodes, we take a look into Naval Special Warfare’s Mind Body Medicine Program. Today we speak with an NSW psychologist to discuss optimizing the mental health component of training, rebounding from stress – and reaching peak performance under pressure. Let’s get started. 00:56 DF: If you could start off with talking about your role here in this environment and some of your core responsibilities 01:01 CP: Absolutely so we have. There's three psychologists that we have here at Naval Special Warfare Center, and we provide support to both Basic Training Command, so all of the SEAL and SWCC students, as well as Advanced Training Commands, so the subordinate commands to Naval Special Warfare Center. So some of things that we do here are we provide clinical services when it comes down to psychotherapy. When it comes down to instructors or our students and then other roles and responsibilities that we have fall in the domain of non-clinical services. So we do assessment selection, so personnel selection of all of the candidates that are coming into the pipeline and as well as the instructors so they're participating in higher trainings. We have to screen instructors to make sure that they're doing things, we have the right people for the right job. When it comes to both the students as well as the staff. So that's what we mostly do, we also provide some support for some other training evolutions. Like so for example with ---SERE [Survival, Escape, Resistance, Evasion] -- we provide some support and then there are other domains of what we do here regarding mental performance optimization and executive coaching. 02:04 DF: Oh, interesting. It seems like you have a big broad and expansive responsibility here. What would you say are some of your favorite areas to work in, some areas that really --- resonate with you? 02:14 CP: Yeah. Well for the purposes also of this particular podcast you know, one of the things that tends to get a lot of traction that we're trying to be able to build this equity has to do with how to be able to look at this next generation of operators, the students that are in training and how to make sure that we're able to equip them with skills that aren't just necessarily in the physical domain but how much of the training is really built upon the mental game. And there's a lot of applications when it comes down to, when they finish the pipeline and they come into the teams, be it the special boat teams or when it comes down to the SEAL teams. What we can do, right, establishing this foundation of how to optimize mental performance and that's where I think mind body medicine comes into play. 02:57 DF: How is that transformed in your experience in the time that you've been here? 03:02 CP: You know it's something that for example you know we have trainees that come in and the big four is something that all of the students that are going to be exposed to in both respective pipelines, when it comes down to SEAL and SWCC candidates. So at Great Lakes, students will be exposed to these big four when it comes down to looking at sports psychology. So one of our predecessors and other psychologists that used to be assigned here at the Center looked at some of the best existing practices and they saw, you know what we could incorporate some of these things because we want to equip students with the skills to be successful without kind of showing like, here are the keys to the kingdom. But how can we set them up for success? So we have those big four and I can go into a little bit more about it, is that...? 03:49 DF: Yeah. If you want to go on a high level that would be good. I think it's important for people to understand if they haven't listened to all of the podcasts because we've touched on them before. You could go over them as an overview and then kind of dig in how it's applicable here. 04:00 CP: Absolutely. So the big four that if you haven't heard before as far as our listeners we look at visualization being a really important one and that's definitely appropriated from the literature regarding mindfulness in mind body medicine. Arousal control when it comes down to breathing. Also one of those things that has a direct correlation when it comes down to mind body medicine. Things such as looking at goal setting or positive self-talk, that there's some things that have been kind of appropriated from some of the therapy skills that we have. So visualization is looking at how to be able to look at visualizing something. So there's Olympic trainers that teach their athletes about how to be able to incorporate using visualization. I think one of the stats that I remember reading was about ninety five percent of Olympic trainers use visualization with their athletes. [DF: Wow.] And, yeah I know right? And so these athletes that even when it comes down to medalists, they look at some of these, these techniques. Arousal control, right? How to be able to look on your breathing has huge implications regarding your performance from a physical standpoint. And again that's something that's in mind body medicine. Goal setting, looking at how to be able to prioritize one's goals how to be able to chunk things that are more manageable. Right, that adage of, how do you eat an elephant? 05:16 DF: Yeah, one bite at a time. 05:17 CP: One bite at a time, right? And the last one being looking at positive self-talk because it's the ability to bounce back that’s also really important. And a lot of times if you have any type of setback in this, that's one of those things that's really important when it comes down to being the pipeline. If you're on one particular evolution struggling with something and you're not measuring up to where you thought you would perform, how do you find a way to be able to engage in positive self-talk? It's the next time that you go do that evolution or the next evolution if it's something completely different that you're able to optimize that performance as opposed to just spinning down the drain and just focusing on all of your shortcomings. 05:53 DF: So why do you think that those, the first two specifically have direct application in the NSW community? 05:58 CP: Yeah, so let's look at something, let's say something apart from NSW and then we'll come back through it. [DF: Okay.] So looking at sports, the biathlon. All right? You have people that are skiing. Right? And then having to stop and then shoot. Right. So you think about that. What ends up happening? Your heart rate's increasing you have all these things physiologically that are occurring that can really impair your ability to hit a target. So they have to be able to practice, these biathletes, how to be able to down regulate that physiological response and be able to focus on hitting the target and then boom ramping right back up, hitting the slopes, skiing and getting the next target. Right? So you think about that, and you look at that parallel, what are you doing tactically? You're doing something very similar. When you're going in to be able let's say to clear a house, yes you need to be able to ramp up to get to that optimal zone of functioning and performance, but not to the point where your system physiologically gets overwhelmed. So you look at practicing your breathing. The same things that are taught within our mind body medicine class that Alana Saraco teaches here. How to be able to get in that right state of zone of functioning. Same thing happens regarding being on the range. Right? So we have operators that go to Indiana and they have their sniper school. We have students that also have to be able to learn how to shoot when it comes down to doing CQC, close quarters combat. And how can they bring everything down as far as the breathing? Right? So it's the same thing. Learning how to be able to exhale. Right? Controlling, slowing down your heart rate. Pulling the trigger and hitting it so that your breathing isn't affecting where you're overshooting the target. 07:38 DF: Do you feel that there's a certain pushback against some of these practices until people learn them? It's a lot harder, I think, for people to wrap their minds around the benefits without doing them, especially on a surface level. Is that something that you have had a challenge with, trying to incorporate this, it to be quote "taken seriously"? 07:53 CP: Yeah the biggest one is about people just not building the time into their schedule. So we have people that are able to say okay, well I can do this. And it's like, working out. Part of it about working out and having a regimen is being able to do it with some periodicity. How to be able to incorporate so that it's part of your lifestyle. You can't cram working out. You can't be like all right I'll spend, you know, three hours in the gym this week and I'll make up for everything. [DF: Yeah, right.] Right as opposed to let's say 30 to 60 minute segments on a daily basis. It's the same thing with mindfulness. Same thing with mind body medicine. How do you incorporate this so it's part of your normal battle rhythm every single day. There's a quote about if, let's say you're stressed out, right? You know if you're really, really busy and you're stressed out and you have no time to be able to engage in these practices. That's the time when you need to be able to do it maybe three-fold. 08:46 DF: Right, right. So how do you, I guess speaking to a potential recruit, someone that's kind of really entering the pipeline, maybe they're involved in high school athletics or around that time of their life. You mentioned it's applications in an operational sense with the SEALs or SWCC or whoever. Maybe you can give a couple ideas of how you would recommend they implement these practices into their lives before they get here. 09:09 CP: Absolutely. So part of it about any of this stuff is building some self-awareness. So every single step before, they they're gonna be getting this training when it comes down to being in prep, right? So we have eight weeks that are dedicated from a physical standpoint, they're going to do some conditioning, but a mental standpoint they're going to have access to these big four. Before they even come out, part of the job is making sure that they have some awareness of where things are for them internally. Right? So if they're going to the gym it's so easy to be able to plug in some music or even plug in this very podcast while they're in the gym and just be mindless, right? And just be able to be disconnected. But part of the approach is being able to actually dial in and be in the moment, understand what's happening to you physically. Right? We need to be able to have that as the foundation and precursor for them to be successful to learn the skills that they have in prep. So just finding out kind of where they are. So one of the things like we are, what we will talk about is the body scan and how to be able to look at checking in with yourself what's happening to you physically. Because a lot of people are just pushing through right? They're invincible they're in high school or, you know, they want to be able to grab life by the horns and get into NSW. But how can you slow the process down to check in what's happening to them physically. 10:22 DF: How often do you think that's, not necessarily required or recommended to do that kind of self-evaluation when they're not experienced with that kind of sensitivity? 10:33 CP: So repetitions and iterations are really important. So to be able to do it on a daily basis. And there's some fringe benefits, right? So we have literature that suggests like even something regarding the breathing or training. How to focus on your breath. The fringe benefits are that actually over a long enough time period that it lowers any type of heart disease, right? The number one risk for heart disease is stress. Like the whole thing about a type A personality was that the claim was termed by a cardiologist, right? So it has to do with stress. And so they might not be aware of it now, but if they're able to kind of see that they put this into practice now in their youth or even if, let's say they're a fleet transfer and they're coming into the pipeline, the earlier the better. Right? The earlier the better that you can incorporate these things just like physical fitness. 11:19 DF: So say you do this assessment and, yeah you're carrying a lot of tension is, I guess what your takeaway is, what do you think is the next step for somebody who's entering this kind of this process of kind of re-evaluation. 11:30 CP: So looking at resources that they have. So, maybe if they have someone when it comes down to existing support systems. If they're in some type of sport right? Like we know we have a lot of people that are wrestlers, we have a lot of people that are coming in from water polo backgrounds and they have an inherent ready kind of embedded coaching systems, they can talk to their coach about looking at how maybe based upon someone with more experience and they kind of see these things. All right. So I noticed that I carry a lot of tension and I can talk to the coach about how have they been able to see regarding mental performance or when it comes down to mind body medicine or mindfulness or meditation, how has that been something that's been applied in their sport, so it's familiar. Right? It has something that there is a reference point. If let's say I'm a wrestler and I see how it's applied in wrestling. Boom, I've been able to see how there's a real world application. 12:19 DF: Right, and probably experience that benefit themselves. Do you think that the awareness is adequate in the NSW community for the benefits of mindfulness and mind body medicine or is it something that needs to grow or? 12:31 CP: Yeah. So I believe that awareness is growing. So this was something that we were asked to be able to look at meeting this demand signal. So we had floated all sorts of different ideas when it comes down to programmatic development. So we have a for example a group slash class on sleep, right about how to be able to treat insomnia. Yeah. We were providing treatment individually but we developed a class to address that need. Another need was like, hey this is something that is emerging and we need to be able to have something that's not just done individually but more on a group basis. [DF: Right] And that was done to normalize. That was done from the head shed from the leadership at the top level saying we see marriage in this, we see that there's some type of benefit. So community wide we definitely see the people that are more seasoned, the people that have more years in the teams, that they're the ones actually incorporating this and the ones that are younger or you know they're able to use their youth and their raw talent to be able to have this. But what ends up happening is over the course of a person like an operator's lifespan is that they get really proficient at ramping up. And the training that they have as well as their experiences in combat are, they get finely tuned to be able to have that fight or flight response the sympathetic nervous system finely tuned to be able to respond. And there's been some research about looking at conventional forces and SOF and the differences there. But one of the things that there isn't an emphasis on the training pipeline is about how to be able to promote the relaxation response. Everyone has this, other animals also have the sympathetic nervous system, the fight or flight response, and the parasympathetic nervous system which is the relaxation response. So if you engage in things of this nature when it comes down to mind body medicine or meditation, it actually helps promote that relaxation response. And that's something that's needed especially over, let's say 15 to 20 years of a career, 30 years in the Teams, it becomes more and more difficult because your body becomes finely tuned to be able to ramp up but not ramp down. 14:33 DF: Yeah that obviously has an impact on sustainability of the force and the individuals in a huge way, right? 14:40 CP: Absolutely. 14:41 DF: Is that where that kind of need came from? It was like, a general awareness that, or maybe a lack of awareness and then it was like hey there is a way to do this that exists that we're just not really practicing or was it something that's picked up from people that in the Teams that hey this is what's working for them. How did that kind of come about you, do you know? 14:58 CP: Yes. So it was really coming from the operators. And so we can talk about what the best practices are. Right? So we're the subject matter experts. So if we have the clinical psychologist or we have other medical disciplines that are explaining these things it's, it's great but the proof in the pudding is really when someone's done it and they see the merit. Right? So you have operators that have done this and put it into practice and there's like wow this is something that's incredible. This has actually had an impact to my ability to operate. 15:27 DF: What are successful operators doing in this space that you think people should replicate? 15:30 CP: One of the things that we hear back from operators is it's, it's really based upon what they gravitate toward individually. So we can kind of see from a trend analysis what are the most popular. But, for example, for one person it might be like, ooh box breathing is definitely what I want. Right? That seems to work really well for me. Now, I mean, based upon their experiences of let's say when they are doing athletics, right, they're doing it on a sports team and it became something that was already a skill but they are able to finally hone that skill. Or for another person they might be like, you know what? I really like the idea of looking at visualization. Right? So there's a number of different techniques. And for us, we try to emphasize simplicity over trying to be able to have an overly exhaustive list of different skill sets. Right? Like we would rather have the Leatherman multi-tool, right, that you can incorporate because you can over-learn that. It's the same thing that happens when it comes into certain tactics. Gross motor movement versus fine motor movement. We'd rather give you a skill that you can start to be able to apply to multiple scenarios that's streamlined, as opposed to a plethora of different skills that you can utilize. Right? 16:37 DF: Right. Right. Right. Right. It's different for everyone. 16:40 CP: It is. It is different for everyone but I think again, like the reason why the Big Four has actually been sustainable is because there's only four of them, and you can kind of build up as far as complexity of each of those four fundamental, mental performance. 16:53 DF: Or where your detriment may be personally. 16:56 CP: Absolutely. 16:57 DF: Maybe you could speak a little bit about how, and when you've incorporated some of these techniques that have been really beneficial to you whether it's after stress or before performance whatever it may be. Maybe areas and insights that maybe people might not know where to apply these techniques and skills. 17:14 CP: So when in training pipeline I think there's some great applications. Right? So there's multiple points when it comes down to like, you're in a high stress environment because you have people evaluating you. Right? You're evaluating yourself in your performance. Your peers are evaluating you. You're evaluating your peers. You have cadre of instructors that are evaluating you. So there's some performance anxiety that can happen, and that could really start to impact, let's say when you're, when you're doing a run on the house, when you're jumping out of a plane. There's all these different things, so there's a lot of performance anxiety and stuff that you haven't done or you don't do really regularly. So being able to put into practice let's say when you're in a learning environment and you're getting classroom didactics, how you can incorporate let's say visualization, definitely something you can use. [DF: Huge, you're right.] Right? Or the breathing. Right? How to be able to have it. So you're not taking these short and shallow breaths and asphyxiating, right? How to be able to control your breathing so that you're able to dial in, and making sure that let's say you're doing an aerobic exercise and you're having to run. You can definitely do this. So, I think that in a training environment, especially with the listeners that are looking at, all right, I'm going to do, let's say the PST, or I'm going to do some type of physical fitness evolution. There is a mental component and how you can get into the optimal zone right before you execute. 18:32 DF: For people that might be experiencing symptoms whether it's stress, anxiety, fill in the blank, what would you tell them for them to know, hey I need to do something beyond self-care here. Is there any indicators that people should be aware of that's, hey. I can't talk myself down from this level of anxiety or whatever it may be. How do you kind of navigate that? 18:54 CP: So I mean ideally, they're able to check in with themselves, but you know that's why we have swim buddies in the Navy. Right? You have people that can hold each other accountable, and you have someone that's able, like you're just as much in training you're checking that person's gear, they're checking your gear, and they're also checking what your performance is. So if they see a change in your baseline, from your functioning, or if you're seeing a change in theirs, that's one thing that's a fidelity check. Right? Having that mentor or that coach, right, that you can, that they provide you feedback and it's going to be one of those things that they're going to be receiving in the training pipeline, [DF: Right.] is the right type of feedback [DF: Right, right]. So even if it's for themselves if they have some blind spots and they don't see where, let's say their performance is starting to be affected, there's going to be people that they need to rely upon proactively and ask for that help and then also if they don't get that then there's definitely instructors that will tell them. 19:43 DF: How are these techniques used to maintain a high level of professionalism and performance in the community? 19:49 CP: That's a great question. So a lot of times, when someone thinks about a clinical psychologist, in the most traditional setting, right? They think of like a chaise lounge and talking about their mother. Right? And it really seems to be from this model of, there's some type of illness. I'm here, I have depression, I have anxiety, I have post-traumatic stress, and I'm coming here because there's some type of illness that I need to be able to get treated for. And while we do do that, that's one of the roles that we have, we also look at how to be able to optimize performance, right? How can we have someone where, let's say they're doing great, they're functioning is going well, how can we actually make them more awesome. Right? So to speak. These interventions, when it comes down to mind body medicine, it does both, right? One is, it gets left of the bang, before it becomes a problem. We equip people with the skills so that they're independently able to self-assess and being able to put these interventions into place so that we're equipping them with the skills that they can kind of take care of themselves. Right? So that's the first thing. And what the impact is. That person then has a sense of agency that they can take care of this stuff, like they have the tools necessary to be able to look at improving their performance and being able to address these things. Yeah we're always there as a safety net to be able to talk about when something outside of their control. But at the very beginning, they're taught you can take care of some of these things independently. And we'll be there to be able to help you through that process. Just like if you have to be able to put in a fix it ticket in the Navy and they give you like a, here's the tools that you need to do to install your, you know, your frames on a wall or whatever. [DF: Right, right, right.] It's the same kind of nature. And over the course of time if we establish that at the very beginning of someone's career, they have that understanding then there's idea of we're looking at destigmatizing as far as any type of healthcare, cause it's not just because they're there and they're sick and need to come in to see a professional, because they've already seen us in a different capacity. So it's really important. 21:44 DF: Yeah, I think that that's a big key. I think that there is this passing, hopefully, passing stigma behind mental health and seeing your peers as advocates of awareness, mindfulness, or fill in the blank. I think, or leaders is a, is a huge piece of that. 22:01 CP: Absolutely. 22:02 DF: Being able to trust the people that are giving you an assessment. 22:06 CP: So we have psychologists that are both active duty. We have civilians and there's also the big push for this funding source called Preservation of the Force and Family. And aspirationally "POTFF" for Preservation of the Force and Family looks at trying to be able to have more of a whole person concept of addressing not only the operator but also the person's family. Because, there's, you know, a person has their professional life, they have their personal life, and things can bleed over to each other, right? So we have psychologists that are POTFF contractors that, across all of the groups we have also GS and active duty that are there. So, you have some people that are embedded at a garrison level where they're there, and you also have people that are psychologist active duty that actually deploy with the teams. So, it's that sense of cultural competency of understanding what that's like. And of course, we're never part of necessarily the tribe, so to speak where they are on the fringes we kind of see what it is on the periphery. But, that understanding looks at how to be able to apply these concepts from the research and the literature, and how to make it applicable to the community. Right? Mind body medicine wasn't one of those things that was designed for NSW, right? But we've been able to find a way to apply it and make --it meaningful based upon the customer's needs, the client's needs, the operator. 23:26 DF: And that's still growing, I guess. 23:26 CP: Absolutely. 23:27 DF: Actively, thankfully. 23:28 DF: I've heard the phrase post-traumatic growth. Can you unpack that a little bit for me? 23:32 CP: Yeah, so there's a mounting amount of newer research that's looking at how a person can be exposed to something traumatic and have it be something where it's actually not impacting them in a negative light, but it can be something where it provides some type of growth. So for example, you can have Bert and Ernie, right? And Bert gets exposed to something traumatic. And it's really impacting his ability about looking at things such as safety, trust, power and control, esteem, intimacy, and he needs to get some help because it's starting to affect him negatively. It's affecting his job, it's affecting his ability to have meaningful relationships, right, friendships, work relationships, romantic relationships. So for, for Bert, a lot of what the older research and the greatest body of research was on post-traumatic stress. How is this impacting him negatively. Right? I think I used Bert originally. And so now, there's let's say with Ernie, he has the same exact event, and he gets exposed to something traumatic. But instead of it's something impacting him negatively, he starts appreciating life in a different manner. And he now, the things that before getting exposed to this traumatic event that really started, like he wants to be able to spend more time with his family. He wants to be able to focus on how his weekends are gonna be things that are not just playing video games or watching television and Netflix and binge. And he's really trying to be able to give back to his community when it comes down to let's say, volunteer work. He sees that there's something bigger than himself, and he wants to contribute to it. And it was a course correction that he did based upon this event. And both of them can be life threatening, and it can be one of those things that now, this new appreciation means that he wants to lean into life, and that's the post-traumatic growth. That's kind of an example. 25:23 DF: Is that something coachable? 25:26 CP: No, I mean it's, you set, you set the frame right? As far as making sure that people are aware of it. So, that's why it's great that there's more research about it. So people aren't just saying like, oh my gosh, when it comes down to being exposed to combat and deployment, you know, a lot of times we have family members or spouses of NSW, or even when it comes down to family members, right? They see that their children are wanting to pursue this, and they think okay my son or daughter that's going to go into this community is going to be exposed to this and they're going to be forever damaged. That's the perception. [DF: Right.] But the thing that can set the frame is being able understand that it's not necessarily the case. Right? We're looking at incidents of 15 percent when it comes down to looking at, you have a hundred people that are exposed to the same exact event, fifteen percent are going to have PTSD, versus one hundred percent right. 26:15 DF: Wow, right, right. I've seen that in some of these people I've spoke with that have experienced trauma. Either, it's kind of a crumbling effect or a re-evaluation and kind of new appreciation. It's interesting to put a, a word to that, or phrase to that because I think that's obviously the case for some people that being able to walk away from an event, having learned a lesson as opposed to being traumatized. Two vastly different outcomes. And it seems as though through the pipeline, the Navy's been able to pull those people to the side and put them into intense situations. I think it's a lot of part of the selection process is seeing these people that have that type of resiliency. 26:55 CP: Absolutely. I mean, and they have, with both pipelines, right? When that operator wears that SWCC pin, or when it comes down to that operator who's newly anointed, wears that, that trident on their chest, that is a physical reminder of the fact that they've been resilient and have overcome adversity. 27:11 DF: Right, right. 27:12 DF: You hear so much about BUD/S and the rigors and stresses, the PST scores, all of it. How much of it is a mental game versus a physical game? 27:21 DF: A lot of emphasis is placed on the physical demands of BUD/S, but obviously the mental demands are just as great, if not greater. Can you speak to that a little bit? 27:31 CP: Absolutely. So, we've had, for example Olympians, medalists that have come through and physically, they're doing really well. We've had Division 1 athletes, collegiate athletes that have come through, and haven't been able to complete the pipeline. There's so much of the mental aspect of what they need to be able to do, and unfortunately it's not a soundbite that I can say, do X Y and Z. I think there has to be just an understanding that they have to embrace this and that this is something that is a commitment that's going to be lifelong. They have to look at the mental aspect from, not just the training pipeline because I know that perhaps a lot of your listeners here are going to want to know. Okay, give me the tools for success. Right? [DF: Right.] Give me the tools for success and I'm gonna be able to crush it, and then I'll be able to finish the pipeline. 28:18 DF: But sometimes that tool might just be knowing that they need to learn about the mental game. 28:21 CP: Absolutely. And they can't, they can't just stop on that. Like it has to be throughout their career, right? 28:26 DF: Yeah, a life skill really. 28:28 CP: Absolutely. So it's one of those things that they look at these aspects and we can easily dismiss it, right? Like how many people brush their teeth but don't floss, right? Until it becomes gingivitis. It's one of those things that people will neglect until it becomes a problem. And that's when we see them, like we clinically will see people when they're having some issues. The people that are able to incorporate these practices, they're able to have successful careers. Right? And they're able to bounce back from when they experienced adversity, and they're able to incorporate being able to have successful ops, and they're able to do all these things because of the fact that they've invested the time in these mental skills. 29:05 DF: Do you have general advice for anyone who is going to be facing adversity or going into a difficult task whether it's BUD/S or something else that they need to be maybe more aware of or just kind of re-remind them of? 29:15 CP: So two things come to mind. And I think these are globally applicable for everyone, to ensure some type of success. So the first one has to do with just being genuine, be yourself. Right? And that's something that's really important. If you're genuine and you're going in this pipeline and who you are and what your capabilities are and you're someone who's impressionable and is eager to learn and motivated, the pipeline including all of the cadre and instructors, every single part of the process, they're going to see that. That you are that that lump of clay that can be molded. Right? If you're genuine, then you're a good fit for the community and you have to entrust that you being genuine is what you can control, and let the process, let the instructors in the pipeline make the determination of like, okay, this person's continuing to maintain his standards, and this person should be an operator. So just as long as you're being genuine with the whole process, then I think that's a great takeaway. The second one though, has to do with adversity. We have a number of candidates that they come in, and they were great academically they're great in sports. They're multitasking jobs. You know, like they're, they have in our fleet transfers, right? There's a reason why their commanding officers and CMC’s wrote those letters of endorsement. And they're here and they want to be able to perform, and a lot of them never felt the experience of any type of failure or setback. And this is the first time they're experiencing it. And, the ones that are successful that can continue are able to bounce back from that setback and they're able to continue. So one thing that we see routinely is let's look at something like, trying to be able to clear a house. Right? You have someone that's trying to be able to clear a house, they get some feedback on something they shouldn't have done, and they just focus on that one fall. Right? Every single thing as far as all the things we're doing really well the last few runs [DF: it falls by the wayside.] it falls by the wayside. They just focus and fixate on the flaw of what happened during this last run. And that happens for every physical evolution, that it just, it looks physical, but there's a mental game to it. So, I would say one piece of, one kernel of advice is for people that are candidates, is to look at experiences they've had, not just look at the successes but really do an autopsy on those failures, the setbacks that you've had and how to be able to look at the lessons learned. How did that make you a better person, a stronger person when it comes down to these were sort of deficiencies, right? Maybe these are things that I'm always going to have issues with. Right? I'm going to have issues with my confidence. I'm going to have issues, let's say I'm not the strongest swimmer. Not only can you find ways to be able to get training or mentorship on those deficiencies, but knowing what they are and playing to your strengths. 32:03 DF: Well I think that kind of encapsulates a big part of the challenges of getting through the pipeline and having a continued successful career with NSW. So thank you so much for your time, we really appreciate it. 32:12 CP: Absolutely, thank you. 32:15 DF: Find out more at and join us for the next NSW podcast.
Jul 01, 2019
25 Focusing on Goals and Overcoming Adversity
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Setting achievable goals and learning to cope with adversity are crucial skills for Navy SEALs and SWCC. In this episode a senior Navy recruiter describes these characteristics and more. For more info check out 00:21 Intro: Senior Chief Omar Ozuna, has spent much of his 25-year career in the Navy as a recruiter. He has seen hundreds of successes and failures in his time working with Special Operations candidates and his words of wisdom are helpful for anyone striving to achieve lofty goals. He discusses the important combination of work, attitude, and humility. He also helps to break down the importance of keeping a vision of your “what” and “why,” while balancing that with 100% focus on the next step in front of you, often in the face of great adversity. After you listen to this one, check out our “Mental Toughness” episode for a closer look. 01:01 AG: First of all, we want to thank you for being here. I know this is a really big weekend for you. 01:05 OO: Yes it is. 01:06 AG: But, thanks for being here. And if you want to start just by giving us a little context of how you got into this world where did you come from how did this all start. 01:15 OO: OK. Well I've been in the Navy going on 25 years. I'm originally from South Texas. So, most of my life, my adult life has been in the Navy. I've spent a little time. I started off in the fleet then went into recruiting and then I've also done mainly a lot of focus on special operation recruiting. So, I'm kind of spread out not just solely on one area I kind of have a little bit of everything a kind of smorgasbord of information when people come up to me I can somewhat relate to many different walks of life. One of my tours that I've really enjoyed is being a part of the SEAL/SWCC scout team and really seeing the future generation of frogmen and boat guys coming on board and seeing with the frogmen of the 21st century is going to take them. 01:58 AG: And you also have a unique perspective as someone who maybe came in not with any defined skill set for example you said you couldn't swim before you came in? And then... 02:11 OO: Yeah that's a good way of putting it. I like how you put that. I joined the Navy didn't tell my mom and dad, came home. Showed the brochure to my mom said, "Mom I'm joining the Navy" and the first words that came out of her mouth was "boy you can't swim." And that's a true statement. 02:23 AG: Uh oh. 02:25 OO: I did not have any aquatic skills. And of course, my dad told me I was way over my head and I just keep moving forward with it. I would end up going in and going to boot camp and passing, I don't know how I passed my third-class swimmers test. Got selected as a torpedo man out in the fleet started off out there and they were looking for volunteers to be search and rescue swimmers. And lo and behold I was the only one that raised my hand and they asked the same question, "can you swim?" I'm like "well not really but if you teach me I'll do it." I would start training every day for it and then opportunity rose again and I took the shot. They sent me off, I crushed the course, first time every time and nailed everything that was thrown at me, and about 10 weeks later I was doing my first open ocean rescue. I think that's always a very interesting thing to bring up to anyone that's listening. It's not where you start it's where you end. So, I want to make sure I'm honing on that message right there, that nothing's impossible. 03:20 AG: Well and you know that's a common theme in this podcast is that you don't necessarily have to be the high school swim team captain, to even to be a Navy SEAL. It's all about the attitude that you have coming in would you say that's your lesson learned from that? 03:35 OO: Wow, either you're reading my notes but you definitely hit it on the head. I do I talk about three attributes when we're looking for ideal candidates, and one of those attributes is definitely attitude. Definitely the attitude portion is huge because if you don't check your attitude your attitude will get checked, most definitely. So, I like how you say that everything is a state of mind if you're not coming in with a humble sense upon you. You often are going to get train wrecked along the way. 04:03 AG: And that you know both from watching people come through and your own personal experience I think that gives you a really unique perspective… 04:10 OO: It does. A large portion of my career has been in recruiting, and that's what I enjoy about the special operation community: many walks of life. I've seen some of my fellow brethrens with GEDs and some have more degrees than the thermometer. I get that and everything in between. But the diversification of the community is so amazing. All walks of life. That is one of the strengths that makes the Special Operation Community so unique and continue to be extremely powerful. 04:36 AG: That's amazing. What drew you to this field do you think? 04:40 OO: Well I think the passion...when it comes to the community, I go back to the thing that I talked about that I always admire is the brotherhood, the camaraderie, and I think part of that is just being in the Navy in general. I've always, from being a little boy, I could always remember you know having this sense of service. I wanted to serve something. It's something that I've always wanted to do and plan on doing it when I retire as well. 05:05 AG: I just realized we didn't set the stage for where we are. So, let's go back. So, we're here in San Antonio. 05:12 OO: Yes, we are. 05:13 AG: A little bit different location for us. Can you tell us about what goes on here in San Antonio and why it's a special place for recruiting? 05:19 OO: Woooo! Texas a great state, and San Antonio's a great city. Home of the Alamo. I think what's going on here in San Antonio, there's a, it's a family oriented area. It's a great place to raise a family. In Navy recruiting, we have what are called Naval Special Warfare coordinators and mentors. So, every recruiting district is assigned to look for the best, the brightest, and the talents in the Warrior Challenge Program, which I'm sure you're familiar with. And in that Warrior Challenge program we often try to find our SEAL candidates and our SWCC candidates as well. 05:54 AG: Can you just describe it real quick in case someone hasn't listened to previous episodes about the Warrior Challenge. 05:59 OO: The Warrior Challenge Program is broken into five categories. And it's a guarantee for you to go to basic training then you're off to prep, preparatory training to whatever specialized school that is. It could be EOD, Air Rescue, or SWCC, or SEAL, or Navy diver. 06:17 AG: A lot of special operators come out of Texas, don't they? 06:20 OO: If you were to just look at the Dallas area Houston, San Antonio you definitely got a good... I don't know if it's the hunting or what but you know a lot of good, good operators. I would say good, good people come out of here both on the SEAL team and on the SWCC team. Yes ma'am. 06:35 AG: What are the misconceptions that are out there today that you would like to address about either recruiting or anything else really in this community that you've had exposure to? 06:44 OO: Good question. Well I would I would start by you know these are some things I tried to tell potential, high potential candidates that are looking of joining. One thing is get your facts straight. There's a lot of information out there and not all of it is true and sometimes it was true at a time. But like anything else, the Navy changes. Policy changes so those standards that were once available to us even a decade ago or two decades ago may not be in existence now. Something I always let them know, if it's not written it's not real. I need to make sure that that they see the fine print and they understand what that means and the best source is getting contact with a Navy recruiter and ask the questions and keep asking till you get the answers. 07:28 AG: And probably one caveat to that would be if it's not written on an official Navy website it's not real. 07:34 OO: Pretty, pretty much. There's a lot of information out there and every now and then we have a major policy change, but the recruiters are educated and trained for that along with our mentors and coordinators to know any hard rudder shifts that we make out messaging wise is known. And a follow up is always your best antidote to that. 07:55 AG: Yep, that makes a lot of sense. Are there are any others that come to mind, even if it's just a myth of some sort that you've heard... 08:02 OO: Yeah definitely. The myth is, you know I find a lot of people on the fence about should I try out? Do I have what it takes and so on and so forth. If it seems like they're on the treadmill of indecision making and they are going nowhere fast. So, a message that I would like to say to our potential candidates is, see if you qualify. Let the testing up to the instructor staff, to the recruiting staff to see if you meet the merit. There's a lot of steps involved in you becoming a special operator. One of my, Chinese proverb that my father actually wrote to me my first year didn't make a whole lot of sense then but it sure makes sense now. He says a journey of a thousand miles began with a single step, and that was written by Confucius if I'm not mistaken and I really didn't [AG: love that.] I didn't understand where that was going then. And as I have gotten older and I was sharing before is, it's not where you started, it's where you end. And I want that messaging to go out is whatever it is that you're up against, take that one step. There's a thousand more steps you must take, but you ain't going nowhere fast if you're still on that treadmill of indecision. 09:11 AG: What do you think holds people back? 09:13 OO: For you know, from personal experience, the four-letter word 'fear'. 09:19 AG: Yeah. 09:20 OO: You're afraid that you will fail, get rejected or, you name it. I think a lot of that it holds... It's not just speaking to Special Operations. 09:29 AG: I was just going to say that's all of life. 09:32 OO: Yeah, that's all of life, right? That you're just like, what do I do? You know I don't want to do that. So, I try to address that. You know a lot of times and I ask them questions you know what is your what and why? Especially for candidates that want to join. What is that drive that's getting them and why is it important to them. And I keep peeling back that onion because I really want to know, are they really serious about this? This is not something that you dabble in. You know you let me try this and let me try that. It's going to require a lot of you. So, I definitely try to address that at my level. What are the what and whys that are driving you to this point and define those swim lanes right from the cuff. When they've made decisions, this is what they want to do. 10:15 AG: Do you think that there are common whats and whys that seem to lead to the path to success or is it across the board? 10:24 OO: I think, oh boy that's, that's another great one. With so many books and information out there, there there's some standard stuff I hear among the candidates and they were either they read or heard. And that's true. I believe that's very, very true of them to want to believe that. A lot of it is just the sense of desire. You know a former Master Chief and I don't remember his name but he really honed in something to us that was a long time ago when I was aspiring to be BUD/S student is he said, "have you ever noticed that it says U.S. Navy SEAL" and all of us like of course he says "well it's a pecking order. Is first you serve your country through the United States, then the Navy if given an opportunity if you do graduate you become a SEAL. Don't forget that." And I always like to share that with everyone is like your first steps foremost is you're serving your country. You're going to serve it through the Navy and if given an opportunity you can put any job you want. SEAL, Torpedo Man, Air Rescue, SWCC. It has the same theme in it. Cause you know, this is where I'm at. And don't forget that. And that's to this day 20 some years later, you know, I'm still able to regurgitate that. [AG: Yeah.] Unknown to me at the time. 11:39 AG: It's Powerful. [OO: It was very powerful.] So, for people who end up going in the SEAL/SWCC direction do you think there are whats and whys that seem to distinguish them from other, since you've kind of, you've had experience with recruiting for various different jobs, [OO: Oh, for sure, yes.] right? [OO: Yeah, I have.] Are you getting the feeling that there's kind of a what and why to that community that's different? Or you know how would you describe that? 12:03 OO: I try to, to describe that as, you know I try to find the sense of purpose of serving. What is it that you've come here to do. You know the only job that you've ever started at the top is obviously digging a hole as they say. You got to start somewhere and... 12:18 AG: Wait, explain that metaphor, I think I lost it. 12:19 OO: Explain that one? Well the only, the only job you'll ever do, can’t start at the top, you can't walk into any business and say I want to be the CEO, I want to be the marketing director, talent acquisition director. You got to start somewhere. [AG: Yeah] And it's at the bottom. 12:33 AG: So the only job that you start at the top is just... 13:34 OO: Digging a hole, yes. Do I need to go back on that one? 12:38 AG: No, that's good. 12:40 OO: So I guess I'm digging myself a hole right now with this bit. 12:42 AG: No, no. I just, it went over my head for a second because I was like trying to... 12:46 OO: That's okay, my apologies. 12:49 AG: So go on about the whats and whys. 12:52 OO: The whats and why, and lot of them is, you know, I'm always trying to dig deep in in that sense of what is that you really want and why you want it. I want to make sure that a person that is going to these programs have a sound idea what they want out of life and how to go about accomplishing it. Whether they see success or failure that's their business. But I would rather have them experience one or the other than never experience it at all and enter the sea of regret. That's not a good place to be. And often the greatest teachers I've ever had are failures. Many tremendous amount of setbacks. But with that I always let them know a lot of setbacks lead you to set ups for the home runs in life. If you come in with an attitude of being known as a finisher, just finish what you started. 13:35 AG: Do you think that when you asked that question, you know there's an answer that sets off kind of a green light in your head? You know when you start digging deeper, there's certain answers where you're like, okay, you're going to make it? Or is it really just an individual thing? 13:49 OO: It is definitely an individual thing. I mean if somebody's out there that can look at a person to say you know what, you're definitely destined to greatness, you're going to make it. You know there'll be a multibillionaire at this point [AG: Yeah.]. That's what makes this, this community somewhat of a mystery is that only a few are selected and a few are chosen. And you just don't know. You just don't know what's inside of a person. I often say you know some things are meant to be broken and it's in the brokenness that you find that energy where you find that source where you never thought you had it. Never thought you can be a non-swimmer to a swimmer. Never thought that you can be with somebody that has more degrees than a thermometer and just be a South Texas or Utah boy serving with a GED. It's pretty amazing to see such a contrast of individuals. And at the end of the day those individuals are there serving side by side worlds apart from each other but they have that common theme of being the best they believe themselves to be. 14:50 AG: I’m just curious what about your job inspires you? 14:52 OO: I was just talking about this with my wife. You know as I'm winding down 25 years what inspires me to this day is seeing the young men and women, the look on their faces of coming and being afraid and going into the unknown and coming back and just transforming their lives. Whatever it is that they go after. I hear their dreams, their aspirations, their goals, everything. And in being in this type of environment it makes me feel like a kid again. I'm like, I remember that when I was 19. I remember that at, you know, whatever age. And that always, it seems like it's just a cycle of that. Or when somebody is just not doing well and I'm like, I've been there. I get it. I totally can relate. Not that I'm going to throw him a lifeline all the time but, I understand that I always tell him, I said adversity's good. It's teaching you something. Embrace it. So those little things always invigorates me that I quite frankly, I probably love doing it another 20 years. 15:51 AG: When you look back is there, is there something in particular. You know, if I'm a candidate sitting across from you, that you would tell me that you wish you had known on the first day? 16:02 OO: Oh yeah you got definitely, besides looking at our website, looking at all the information, the things that I would definitely do is besides getting your information, get yourself a good mentor. Get in contact with people that either have completed or done something that can help you achieve that which you're looking after. 16:25 AG: And do you mean that really early on? Like how early can you do something like that? 16:28 OO: I say the earlier the better. You know if you're. [AG: Like while you’re thinking about…?] While you're thinking about it [AG: Okay.] you know, you want do you want to throw some counseling out there you know, with many counselors’ success comes with it. You want to hear some feedback and you want to hear, you know, how was your experiences, you know, whether, in the military in general you can start there and then start peeling back because not a lot of people are going to be opened up to that. If you're further up the chain and you've already made a decision, you're in the process and you, this is what you want, our mentors and our coordinators, that's what they're there for. To listen to their stories, to help you in training and develop you and get you where you need to be, that's their job to do that. And they're located in every recruiting district throughout the nation 26 out there. So, there's definitely people out there. We also have our scouts as well along with our scout team. So, you can definitely lean on that. And the one thing, the last thing, and I kind of chimed in earlier is have a follow up mechanism in your plan. Nothing ever happens unless you follow up and that's where assumptions come into play. Well I assume this and I assume that. You want some feedback on your process. Am I doing the right thing? Is this good? Am I moving in the right direction? If you're not having a feedback mechanism in your goal setting, you really don't know you're doing your honest work and not knowing that you've been doing the wrong work all along. So, I think feedback is very important. A follow up mechanism. 17:52 AG: From other people, or is this a self-engrained practice? 17:54 OO: Most definitely, I would do both, from yourself and from others, outsiders looking in. 18:01 AG: As a sort of piece of advice for building that internally, I think that a lot of people both military and non-military struggle with building systems so that when you're put under stress you're able to have an ingrained feedback [OO: Right.] loop. Do you have any advice on how to build that? How to, you know, create that within yourself? 18:25 OO: Well there is a saying that says success leaves clues, and that's true. And I also believe success is intentional. So, things like that you have to be intentional of what you're doing, you got to be focused. Obviously, what you're up against and having the right mental attitude. And why say about the following mechanism is feedback is extremely important because it tells you what you're doing and what you're not doing. Why I say that too is what if a person gave you bad gouge and you did qualify, and then you find out later. I could have been on the teams or could have done this could have done that. But I listened to somebody, tribal knowledge as I call it because back in the day and you never even took the shot. Never gave yourself the one thing most people don't want to do is give themselves an opportunity. 19:10 AG: So that means there has to be a pretty important balance of internal checkpoints and trusting external feedback. 19:18 OO: Yes definitely. It's, you came on another word and trust you know, I'm kind of going to branch off on that. [AG: Sure] In the community, that you often hear the total man concept. [aka “whole man concept”] 19:29 AG: Total man concept? 19:31 OO: The total man concept is making sure, you know, not only are you physically sound, mentally sound, but having, being a person of character person of integrity and trust is everything. Trust is absolutely everything. If you can't trust somebody, you know, what good are you. You know, just that at the end of the day, did he, did he not pack the gear. I have no idea. You know and so on and so forth. So, for those things are very, are that one word. That trust is extremely important as well. As far as what you're talking about, what I'm going to tell potential candidates is, can I trust you? Can you do the little things? The little things always lead to the big things and don't go the other way around. 20:11 AG: What kinds of little things? 20:13 OO: Small things, showing up on time, having your gear ready, have a process of improvement in place. You know, you did only 45 push-ups but were they solid 45 push-ups? Can I inch it to 50 now? Little things like that stem and they, you can use that as small principles that will lead into bigger principles. In doing something a little bit more dangerous, a little bit more high risk, and may potentially even save their lives in the future, if they're not paying attention to detail. 20:40 AG: That also goes back to your journey of a thousand miles starts with one step because it sounds like that's an easy piece of advice to give someone who's just trying to figure out, you know, this is something I want to do that I don't know how to get started. [OO: Right.] Sounds like there's a you know it's just paying attention to the very small things it's, you know, it doesn't have to be a lot of push-ups, but they just have to be really well done. 21:01 OO: I like how you put the quality and quantity. You know a lot of times we concentrate on, I can do X amount of this and X amount of that, but is it proper? Are you doing it properly? Are you doing it right, you know, or is it sloppy? But I think with what I try to ingrain in the high potential candidates is I try to give them their vision from day one. Is this what they want and why they really want it, and I need them to ask that every day of themselves. 21:29 AG: Every day. 21:30 OO: Every day. You got to ask yourself this is this is a total commitment, this ain't a half commitment, this is, it's going to require all of you, not just part of you. And I think from my personal failures is because I wasn't committed, I wasn't focused, I wasn't committed. Why I failed at any, most things is because I wasn't invested in it. So that's the things I try to tell them, this is one of many steps because when you get to prep, game on, when you get to BUD/S and selection phase game on and guess what, you make it through that, you got SQT, game on. Get to the teams, new cat on the block. Game on. [AG: Then it’s life or death.] After that it's a constant proving ground for them. 22:11 AG: Well that's, I mean, anyone should strive to live their lives, all in, right? 22:16 OO: Yes, they should. 22:17 AG: So that's quite a, you can extrapolate that for any career, any life choice I suppose. 22:22 OO: Most definitely. 22:23 AG: Those are inspiring words to hear for, you know, just every morning getting up and saying, "Why am I doing what I'm doing?". [OO: Right.] You shouldn't forget. 22:30 OO: Your what and your why, define it and the more you define it the more you can work towards that you really want. 22:37 AG: And would you say the first question that arises is, you know, is it okay if that changes? 22:42 OO: Of course. And that's part of the decision making. I think that's part of why you have the process of recruiting and selection and prep and whatnot, is to find out, you know, is this what I really, really want to do? 22:55 AG: But maybe you know I'm even saying perhaps you know you want to be a Navy SEAL, for one reason and then as you go through the process it kind of evolves into something else. Is that okay? 23:05 OO: I think so. I think a lot of life is about change. You know every day we get older every day we get wiser or dumber. One or the other. You know I seen a lot of old people not so wise. So, and I've also seen a lot of young people that are just phenomenal. The most successful people that I've been around is because they define what they want and why they want it. [AG: Yeah.] And we're clear about it. So, when the storm's adversity would arrive which they always do, they knew they stood on that bedrock knowing this is the reason why I'm here. 23:41 AG: Wow that is powerful. [OO: Thank you.] Do you write these things down? Is that how you do it? How do you...? 23:46 OO: Yes, I've been journaling since 1999. [AG: Wow!] Not every day but pretty much every day. You really want to walk out after putting the page down saying, my god, I can do this. What have I been doing. I don't have my why defined or my what. And then once you get that you start putting the pieces together and formulating a plan and doing it. 24:06 AG: Can you break down the top three most important things someone should know if they're considering a career in special operations? 24:13 OO: Top three things that I would consider if you're looking at special operations especially being a new potential applicant, a recruit. I'm going to use the four-letter word 'work'. There's a lot of work involved. And if you're not used to that you better get used to it pretty quickly. I wish there was a microwave bag of success. I'd like to say that and I'll just pop it in and it pops and there it is wah-lah. But everybody that I've seen go through training go recruitment side, especially, it's a lot of work. It's a lot of work of dedication on yourself and you're holding yourself and your teammates accountable at the same time. So that work, having a good work ethic is good. The other one I would say is be trainable. You want to have a training attitude. I've seen a lot of good people that are runners and swimmers and weightlifters, CrossFit, and they do, they do phenomenal out there. They're crushing it. And the one thing I kind of key onto is are they there spending extra time helping those that are not good. [AG: Oh interesting.] Or are they there taking the time and being just a sounding board and helping those, I'm very keen on that, on the high performers in the water and then, are there allowing themselves to be trained or they're allowing themselves to let their gifts be trickle down to others is also something I key into. And the last thing is having a spirit of humility. There's a saying that the way to the master's chambers is through the servant's quarters. You want to be humble. You do. You definitely want to be humble. That goes a long way not only starting your career in the military but especially in NSW. You may be very smart and talented but you want to make sure you have a sense of humility and don't pretend like you got it all figured out. 25:59 AG: That might be surprising to people who have, you know, seen the Hollywood movies and the television shows, that one of the top three most important characteristics is humility. 26:08 OO: Right. Definitely having a sense of, again this is my opinion from the ground level of a person who's looking, what are some three things, that's definitely one I would like you to think about, am I humble to this approach. 26:21 AG: How do you think someone cultivates humility? 26:23 OO: It's hard. [AG: Yeah.] It's hard to, cause you figure you're looking at environment that you got to have a type A personality and you're hugging the board of arrogance. [AG: Right.] Often that is not the word arrogance, but it's confidence in yourself and your abilities in which you can do. But being humble, especially at the ground level is, you want to make sure that you're being receptive to the training that's being provided to you and not making assumptions based on what you read and what you hear. There's a reason why it's called Basic Underwater Demolition SEAL training. It's at the basic level, it's teaching you the grass roots of what's special ops is all about and then building from there. They often say it's a crawl, walk, run method, and that's a great approach. You know, if you're looking at, I'm first crawling you know then I'm going to learn the walk and then I'm going to learn to run, the high speed low drag approach to whatever it is. So definitely have the spirit of humility. 27:15 AG: Which would be hard for someone who's a, you know, maybe high school track star or [OO: Exactly.] swim captain or someone who's used to being the best. 27:22 OO: The thing about the Spec Ops community when you're screening for those, I believe it x-rays your soul. [AG: Oh wow.] So, what I mean by that is any imperfections that may arise and it may, some of them may not even be physical. [AG: Yeah.] It may be a character flaw that you personally may have. You've got to face your, your enemy that devil and wrestle it now. 27:40 AG: Wow, I've never heard it described that way. But I get what you're saying. Would you say that's a lot because of the types of environments you're placed in that kind of bring you... 27:50 OO: Not necessarily that I'm placed in but I'm speaking in generality for people that are, are on the fence and people that are in the process. You know, what's the program about. It's not just about running, swimming, and shooting and all that other stuff. That's great and all, but we're talking about going deeper. And that's that deep phase you know where that x-ray comes upon you. A good indication's Hell Week. You know, can you, can you not. You know what comes out of that, are you able to move forward with it. You're looking at the right person to make this happen. So, I'd like to let them know, you know, this is something that you may be, you may be putting that fake facade. But at the end of the day it's going to x-ray you, they're going to find out who's who in the zoo, and you get exposed okay. Carry that spirit of humbleness and prepare to work. Let's get after it. Let's go and crush it. 28:38 AG: Have you, you've seen a lot of people come through and a lot of people succeed and a lot of people fail. Are there just certain kinds of people that you know can make it? 28:46 OO: Many are called and only a few are chosen and it almost sounds like I'm trying to be religious and coming from the Bible. But I think that's also applicable to the special operations community. I always tell the young men and women that are screening for special ops is try to be known as a finisher. Finish what you start and the story that I will share with that is when I was in middle school, I was tasked to run the 3,200-meter race and I said hell I can do it. Let's do it. I wasn't much of an athlete so I went out there and tried to knock it out. The first couple laps, I gave it my all. I was sprinting out there and I noticed everybody was running at a snail's pace. And lo and behold, I realized that 3,200 meters was a long way to go. And it wasn't long before those that I was running against started lapping me and I had to make a decision. The race was over. Everybody had come in and I hadn't finished my course. I was still out in the course running and my track coach was calling he was saying just come on in. And I said "no, I got to finish what I started". It wasn't about me placing at that point it was about me just completing what I said I was going to do. Embarrassed, yes. You know talk about humiliated, definitely. But I went out there and I finished it and I crossed the line and I reflect on that because I want everybody to know that it's not where you start, it's where you end. Be known as a finisher, whether you see success or failure. It's better than living with regret of the should haves, could haves, would haves, and you can learn a lot. Every sense, everything that you see, any type of failure that comes upon you, it comes with it a seed of greatness if you allow it to teach you. Instead of being bitter and being harsh, well it wasn't meant to be or the staff was against me, take ownership. You own it. You own 100 percent of it and once you start doing that and having that attitude of just doing the small things and finishing up lead to bigger things and that's probably what I want to tell them that, the essence of it to people when you experience failure. 30:49 AG: Because it's not just about the act of finishing it's the attitude that I am going to finish this. That's probably a pretty big factor. [OO: There you go, yes.] There's clearly a lot of hurdles as you've mentioned. [OO: Yes.] So first if you want to point out any hurdles you know of that, you know, is important for someone to know coming in, and then you know I have some specific questions about, you know, MEPS in particular. [OO: Okay.] it is kind of the nitty gritty of getting through because they know there's just some things from the outside looking in that might look a little complicated on the website. 31:19 OO: I would say, you know, is the swimming a lot of, a lot of people kind of say you know what I cannot do this because they're judging it based on, I can't swim very well. I like to throw that out there, I'm like you know what, give it a shot. You know the staff is outstanding they will show you how to do the proper side stroke. Often people like that don't have any bad habits so it's easy to teach them and they become very fluid in the water. 31:46 AG: Almost better maybe than someone who thinks they're good, but has bad habits. 31:48 OO: Almost, almost better or give them a fighting chance to qualify. [AG: Yeah.] And you apply that with that four-letter word of putting the work into it. You reap what you sow, you get what you get put into it and success usually accompanies that. You know, I always want to encourage them to try and let the staff help you, cultivate you in where you ultimately want to be. 32:09 AG: And then when it comes to some of the more, you know, the clerical part of getting through, do you have advice... So in particular, it seems, like MEPS keeps coming up. 32:19 OO: MEPS is a good one because the process, you know, that's something, you know, it's governed, it's not just a Navy thing Army thing, Air Force or Marines. MEPS is the gatekeeper. You know, if the physical doesn't go as planned, you know it's not something we did. It's something that, we have to either get documentation to justify to show that you're eyesight's good or you don't suffer from depth perception or you're not colorblind. So, there's a lot of little things that may stop that hurdle. I also encourage applicants I said you know setbacks are good, it's teaching you something. It's teaching you that what and why. Do I really want this, and why I want it and that one little hurdle? Am I shutting down because oh, it wasn't meant to be. And are you ready to mount up again and move forward? So, I try to spin it around when I see scenarios like that. Not all of them are favorable. And that's part of it and that's OK. You know, I always go back to United States Navy and then whatever job that they're wanting to serve, and kind of remind them the whole purpose of this is you want to serve your country you want to do it in the Navy. 33:19 AG: I think the question I'm trying to channel for people that write in, is they just sort of get stuck in that process a lot, where it's not necessarily about them and their medical record or anything [OO: Right.] It's more about just not, the process just stops. 33:33 OO: Right. It's, they're the gatekeepers, MEPS. In order for you to even apply. You have to have a good physical, and a good physical with a qualifying ASVAB score in order for your training to begin. Some people do get caught up in that and it's not something we do as recruiters, it's the process. That's something that totally out of my hands and whatever the doctor is asking for we try our best with the help of our applicants to provide the information to see if that's justification to either get an exception a policy or a waiver for them to continue the process. 34:06 AG: So it sounds like the best piece of advice is, come back to you, or someone like you or someone that’s been... 34:11 OO: Someone in the, getting contact with the coordinators and recruiters and usually that's the recruiters are the ones that are going to get the information saying hey I need history of whatever it is. Everybody's a little bit different. It's a privacy act statement so it's very... [AG: Sure.] It's based on individual circumstances. 34:29 AG: But you guys are going to be a little more familiar with how to respond and, yeah. 34:32 OO: Yes, we definitely have the guide, the procedures, the people. We know the waiver, so don't, that's another thing just don't think that that's where the line stops. [AG: Yeah.] You know, you want to take that next step and push forward until the answer's no, it's no. And then let the dust settle from there. Reassess. 34:51 AG: I think that's what I was kind of getting and it seems like it's important to let them know that they're not on their own at that stage. So, they have [OO: Right.] they have a support system. 34:58 OO: They do have a support system and there's people up and down the chain of command trying their very best to get them in favorable conditions for them to either continue training or just to be a part of the Navy altogether. 35:12 AG: Do you speak to people at this at the early stages about the actual job itself? Or do you usually focus on, given that your model and your theory is, all you have really to think about is the stuff in front of you. 35:26 OO: I am, I would have to say the step in front of you. [AG: Yeah.] It's like starting college and you're thinking of a master's program. That's not, that's not, you'll be overwhelmed. [AG: Yeah.] So, you want to keep the main thing and be focused on, I need to make sure you're 100 percent at that point. Let's move you to this segment. The coordinators, the mentors are going to cultivate you, get you your contract, and then we get you off to prep and prep does the prep. You know learn how to be a sailor first and foremost, and prep takes over at that point. And then you got that other vetting process and so on and so forth. You try to eat that whole elephant in one shot. You know you might gag yourself or psych yourself out altogether. 36:02 AG: Yeah, yeah. How do you merge the two? My takeaway from this is that there's the two most important visions to keep in mind, are the big picture umbrella of the what and why, [OO: Right.] and how you're going to get through today. 36:16 OO: That's well said, well put. 36:19 AG: So how do you merge those two, because those are, I mean is it essentially cutting out the middle part? Is that all what it boils down to? 36:25 OO: Not necessarily. You can, like any journey you know, like we talk about taking that one step, you know there's a thousand more steps. But after that one step it's now 999 left and then another one and so on and so forth. So, you kind of set your goal and get yourself slowly in that mindset is, this is ultimately where I want to be but in order for me, I need to concentrate on this and this matter. Master that, I move forward to this and this and always reminding yourself, it's very easy to get distracted in this day and age…you just got to worry about you. Focus on you as the candidate trying to get through. Meantime, you know, have a spirit of humility, have that work ethic. Be a teammate, be a shipmate and willing to help others if need be, because that's what the community's about. 37:10 AG: Yeah, I like that lesson in terms of it's really hard to focus in, you know, when you have any career decision to make or any kind of daily grind that you're a part of to decide what to pay attention to. [OO: Right.] You know there's just a lot of options especially now when your, you know, your e-mail's constantly coming in and your texts are constantly coming in. So, the idea that you know step 2 through 999 don't matter, it's really nice, [OO: Right.] it's a nice way to simplify it. 37:41 OO: I like how you put that. You know you can be easily inundated with so much information or who do I trust or what do I do. Like any, there, anything you're doing is, it's a step by step. Crawl, walk, run. This is what I'm responsible, this is my area of responsibility, this is what I need to do for me today, and that's it. And then tomorrow will take care of itself. And then the next day. We can really get ourselves wrapped around the axle when we're just trying to take everything in at the same time. And psych yourself out, I know I've psyched myself out many times by thinking I had to do this, this, and this. Just getting here today. You know I had a lot to do. 38:20 AG: Well we appreciate it. Well, yeah. The way that translates for me is, you know, you don't have to worry about being an expert in swimming, you don't have to worry about being an expert in weapons. Or if it's, you know, just in regular civilian life, you don't have to worry about being an expert in anything except today. 38:36 OO: For the most part. Everything stems on the little things. If you're disciplined on small things, than the big things you'd be ready for. [AG: Yeah.] And so on and so forth. You can't just wake up one morning and say I'm going to the NBA or NFL. There's been a process. The whole thing is a process. Even right down to the food we eat its first a seed, then a plant, then the fruit. So, it's all a process, it's not microwaving or going from zero to 60. And often if you misstep and you do the shortcuts that's when you are exposed with character flaws. If you have sudden success and sudden this and sudden that, because you didn't learn, have that fundamental base truth what is supporting that. And I've seen a lot of things falter because they did not have the foundation from day one and missed a step. 39:21 AG: That's really interesting to think about some of the one hit wonders and, you know, quick successes that suddenly just disappear. It's like... 39:29 OO: That's my look, on my take on it. 39:32 AG: Yeah, yeah. That's a really good way of looking at it. Can you tell me a little bit about what the ethos and the culture are for Special Operations once you're...of course it's going to influence this whole training part of it, but once you're in a community, full-fledged, what does that look like? 39:48 OO: You know we touched a little bit about attitude and attitude's everything in the community. Having the right attitude on being focused and ready to crush it under extreme circumstances become very infectious with everybody and be trainable with a good attitude, humbleness. You know a lot of these things are echoing from, from coming in you know being in there. And I said, you know, you don't have your attitude checked you will get checked of any imperfections. The other one is adversity. It's in our ethos, it talks about the ethos of adversity, both in BUD/S and SEAL training. You are going to be put in through a lot of different types of adversities and stressful situations. And that's the things that I always ask my high potential candidates. What is adversity? In your words, and give me an example of something that you overcame adversity with. Again, I'm trying to get that wheel moving for them to talk about, what is that version of me. I don't know. And so on and so forth trying to go into that second layer we talked about and the last portion is actions. Your actions will always speak louder than your words. I mean, we say that a lot. Be a person of your word and follow through. You heard me say just be a finisher. Finish what you started. Doing the small things will always help you leading to the big things and the details are extremely important, especially if you're pursuing a career in Special Operations. Your word tends to be your bond, your currency. 41:09 AG: How do you define adversity? 41:11 OO: I define adversity is an undesirable situation that occurs without your consent. 41:21 AG: And how do you define what you would consider the proper response to adversity? 41:27 OO: Proper response for adversity, you know, the questions I ask myself you know what did I do to make this happen. [AG: Yeah.] You know, was it my fault. Notice I talk about ownership peace. What did I do? Where did I... I try to start with me first and foremost. [AG: Accountability.] Accountability. What can I do to change this? Is there something I need more training, more development, is it me? Lack of follow up, lack of something that I might have missed in the steps of my position, is important. I need to understand that. The other one, if it's something out of my realm I can only control what I can control at that point. I don't, I try not to let it shut me down. If I didn't do so well on my test today, well tomorrow's a new day. I'll put, I'll start again. I got a fresh start. I can make this happen. I try to stay away from the from the woe is me parties. I know I've thrown grand old parties of feeling sorry for myself with mariachis and cake and little peanuts and cervesas. That's all grand. But I have to get over it. Then I notice and this is, as I became older I realized that the faster I can overcome the situation, things get better faster. So instead of me dwelling on something that I cannot change for the life of me, I have to get over it as quickly as possible and that energy allows me to look at a solution or prevent that from happening again further down the line to someone else or to myself. And then that's how I kind of look at things. 42:48 AG: So just to summarize, adversity is a huge part of being in this community right from day one. 42:53 OO: It's anything. You know we talk about we always try to put in a special operation but it's from day one from being a part of the Navy being a part of the military you're going to face some kind of adversity, things that you're not used to or accustomed to. You have to learn that art of adapt and overcome in getting over whatever situation that has occurred. 43:13 AG: And can you summarize for me or your steps in for facing just the questions you ask yourself, just really quickly? 43:18 OO: The question I always ask myself, what did I do to contribute to this. Did I do something? Did I cause this to happen. Did I fail to follow up? The other one is what can I learn from it. A lot of times when we experience trials and tribulations like how you know and keep in mind this coming years of setbacks and in just getting bad deals. I started asking so what can I learn from it what can I possibly learn from this type of adversity that I'm facing, financially, physically, mentally, morally ethically, you can go down the list. And then the other one is in the process of improvement in that is how can I learn and teach it to somebody to make sure that hey this is what happens to me. These are the things I was doing. And that's not the right way to do it. You know, or maybe you have a better take on it than I do. You know give me some insight. I go back to that trainability. You know 10 years in the Navy. Show me, tell me what latest and greatest. 44:10 AG: Yeah, those are those are some words of wisdom that really apply across the board. I just want to thank you so much for being here today. It's been so interesting and inspirational to learn from you. 44:21 OO: Honor is all mine. Thank you, Angie.
Jun 19, 2019
24 Run Training Like a Navy SEAL
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Special Operations training involves running, and lots of it. In this episode we talk with Naval Special Warfare's director of fitness how to run for maximum effect. For more info check out 00:22 Intro: I’m Daniel Fletcher. Today we bring back the Director of Fitness for Naval Special Warfare, Mike Caviston, to cover a very important aspect of NSW: running. His advice on training, form, and commonly held misconceptions is crucial if you’re planning for a career in Naval Special Warfare, but also helpful for anyone who strives to be a more efficient and effective runner. Let’s get started. 00:48 DF: Thanks for coming back and speaking with us. We’re going to do a deeper dive about running in general. You know, we all do it, civilians, we do it as kids, it’s got some universal appeal to say the least. So, thanks for sitting down with us again. 01:00 MC: My pleasure, looking forward to it. 01:02 DF: We’ll start off by having you just give a brief history of your employment before coming to work where you do now. 01:10 MC: Well, before I came to the center, I was a coach and a teacher. I was at the University of Michigan, and I worked with a number of athletes in different sports, but primarily I was a rowing coach. I was a competitive rower myself, and I got into coaching. And while that was unfolding, I went and got my graduate degree at U of M in kinesiology, and I began teaching, and so I spent about 22 years as a rowing coach and 14 of those years as a lecturer in kinesiology. 01:36 DF: So, you have an extensive background, obviously, it’s awesome to be able to talk to you about this because I think this is something that is personally interesting to me. I’m a runner, and my father is a marathon runner, and so he kind of got me into running pretty early. We all think we know how to run, but in your view, what percentage of active runners are actually doing it correctly? 01:54 MC: That’s a hard question to answer. It’s hard to definitively say what correct running is, and I try not to get too caught up in that when I’m talking to people. I was just working with a group earlier today, the recent class that completed Hell Week, and they’re going through what we call Walk Week, and I’m trying to help them get back literally on their feet so that by next week, a couple of days from now, they can get back into regular training and pass their timed four-mile runs. And so, we review a lot of running technique and give them some running drills and help them get through the aches and pains that accumulated during Hell Week so that they’re feeling a little bit better about themselves. And that’s one of the things I stress to them, is that there’s no absolute right or wrong way to run, but I can give them some guidelines and some things to think about and especially for people that are sort of on the borderline. You know, they’re not the greatest runners, or maybe they’ve been running, and they keep getting injured, and they’re trying to figure out why, then I’ll give them some technical things to think about. But everybody’s built different, everybody has a different body type, everybody has a different training background, so I’m a little hesitant to say, “Oh, this is the correct way to run.” 02:54 DF: Right, and that’s because of you’re saying physiologically people’s differences although we may look very similar… 02:59 MC: Or, or we don’t all look that similar, so we get a wide variety of people here, you know, some football linebacker types that if they didn’t have to go through BUD/S, I wouldn’t have them run more than two or three miles a week. We also get people that were actually very competitive cross-country runners, and so, yeah, they’ve got a runner’s body, and they’ll do very well running. But as a mix of people, people that were primarily swimmers or water polo players, maybe they’re good athletes, but they haven’t really spent the years building up the bone density that would help them be good runners, and you know, maybe they’re going to run into some problems here, too. So, yea physiologically, anatomically, biomechanically, there’s all kinds of differences, and as I said, it’s hard to say categorically, here’s the right way to run. 03:41 DF: So, well, then I guess we’ll look at that from a different perspective. Where do you see a lot of people mistepping or… not physically but metaphorically misstepping. 03:49 MC: I think having the necessary background in aerobic training is something that I would encourage people to really consider and some people that are transitioning to running, they don’t like to run, they wouldn’t run, but you have to be able to pass running standards to be able to get through the program. So, okay, they’re going to do some running. They’d better do a certain amount of aerobic preconditioning before they really start to seriously run. 04:13 DF: Do you say that because people develop an innate sense of being in tune with themselves when they’re developing aerobic capacity, or because it, you mean more from like a clinical standpoint of them being to actually run and maintain a distance? 04:25 MC: Well, that’s the key thing, is being able to run and maintain the distance. I mean one of the things I try to emphasize when I talk about running, and I say it over and over again and encourage people to look at the statistics, that if you want to have a good chance of getting through the program, you’d better be able to run well. The better runners make it much, much more frequently than the poor runners, and the people that just barely pass the entrance standards, they pass at a rate of like 3 or 4%. So, it’s not good enough to just barely meet the standards. You have to be the best that you can be. So, when I say that, people say, “Well, why is running so important?” and I don’t know for sure, but what I think is the real reason is that overall endurance is better, and to be able to get through the tough selection portion of the pipeline, you need to do multiple hard things on a daily basis for several days and several weeks in a row. And we happen to capture that because running is a fairly easy thing to measure, so people have to do run tests, and the better runners will tend to perform better. But when it comes down to it, I think the reason that those better runners succeed is because they have a general overall endurance that benefits them in a number of different ways in addition to just being able to run fast. 05:34 DF: Yeah, you’re kind of looking at it from more of a whole person approach to understanding more aspects than just stride and foot strike and shoes. [MC: Right, correct, correct.] That, I think that’s important because, yeah, if you’re overweight, and you just want to start, “I’m going to go lose weight. I heard you should run,” like that is not a good idea. [MC: No, it’s not a good idea.] Like, I guess depending on how overweight you are, but has your own personal kind of philosophy on analyzing people’s running, has it changed over time? 06:02 MC: Well, what I’ve noticed over the years, a lot of people have participated in or been interested in a number of what I’ll just have to call fads, running fads. This technique is good, or this running shoe is good, or not wearing shoes at all is good, going barefoot is good, trying to run like our caveman ancestors, that’s good. I don’t know. I take all of that with a bit of skepticism and try to look at what really works for the people that we’re dealing with today. But things like mechanics and foot strike definitely have an impact. I mean I guess that’s a pun but didn’t mean it that way. 06:36 DF: Yeah, right, I did it earlier, so you’re not alone. 06:38 MC: It, it has an effect on outcome, it has an effect on injury rate, and so I want people to be aware of how they run. On the other hand, I don’t personally want people to overthink it. One of the things I tell people that have a certain amount of athletic experience is that if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. And so, if somebody is meeting their standards, and they’re comfortable running, and they’re confident in their running, and they’re not getting injured, even if they look a little quirky to somebody like me, I’m not going to try to turn them into something else. 07:05 DF: Yeah, they’re in tune with their body. 07:07 MC: Yeah, exactly right. And so, it’s the people that are struggling, you know, they, they’re not quite making the standards, or they’re not confident they can make the standards all the time, or they run, but they keep getting set back because they, they get injured, and then I take a closer look at the way they run and say, “Well, maybe if we try modifying this, you might have better success.” 07:24 DF: I think that’s one of the most fascinating parts of the human body, and you kind of touched on it there with the philosophy or the way you look at running, is that if one thing hurts, fix this thing, but it’s almost never the cause of the problem. And how the body’s kind of all interconnected and how it’s usually way, way, way different of a problem than most people would ever know. Is running kind of like that in terms of people having joint pain or anything like that? 07:50 MC: Oh, there’s so many interconnected things that it’s hard to untangle what the original cause might be, and so we work on a few different things, and hopefully we can get to what the root cause is. Sometimes we have to treat the symptoms before we know what the underlying cause is [DF: Right]. But I think one of the things you’re trying to get at when you’re just asking about technical things like what’s something that we focus on and something that over years that I’ve looked at, the foot strike pattern. And so, most people I think are aware of there are heel strikers, there are mid-foot strikers, there are forefoot strikers, and what will probably work best for most people most of the time is mid-foot striking. And I think over the years, I’ve modified my view on that a little bit. It was always clear, like the literature was always clear that mid-foot striking produced the lowest injury rate. What wasn’t clear is can you take somebody that was historically a rear-foot striker and turn them into a mid-foot striker? Again, I’m kind of hesitant to try to change people and say, “Oh, you should run this way,” because we might cause more problems than we fix. But it seems that, yeah, you’re probably going to be doing okay if you’re a mid-foot striker, and so that’s the sort of, that’s probably the first thing we’ll work on. Again, somebody that’s injury-prone, somebody that’s not particularly confident in their running ability, “Okay, let’s look at your foot strike, and if you’re heel striking, let’s get away from that, and let’s get more into mid-foot striking.” 09:05 DF: Yeah, I think that kind of in summary, you’re saying that there’s a, a lot of variation, and there isn’t a magic formula. 09:13 MC: Well, and I’m not 100% sure that we can turn somebody into a mid-foot striker. I think it’s worth trying to do, and the more I look at it, we’re probably not going to screw them up if we do that. So, you know, it’s not going to make them worse. It might make them better. My question is, you know, as an exercise scientist, as a researcher, as a devotee of running is, well, can we really take these people and turn them into mid-foot strikers permanently or in a meaningful way. I’m not 100% sure we can, but I think it’s worth trying. 09:39 DF: Yeah, or at least exposing them to see if they could cause not everybody but some people can. [MC: Yes, yes]. Can we talk a little bit about some of the injuries that are caused from running? 09:48 MC: Yeah, well, cause of injury is kind of a sensitive terminology. I don’t really like to phrase it that way, correlation with injury. So, we see certain injuries pretty regularly, and it probably is correlated with the running that they’re doing, but one of the things I try to get away from saying is that running causes injury. [DF: Right, right, right.] Well, it might. What does that mean? They shouldn’t run? Well, if you don’t run, you’re not going to be in good enough shape to be able to pass the selection process, so you have to do some running. When it comes to injury, we look at things like, well, how much mileage are you doing, and generally more mileage is a good thing, but you have to build up to it gradually. So, one of the things that I’ve heard bandied about for years is, “Oh, you got to run 40 miles a week,” and when I… 10:34 DF: Like that’s kind of the gold standard? 10:36 MC: Well, it is the gold standard. That’s what a lot of people, some people in NSW still say that. They still believe that cause they think that, “Well, when you’re in BUD/S, you’re maybe running 40 miles a week,” and that’s actually questionable. You don’t run that much at all. You shuffle along at varying paces, but you don’t actually run all that much. I think that 40 miles a week is a realistic goal for some people if they take the time to build up to it. Certainly a competitive cross-country runner is going to be running more than twice that a week, you know, so 40 miles a week isn’t unreasonable, but for some people, it probably is unreasonable. Again, the people with the body types that aren’t really conducive to running, but the people that aren’t natural runners, I wouldn’t push them to 40 miles in any week. Other people, I would say, “Yeah, you can get to 40 miles, but you got to take not just a couple of weeks to get there. You got to take several months, maybe, you know, maybe a year or more to get there.” 11:25 DF: Other than the gradual, I guess onset of mileage, what other things do you, do you do or people do to prepare their joints for that amount of impact? 11:34 MC: Well, so, one thing I would say is maintain a desirable body weight. One of the things that people have an image of coming to say BUD/S is that, “Well, I got to be big and buff and strong and have lots of muscles to be able to pick those logs up and carry those boats around,” and, yes, a certain amount of strength is required for that, but it’s actually more about endurance. And if you have to run up and down the beach carrying logs and boats, and you’re carrying an extra 30 pounds of muscle that you’re not using other times, that’s probably not going to go well for you. So, when I encourage people to prepare, I want them to prepare in many different ways, not just as a runner, but I want their strength training to reflect that they’re going to be mostly an endurance athlete, not a lifter of heavy objects. 12:17 DF: Yeah, I think that’s maybe pretty obvious to someone who is overweight that they’re like, you know, “My joints are in pain.” Anything else? 12:24 MC: Yeah, well, there are lots of things that people can do to prepare the joints and the different muscles and the tissues, and, you know, I’m asked, “Well, what about weightlifting?” Oh, that’s a good thing. You should weightlift. You should definitely strength train. That’s an important part of preparing for BUD/S. “Okay, well, how much should I squat? How much should I bench press?” I’m like, “Well…[DF: it’s not that simple] It’s not that simple, and that’s not the things I want you to be focusing on.” And, you know, unfortunately, most people are focused on being able to lift heavy weights, and we here contribute to that problem a little bit because we test that, and so, you know, in some sense, we reward people for being able to lift heavy weights. But what will have a bigger impact on their overall chances of making it through the program and certainly being able to run great distances without getting an injury is working on some of those smaller muscles that contribute to the running propulsion. So, everybody does squats, they do lunges, they do deadlifts, they build up enormous quads. I’ve got nothing against having strong quads, but there are a lot of other muscles that need to be strengthened proportionally. So for most people, they have ginormous quads but very weak hamstrings, and their glutes are weak, and so I say, “Well, balance your training out.” You know, do some lunges, do some squats, but do some hamstring curls as well. Get some glute bridges in there as well. Make sure you’re working the backside as much as you are the front side. And for a lot of people that have, for example, knee problems, a lot of the problem is that when they are on unstable surfaces, they can’t maintain proper posture, and they wobble from side to side. And so, you need to work on the lateral part of the hip, hip abduction and some adduction, so. 13:54 DF: Yeah, you’re talking to me right there. Yeah, yeah. 13:56 MC: Yeah, well, it’s a very common problem, and so a lot of people that have done a lot of running on firmer surfaces, “No, I’m fine. I’m okay,” but then they get out here, and they’re on the beach, or they’re on the obstacle course,” [DF: Or running up and down a hill or something, yeah.] exactly, where it’s very soft to loose surfaces, then stability is much harder, and below the knee, working on all the muscles around the ankle, so making sure people work on the calves. The calves are usually pretty strong but trying to get them to work in a good range of motion and emphasize the negative portion, the e-centric portion a little bit more, working on not only the calf, which is plantar flexion, but working on lifting the toes up, dorsiflexion. People that have problems with shin splints, they probably have weak dorsiflexors, and so there are exercises you can do to create resistance when you’re lifting the toes up and then lateral, side to side. When the foot goes through inversion and eversion and pronation and supination, the muscles that control that motion need to be strengthened. And for a lot of people, they’re saying, “What, there are muscles down there? What? How do I do that?” [DF: Right] So, try to give them guidance on how to, how to strengthen those muscles so that everything is able to bear the impact and then just proper body position. One of the very basic things that I would encourage somebody to improve their running is to work on their core strength and specifically the plank. Very simple exercise that I try to get people to do for a lot of different reasons, but one of the reasons is that it will improve their running posture. 15:17 DF: It’s interesting because the initial thought is like what are people doing wrong, and the answer really is what aren’t they doing. 15:24 MC: That’s, that’s more the issue. And so, you know, I’ve taken issue with a number of people who promote weightlifting, and it’s like, well, heavy weightlifting, like I said, doing the squat, doing the deadlift. It’s not that those things are necessarily bad, but if people focus on them exclusively, and as a result they don’t do the other things that are actually more important, then it’s bad. 15:41 DF: Yeah, that’s absolutely true. 15:42 MC: So, I agree with what you said. It’s not so much what they’re doing, it’s what they’re not doing. 15:45 DF: So, just to kind of clarify that for people, I think the misconception with big powerlifting movements is, “I want to get stronger. I want to lift this heavy weight,” but they don’t realize how weak comparatively muscles that are involved and that can prevent worse injury are in that process. So, humbling yourself to realize, “Hey, there’s other parts of my body that are involved in this process, of the concept of strength.” 16:08 MC: Well, and unfortunately, those aren’t the glamorous, sexy muscles that most people, you know, either cause of their own vanity or because they’re trying to impress other people, want to develop, but it’s actually important to do that to be able to increase your chances of succeeding. 16:20 DF: Yeah, right, yeah, you’re not, you’re moving your body when you’re running. You’re not pushing a car down the street, you know. How do you recommend people becoming in better tune with their bodies in order to even gauge the types of things they will need to when they run? 16:33 MC: I’m not sure how to tackle that question. Right? One of the things I think you’re asking, if you’re not, I apologize, but I’ve heard variations asked many times, is, well, if, you know, listen to your body. That’s important, right. Listen to your body, and, yeah, but it’s hard to understand exactly what [DF: How to interpret that?] yeah, yeah, cause myself. It’s like, if I listen to my body literally, I wouldn’t get out of bed most mornings. [DF; Yeah, yeah right.] It’s like I don’t feel like it. I certainly wouldn’t go for a long run, you know, so like my body’s saying, “Ahh, I’m kind of sore. I don’t really know if I want to do this,” and then you have to say, “Well, you know, suck it up because we need to get in better shape.” On the other hand, your body will sometimes give you pretty clear signals that, “Wow, here’s a pain that I haven’t experienced before. I don’t know where that came from. I’d better not ignore that.” So, you have to listen to that sort of thing. You have to be able to listen to or learn to be in tune with the sensation of effort, like, “How hard am I working?” I’m asked all the time about, you know, “How hard do I work?” Well, “Work hard enough. Work harder than you were working before. Work, I don’t want to work too hard. I don’t want to over-train. I want to work hard enough so I’m getting some benefit.” How do you learn that? But, one of the things that I, if somebody’s going for a conditioning run, you know, “How do I measure intensity? Should I use heart rate?” Hmm, you can do that. People have done that successfully. I’m not a big fan. I think the simplest way requires no gadgets, no technology, pretty straightforward, simple way to do it is just pay attention to your breathing. So, one of the things that I encourage people to get in tune with when they’re exercising, any activity, but certainly running, is their breathing. And if you’re out for a conditioning run, you want to be going at a pace or an effort that’s hard enough to get your breathing up but not gasping for air. So, one way we describe it is the talk test. You should be able to talk to somebody that was running with you, not nonstop, like the annoying people that I see in the gym, they’re on their cellphones, you know, their voice carries across the gym. They never draw a breath even though they’re supposedly exercising. That’s not what I’m talking about. But you should be able to carry on a conversation in choppy sentences, get out a phrase, take a breath, get out another phrase, and so you’re working hard enough to breath harder but not so hard that you’re gasping for air. 18:34 DF: Yeah, and kind of defining that as a comfort space. [Yeah.] it’s just exposing yourself to more endurance I guess experiences gives you more, more sensitivity… 18:40 MC: Well, another aspect, I don’t know if this is the best place to introduce this, but it’s on my mind here, running is important, and I encourage people to run. I was talking a little bit about some people that are not necessarily built for running, and so I wouldn’t have them do 40 miles a week. What would I have them do? Well, if you want to get more cardiovascular training, so find some low impact cross-training, and so I’m a big proponent of cross-training, supplementing running with other activities. In this community, swimming is a great activity. You’ve got to be a competent swimmer as well, so you got to develop a certain amount of your training time to get in the water, get better at swimming, and that will also compliment your running. But in addition to those two activities, not everybody has access to a pool, some people have swum their maximum mileage for the week, and they still want to more, so do something. Cycling is a great activity. You know, there are different cardio machines in the gym that you can do. Your heart doesn’t really care as long as you’re doing something that gets major muscles contracting in a rhythmic manner. So, you can choose an activity that you enjoy, that breaks up the monotony, the routine of only running and swimming, something you have access to and something that will supplement your aerobic conditioning. 19:46 DF: Yeah, I think that’s, a lot of people look for the magic pill for everything, and there’s such variation in body type and surface and what equipment you have. You know, it’s not either, “Am I going to run the treadmill, or do I have to run this distance outside?” It really isn’t that simple. I guess speaking of treadmills, short of, maybe rehabilitation, [MC: Yeah] where do you feel that fits in for you in your prescribed fitness regimen for people that are trying to train? 20:10 MC: I wouldn’t, certainly wouldn’t tell people to never get on a treadmill. I question, I personally question this, this is a personal opinion, not gospel for everybody, but I personally question why some people spend so much time on treadmills. It’s kind of funny. I mentioned I was a competitive rower. I spent time on the rowing machine. And people say, “Well, don’t you get bored on that machine? Why don’t you go get in a boat and go out on the water and do some rowing?” And well, the answer is boats are really expensive, and storing them is expensive, and bodies of water that are rowable aren’t immediately accessible, so I can’t really do that, but you can run. You can go out the door and run any time, so why would you get on a treadmill? So, you know, but having said that, there are some good reasons to be on a treadmill. You can really, some people that really want to get a better sense of their pace, they’ve got the monitor right there, they go, “How fast am I going?” or you can control the grade. One thing that I appreciate is being able to go up hill for a long period of time, [DF: right, right] so you know, that’s a good thing. So, there’s no reason not to use a treadmill. I personally wouldn’t make it the only means of training, but incorporating that into your training for a workout or two every once in a while is fine. 21:13 DF: I, I personally have found success in, instead of listening to the distance or programing a distance for myself programing a time for myself, [MC: Yeah] and I kind of came to that realization later in my life. I mean I’m not an older person, but that’s something you don’t really hear very often. Can you talk about that a little bit and how you think that fits into running programing, focusing on time spent running versus distance? 21:36 MC; Personally, for my training, I do it almost all by time, and that’s partly because I do, as I said, a number of different activities, and so minutes are minutes, whatever I’m doing, and it’s one way I can equate my training. I do like to be a little bit more sensitive to pace, and if, when I’m doing interval training, I want to know the measured distance, and I want to time that, and I want to have a little bit more accurate accounting of the distance and the time and the relation, but if I’m just going out for a conditioning run, I don’t worry that much about distance. I worry more about time, and I will do, “Okay, now I’m going for a 40-minute run or a 60-minute run, or a 35-minute run,” or whatever it might be and try to go, as I was talking before about the breathing, and maintain the proper breathing to get the conditioning that I’m looking for, and beyond that, I won’t worry about it because sometimes the terrain is flat, sometimes the terrain’s hilly, sometimes the ground’s firm, sometimes the ground’s soft. I can keep adjusting my intensity based on those conditions and then just go for the time that I want to go. 22:29 DF: Yeah, no, yeah, I think does kind of, first, it validates my, my idea to do that instead… 22:35 MC: Well, I don’t, I mean that’s…I’m the same way. I don’t want to necessarily tell all my listeners here [DF: Right, right] that you have to train that way because that’s what I do, and I think, no, it’s, if you like to measure things out exactly, and as I said, there’s technology that makes it very easy to measure your course, and you can map your course, and there’s no reason not to do that, but I don’t think that that’s the essential part of training [DF: Right]. That’s not the most important thing that you need. You just need to be active for a period of time. 23:00 DF: Right, and my thought is also as your fitness increases, a five-mile run is not the same as a [MC: Right, absolutely] five-mile run three months ago, and I think as you gauge your distance, and whether it’s 20, 30 minutes, whatever your run is, that is a little bit more consistent way to maintain intensity in my life at least. Um, let’s talk a little bit about recovery or kind of maybe we could say self-care… 23:21 MC: Yeah, it’s, it’s an important topic. As I mentioned earlier, we just finished up a Hell Week a week ago, and so this week has been the recovery week, and so we’ve been working with all the students that completed the process and going through all these things that you’re talking about, and it makes me think about it in a little bit more detail. The most important thing we tell the students, and I would tell anybody listening, it’s certainly something that I practice myself in all the different activities that I do, I’m an active racer, I you know, I do almost 40 different races a year, and whether it’s half-marathon or a marathon, the first thing I do when I’m done is recover, like do some more activity. So, if I finish a run, a race even, I’ll get on my bike and pedal for a little bit and just do some moderate cool down activity. And the first thing we had the Hell Week kids doing, on Monday, they secured Hell Week on Friday, and they come over, they’re wobbling over, they’re stiff, they’re sore, it’s like, “Get them moving. Get them exercising.” Very controlled, very moderate, you know, not doing an excessive amount of work but just getting moving. The tendency is they’re sore, they’re stiff, they don’t want to move, get them moving. Just getting the muscles contracting, getting the blood flowing, that’s the best recovery. And they’ll ask questions, “What about, you know, what about massage, what about ice baths, what about, what about hot whirlpools?” and it’s like, well, in their condition, they want to stay away from massages and hot whirlpools for a little while. They got wounds that need to heal, and they got inflammation that needs to recede a little bit, but stretching is important. We go through stretching, over stretching with them, and I would encourage everybody to utilize a little bit of stretching, but you don’t have to spend all day doing it either, and the best time to stretch is when you’re warm, so after a conditioning activity, if you feel like you’re tight and want to stretch a little bit before you go for a run, you can do that, too, but warm up a little bit first and stretch. Stretch what’s tight. One of the things that I talk about in terms of promoting flexibility, rather than creating the need to stretch all the time is that during your conditioning, including your aerobic activities but also certainly during your strength training, is maintain balance and proportions. So, a lot of inflexibility comes from people overworking some muscles and not working the others. And I was talking before about strength training and tight quads, big, strong, tight, quads and weak hamstrings would be a common example, or people in the upper body that do pushups all the time, but they don’t do any complimentary rowing motions, and so their chests and the front part of their shoulders are tight. If something’s tight, you should stretch it, but you can limit the need to do excessive stretching if you maintain an overall balanced training profile. 25:49 DF: Yeah, that goes back to what you were saying earlier about not that you think that there’s no benefits to deadlift or big muscle group exercises, but that in fact could also lead to a potential injury if you’re not strong in the other areas of your body holding yourself together. It’s specifically beneficial not in injury state but in a recovery state, and then the idea of being active as a form of stretch or recovery I think are two key areas. 26:16 MC: Well, so the thing I would summarize most is the best recovery is active recovery and so doing a little bit of low impact, light activity, again, keeping the blood circulating. So, you’ve just done a hard workout, you want to maintain blood flow. You don’t want to just stop dead and let all those capillaries and blood vessels close and let the heart slow down too fast, keep the heart pumping, keep blood circulating, getting oxygen and nutrients in, getting waste products out. Other things might make you feel good, you asked about cold and certainly if there’s an acute problem where there’s some swelling, you want to apply some ice, cold right away to reduce swelling. That’s a good thing. But just in general, people say, “Oh, ice baths make me feel great.” Well, okay, if it makes you feel great, go ahead and do it. I don’t think it’s going to accelerate your recovery process, but you don’t have to believe me. [DF: Yeah] Go ahead and do it if you want to. What will really accelerate the recovery process is some active recovery, some physical activity, light physical activity that will, as I said, maintain the blood flow and keep those muscles that were worked hard working lightly so that they can recovery more quickly. 27:16 DF: Are there key areas that we haven’t talked about that you think are ignored, not even, not clinically or professionally, but by runners and specific people coming into this pipeline? 27:26 MC: People coming into the pipeline, a few things that I would address is I would encourage them to try to run on a variety of different terrains. Try to get a mix of different things. Like, for example, do a lot of running on pavement. That’s fine. Most people have the conception that, “Oh, that’s bad for you. That creates pounding,” and it’s like, “Well, unless your technique is horrible, it doesn’t.” It’s more stable. It’s actually less stressful to run on pavement, [DF: Safer, yeah.] yeah, as opposed to going out and running in say soft sand, which is actually more stressful because there’s a lack of support, and the amount of muscular activity required allow you to remain upright and keep running is dramatically greater. So, I would say, “Yeah, run on sand but not all the time,” because it’s actually pretty stressful. Try to find some hills if you can. It’s a good strength builder to be able to run uphill. It can be actually kind of challenging to run downhill, but get some elevation changes in your running. Running on trails is good, but be careful. The surface changes all the time. Run on a treadmill once in a while. 28:19 DF: I think that’s part of developing, I think that’s part of developing your running acumen is jumping over roots [MC: Yeah] and being able to navigate jumping off of a curb, not jumping, but [MC: Yeah] with your stride. 28:30 MC: Well, one of the, one of the things I hear from potential candidates is, “Oh, you have to run on the beach. I’m going to do all of my running on sand.” I’m like, no, don’t do that. That’s actually not a good way to train all the time. You’re not going to get very fast because when you’re running in sand, you’re actually going pretty slow. You know, you’ve got to meet time standards, you have to run fast, so sometimes you have to find a good surface and run fast, but sometimes, get in sand and run, get comfortable with sand. It’s actually a good strengthening medium if you don’t overdo it, so, yeah, run in sand once in a while, but it’s fine to run on a track. Go and do your, do your intervals on a, find a good rubberized track if you can, at a high school or a community college whatever’s nearby, and do some timed intervals there. 29:07 DF: Any other areas you feel that people generally are not as aware as they should be? I think the running on different terrain is huge, and that’s really easy to overlook cause it’s not hard to implement, and it’s not very different from what you’re already doing, but it has a huge impact. 29:19 MC: Well, one of the, the general training format, and I would, as an aside, just encourage people to explore further our website,, and look at our physical training guide, we call it the PTG, which describes the different running formats in more detail and gives a schedule of how to incorporate them into a weekly session. The online training forum has some sections that deal with this in a little bit more detail, so it will talk about some of these things in much more detail, but just recognizing the different formats that you want to use for workouts. So, it’s not all long, slow distance all the time. That should be a portion of it, but then get some good speed work, some quality interval training in there as well. One of the things that people, again, they have the conception they’ve heard they know they’re going to be spending a lot of time wearing boots when they come here, so they think they should be doing all their running in boots to get ready, and I think that’s not a good idea. You’d be fine if you never wore a pair of boots until you join the Navy, and they issue them to you, and you get a chance to break them in a little bit before you actually show up to BUD/S and start running in them for real. For somebody that doesn’t believe me and puts on a pair of boots once in a while and goes out for a conditioning run, that’s okay. That’s fine. Just don’t do all your running in boots. 30:24 DF: So, people that are preparing to come to this process, and I think this is really interesting, personally, there’s obviously a need for endurance. We’ve hit on that a lot [MC: Yep] over multiple episodes, but there’s clearly a need for explosive strength [MC: Yes, yes] and interestingly, I think running has the capacity to build both of those areas. I know it’s not as clear-cut as I’d like it to be, so the answer is a little bit more difficult, but talk a little bit about how people can either expect to work on that while they’re here or if they can work on it on their own, that difference between slow distance and explosive strength in their running. 30:57 MC: Well, part of the preconditioning that I encourage and so the right terminology, I say weightlifting, and people think, “Oh, you’re talking about the clean and jerk, you’re talking about the squat,” no, no, like resistance training, all kinds of different mediums. It might be dumbbells, it might be an Olympic bar, it might [DF: or it could be a rubber band] rubber band, exactly right. It could be manual resistance, like you using your own muscles against other muscles in your own body. There’s all kinds of different ways that you can create resistance. And so, among the many different things I encourage people to do that would address what you’re talking about is just do some plyometric exercises, do some leaping and bounding, do some box jumps, do some hurdles, do some agility ladders, get out on a surface and do some agility runs. Change of direction, COD in the training jargon, change of direction, so short sprints with, you know, down and back, that kind of thing, right cut, left, but that will work on the lateral muscles in both the ankle and the hip that are required, and do, as I said, some explosive running, some jumping, some leaping, that type of thing, a little bit of jumping rope would be type of plyometric type thing for the ankles you could work on. There are all sorts of things that you should include as part of your conditioning that would aid your running in particular and your overall athletic profile as well. Like in BUD/S, explosiveness isn’t used all that often, but once in a while it is, and so you develop a little bit, and you can call on it when you need to. That’s great. 32:15 DF: Touching back on one of the areas we spoke about a little bit with the boots or trying to prepare yourself for what you’ll be exposed to, active duty SEALs and Special Operations people are carrying a tremendous amount of gear with them [MC: Yes], and it’s potentially very heavy. So, at what point in preparation for their deployments or even in their BUD/S training, should they be exposed to that type of training? 32:38 MC: Great question. I’m asked it frequently or at least variations of that question frequently. I don’t think there’s a definitive answer, but I’m going to give you a well thought out answer. I’ve had a lot of time to think about that. For the 11 years that I’ve been here, I’ve been talking to operators who’ve been in all sorts of different deployment situations to ask them about what their personal experience is and their personal opinions are about rucking, and it depends on who you are, where you’ve gone, what missions you’ve performed, what the requirements are, but there are clearly cases where people have had to carry some pretty heavy weights for some pretty long distances, and that’s not easy to do, so you want to physically prepare for that. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves for any potential candidate. They’re not going to be doing that for a long time. In BUD/S, they’ll probably do some ruck running. It’ll probably be relatively modest loads and modest distances so nothing that requires a tremendous amount of specific preparation. Now, it’s fine to do it occasionally, um, but again, this is the sort of thing that a lot of eager beaver type candidates want to take all out of proportion. And just like I said with running in boots or running on soft sand, they think they should do it all the time, and so some people want to do all their conditioning with a ruck on their back. And, no, don’t do that. You know, once in a while, go out for a hike, like go out for a walk carrying, you know, 40, 50, 60 pounds on your back. And so, one of my recommendations just to make it pretty clear is that if you go out with weight on your back, don’t try to run at the same time. You might have to occasionally do that although actually most people don’t run with a ruck. They walk fast [DF: Right] so little bit of a difference there. [DF: a huge difference I think yeah] If you march with a ruck, that’s okay. That’s not going to break you down too much as long as you don’t overdo it, and so it’s actually probably a good thing to do occasionally, just don’t do too much weight, don’t try to go too fast, don’t try to go too far. The best ruckers, the people that have performed best at least on the data that I’ve seen at the students here is the best runners do best on the ruck marches. Even though they’re carrying weight, their endurance has helped them perform better with the ruck, and the people that have lifted the most in training don’t actually do that well on the ruck marches. 34:41 DF: Yeah, that’s an interesting correlation, but it does make sense when you unpack the needs of running as an individual being sensitive to the weights and bearings and kind of balance. I wanted to talk a little bit about the mental aspect to running. In your personal experiences, when you’re challenging yourself, what do you fall back on? Is it your training, is it your confidence in previous races when you’re really kind of pushing that envelop for yourself? 35:08 MC: Well, at this point I guess in my career, I can fall back on the fact that I’ve completed a lot of races successfully, and as nervous as I am, and I’m always nervous before a race, and I always doubt whether I can complete it or at least according to the standard that I set for myself, I at some point, some voice will say, “Yeah, you’ve done it before. You felt like this before. You’ll get through it somehow,” and I usually do. So, training, you know, even if you’re not an experienced racer, even if you’re relatively younger, training successfully, having training goals and achieving the training goals gives you confidence that when the time comes, you’ll be more prepared to perform. So, that’s certainly something that I like to fall back on. 35:45 DF: I think you said something really key there, you really walked through it pretty quickly, saying completing a race to the standards you’ve set for yourself, and I do think that is key because if you haven’t had that measured approach, then you don’t have that experience to fall back on or that knowledge and confidence. Is racing something that you encourage people training to come into the pipeline to do? 36:04 MC: With a certain amount of hesitation, yes, I do. Again, I don’t want to get people to go overboard, like race all the time, [DF: Right] like I race a lot, I enjoy it, I prepare for it, that’s fine, but you’ve got to make training your primary focus and race occasionally just to sort of test your abilities, but the experience of racing is a good thing, and it gives you a chance to work on a number of different things like getting your prerace strategy right because that will translate to a lot of the different evolutions that they do in BUD/S. Make sure they’re physically and mentally and nutritionally in all ways prepared to do the activities, so that’s a good thing. Being in a crowd of people is very energizing, and so one of the things I’ve found is that when I race more, I race better because the racing is good training. [DF: Right.] I don’t approach any single race as a do or die where I’m going to run myself into the ground. [DF: But you push yourself.] It’s basically a glorified workout with a T-shirt, you know, [DF: Right] and a finisher medal at the end, but by doing that, I actually train better, so, yeah, I would definitely encourage people to train, but again, I don’t want them to go out and do, “Oh, I’m going to run a marathon now because Mike said that I should,” no, [DF: Yeah, it’s not that simple] you train for a marathon? If not, a 5K, 10K maybe and, you know, once in a while to do that, maybe a half marathon if you build up to that, but short answer to the question, yeah, I think racing would be a positive aspect of being able to tie it all together. 37:22 DF: So, we’ve covered a lot of different areas, and we’ve talked about some of the high points of where people often have misconceptions. I’d like you to try to summarize quickly the areas where people, like someone’s listening, I’m sure they’re still waiting to hear what shoes they should go out and buy, and I didn’t ask that question for a good reason. 37:39 MC: And I really don’t want to go into that. 37:40 DF: Exactly, and so I think that there’s a real common misunderstanding of running if you’re not exposed to it for a certain amount of time. If you can just kind of quickly knock off some of the things not to worry about and some of the things that you should be aligning your focus to, I think that would be a really nice way to wrap things up. 37:57 MC: Well, as I said earlier on, the most important aspect of being able to run well is to demonstrate good endurance, so whatever you do, make sure that your endurance improves, and possibly if you’re not the greatest runner, but you still have overall great endurance, your chances are going to be a little bit higher. Having said that, it’s still worth looking at how to organize a training program to advance your running. One of the things I assume with candidates that are trying to get ready for BUD/S is that they are trying to prepare among a number of different ways, swimming and running and lifting and being able to do calisthenics and being able to stretch and all sorts of things that place demands on their time, so they’ve got to budget their time wisely. And so, you don’t have to run 40 miles a week. Most people shouldn’t run 40 miles a week. If you follow this specific program laid out in the physical training guide for 26 weeks, you’d probably build up to about 22 miles a week with an additional few miles of warming up and cooling down, but the actual core of the workout would be about 22 miles. So, that’s not an excessive amount of training. It doesn’t take 80 miles a week of training to be able to make you a decent runner, so be able to bear that in mind, being able to incorporate other activities in addition to running, have a sense of building gradually over time. Again, one of the things I encounter people talking about with their training is that they either try to increase their mileage too quickly or their intensity too quickly. So, they’re following the schedule that I’ve laid out for interval training. They’ll try to get their paces too fast, too soon, and I say, “Give it time,” you know, let it develop naturally. Don’t go too hard, too soon. Go hard consistently at a little bit faster each week. 39:30:22 DF: Thank you so much for giving us a lot of your wisdom and time today. I appreciate it. 39:34 MC: It was my pleasure. I hope it’ll be helpful to somebody.
Mar 22, 2019
23 The Leap Frogs Experience
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The Leapfrogs are the Navy's Parachute Team. This elite team of SEALs and SWCC have performed countless demonstrations around the country for millions of people. We sat down with one of the Leapfrogs to find out what it's like -- and what we found out surprised us. TRT 32:33 00:22 Intro: The United States Navy Parachute Team, or “The Leap Frogs,” is the official parachute demonstration team for the US Navy. As a part of Naval Special Warfare Center, the team brings together active-duty Navy SEALs, SWCC, and support personnel. They demonstrate professional excellence by performing precision aerial maneuvers throughout the US. I’m Daniel Fletcher, today, we chat with Luke Vesci, a member of the Leap Frogs, who shares with us not only his personal perspective on parachute mastery, but also insights from his 13-year career with NSW. Let’s get started. 00:59 DF: Thank you so much for starters for sitting down with us. I appreciate you taking the time. 01:03 LV: Absolutely, thanks for having us, yeah. 01:05 DF: If you just want to briefly just identify a little bit of your career and your history with the Navy, we can start with that. 01:10 LV: Okay. I’ve been in the Navy for 13 years and I came actually out of high school in San Diego. I joined the military, so it was very natural for me to join the Navy. I remember seeing all the helicopters flying by, and I’d actually come down and check out the training on the Strand when I was a kid cause I was really interested in that kind of thing (DF: Cool). Also grew up going to Miramar Air Show, and I remember seeing the jump teams at the air show and seeing the boats and, you know, the SEAL booth and the SWCC booth. I just remember thinking at a very early age that this was, this was exactly what I wanted to do. So, I joined the military back in 2005, and I decided at that time that I wanted to become a Navy SWCC, so what I did is I got a contract and joined the military, went to boot camp, did all the screening that was at Great Lakes at the time and went to SWCC school back in 2006 and graduated SWCC class 5-4, which happened to be the first class that we were actually awarded the SWCC designator, so SB. That was the first year SBs and SOs, SEALs, got their own designator, so that was, that was very privileged to graduate as a full blown SWCC at that time. From there, I checked into my first command, which was Special Boat Team 20, and that’s in Little Creek, Virginia. I did three good years there, deployed twice. One of the deployments was an around the world tour (DF: Wow), so we went to the Middle East, we went all over the Philippines, Indonesia, so we did what we call the world tour, and it was a really great experience, especially for a first deployment. From there, I deployed again to Iraq, and I augmented one of the SEAL teams at that time, and basically what we were doing is doing a lot of over the land mobility with Humvees and then also doing some stuff on the water using some boats that we had basically built from the bottom up as a combat craft, so that was a really interesting deployment. LV: From there, I went to, screened and selected for Naval Special Warfare Development Group, and I spent five years there. Had a great time there, did three full deployments out of Development Group. And then at that point, I’d been in the Navy for about nine years, and I wanted to kind of do something a little bit different. So, at that time, I requested to become an instructor over here on the West Coast. Like I said before, I was from San Diego, so I wanted to come back, and that’s what I did. So, I came back, I went to Advanced Training Command, and I taught what we call ‘air operations’. So, I was teaching Static Line Jump Masters school. I was also running the Navy Parachute Course, which is the free fall and static line, and then at the same time, we were doing the HRST-Cast Master Course, which is the helicopter rope suspension techniques. So, if you guys have ever seen the, you know, repelling out of a helicopter or the fast roping, so I was, you know, involved with a lot of that stuff. At that point, I got a phone call. I was up for orders to, you know, do something different, and I got a phone call from my detailer. And he said, “Hey, would you be interested in going to the Navy Parachute Team? There’s a billet open,” and I said, “Absolutely.” So, after that, it’s just been hitting it hard and jumping a lot, having a lot of fun with the Navy Parachute Team. 04:14 DF: That’s really cool that you’ve kind of gone full circle like that. It’s like, as a kid, you were exposed to it. I kind of expected to hear you say that’s kind of what’s like you had your eyes focused on that goal the whole time, but it’s just kind of, it ended up happening, but it didn’t seem like you’re knocking down the door like, “Now can I do it? Now can I do it,” no, just kind of naturally happened. 04:33 LV: It did, yeah, (DF: That’s pretty cool) and my parents were not happy that I ditched college to join the military (DF: Yeah, well), but it worked out cause I got my degree a couple years ago, so, yeah. 04:41 DF: Nice! So, what parts of your early training I guess and your continued training in the Navy prepared you to safely perform such dangerous maneuvers? I know that’s a big question, but maybe if you could touch on tying that back cause obviously some things are different. 04:58 LV: What we do, it is perceived as being fairly dangerous, and it definitely can go wrong very quickly if you are not confident, and if you’re not trained well, so that’s the only way I can say it. A long time ago, someone told me, they said, “There’s a big difference between being dangerous and being unsafe.” So, in Naval Special Warfare, I mean almost everything we do is dangerous, but, you know, we have the training, we have the risk management that makes it not unsafe. So, there is a difference there. What I would say was growing up, I was very active in sports. I was what you would, might call an adrenaline junkie (DF: Yeah), so I kind of always had some knack for being in dangerous situations and handling myself in fear of danger or injury, and then basically, when I joined the military, the military kind of shows you how to take a wrap off, fall back on your training in order to be, dangerous but not unsafe. So, with our job and the Leap Frogs, you know, yesterday we knocked out seven jumps in one day, and we were doing these very complex formations, but, you know, it all starts with the first day of training when we check on the jump team, and we just start from the very, very basics, and then we build from there. So, you know, in case anything does go squirrelly, fall back to what you know, take a wrap off, let’s figure it out and then try it again. 06:19 DF: When you say take a wrap off, what do you mean by that? 06:21 LV: Taking a wrap off, what we call is a tactical pause. So, in the worst of situations, there’s always a time for a second just to hesitate and just think, let’s take a look at what’s going on, reassess and then hit it again, you know. You’ve probably heard that hesitation kills. That’s also very true, but also reacting too fast in a situation can also, you know, get you hurt or killed, so we call it the tactical pause. So, hey if things are going, very fast, moving quick, maybe things are kind of falling apart, take a quick second to look around, you know, check out your surroundings and then act on that new observation. 06:56 DF: You said something about confidence. Was that developed through the extensive amount of training that not only you received but then gained, or talk a little bit about that piece of it? 07:06 LV: Definitely, so I think confidence is, it’s something that almost defines a very well trained warrior, or for that matter, a very well trained sailor or a Leap Frog. When you go through the paces of training, and you go through those building blocks, and you prove to yourself, and you prove to your team that you can, do these types of things, inherently confidence just comes. You don’t just walk on the jump team and just have confidence on day one. You know, it takes a lot of time, it takes a lot of practice, and then, like I said, once you’ve kind of proven to yourself and then you prove it to your team, naturally you kind of have that confidence to know, “Hey, I’m doing the right thing,” or, “I’m doing the wrong thing. I need to adjust, and correct,”. 07:47 DF: Obviously, there’s a tremendous amount of planning that goes into what you guys do whenever you’re doing a jump for the public. (LV: Right) We’ve talked with people in the past about the importance of visualization. Can you walk us through the self-talk and visualizations that you perform when you’re preparing for a jump. 08:05 LV: That is huge. I mean visualization comes into play really throughout anyone’s whole career, and I don’t think that you can be successful unless you actually visualize what success is. So, for us, before any jump, we rehearse multiple times. So, what we’ll do is without the gear on, we’ll just go and say, “Hey, this is what we’re going to do. Let’s walk through it, let’s talk through it, what are some considerations that might come up on this particular jump venue,” whether it’s, “Hey, the winds are looking high. The clouds are looking low. You know, maybe there’s, the crowd line has been pushed in on our drop zone,” or something like that. So once we discuss, all these types of things, we talk about what exactly do we want to accomplish here and what does that look like. Once we identify what that ideal jump might look like, then we get all the gear on, maybe we even go out to the plane before, and we actually talk through exiting the plane, where’s everyone going to be, what altitudes are we going to open up at. You know, where’s the wind coming from, how are we going to approach the landing? So, there is a ton of visualization that comes into play, and honestly, I wouldn’t ever recommend, you know, jumping out of an airplane without at least going through a couple talk throughs and walk throughs. I think those are huge. 09:17 DF: Is there a time in that I guess pre-jump phase where you feel that self-talk is the most intense? Like I jumped out of an airplane once, and I did an accelerated free fall class, I had to do a lot more myself (LV: Of course) than just being along for a ride, (LV: Right) and I felt like on the ride up to, to where we were going to jump, you know, in the plane, the worldview kind of narrowed down to like, “It’s go time.” (LV: Right) I don’t know if that’s the same for you, (LV: It is, yeah) or when is that? So, maybe you could kind of walk us through whenever that kind of starts to ramp up where everyone kind of is quiet, whenever you start to focus. 09:50 LV: For sure. No, that’s a huge, that’s a huge consideration, and we like to liven up the environment sometimes with some laughter and joking around (DF: Right) because it does just get quiet and especially (DF: Intense) before a really high pressure jump, whether it’s 25,000 people in the stadium, or whether the winds are just below the limit. You’ll definitely see the internal, you know, turmoil and the, a little bit of that fear going on. So, what I would recommend, and this is just what I do, but I like to do the rehearsals on the ground and then, again, once I’m in the aircraft, and then I shut it off. I feel that going through it over and over and over and over again, it tends to work me up more than maybe some other guy or girl doing the same thing. So, I like to make sure I’m getting in my correct number of rehearsals, and then I shut it off, and I relax, and then when it’s go time, you know, you just have to kind of have that confidence that, “Hey, I’ve rehearsed it, I know exactly what I’m doing, and we’re going to nail this thing.” 10:51 DF: Yeah, that says a lot about the preparation because that was where I kind of thought things are not as well planned as they, as you’d like them to be, (LV: Right) like I, you need to make a quick last minute change, but it sounds like you prepare to the point where you’re able to rely on muscle memory, (LV: Sure) and you, it becomes more automatic. 11:10 LV: And then one, one consideration, too, is things are changing on the ground all the time. So, we’ll be two minutes out from a jump run, and they’ll say, “Hey, the timeline’s been shifted,” or, “It’s been moved up,” and so, you’re constantly reengaging with their guys, “Hey, this is, you know, we have to make this work.” Maybe the landing direction shifts, so now our whole plan that we planned for has now been completely reversed 180, you know, so we have to basically get everyone on the same page, chat it out, “What’s the new plan?” you know, do that mental rehearsal real quick and then, “Okay, it’s go time.” 11:45 DF: What part of the jump requires the most intense communication? 11:49 LV: I would say our formations that we do under canopy are fairly complex. If someone opens up their parachute the wrong altitude, or they approach the formation at the wrong angle, or they’re in the wrong spot, that can just throw everything off. So, it’s, I would say it’s more important that everyone knows what everyone else is doing and where they fit into that piece, cause like I said, one, you know, mistake there could either be dangerous, or we just don’t want to accomplish the mission, meaning we don’t nail that formation, or, you know, we’re not coming in at the right order and landing at the right place. 12:21 DF: I watched a few of your guys’ videos, and, yeah, I was really shocked at the level of really hands on, like, you’re not necessarily on a radio talking to somebody. You’re holding onto them like right next to you, and you’re shouting. You’re within earshot of each other. (LV: We are, yeah) You’re right next to each other, so explain a little bit for people listening what you mean when you say formations under canopy or however you phrased it. 12:45 LV: Absolutely. And once you see it, it’ll make total sense, so I recommend anyone who is listening to this, go on YouTube, check out the Leap Frogs, go on Facebook, check out our Facebook page at Navy Parachute Team because we have some fantastic videos up there, but what we pride ourselves on with the Navy Parachute Team, Leap Frogs, is that we are masters of CREW. CREW stands for Canopy Relative Work. Um, so what we’ll do is we’ll exit the aircraft anywhere from 2,500 feet above the ground, all the way up to 12 or 13,000 feet above the ground, and our flagship routine is that we can take multiple people after they deploy their canopies, and we can actually work those canopies right into each other, and we can do a variety of formations. So, if you could imagine canopies bumping, guys grabbing, you know, each other’s lines, hooking feet together, you know, building a diamond formation, and then a, you know, really technical and the really fun one is called the Down Plane, where two guys actually bring their canopies together. They link up, they link their legs, and then they flip those canopies towards the earth, and they’re flying at the earth about 70 miles an hour, which we call the Down Plane. So, it’s really exciting to watch, and it’s a ton of fun to do, especially when we bring that Down Plane into a stadium. I mean it’s a real crowd pleaser. 13:59 DF: Those are the times of a jump or those are the parts of the jump you say that require the most intense communication? 14:04 LV: Definitely, right, yeah, you can’t perform these maneuvers without talking to each other. In those videos that you’ll watch, you’ll see the entire time, we’re calling out altitudes, you know, we’re calling out ground winds. We’re saying, “Hey, this is the landing direction,” and then once the maneuver happens, you know, “Give me your arm, give me your leg, cross your legs, tighten up the grips, going into flares, we’re turning left, turning right,” so there’s a ton of communication, but like I talked about before, that rehearsal, that practice, it kind of makes that whole transition really smooth and second nature. 14:34 DF: Right, right, (LV: Yeah) to the point where, it’s almost like you’re going through a checklist. [LV: for sure] Yeah, I think that’s a kind of important thing. I think people don’t realize the sheer volume of training that goes into what it takes to be in NSW or, yeah, your level, where you’re doing stuff that’s maybe even above and beyond the types of technical things that you’re doing when you’re deployed. Maybe you could talk for a little bit about the differences between jumping into a football stadium for let’s say the Army/Navy game versus when you’re on deployment with the Development Group. How do those kind of situations contrast each other? 15:08 LV: I would say they’re as similar as they are different. They’re different because when we’re parachuting into a certain area, you know, there’s no really inherent threat except the environmentals and ourselves if we mess up. When you’re operating in a combat zone or something like that, the inherent threat is now all that plus, you know, the enemy and considerations with the enemy and things, and there is a lot more complexity that goes into a real world operation. However, you know, the similarities I would say being that the training is huge. You know, it’s critical. You don’t leave the wire without, you know, knowing exactly what you’re going to do and knowing exactly how you’re going to do it. We don’t leave the airplane without knowing exactly what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it. 15:54 DF: What about the gear that you use. I can only imagine that you’re using more of a like I would say sporting canopy, I don’t know if that’s the right word, versus what you use whenever you’re deployed. Is the gear, are there any similarities in the gear that you guys use? 16:07 LV: I would say, so what we use on the parachute team is called non-tactical equipment, so it’s not going to be using combat, you know, we have bright colors, and the canopies we use are specifically designed for what I was referring to as CREW. (DF: Okay) They’re not super high performance, they’re not real aerodynamic. They’re built for what we do. The parachutes that you’re going to use, you know, in a real world situation are going to be totally different. They’re going to be bigger, they’re going to be able to handle more of a load as far as carrying combat equipment things. So, granted, I would say canopy, is, you know, flying a canopy is flying a canopy, just like flying an airplane is flying an airplane. There’s just going to be some differences on how you fly that and some of the considerations with, you know, your landing and things, but, um, yeah, what we do is non-tactical. Obviously, we’re never going to go into a Down Plane into a combat zone. (DF: Right, right, right) We are a demonstration team, whereas in a combat role, you’re trying to get in undetected and, be as quiet as possible. 17:06 DF: Talk a little bit about some of your favorite events to jump at. I mentioned the Army/Navy game earlier because I was exposed to those as a kid, (LV: Oh, right on) so I’ve seen your group, obviously not you, but I’ve seen, you know, you guys show up at a football game and in the middle of the summer or wherever it is. Are there events that stand out to you as really special that you really look forward to, and maybe you can kind of just describe some of those situations? 17:28 LV: That’s an exciting question because, you know, honestly, I’ve only been on the team for six months, but we’ve probably jumped into I would say maybe two or three dozen venues by now. (DF: Wow) So, for me, the first one that stands out is we jumped into the Petco Park Padres’ game earlier this year, the home opener, also the military opener, and, you know, just seeing that skyline from my hometown, you know, I’m from San Diego, so seeing that view and then coming into a baseball game, you know, Padres and then knowing that, you know, friends and family are there, very, very exciting, very thrilling jump. So, for me, that one was very near and dear to my heart. It is a challenging venue to jump into, but we have had more challenging venues. So, as far as challenge goes, recently, we jumped into the Reno Rodeo, which is in Reno, Nevada. Spectacular event, we had an amazing time. The landing zone was very technical. We had some interesting winds, and we also were at about 5,000 feet up there. So, all those types of factors really play into effect when you’re talking about how to land and how to land safely. So, that one, when you want to talk about a little bit of the jitters going into it, that one was definitely turned up, but I’ll tell you, when we landed, there was a lot of sense of pride in that we landed into the Reno Rodeo safely in front of all those people, and, you know, brought in the American flag as well. So, it was just a very special event. It was a very, I feel like we got a ton of outreach on that event, and no one really knew how technical it was except for us. So, behind the scenes, we were definitely high fiving and smiling and laughing, but that one stands out as a, probably one of the more difficult ones I’ve done. 19:07 DF: You said something about the altitude just real briefly, and I think you said it was 5,000 feet you guys jumped at. Is that low for you guys to be jumping at? Do you, from my understanding, I mean, like I’ve said, I’ve only jumped one time. I mean, we were so high, you know, cause obviously, they can’t have me like jumping out right next to the ground (LV: Right) not knowing what the hell I’m doing. So, talk a little bit about how the altitude kind of changed that for you. 19:26 LV: Definitely. I was referring to the altitude of the Reno Rodeo (DF: oh okay, I gotcha), so being that it was at 5,000 feet, it really, it takes away from some of your canopy performance, so that’s what I was saying when it was another consideration. (DF: Gotcha) But all of our jumps, we can jump from 2,500 feet above the ground all the way up to like I said 12 or 13,000 feet. So, when we get out at 2,500 feet, we’re saying that is the lowest we can go. So, what happens is, you know, for instance, at the Naval Academy, we had a cloud layer at 3,000 feet, so we had to technically be 500 feet below those clouds in order to jump, and I mean we were right at 2,500 feet. When we exited, you have to make sure that you’re getting that formation together super fast because you have about one shot to get that formation together because if you don’t do it, (DF: There’s no time, yeah) we’re already below our hard deck, and it’s like, “Okay, that wasn’t very interesting.” 20:21 DF: Yeah, right, I mean, yeah, you make it, but like it’s not as much of a show. 20:25 LV: For sure, so 2,500 feet, you got to get in, make it happen and get to the ground. It’s, and it’s also very short. Our shows from 2,500 might be a couple minutes vice exiting at 5,000 feet above the ground, and now our show is like four to five minutes. 20:39 DF: What percentage of the time are you jumping in the evening or in darkness cause I know operationally, that’s pretty standard, (LV: Right) but you often see you guys jumping obviously in the middle of the day most of the time for sporting events or whatever, (LV: Right) but do you jump in the evening or at night? 20:53 LV: We do. So, during our winter training, we train up to the night standards just learning how to do the formations at night. We have a bunch of different effects that we can show the crowd at night as well, so we have these basically, they’re called pyro sticks, and they’re just like adult sparklers. I mean these things are really cool. They shoot out sparkler flame about 30 feet, and they go for about a minute per stick. So, we take these sticks, we wrap them up, and we attach them to our ankles. So, as we’re coming through free fall or under canopy, it’s really a cool scene from the ground cause it just looks like fireworks in the sky. 21:28 DF: They probably can see you a lot easier as well. 21:30 LV: Definitely, yeah, they, they wouldn’t be able to see us very good if we didn’t have pyro on. 21:34 DF: Yeah, right, especially at nighttime.If you could briefly just talk about the Leap Frogs’ mission or I guess your core function within the Navy, that would be helpful. 21:42 LV: Definitely, so we have a really important aspect to Navy recruiting. There’s a common misconception out there the Navy Parachute Team just is, just is messing around, and then we just parachute and jump and have fun all day, but we’re actually, you know, a lot of things that we do, we are co-located with the Blue Angels and with the Navy Recruiting Command, and so what we do is we go out there, and we demonstrate precision aerial maneuvers to demonstrate Navy excellence. So, when people see, you know, a bunch of canopies flying around, and they say, “Hey, that was really cool. That was really challenging,” but then they see the Navy on the parachutes, we fly Big Navy flags, you know, the American flag, we get a lot of questions, and that’s the best part about our job, is interacting with the public. So, when we get to the ground, we say, “Hey, we’re the Navy Parachute Team,” and they’re like, “What is that, and what are you guys doing?” It’s like, “Well, we’re here to talk to you.” And so, when people see that we can jump out of the sky, and we can demonstrate all these things, we’re not only showing a capability of the US Navy, but we’re also getting people excited about the Navy and showing them kind of what we can do. So, we are one of the major recruiting arms for Navy Recruiting Command, any time we jump, we can be in front of 20,000 people, 50,000 people. In, for instance, Chicago, next week, I mean we’re jumping in front of two million people (DF: Wow). So, you know, if you don’t think we’re going to get some questions about the Navy after parachuting in front of that many people, you’re wrong. You know, it’s like when I think back to when I was in high school, and I was visiting these booths and going to these air shows, you know, talking to the guys that were on the ground was one of the best parts about, you know, thinking about joining the military, (DF: Yeah) so it’s great. Like you said, that full circle, talking to kids, “Hey, this is what we do. You know, I was in your shoes at one point, and now look at what I’m doing.” So, it’s a really cool part of the job, is the outreach portion. 23:29 DF: You’ve talked about being in the public and being a spokesperson for the Navy. You also have a history, and NSW in general have a history of operating in silence. How have you been able to successfully make that transition? 23:44 LV: You’re referring to just being in the public and having my name out there and things? 23:48 DF: Well, I just, I also mean I think even being open to the idea of being an advocate for something that is so secret most of the time, there are core values to NSW ethos that are team before self, and you taking in a role where you are a spokesperson. Some people I think are better at navigating that than others, and I’m just curious to get your perspective on that. 24:12 LV: That was a huge consideration for me coming to the team, was that I would have to accept the fact that basically now I’ve gone from the silent professional to, “Hey, everyone, let me tell you what I do.” So, that is an interesting consideration, but, it’s not like we’re selling our community up the river. We’re not telling all the little secrets. We’re here to just talk to people about what it’s like to be a Navy SEAL or a Navy SWCC or even just join the Navy in general. So, I think you can still keep that silent professionalism and also be yourself and really get other people excited about the military, like I said, without spilling the beans. 24:48 DF: Do you think that you represent your teammates out there? Is that, is that a fair statement, to say that whenever you’re out there, you assume that role? 24:56 LV: I do. You know, it’s kind of funny cause people consider you as a rock star once you get to the parachute team, and, you know, I get a lot of made fun of for my buddies and things, but the truth is, you know, I’m out there representing the SWCC community and also Naval Special Warfare. So, for me, there’s a lot of pride going out there and saying, “Hey, this is who we are, and let me show you what we can do, and let’s get excited about NSW.” 25:20 DF: I think that maybe is the impression I’ve kind of got from people that maybe it’s like, “Hey, you know, I didn’t have this information whenever I was a kid,” (LV: Right) but I think a lot of people maybe don’t realize they read the books, they saw the movies, (LV: Sure) they went to an air show, and they saw somebody that set an example and go, “Oh, I can do that,” you know what I mean? 24:34 LV: And that’s obviously one of the biggest pluses about having a team like this, is because, kids that are interested in joining the military, they’ve read the books, they’ve seen the movies, but for them to actually walk up to one of us, you know, at an air show, at a, Padres’ game, wherever it may be, and be like, “Whoa, I’ve never actually met a Navy SEAL. I’ve never met a Navy SWCC.” We have a Navy Diver on the team, we have a Navy Parachute Rigger, we have Navy SEALs on the team, you know, so for someone to actually come up and shake our hand and say, “Wow, this is really cool,” I would say that’s just a huge benefit for the public and for us as well because when I joined, I’d only met one SEAL, and I’d only met one SWCC guy before I joined the military. How cool would it have been for me to talk to ten SEALs or ten SWCCs and really get a good feel for, “Hey, this is what these guys are like. You know, maybe this is the right path for me. Maybe it’s not the right path.” A lot of people join, like you said, under this kind of mysterious circumstance thinking they know what it’s all about, I mean, jeez, if you could talk to just a couple guys before you joined and really get the real deal, (DF: Yeah) I think that would be huge for a lot of people. 26:44 DF: Yeah, right, to kind of get a more realistic impression (LV: Right) and maybe even give people more confidence. 26:50 LV: Right, cause the books and the movies aren’t going to do it justice. (DF; right) You know, it’s, you’re going to get the real, this is how it really works from the guys that have been there, done that. Um, and I mean honestly, when I joined the military, I didn’t know what to expect, but what I will say is the military has completely blown all my expectations out of the water, and I’ve had experiences that I would have never imagined, you know, in a million years. 27:13 DF: Yeah, you’ve kind of seen a really impressive and rare kind of perspective you know, from your operational history and then going into training (LV: Right). Talk a little bit about the different kind of training that you were responsible for quite a bit. Like you said that, you know, basically, all jumping out of airplane in the Navy kind of came under your umbrella. Maybe talk a little bit about some of the differences. Are there really big, big changes between like, you talked static line and also free fall, fast roping, you know. What part of that was your favorite? 27:42 LV: I enjoyed seeing the students excel in whether it was the free fall or the static line or, you know, learning how to tie the knots to work the fast rope or the spy rig. Once you kind of got past that initial, you know, difficulty phase, and you start seeing the students picking up, “Hey, I’m really starting to understand this. I’m really starting to enjoy this,” that to me, as an instructor, was the best part. You know, there’s a lot that goes into teaching somebody how to skydive or teaching somebody how to, you know, be a jumpmaster for a jump. And so, once those skills kind of start clicking with the guys, that’s where I got a lot of job satisfaction cause prior to that role, I’d never been an instructor. And so, I really learned that I actually did like being a teacher. 28:27 DF: Yeah, and I think that’s a hallmark of a good teacher, (LV: Yeah) whenever they’re focused on outcomes, not just, “This is what I’m interested in. I’m going to make you listen to me.” You know, that’s not the same thing as teaching somebody. 28:37 LV: Right, and it’s a cool topic, too. It’s not like we’re talking about, something really boring. We’re talking about, “Hey, this is, you guys are going to use this down the road, and this is a really exciting skillset,” so I think the students were excited, I was excited. It’s also my passion. So, that was, that was a cool aspect of my career, was being an instructor. 28:57 DF: Well, there’s one area I do want to touch on, and that’s trust. Whenever you jump out of an airplane, I guess this is my impression, but you’re kind of dead until you’re saved by the canopy is kind of my logic there, and the amount of trust that you place in the people that you’re jumping with is I don’t think comparable to what most people experience in their regular life. Your life is literally in their hands. Can you, I guess how has skydiving changed your perception of trust and what it means to you? 29:29 LV: You know, in Naval Special Warfare, we select only the best guys and now gals, right. We do that because whenever you’re in a really, uncertain or dangerous circumstance, you have to be able to lean on that guy or girl and say, “Hey, I need you to make this happen,” right? With skydiving, it’s really no different. We screen people for the Leap Frogs, and we only select the best because, you know, that Parachute Rigger that’s on the team, he’s going to be packing my reserve. So, if I need to use that reserve parachute, we need to trust that thing’s going to work. And, you know, a new jumper that comes on the team, we want to make sure that his head is in the right place, that he or she, is comfortable, you know, operating a parachute in close quarters and is comfortable in these kind of high stress situation. So, if we feel that, you know, maybe a candidate does not have that quality or those qualities, then we just won’t accept them on the team. So that is a very big consideration, and if you don’t trust someone that you’re working with in the sky, it’s going to make for a very un-fun day, and so we just prefer not to go down that road and just select the right people from the get go. 30:37 DF: Do you think that working in this team environment has kind of honed your ability to make a snap judgment on somebody pretty quickly with those aspects? 30:44 LV: You know, I’ve been surprised. Yeah, the whole judge a book by its cover piece is I feel like somewhat true, but we like to run the candidates through the paces, so do the interview, take them to the drop zone, throw a parachute on them, see what they can do in the sky, you know, debrief with them. So, I feel like this whole process, you’re able to kind of get to know that person [DF: right, right] a lot better than doing a five-minute interview and saying, “I don’t like that person.” Some people shine, you know, a week after you meet them, and some people shine on day one. Some people don’t shine at all. So, it just depends, and we do a really good job on the team of screening candidates, just like Naval Special Warfare does. 31:20 DF: For people out there thinking about pursuing a career with the Navy, what general advice would you give them? 31:25 LV: I would say do as much research as you can, you know, read, talk to people, talk to recruiters, you know, try to get ahold of people in communities that you’re interested in being. You know, If you’re interested in Naval Special Warfare, talk to the Naval Special Warfare Assessment Team. Get ahold of us at the Leap Frogs , you know, on a show. Really kind of get a good feel for what you’re looking at doing, and then, at that point, then really prepare your mind, prepare your body to go that route, and really don’t give up on that dream until you’ve made it. If at any point in time, you know, you feel like this isn’t the right job for you, you know, there’s always options. There’s, the Navy has a million different things you can do. So, I would just, you know, recommend people that they just pursue their passion, figure out what that passion is and then really prepare to work really hard because in the Navy, you know, you do work very hard, but I will say that it’s probably one of the most rewarding careers that you can have. 32:18 DF: Well, thank you so much. You’re one of the few people that gets to really do what they love, and thank you for sitting down and giving us some of wisdom. 32:34 LV: Definitely, thanks for talking, yeah. 32:29 DF: Find out more at and join us again for the next NSW Podcast.
Mar 05, 2019
22 Medal of Honor Recipient Britt Slabinski on Leadership Under Pressure
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Command Master Chief (SEAL) Britt Slabinski, was awarded the nation's highest honor for his heroic action fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. 00:22 On May 24, 2018 Navy SEAL Command Master Chief Britt Slabinski was invited to the White House and presented with the Medal of Honor. He was awarded the nation’s highest military honor for his actions in 2002 when he led his team on a daring rescue mission to save their teammate who was wounded behind enemy lines. In this episode, Command Master Chief Slabinski talks about the importance of team mentality when facing adversity and what service means to him. 00:56 DF: Thank you for sharing some of your time with us for one. That’s, that means a lot I think to have your perspective voice in on the podcast, so thank you for sharing some of your time with us to start with. 01:05 BS: Certainly, happy to be here. 01:06 DF: For people that might not know you, if you could just briefly introduce yourself and tell us your history with the Navy. I know it’s not brief but… 01:12 BS: Certainly, so I am Britt Slabinski. I am a retired Command Master Chief, served 26 years mostly all of that in the SEAL teams and mostly all East Coast teams. Went through with BUDS class 164, graduated with that in January 1990, and then served with SEAL Team Four for a few years and then served to, with Naval Special Warfare Development Group and served at group two as a Command Master Chief and then retired from Naval Special Warfare Command. In March of 2002, deployed to Afghanistan January 2002, but in March of that year, conducted an operation called Operation Anaconda, where I led a seven-man reconnaissance team onto a snow covered 11,000-foot mountain peak to conduct over-watch operations, reconnaissance operations. During that operation, one of my teammates, upon landing our helicopter landing on top of the mountain, we received heavy RPG, rocket propelled grenade fire, machine gun fire. Damaged the helicopter badly, and one of my teammates was ejected from the aircraft. Teammate’s name was Neil Roberts. So, my helicopter crash-landed in a valley, and I made the decision to launch an immediate rescue mission with my remaining team members back up to the mountain, up against superior numbers, heavily armed enemy force. And for those actions during that day, I was awarded the Medal of Honor. 02:52 DF: And I understand that just happened recently as far as receiving the award. Is that correct? 02:57 BS: I did. It happened May 24th at a ceremony, at the White House presented, presented to me not too long ago. (DF: Oh wow, so just, yeah not too long ago at all.) Yeah, not too long ago at all. 03:03 DF: That must have been pretty, that must have been a pretty amazing experience. 03:06 BS: It was. It’s still very surreal, and I don’t think surreal is the right word for it (DF: Yeah, right?), but it is still very, very surreal, amazing experience indeed, but… 03:17 DF: Yeah, yeah, tough to wrap your mind around I’m sure. So, let’s rewind back to joining the Navy. What or who inspired you to do that? 03:24 BS: So, I think like most youth, graduating from high school, I’m trying to figure out want do I want to do with my life, and from an early age on, I was involved in Boy Scouts. Boy Scouts was the kind of foundation of my life, and I became an Eagle Scout, and from what I learned in scouting, that really became the foundation of my life, Boy Scout oath, Boy Scout law, those things are what I made decisions from. They were vitally important to me growing up and still are to this day. My father was also a UDT guy, so he was in Naval Special Warfare really back in the early days. He went through one of the beginning classes of it, class 13 back in the (DF: Wow, that’s interesting) early 1950s (DF: Wow). So, when I was around 13, 14 years old, my dad took me to a SEAL reunion where he introduced me to some of his teammates. And from that moment on, I thought, “Wow, he’s introduced me to this other family that he had,” and I thought, “This looks like something very interesting that I want to do.” Very difficult job, difficult selection process for the job, but very crucial, important work on behalf of the nation. So, retiring from high school, I made the decision that I wanted to do something that was more important for me to do. I wanted to contribute. I wanted to serve my nation, and for me, that was joining the Navy and then applying to go to the SEAL program. 04:46 DF: Did you know what you wanted to do with the SEALs whenever you first joined? I know, at that point, there might not have been nearly as much media coverage about what the teams even did, but did you have an idea of kind of what you wanted to do with the Teams? 04:58 BS: I certainly did, because my dad introduced me to it. I’m from North Hampton, Massachusetts, so western Massachusetts, so as you can imagine there wasn’t a big presence (DF: Right) of military there, so I would not have known of the SEALs probably let alone even the Navy other than my father introducing me to it, so really happy to have this opportunity to get this message out to (DF: Yeah, other people in the same predicament, right.)…There are other people there and just to help them focus, “Hey, what do you want to do with your life.” 05:29 DF: Right, right, right, kind of set off on the right path. What did you do in the SEAL teams as your specialty? 05:36 BS: Coming through SEAL training, you’re trained in various different things. Maybe when you get to your SEAL team, everyone’s trained up in a lot of basic things. Everyone’s a combat diver, you do land warfare, you do parachute jumping, as the name fits: sea, air and land (DF: Right, right). You do all the specialties, all the special warfare tactics that go with that. Later on in my career, I specialized more in being sniper trainings, sniper instructor, but overall, the main thing that I’d say that I did is I was a leader first, first and foremost, above all the other specialties, I was, I was the leader, the one making decisions and executing those decisions. 06:13 DF: You mentioned being a sniper trainer. Is that what you said a second ago? Instructor? (BS: Instructor) Okay, that’s a place where the SEALs do get a lot of recognition. What separates the best Navy snipers from other precision rifle teams in the world? 06:28 BS: I don’t know if there’s a real distinction behind them. I think going to sniper school, there are a lot of great shooters, a lot of great rifle shooters. Most if not all SEALs I think are expert shooters, so everyone has a capability (DF: Right) to go through the sniper training. What you get out of that training, though, is you’re just going to think differently. You’re going to look at targets differently. You get planning on it, you get strategic thought processes, strategic in the sense that how you are going to go about going against a target, so in an operational sense, how am I going to go do this, and you get leadership skills out of it cause mostly the sniper guys, you’re solo in a lot of things, or you got one partner with you, and you’re going to go out and do certain operations. So, instead of having a larger team, you’re a much, much smaller team, so that’s really what you learn, how to operate across the whole battle space just you and your, and your shooting partner to accomplish a mission. 07:24 DF: Well, you did say that sometimes you’re solo. I mean I’ve obviously never been to sniper training or any precision rifle schools, but I think that is pretty common that there’s a team there, but the solo aspect I think is definitely a little bit different, you know…. 07:38 BS: Certainly, you’re never really alone. In the team environment, you’re never really alone, and you have support. You have your teammates that are going to be close by but what you also learn at sniper school is a lot of times, it’s just you, and you have to rely on you and what you bring internally to that problem set, and sniper school really helped hone that down, to you’re the one making all those decisions, and that was invaluable to me. 08:05 DF: What’s something that you might have wished you knew before you entered the Navy? I think things have changed considerably since you entered the Navy. Does anything stick out in your mind? 08:14 BS: You know, with 20/20 hindsight looking back, I’m sure there’s any number of things I wish I would’ve known (DF: Right, right). At the moment, wherever I was, I was learning everything I possibly could. I was reading all the books, looking at everything, talking to everybody that I could possibly talk to about what I was getting into. So, at the moment, which, you know, was 30-something years ago, I felt I was as most prepared as I could. Of course, from what you see on the outside, and when you really get to the program, (DF: Yeah, things, things change, yeah) it, it usually is completely different, of course, cause there’s be a lot of hype and a lot of publicity to it, but when you get to actually, it’s like, “Whoa, this is totally different than what I thought that it was,” all, in a good way, of course, certainly much harder because then it all becomes, it all becomes just very real, and your commitment really takes more of a tangible form to, “Okay, here I am. Here’s a decision you made and you’re going forward with it.” 09:04 DF: Do you think that most SEALs have a calling for that kind of sense of purpose that you’re talking about people coming into whenever they arrive on the teams? 09:12 BS: I believe so because given the nature of the training, the training’s really intense. There’s some 75, 80% people that come into the training, all of them thinking they have what it takes, don’t get through for one reason or another, and the process is going to weed that out of you. There are no shortcuts to BUD/S training, Basic Underwater Demolition SEAL training. There are no hacks for it. The process is, you go there, and you perform better than you did the day before, and you, you just don’t simply meet the minimum standards. You need to excel those standards. Excel those standards are not only what the program sets for you but what you set for yourself internally, about you internally growing and moving forward every day. 09:58 DF: Yeah, I think that does make a lot of sense, that your own internal calling, or however you phrase that, is I think what pulls people to the teams and then to wherever they end up in the teams, whether it’s they continue on and be… 10:13 BS: It is a calling about, it’s about service, service above, above one’s self, service to complete strangers, to your fellow countrymen. Those people that are going to walk by you on the street, and look at you and not even think twice about you not knowing what you’re doing for them on a day-to-day basis and really being okay with it. (DF: Right, right) It’s okay that you don’t know. It is a, a much higher calling of service. 10:32 DF: So, we spoke with Ed Byers a few weeks ago, and I asked him a question that I think is maybe appropriate to talk to you about, too. I’ve learned a lot about the camaraderie and the mechanics of being on the SEAL Teams in terms of what is required of them, and there’s also the external impression that you’re talking about. People have an impression of what these guys do and who they are and what they’re about, but it contrasts a lot because I think there’s a disconnection there, people realize, or people believe that these are individuals or super, you know, super human individuals, but really they’re so much more focused on the team, and that is what really is defining, you know, the idea of the SEAL Teams and all the people that are operating there. They put the Teams above themself, right? Are there parts in training or whenever you’re on deployment that you rely more on yourself, or does that change, and is that ability to change back and forth between the two you think allow you to be successful Navy SEAL or Special Warfare operator? 11:39 BS: So both SEAL and SWCC operators, really any Special Operator, the first person you have to lead. If you look at, what you see from the SEALs and the SWCC is you see this big tactical side. You see the guys in the boats, the big guns, the fancy electronics, the state-of-the-art equipment that those guys, the really industry-leading equipment that they’re using as SWCCs and the same thing that the SEAL Teams, and then you see the MS, the big burly guys doing all this (DF: Right) dangerous and crazy stuff. That’s really a small percentage of what the things that we do. You also don’t see, the, the human side of what they do. They’re husbands, they’re fathers, they are your Little League coaches, they’re your neighbor next door out there cutting their grass, there’s still that, that human element there to it as well. And then, the level of commitment that it also takes is, you know, we kind of called it mastering the switch, the switch being, you’re at home, you got to throw the switch in one direction, “I got to be Dad. I got to deal with everything at home,” and then you got to throw the switch, and you’re going to go to work, and then you have to take on this immense responsibility that it is to be in these organizations of doing what the nation is asking of them. And when you’re in that mode, that is the priority. Your priority then isn’t your family life. It is taking care of that much broader picture, and then the families are at home still bearing that immense weight as well at home. They’re not out doing that job, physically but emotionally they’re still there doing it, and then they have to bear the burdens at home as well, too, so immense challenging task for those family members as well. So, we call it how can you be very good at mastering that switch, and you have to be very good at it as well when you’re out doing your job because there will be one moment when you have to have a, what we call a very kinetic response and then switch right away into a very human response cause maybe the situation warrants something other than this kinetic side, and very often, that’s the case. A person that can switch back and forth to being exactly what the situation requires. I think that in a way separates us from what a lot of other organizations do. 13:47 DF: I kind of had a feeling that is a unique challenge that only certain people are really able to do effectively, consistently and well because that’s obviously required in your job, making that switch fast is part of the process. 14:00 BS: So, it’s, that’s what I really separates the SEAL and SWCC training so, from other training that’s out there. It’s not necessarily the physical, the physical piece is really, that’s going to come pretty easy, and I know it’ll come easy to most. It’s that internal piece that’s going to be much more difficult, and when you are stressed, when you are in a very difficult situation, you are uncomfortable, you’re exhausted beyond compare, and to be able to make those intellectual, critical thinking tasks and make them accurately, that is what this training is really going to prepare you to do. I believe that’s what separates us, this training, from other training, is it’s training that mental acuity in our people. 14:43 DF: I kind of define part of that as the grit. I think that’s maybe the working side of that switch, right. Um, talk a little bit about how you’ve developed that in your life or if that’s even possible to develop. It’s something that you’re born with. 14:55 BS: So, that’s the “Great Man” question, right, is the poor person born into the situation, or does the situation make the person, and I think it becomes a little bit of both. There’s an art, and then there’s the science piece of both things. Or there’s an emotion and a logic piece to all of it. You need absolute both of those things to move forward, and it’s a logic piece, which is cold, hard facts, then there’s the emotion piece, which is your life experiences and things that you’ve been through. Both of those things you need to move forward to make the right decisions in life, not just in our role but in any life. 15:28 DF: Right, I think that, yeah, I think that is like foundational, right, what you’re saying. 15:32 BS: It is foundational. For me, that foundational piece came from scouting. Scouting was that Boy Scout oath, that Boy Scout law and the other adult leaders that I was around. And so I think those programs, you know, Girl Scouts, Boys and Girls Clubs, those things are very, very important to our, to our youth cause it just gives you some foundation…(DF: And challenges you, too.) It does challenge you. At a young age, here you’re going to take our youth, you’re going to put your sights on a, on a long goal, a long task. Going to take several, several years, four and five, maybe six years to attain the rank of Eagle Scout, and you’re young, and you’re making a commitment there, so at an early age, you’re getting used to responsibilities, thinking through things, making a commitment and (DF: You’re following through) following through. So, you’re getting that grit, you’re getting that resilience, and there’s a lot of difficult tasks, and a lot of things are placed on those, those young kids in order to complete those tasks. And it really, it is just a primer the way I looked at it. Scouting for me is just a primer for citizenship, I wouldn’t have traded that for anything. 16:29 DF: That’s huge. I don’t think many, enough people are involved in those types of organizations, not necessarily them specifically, but from a young age, especially I think in today’s climate that challenging your kids with potentially dangerous things, you know, giving your kid a pocket knife when they’re six years old or wherever the age is, you know what I mean, stuff like that is kind of almost sounds outdated to a lot of people, which I think is really kind of naïve to think that… 16:51 BS: Those things are at the very core of the very fabric of who we are as a nation. You know, the pocket knife stuff, they’re out there. Let’s teach the kid how are you going to use this thing so you don’t cut yourself, (DF: Yeah, safely, right yeah) right, or an axe, basic things I look at Boy Scouts, aside from the character it develops. Fire starting, you know, first aid and tying knots, right, that’s the…if you look at a Boy Scout and say, here, here’s someone that, hey, that, that kid that’s over there standing in that Boy Scout uniform, ten years old, he could save your life. He knows how to do CPR, he can stop you from bleeding, that kid could absolutely save your life cause of training that he’s been through, so. 17:27 DF: And his mind knowing that he can just even taking any action what stops a lot of people I would imagine, you know? 17:32 BS: So, that then becomes, he can look at the situation and go, “I need to intervene there,” right. “I see something going on. I have the courage in me to do something, and I have the skills to go and do something,” and that’s all when you see in a ten year old boy, standing there. And the same goes for Girl Scouts as well, too. So, you have, Girl Scouts do the exact same thing that Boy Scouts are going to do, you know, we don’t look at our youth as being, “Oh, that kid, what can that kid do?” That kid could do a whole lot, let me tell you. 18:01 DF: Yeah, I think the responsibility piece is really huge because I think kind of giving people that permission to take responsibility and ownership at a young age, that is something that people don’t realize that maybe they can even do, that they’re allowed to do, and then it’s kind of getting them off, jump start almost. 18:17 BS: Yes, and the accountability, right. That you’re accountable for your actions. We don’t have a lot. 18:21 DF: Right, right. If you never became a SEAL, what kind of could you see yourself doing other than that in your life? Maybe as a kid did you have any other ambitions? 18:29 BS: Looking back on it, now, really I can’t see myself ever doing anything else, (DF: Right) back to that (DF: Yeah, yeah, yeah) great man theory, is a person born or not. Like any youth, yeah, I had my dreams, yeah okay, you want to be a fireman, (DF: Right) or you want to go be a jet fighter pilot, or you want to go be architect or do an engineering. And you sort through all those things, and you have to go through that process to saying, “Okay, what do I want?” right, kind of the why is it true of each of these things, and then you kind of say, “Okay, this one right here looks the most appealing to me. I’m feeling this one is right for me, and it’s the right thing to do,” and that’s kind of where I was at. I made that decision that, “Hey, the Navy is the right place for me to go,” and, yeah a very difficult life, but I have not looked back once. 19:13 DF: Yeah, I kind of expected that answer, but I figured I would have to ask anyway, (BS: Sure) just to see if you might give us a little gem, like, you know, you wanted to be a race car driver or something like that (BS: Yeah), like your hidden hobby. 19:22 BS: No ballet dancer. 19:23 DF: No ballet dancing? You never know. I mean, I’ve met people across the board with the Navy SEALs…I’m sure you could do it, I’m sure. It’s like there’s not much you guys can’t do. 19:31 BS; I don’t know how I’d look in tights…I can fox trot though… 19:33 DF: Can we talk a little bit about fear and getting over fear? What are your best strategies for getting over fear? 19:40 BS: So, fear is very common, very common reaction, and it’s normal. Everybody feels fear. Everyone is afraid. Everybody does. If there’s a SEAL that’s out there, there’s a SWCC guy out there that’s going to say, “Look, I’m, right, I’m fearless,” then run away from that person. True courage, and I think there’s several quotes out there, one of them I think comes from a fictional, John Wayne, “True courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway,” right. That’s, “Look, I’m scared, right, I embrace it. I got no, like I’m not going to hide it, yeah. I’m scared to go do this. But what I’m getting ready to do absolutely needs to be done right now.” True courage comes from being scared and doing the thing that you’re about ready to do anyway. Knowing you recognized the risk, you know there could be a very terrible outcome, but you’re going to go do it anyway cause the outcome if you don’t do something would be much worse, so recognizing there’s a situation there, recognizing you can have an impact, a positive impact on what’s going on there and then making the decision to go and doing it. And the strategies that you’re going to have are going to come from the core of who you are as a person. The things you believe in, the things in your life that you will do, the things in your life that you know you will not do and then living them, so, yeah, it’s… 21:01 DF: Identifying I think some of those belief systems I think or, but the priorities I think is what gets in the way of now hearing you say that because if there’s no sense of urgency, then, “I’m not going to do it. I’m scared.” There’s no need to do it, right, or if it’s something that’s more personal, you need to have that definition for yourself of what you’re willing to do, what you’re willing not to, what your goals are to be able to say, “I’m going to have to push through this.” Do you think that’s kind of a big part of it? 21:24 BS: For SEAL training, for the SWCC training, it is a big part of it because although you’re going through it as a group, you’re going to have a group of teammates that are around you going through SEAL training, but what the training is going to do is it’s going to is it’ll break down that team a little bit, but it’ll, it really is going to get down to the core of who you are as a person. All those little things, there’s only so much that team effort is going to get you through, but remember, a team is built up of a lot of individual (DF: Right), great efforts, and you take those individual, great efforts and put them all together, and those together, they go off, and they do great things. If you have people there just doing mediocre, meeting the minimum standards, that’s not really a team, certainly not a high performing team (DF: Right), which is the ones that we have. So, those people are just meeting the minimum standards. Those are the ones we simply don’t want around, the people that are exceeding those standards. So, you absolutely need to have someone that’s going to dig deep inside them and say, “Okay, this is the way that we’re going to go,” or, “I’m not giving in. I’m not going to quit today. My body’s hurt, I’m in pain, so is the person right next to me, and the thing we’re doing right now is really worthy of doing, and we’re going to go do this.” 22:36 DF: Yeah, I think that’s something that people don’t realize about the Teams, is that there’s lots of different personality types, but what really connects them in the core, you know that the other person at that stage, when you guys are finally put together, like we’re on the same page. Do you think that’s accurate? 22:52 BS: So, it is accurate. So, being likeminded, yes, we’ve all been through the same experiences, that we’ve all been through the same trainings. We’re likeminded is that we’re very, I don’t want to say singularly focused, but we’re very committed (DF: Right) to, to this action, what we’re doing. We have a term that, hey, it’s, we’re all in in this, and that term’s used very freely today, but no one really understands what, what this really means, is that I’m all in. I’m here with you right now, 100%...I’m here with you (DF: Yeah, with your life, not just…on paper, yeah, right), my life. My life, what equals my life is not just my heartbeat, right, it’s my soul, it’s my heart, it’s my dreams, it’s my family’s hopes and dreams and all the things that they can become, all the next birthdays, all the, all the events, those are all the things that we are going to give up, willing to give up for you, go to see my kids, go get married, you know just experience that living, and not existing. I’m going to give all that up for you, right, my fellow citizens, and that’s, that’s really, that’s what’s at risk here. When we say, “All in,” like I am, I’m all in on doing this to protect my fellow citizens. 23:58 DF: I understand that you spoke with a BUD/S class earlier today. What was that experience like? What did you talk to them about? 24:04 BS: So, spoke with BUD/S class 332. They are about a week out from Hell Week, so they just finished Hell Week, and I think there was about 90 of them in there and amazing experience. I haven’t spoken to a BUD/S class, been that close to a BUD/S class since I myself (DF: Yeah, right) was there, so it was really almost another surreal moment for me. I’m standing there in front of them all, (DF: Yeah) and I can really picture myself in their seat, you know, and like, “Wow, I’ve been right there.” So, I talked to them a little bit about my experiences going through Hell Week and the things that I remembered, and you know, I told them, I said, “You know, this is just a primer. You just went through Hell Week. You’ve not arrived. You’re not done yet. You got a long road ahead of you.” But just like I mentioned earlier, Hell Week is just a little primer for you to get tapped into the resources within you that you’re going to need to go forward with the rest of your career. So, yeah, you’re going to be sleep deprived, you’re going to be in pain, you know, discomfort, you’re going to be hungry, you’re going to be angry, you’re going to be sad, you’re going to have all those things, but guess what? Inside all of that, you still have to function and how best you do it, and that’s what I told them. This is really what the purpose of all this is here. You’re doing a lot of things maybe you don’t make any sense of. Maybe by Thursday, you don’t remember the things you’re doing, but this is the purpose of it, to tap into you, the internal piece of you, of who you are to say, “Yeah, I can get through all this stuff, and I can get my teammate through all of this stuff, and he’s going to get me through all of this stuff.” 26:00 DF: Give them a little bit of a reality check a little bit, kind of… 25:32 BS: Just get a little reality check, say that, and I mentioned to them, yeah we have that logo that you mentioned in the beginning of this podcast. It says, “The only easy day was yesterday.” Well, I believe words have meaning. Each word has a definition, and they’re put together in a certain way to get a way, a certain emotion. Everyone has different definitions to certain words. To me, “The only easy day was yesterday,” and this is what I told the class, I said “I don’t care what you did yesterday.” I told them, “You may have saved the President of the United States life yesterday. Great, go down, you get two minutes, get over it, you did a good job. What are you going to do for me today?” right, “What are you going to do to top it?” So, that’s what I told them. I said, “Hey, you pat yourselves on the back. You get two minutes to get over it, and then focus on what the next task is ahead.” So, those are the things that I told them… “Congratulations on getting through Hell Week, (DF: Right) but also my condolences, right, cause it’s going to get much harder.” 26:19 DF: It never stops. I mean even look at your career now, taking a change that, unforeseen, you know, and you’re still developing, you’re still looking for, I think that’s important to kind of recognize. 26:28 BS: And still serving, (DF: Right), cause that’s right for me. A career for the SEAL and the SWCC, it progressively, it’s going to get harder and harder and harder. The jobs and the tasks they’re going to put on you, they’re progressively going to get harder. They’re going to get more intense. That’s the career path that our people that go through. 26:45 DF: I’d like to touch a little bit on adversity, and I think we, kind of defined part of what enables you and I think most people to be able to push through that, and that’s having a direct understanding of the purpose for why you’re in that position to begin with and having the vision to continue on. Are there any other aspects that you can add to that in terms of overcoming adversity? Any personal anecdotes or anything like? 27:10 BS: So, I have several. The best one that I can give you, so the night in question where I received the, the Medal of Honor, the actions for. So, you know, my helicopter was shot down, my teammate had fallen out, so I had a downed helicopter sitting in front of me. I made the decision that I’m going to take care of the problem in front of the downed helicopter, we got all those, that aircrew, got us all to a safe location, a secure, safe location. It was from that spot that I had a decision to make, you know the weight of command, I was a Ground Force Commander, and the responsibility on our commanders that are on the ground is incredible. Its national strategic level commitments that are on those people going forward is sitting on their shoulders, so I had a decision to make. It’s in that decision, it’s in those, those moments when no matter what teammates are around you, right, that leader has to bear that responsibility. And you’re going to feel absolutely alone, and in that moment, I did feel alone, although I had my teammates around me, I had aircrew around me, I felt absolutely alone with the critical decision I was going to make, and the decision for me to make was, “Do I go now back to the mountaintop against superior enemy numbers. They have heavier caliber firepower than I do. I am not outfitted. I don’t have the equipment to do an assault,” I was outfitted to do a different mission, “and if I go now, there’s a chance that I could rescue my teammate, or I could wait three, four hours for more reinforcements to come, and that is the sure thing that I will go to the mountaintop, but it probably most likely be a recovery.” Fully knowing if I go now, the chances of me, myself perishing I thought were 100%. I thought it was 100% of me losing more of my teammates. And at that moment, that piece that came back to me is what I learned as a youth, and those were the opening lines of the Boy Scout oath. The opening lines are, “On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty. On my honor, do my best to do my duty. On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty.” That echoed in my head as I’m sorting through all the tactical scenario of what I’m going to do. It’s then that I started listening to it about the third time, I was like, “Wow, okay. I’ve not done my best, and I’m going to go do this,” so that’s when I briefed my team and said, “Hey, we’re going back, and we’re going to go do this.” So, can’t stress to the listeners enough how important it is, the core of who you are, whatever it is that you believe in. That’s vitally important for you to keep going forward. How do you make decisions? What do you believe in? And can the problems you experience, if you throw them against whatever it is that you believe in, whatever ethos, whatever creed, whatever it is you belong, those things at the very core, Boy Scout oath, all that stuff, they’re just a tool for you to use, to make decisions when decisions are difficult to come by. That’s really at the basis of what they are, right. I got a bad problem right here, difficult decision to make, I’m going to take that problem, I’m going to throw it against whatever I believe in. For me, it was the Boy Scout oath. For the SEAL/SWCC, it’s the SEAL and the SWCC Creed. You can take whatever problem you got, you’re going to throw it up against it, and if it sticks to it? Guess what, I’m going to go do it. If it bounces off of it, hey maybe I probably shouldn’t go do what I’m getting ready to do. That’s what I look at those things at their core. They’re tools for you to make a decision, and they’re not just for when you’re in uniform. They’re for your personal life as well. If you don’t know what you believe in, if you don’t know what your core ethos is, if you don’t have one personally, then, hey, here’s the SEAL one. Here’s the SWCC one. What that came from, it started in around 2000ish, 2002, 2003 or somewhere around there. They came from our entire lineage from the first day down in Fort Pierce when the first Frogmen were made till this present day. Every word in there, every phrase is fact. It happened in one form or another. So, it is a bit ideal, but it is a factual thing that all stems from something that happened, and we put it down in writing, say, “This is, this is who we are. This is what we believe in, this is how we will conduct ourselves.” That is what those ethos’ are there for. 31:31 DF: In kind of stepping forward into the future after than event, what aspects in your personal life did you rely on to gain that strength again to kind of push through in your personal life? 31:40 BS: So certainly after the event, when we came back off the mountain, immediately coming off the mountain, which was some 20 hours later, I walked into our command and control center, you know, and I was, this is the point where I can finally, I can like, “Woo,” I can breathe (DF: Breathe, right.) a little bit. And I walked into our command space, and I just felt like I’m just exhausted, and I just felt like, “Wow, that was some pretty intense stuff that we just went through.” I really didn’t feel like I could move and go forward, and I’m standing in our command space, and I still had all my gear on, and this is when the teamwork stuff comes in. So, my teammate was there in the room, recognized in me that I was, I looked defeated, and I was defeated. I felt defeated at this point. (DF: Right) And a teammate who is a high -ranking member of the community now, saw this in me. Great, he didn’t say anything to me, he just came up to me, this is the definition of teammate comes in for me. He came up to me, and he just embraced me, didn’t say anything, and he just, just simple human gesture coming up to me, right, and embracing me and just telling me in this very brotherly way to say, “Look, it’s going to be okay, right, but get yourself straight, right, cause I need you,” and that’s basically what he was telling me, right, and then he let me go, and I go back to my tent, and that’s exactly just what I needed. So there’ll be times, there will be times when, “Oh, man, I just can’t, I can’t take another step forward.” That’s when those teammates are going to go, “Hey, look, I’m here for you, right. We can do this together,” so that was the immediate aftermath of that, and then moving forward, certainly still, those core aspects that they’ve just got to remain. There’s going to be difficult times. You have to always go back on who that is, who you were, what you believe in, and they will carry you through. 33:31 DF: How would you suggest candidates take care of their mental and emotional wellbeing whenever they’re really pushing themselves, or even people that are deployed? 33:40 BS: So, everyone is different. Everyone goes through, experiences things different. What might be stressful to me is not as stressful to someone else, (DF: Right) so everyone’s going to be in a different situation. What I’d say in general, if you’ve made the decision that this is the path that you want to go down, whether it be SEAL, whether it be SWCC, you think through it all completely to say, “Why am I going to go do this? Do I just want a, a want a little piece of that image, or do I, do I really want to go out, and I want to serve at the highest possible levels with some of the best citizens that our country could produce?” If the answer is yes to that, then go for it all in. And the other piece, the mental piece, once you’ve made that core decision, and your reasons are sound, everything else is going to come easier to you. You’re going to be able to pull from that because my reasons for being here are sound. The training process, the pipeline, all that stuff is just going to pick you apart. Maybe you came in for one other reason because you bought into the image, you hit the training process, and you’re like, “Oh, my God. This is really terrible. (DF: Yeah, things change, right.) What am I doing here? Worst decision of my life,” and then you just hold on just a little bit longer, and then you hold on a little bit longer. You go one more day, one more day. And you’re like, “Oh, this really is what I want to do.” So, the initial thing I would say is, make the decision for why are you into this, why do you want to do this, and if you’re in, then you’re in. Don’t give up on it. And if you’re in it, and you’re having those thoughts, just wait another minute, right. And go back to your core reasons of why are you here, why do you really want to do this. Take a look to your left, take a look to your right and say, “Okay, this is, this is the reason why I’m here.” For me, I look at our flag a little differently than a lot of people, and I, we use this analogy for many years, I pass it on to you guys. So, it can be very difficult at times, you know, certainly a lot of things, a lot of stressful environments that we go through. If you look at our flag, a lot of people look at our flag. They see the red, the white and the blue. The red symbolizes, you know, the blood and sacrifice that generations have given for their country (DF: Right), the white, you know, innocence, purity, you know, many other definitions, the blue in the field is for justice. So that’s kind of how I look at it. Those things are very readily apparent when you look at the flag, but the real core of our flag when you look at it is the thread that holds it all together, something that no one, no one ever pays any attention to, right, and that thread passes in and out of all of that stuff, and you never see it. And you see the flag standing out through a hurricane. And the ends may be a little frazzled, a little torn, but the flag is still all together. All that we are as Americans is all tied up in that flag, and that thread is the only thing that’s holding it all together. That thread is us. That’s how I look at it. It’s that thread. I’m going to get battered, I’m going to get bruised, I’m going to get beat up, but I know who I am. I know the things I will do, I know the things I will not do, I know my character’s intact, this is what I’m going to do, and I’m going to hold strong, and that’s what I see as our community. We’re the thread that’s going to just hold everything together, no matter what it is you’re going to throw against me. 36:47 DF: Thank you so much for sitting with us and spending some time with us. I know you’ve got your own life and a lot of other things that you got to do in your life so appreciate you taking the time to speak with us. 36:56 BS: Very happy to be here. Thanks for the privilege.
Feb 22, 2019
21 SEAL Officer Selection
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SEAL Officer Selection and Assessment (SOAS) is a test of potential candidates before they are selected and sent to SEAL training. We spoke with the program manager to learn more about this unique process to find the best and brightest. For more information go to 00:00:22:01 Recruiting for Navy SEAL officers involves a two-phase screening and selection system where candidates from all officer sources (US Naval Academy, ROTC, and OCS) undergo the same selection process. All three Naval Officer programs require applicants to attend SEAL Officer Assessment and Selection, known as SOAS, where they are assessed physically and mentally on the attributes desired in NSW officers. If you haven’t listened already, the previous episode goes into the lead up to SOAS. Today, we’ll dig deeper into SOAS itself with program manager, Andrew Dow. 00:00:54:07 DF: Well, first of all, welcome back. Thanks for joining us again… 00:01:04:08 AD: Thanks for having me. (DF: Yeah) This is good, and I think discussion more on SOAS, SEAL Officer Assessment Selection, what it actually is will be beneficial to aspiring SEAL officers to have an idea of what they need to do in order to get to BUD/S and then eventually become a SEAL officer. 00:01:20:08 DF: So, not everybody will maybe have listened to the previous episode talking about getting to this point. If you can give a quick summary about what SOAS is and what its goals are, we can kind of roll into it from there. 00:01:30:21 AD: So SOAS, SEAL Officer Assessment and Selection, is a two-week screening course for aspiring SEAL officers coming from all accession sources, whether it’s Naval Academy, it could be, any inner-service academy, NROTC, OCS, lateral transfers, those are commissioned officers already who want to find something else to do or aspire to be a SEAL but was unable to do it the first time. Like I said, it’s a two-week course that’s going to test you physically, mentally, it’s going to test your behavioral skills, it’s going to test how you are as a leader, how your teamwork is, working with others. 00:02:03:13 DF: I was going to ask, (AD: Yeah) where is the school? Is it here in San Diego? 00:02:06:23 AD: Yes, yes. So, SOAS is conducted, um at NAB Coronado in San Diego, California, right where BUD/S is conducted. It’s run similar to a BUD/S environment except that there aren’t instructors. It’s an assessment, so they’re assessors. And their job is to watch each candidate, specifically how they react under stress. What are they doing? Are they being a leader, are they being vocal, or are they being that term I used in the last episode, a gray man? Being a SEAL officer, you cannot be a gray man. 00:02:37:04 DF: It’s the opposite of that. 00:02:38:02 AD: Exactly, you need to be vocal. I’m not saying to cheerleader, but you need to be vocal, and you need to have the respect and earn the trust of the men and women that will be following you. 00:02:48:10 DF: In a nutshell, what do you think is kind of core to this process? What is SOAS looking for in these people? 00:02:53:09 AD: Overall SOAS is looking for the, it’s, it’s approaching the whole man concept, right. We want someone who’s physically strong, the mental fortitude, the intelligence, being selfless and being that team player. We’re not looking at officer candidates that will be successful through BUD/S and SQT. We’re looking at officers who will be successful in the Navy and in the teams. Just remember, SOAS is, it’s not BUD/S. It’s going to be hard, it’s, but it’s an evaluation. It’s an interview. You’re being assessed in order to earn that spot at BUD/S. 00:03:20:26 DF: How long has this process been a part of SEAL officer selection and training? Is this a new thing? Has this been going on since the beginning, or can you touch on that? 00:03:28:10 AD: This is very relatively new program that was developed to screen officer candidates to go to BUD/S. Something we saw early on was that we were getting lots of officer candidates, but they were just not fitting the mold of what Naval Special Warfare was looking for specifically. In 2014 was the first pilot program of SOAS. Since then, it has grown and had molded into a screening process for aspiring SEAL officers from all accession sources, and it’s to challenge them. It’s to look at it as, “This is your interview to become a SEAL, to have an opportunity to become a SEAL officer to get to BUD/S.” 00:04:05:12 DF: So, a more high-pressure kind of assessment really? 00:04:08:03 AD: Exactly, yes. 00:04:08:23 DF: Okay, how many people are coming into these classes, or is it not in a class kind of framework? Can you talk about that a little bit? 00:04:15:08 AD: Sure, so, SOAS, like I said, it’s two weeks, it happens during the summer. They’re broken down into blocks. So, we have four blocks each year going from May, June, July and August. Each one of these blocks are filled with candidates from all accession sources, and then we try to balance it so that there’s the same amount because we need a certain ratio for assessors to the candidates. (DF: Ok) Each SOAS block is two weeks long, as I said. First block is assessment week. This is where each candidate will be tested on an individual level and on a team level, both physically, mentally. They’re going to go through challenges, group problem scenarios. They’re going to be exposed to stressful events that they’ve never experienced before to see how they would react. Everything they are doing is being documented because at the end, they receive a score that will move on to the selection panel in September to determine who will go to BUD/S. During this first week, there will be instruct, assessor and peer evaluations. The assessors will come together and evaluate, “Candidate X did poorly in these events, but he excelled in his leadership and his vocal skills.” “Candidate Y was a rock star physically, but he is very quiet, and he is not vocal to where his men or women are following him during the evolutions.” They are also doing peer evaluations where the candidates are rating each other on how well they’re performing, and this is happening side by side from all accession sources. So, you’re having Naval Academy guys evaluate ROTC and vice versa or evaluating OCS. So, this is, it’s a very interesting mix of bringing all these accession sources together. One, they’re all battling for certain spots, they’re all selected separately, so they’re each their own cohort, but they’re all working together for a common goal, you know, to earn opportunity to BUD/S. They’ll be tested academically. They’ll have writing assignments on certain topics that they have to complete during assessment week when they’re getting minimal sleep. They’re tired, they’re cold, they’re wet, they’re sandy, very similar to what they may face in BUD/S, but it’s in an environment where everything is being written down. It’s not, “If you quit, you’re gone.” Um, so SOAS week one assessment week, you know, you have all the accession sources, and they’re being assessed by assessors. They are going to be faced with problem solving, thinking outside the box scenarios. They’re going to be faced with some evolutions that they will see at BUD/S, for example, log PT, which is known at BUD/S as being very challenging. They’re going to be faced with that at SOAS. They’re going to get exposure to boats on heads, which is very known at BUD/S, probably the hardest thing you’ll be faced with at BUD/S. Doing surf passage, they will do long distance running on soft sand, they will do surf emersion, which is one of the leading things that causes both enlisted and officers to quit because, one, it’s physically stressful, the cold water immersion. Two, it mentally (DF: Right) makes you not want to be there cause the Pacific Ocean gets pretty cold. 00:07:11:18 DF: What percentage of people are failing or quote “dropping out” during this, (AD: SOAS?) yeah, during SOAS? 00:07:17:00 AD: Okay, so, on average, we’re looking at probably between four and seven drop on requests, DORs, at SOAS per block. 00:07:24:07 DF: And, and what’s the approximate number of people in the block? 00:07:26:23 AD: During the summer of SOAS, there’s four blocks. In total, we have about 165 candidates, ranging from the Naval Academy, OCS, ROTC, inner-service. There’s about 165 candidates. By the end, what the selection panel will look at in September is roughly 120 applicants. So, to give you that, it’s about 45 individuals who will either drop on request, DOR, will medically drop, some things they just can’t control, they get injured, and they’ll have another shot if it wasn’t their second time, or they’ll get performance dropped. At the end of assessment week, week one, all the assessors come together and look at the scores of the current block of candidates. The bottom 10% will get performance dropped. 00:08:08:14 DF: Is there additional selection, or is that who we’re left with to go to BUD/S? 00:08:12:05 AD: No, so, let’s just do an example. SOAS block zero starts with 50 candidates. At the end of block zero, week one assessment week, they finish with about 35 candidates, right, so that number that either dropped on request, medically dropped or performance dropped, they no longer are in the hunt for a BUD/S billet. The remaining 35 would move onto the second week, which is interview and orientation week. So, SOAS week two, which follows assessment week, is a week long of interviews with an O3 in the Navy, which is a lieutenant, or an E7 or above, which is an enlisted, senior enlisted chief petty officer or higher, who will sit down with you for 90 minutes and conduct a one-on-one interview. It’s very similar to applying for a job. They’re going to ask you questions relative to the job of being a Navy SEAL officer and see where you, where you go with it, how you will answer certain questions. They want to see, they want to know about you facing failures, how you reacted. They want to know that you failed and how you reacted to it and overcame it or how you adjusted it so you wouldn’t fail again. They’re going to ask some really tough questions to you that you need to answer honestly because you need to be honest with yourself, plus they can tell if you’re not being honest. 00:09:24:18 DF: So, in that assessment process, that’s kind of more one-on-one, which seems more intense. Obviously, they’re going to be looking at your resume, looking at these candidates’ previous history. Are there selections made from that, or are there cuts made from that? How does that process work? 00:09:37:03 AD: So, everyone who makes it to interview week, the second week of a SOAS block, their entire SOAS score, interview will move on to the selection panel in September (DF: Okay). So, block zero finishes, then they move into block one. Once they finish, they move to block two. All these individuals that made it through SOAS are just standing by for the September board because at the end, they take all the candidates that made it through SOAS, each of their blocks, they put them in front of the selection panel, which is about six members of high ranking SEAL officers, and they determine which of these candidates are we going to select to attend BUD/S. 00:10:12:08 DF: And how many people in that selection process are then allowed to pass on through BUD/S? 00:10:16:27 AD: Each year varies, but the magic number that they’re looking for usually from the Naval Academy is roughly a 30 to 35 midshipmen from the Naval Academy will get selected to go to BUD/S. ROTC ranges from 18 to 20 will be selected, and then OCS is, ranges from 15 to 20. It depends on the year. To give you a shot, so, okay, what is my chances as an OCS candidate of getting through everything and getting to BUD/S? It’s a very competitive, challenging (DF: Yeah, I was going to say that) number. I mean you’re starting with 100 applicants who submitted to try to get an invitation to SOAS. Of that 100, they’re only picking 55. [DF: It’s already narrowed down.] It’s already narrowed down 50%. From that 55, they’re going to go through the summer of SOAS. They’re going to narrow it down to 15 to 20. So, it is a heavy assessment process to narrow it down to which candidates for OCS specifically would go and attend BUD/S. 00:11:11:13 DF: As there should be, but that’s good to have, people have a realistic expectation of how challenging or competitive it’s going to be. (AD: Yeah) So, after the selection is made, and they’re, they’re put into a BUD/S class, the people that might not have made it into officer selection, what are their options? 00:11:28:17 AD: Alright, so OCS specifically, if an OCS candidate does not get selected to go to BUD/S, he has no obligation, so he can chose to go to the Navy, be a commissioned officer, go do something else and try to lateral transfer, but most individuals end up reapplying. SOAS allows each individual to apply twice, to attend SOAS twice, so you get two chances. In BUD/S, as an officer, you only get one chance, SOAS is different because it wants to see, “Okay, you didn’t perform well this go around. Work hard, train up, work on your weaknesses, come back ,give it another shot. 00:12:00:29 DF: So, speak to those people a little bit if that’s a common, somewhat common thing. How should that application process, or how should that application package look in comparison to their first? Are there certain areas that you want to see specific things? 00:12:11:04 AD: Absolutely, and, and what’s interesting is this one candidate I had, first time around, didn’t have much background, didn’t have much outreach or leadership opportunities in his background, in his application. Came to SOAS and performed on par, kind of below average, and he wasn’t selected. He applied the following year. His initial application to receive an invitation to SOAS was night and day difference. He went out, he joined, you know, some things as feeding the homeless. He went and did community outreach, with his church. He went and joined a club basketball team, just to get his application more desirable to the board. That carried weight because, one, the board saw, “Holy cow, this guy went from not doing anything to doing a bunch of things. Physically, his PST score was 100 points better than the year prior. Let’s see how he does at SOAS.” So he’s getting a…. (DF: He kept on working and that’s what you want to see.) He kept working, and that’s what we want to see, that resiliency to come back and, “Hey, you know, I didn’t make it the first time, but I’m not going to quit,”, right? 00:13:10:24 DF: Okay, and so then let’s say people that are not necessarily “off the street,” people that have come through from a military school, what are their options, or how are their commitments different in the other remaining tracks as well? 00:13:23:10 AD: Like I said in the beginning, everyone gets two shots at SOAS. So, specifically for ROTC and Naval Academy, if they don’t make it the first time, their only other option to attend SOAS a second time is they have to do a lateral transfer or inner-service transfer. 00:13:37:03 DF: Can you explain that a little bit? 00:13:37:27 AD: Sure. A lateral transfer is something that, it’s, it’s coming from a commissioned officer who has to do a current job. So, for example, a Naval Academy graduate goes to SOAS, doesn’t get it, he gets commissioned into the Navy, and he goes and becomes a surface warfare officer. In order for him to lateral transfer into SOAS and to get another attempt, he has to earn his warfare qualification pin, his SWO pin, surface warfare officer qualification pin. That can take anywhere from eight months to two years. 00:14:07:02 DF: So, I’m guessing you don’t see that very often. 00:14:09:20 AD: You don’t, but this past SOAS class that’s happening, this is the first year that we’re having lateral transfers attend SOAS, we are seeing multiple retreads, multiple individuals who’ve been to SOAS, went, didn’t get selected to BUD/S, earned their surface warfare qualification and now are attending SOAS a second time to give it another attempt to go to BUD/S. So, it’s a much more challenging road, and we don’t see it as often, but there is opportunities if you do not make the selection to go to BUD/S after SOAS to go do something else and then put in your paperwork to lateral transfer or inner-service transfer, which is say you went and did Army infantry, or you went and become a Marine officer. Do your time that you can, you let your chain of command know, “Hey, I want to become a SEAL officer,” (DF: Right, right) and then you do the paperwork to inner-service transfer, then you can attend SOAS, and from there, it’s just earning another spot at BUD/S. 00:15:03:11 DF: Are there people that you see that are kind of consistently doing something that you would like to say, “Hey, I have this opportunity to address this issue,” that you see a lot? I’m guessing in the application process is where you’d see most of that, but, um, are there any areas where you feel people are a little, not on the mark in terms of this process and getting through SOAS successfully? 00:15:21:03 AD: Physically. It’s the biggest one that we are seeing from candidates. They can have an awesome application, everything looks great, and the one thing that’s a red flag is their physical scores, (DF: Their PST scores, you mean?) their PST scores, cause once they come to SOAS, you know, the major thing you’re being tested is physically, and they just come here and sink. They just can’t cut it. So, we tell them, “Hey, you know, you have the right attitude, you have everything that we’re looking for, but physically, you’re just not making the cut, so you need to come back. You need to go back, train, work on your PST, work on your upper body,” give them kind of an out brief so they know what they need to work on and (DF: Right) have them reapply. 00:15:57:03 DF: Short of that, in any type of leadership capacity, do you see certain people being more successful or people from a certain background, um whether it’s sports or anything like that that’s kind of really an outlier, that’s like a, well, almost an indicator that this person is going to do well? Personality traits or anything like that? 00:16:15:00 AD: The biggest, the biggest thing we’ve seen that relates to success at SOAS and later on to BUD/S is people who’ve worked in team environments, whether you’re a project manager in charge or working cross functionally with other people, just having relationship with other people, whether you’re in charge of them, or you’re, you know, on the same level as them, um being able to work with people that you’ve never worked with before to achieve a goal. We want to see people who have that experience, whether it’s in the business world, whether you are on an athletic team as a team captain or just a player on the team, but you’re able to work with another individual, you know, working in that team environment. 00:16:50:09 DF: What is the environment like? Are these people kind of bunked up together? Is this more of a professional experience? Cause we mentioned stuff that kind of mimics a little bit of the BUD/S experience, which is really gritty and, and tough, and then almost like a classroom environment and problem solving skills. It seems like there’s a bit more of a full spectrum experience. What, can you talk a little bit about that to whatever detail you feel comfortable? 00:17:13:05 AD: Sure. So, every candidate during every block will receive the exact same format or, of SOAS. They’ll all fly in, they’ll get checked in, wherever they’re coming from, Naval Academy, ROTC, their school or from their current job. They’re taking some leave off to come attend SOAS. They all come, check in to NAB Coronado. They get their lodging provided. All accommodations are covered. You know, they’ll have warm meals every day, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Everything’s provided, and they’ll all be put into living conditions where they stay together, you know, and, one, this builds that cohesion cause you’re getting, two people who’ve never spoken before from two separate accession sources, how are they supposed to get to know each other? You know, we put them in that social environment where they need to get to know each other because as soon as that Monday appears when the first day of assessment happens, they’re going to be under stress together, and they need to know how to work together. 00:18:06:04 DF: You spoke earlier about the people coming from military academies having a bit of an advantage or having higher success rate. I would imagine that in these environments, it gets very competitive, especially because these guys have been exposed to an environment like this before or maybe almost kind of even prescreened and dealing in a more strict environment before they even got here. Do you think that the candidates are well aware of that, like, that is their best competition or their top competition, or is that really not even known where these guys come from? Talk about that a little bit? 00:18:35:13 AD: We’ll say most of the candidates coming here don’t know what they’re getting themselves into. They don’t know what they’re getting themselves into…[DF: Which is probably a benefit for you guys.] It is a benefit, right? However, probably the biggest challenge we face is, you know, Naval Academy is exposed to something similar to this during their junior year of school, right. They have their, their BUD/S screeners or their SOAS screeners, where they actually compete to get a role to get invited to SOAS. So, another thing is these Naval Academy guys have seniors who’ve been to SOAS, so they, the Naval Academy has an idea of what’s going to happen. Granted, the evolutions change, the names change, the order changes, but [DF: there’s more information] there’s more information out there than we wish to have out there, but they know what the gist of what’s going to happen. And this is great that they, I mean it’s not good that they pass it along, but it’s a good because it will build that relationship with the other accession sources. You have a guy coming from being a program manager from a, you know, a technology company who now wants to be a SEAL, has no idea about anything from the military, and he gets bunked up with a Naval Academy guy. He’s going to get to know firsthand, “Okay, what should I expect? What am I getting myself into?” and have a better grasp of, instead of that initial shock. They’ll at least be able to understand, “Hey, you know, you need to put out. You need to be vocal. You need to work as a team to get through this SOAS first assessment.” 00:19:55:04 DF: It seems like that cross-pollination, if you will, is really beneficial to assessment in particular. 00:20:00:04 AD: Yes, yeah, absolutely, you know, our goal with this is not to share the secret sauce of what it is. We want candidates to come here not knowing what they’re getting themselves into because we want to see how they react. We want to see how they’re going to perform under stress in things they’ve never done before, and, you know, see them fail and see them excel. This is the beginning phase of them getting to BUD/S, and we want to see what they’re capable of. 00:20:22:25 DF: If you had the ear to somebody who was prepared and likely a good candidate for this process, what would you tell them? Maybe if it was a friend or somebody that happened to, I’m sure you talk to people all the time and give them this kind of specific advice, (AD: Yeah) but candidly, I’m sure you’re giving the same words of wisdom or general guidance to a big group of people, but what would you reiterate that you say is consistent that you’re telling these guys that they’re maybe missing the mark or something that they should really try to do better? 00:20:49:18 AD: The big thing is you need to be vocal. You need to be able to speak to people you’ve never spoken to before because at SOAS, you’re going to be put in boat crews. You’re going to be a boat crew leader. You’re going to have an opportunity to lead six to seven people. You’re in charge of them. So, you need to be able to give them task and purpose, “Hey, this is what we’re doing right now. This is what we need to do. Let’s get it done.” You know, you need to be prepared and practice at that prior to coming to (DF: Right) SOAS. If you come here and don’t do that, that’s going to, it’s going to hurt your overall score at SOAS. So, they want to see that, this is leadership traits that SOAS is trying to get out of you. (DF: Right) Aside from, “Hey, you’d better be physically ready. You’d better be, have some experience being in water,” because you’re going to be exposed to cold water, surf, sand and everything, so other than the obvious things, of hey be in good shape, hey (DF: Check the boxes, right)…All the checks in the boxes, the things we’re really looking for is, “Hey, you know, have that leadership experience. Give us examples and utilize your failures and your successes in real life and incorporate it into SOAS.” 00:21:51:24 DF: Does the experience of being on these boat crews as a leader represent accurately what they’re going to be exposed to in BUD/S as SEAL officers? 00:21:59:01 AD: Yes. 00:21:59:13 DF: Is that experience different for them going through BUD/S as an officer in that way? 00:22:03:24 AD: When you’re the boat crew leader at SOAS, the guys under the boat with you are almost serving as the enlisted guys, right. At BUD/S, you know, there will be one to two officers under the boat. One will be the boat crew leader. The remaining guys are the enlisted guys, and you are driving that boat, not just physically, but, you know, with the motivation, with the drive. With the motivation, you are trying to get your boat crew to perform at max effort to beat out the competition. This is exactly what SOAS is doing so they know what, okay, this is what’s going to happen when they get to BUD/S. You know, you’re going to be the guy in charge. This is your trial run, but you’re being graded on it. 00:22:43:29 DF: Right, right. So, how else do you think that SOAS specifically preps officers for BUD/S, not just as a way for NSW to get a better picture of the candidates and likely pick people that will be successful officers down the line, but what other ways does BUD/S differ as a SEAL officer versus an enlisted person? 00:23:02:25 AD: I think SOAS is a great program to get future officers that aspire to become SEAL officers that exposure that shows them what they’re going to be getting themselves into at BUD/S. It’s a great firsthand experience for them to see, “Okay, this is similar to what I’ll see at BUD/S, but when I get to BUD/S, it’s do or die. If I don’t perform well at BUD/S, I’m gone, and that’s my only shot.” As an officer, you only get one shot (DF: Right) at BUD/S, while at SOAS, like I said, some of these OCS candidates or ROTC don’t have military exposure like the Naval Academy. So, having them get under a boat or get under a log for the first time at SOAS is, it’s giving them a peak behind the curtain of what they’ll be seeing at BUD/S, and it will give them, “Hey, okay, I didn’t perform well under a log vocally or physically. I know I need to practice and get better if I am selected to go to BUD/S.” 00:23:56:14 DF: Okay. Is any part of this SOAS selection and assessment process doing anything to filter or get information for NSW about potential specialties later on after someone maybe is a successful candidate and becomes a SEAL officer? Are there any additional kind of options or pathways or specialties that SEAL officers have as options, or is there any other aspect of the future part of the officer that’s touched on or at least indicated here that people have any exposure to? (AD: No.)I don’t know if there’s any, I don’t know if there’s any other, if there’s a SEAL officer, are there any other nuances, variations... 00:24:35:03 AD: It’s such a minimal, it’s such a minimal thing. Honestly, there is, I mean you’re, I don’t want to say it’s like Big Army, where it’s like, okay, it’s a factory type of rolling through, but I mean officers have a, a growth route, a progression route that they have to take. They do an AOIC, they do a disassociated tour attached to the Naval Special Warfare supporting somewhere else, and they do their platoon commander. Post that, it’s all the same. 00:24:55:27 DF: They are a role. They are this role… 00:24:56:29 AD: They are, they’re the role. They’re an ops o, they’re an executive officer, they’re a commander, they work for joint operations, task force or something, those types of roles. Honestly, there’s, officers don’t specialize. 00:25:07:15 DF: Okay, well, then maybe if you could talk a little bit about officer life, um, from a personal perspective because we haven’t had that voice on the podcast yet. How would you describe your life experience being different than enlisted SEALs? 00:25:19:24 AD: I was fortunate enough to, you know, go to the Naval Academy and learn a lot about leadership both, you know, through education and personal experiences playing lacrosse at Navy, and I was able to bring that into BUD/S and bring that into the teams, and I was very fortunate to, to have the opportunity to work with unbelievable individuals, working all together as a team, the friendships I made and the opportunities that we were given and the hardships and challenges we were faced with and being able to, one, successfully get through it and, two, be able to pass along the lessons we learned from those experiences down to, you know, aspiring SEAL candidates. 00:25:59:02 DF: Um, I just was kind of wondering maybe your takeaways professionally and personally in that role and how they may be a little unique than, than an enlisted person’s takeaways. 00:26:10:11 AD: So, looking back at my career as an officer, I believe that if SOAS was around then, it would have prepared me better to do BUD/S, to, you know, prepare me mentally for what I was going to be exposed to. When I was at BUD/S, yeah, there was challenges. I was faced with hardships. I was faced with moments of, “Man, I can’t go on,” and then having my enlisted brethren tell me, “Hey, we can get it.” Everyone’s on highs, everyone’s on lows at different times. It’s so important to have, when you’re on your low, having your buddy who’s at a high to get you back up at that level. Those experiences, you know, I, I faced were challenging, but I mean it helped me grow as a person, and, you know, to tie it back to SOAS specifically, if SOAS was there, it would’ve gave me that first look of something I would be exposed to and the challenges that I may face, give me answers of how I should actually approach the problem sets that I faced in BUD/S while I faced at SOAS…If that, if that makes sense. 00:27:05:16 DF: Right, right. No, that does make sense. I think hearing from you, we hear a lot about teamwork throughout NSW, and it’s interesting to hear from the leadership perspective the unique increase in amount of training and scrutiny that goes into the leaders of these leaders. So, I think that the more detail that we have about people successfully getting through the process, the better, so....Thank you so much, it’s been really intriguing and interesting to hear about how the Navy grows leaders of leaders. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us. 00:27:36:28 AD: Of course, thank you very much for having me. DF: Find out more at and join us again for the next NSW Podcast.
Feb 18, 2019
20 How to Become a Navy SEAL Officer
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Successful SEAL officer candidates are exemplary not only in physical fitness, but in other crucial areas such as discipline, resiliency, innovation, intelligence, tenacity and LEADERSHIP. In this episode our officer programs expert explains the difference between enlisted and officer roles, the checklist of steps to follow, and the selection criteria. For more info check out 00:00:21:21 DF: Navy SEAL officers are expected to lead from the front. Successful SEAL officer candidates are exemplary not only in physical fitness, but in other crucial areas such as discipline, resiliency, innovation, intelligence, tenacity and LEADERSHIP. There are various accession paths to get to the selection program known as SOAS, or Seal Officer Assessment Selection. Today we hear from SOAS Program Manager, Andrew Dow, who explains the difference between enlisted and officer roles, the checklist of steps to follow, and the criteria that the NSW board uses in their selection process. 00:00:58:20 DF: Thank you for sitting down with us. For people who might not be familiar with you, start by just giving us a little bit about your story coming into the Navy. 00:01:05:22 AD: Sure, graduated the Naval Academy 2007. I was BUD/S class 270, finished Hell Week and then graduated with 273 SQT class, Seal Qualification Training. Upon graduating SQT, I went and did three platoons in the SEAL teams, two assistant officer in charge platoons, and then during my Platoon Commander tour, I finished that and was medically retired from the Navy as a lieutenant. 00:01:31:13 DF: Okay, is that where you picked up doing what you do now? 00:01:35:03 AD: After I did my two Assistant Officer in Charge platoons, I went and did my Platoon Commander. That was cut short, and I was medically retired from the teams as a lieutenant. Upon finishing that I worked for Apple for 14 months as an Operations Program Manager and capital expenditures, learned a lot about corporate America and decided that was not for me, and I really wanted to get back to the team environment. So, I went and I earned the position of the SOAS, SEAL Officer Assessment Selection Program Manager, and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since 2015. 00:02:06:12 DF: Okay, so starting from the ground level, we’re speaking about SEAL officers here. If you could spend a minute talking about the responsibilities of a SEAL officer versus an enlisted SEAL, what makes the jobs different just at a fundamental level? 00:02:20:00 AD: Absolutely, so the biggest difference is one’s an officer, and one’s an enlisted, right. At the end of the day, it’s a team environment, so everyone’s working off each other, and it’s the job of the officer to make sure that the enlisted have task and purpose of what needs to be accomplished. One of my old Platoon Chiefs told me that this is the best way to see it. The officer is a general manager and platoon chief, senior enlisted of the platoon, is the coach, and your enlisted guys and gals are the players. For more in depth, you know, the officers, at the end of the day, it rides on what the officer has done. If something goes wrong, it rides on him. He’s the one responsible at the end of the day. He gives what is necessary to get done, he provides the, his men and women with the proper equipment, what they need, you know, task and purpose, and everything else that is needed in order to accomplish the mission. It is their job to action the mission. That’s the enlisted job. They’re both leaders in their own sense, you know, not just officers. Enlisted SEALs are leaders within their own right, and it’s so important that they have a good cohesion mix working together. 00:03:24:12 DF: Yeah, so I want to touch on that a little bit because there’s considerable overlap in the qualifications or the personality traits for both of those positions. Can you talk a little bit about where they differ in terms of the officer side of the camp so to speak? 00:03:40:11 AD: So, I get this question a lot, and from interested candidates, the biggest thing is, “Hey, I’m not sure if I want to go officer or enlisted.” So, the biggest difference, right, is in order to be an officer, you have to have a four-year degree. You have to go through and get your commission, whether it’s through OCS, ROTC, Naval Academy, or if you go enlisted to officer, but the big, big difference is enlisted have a specific job and a specific specialty. And what I mean by that is officers go in, their job is to lead, provide top cover for his platoon or his men. The enlisted’s job is to, some of them will go and be breachers, you know. That’s a specialty school. Some will go and be snipers. That’s a specialty school. Some will go and be a communications expert. That’s a specialty school. While the officer’s job is to make sure that he’s utilizing all his pieces in the most correct and efficient way. 00:04:30:29 DF: So, these officers, are they, are they functioning along side enlisted guys with rifles, you know, jumping out of planes, or are these guys kind of more command and control positions, if that makes sense? 00:04:40:29 AD: So, what’s really interesting, and this is, people may not know this, is when these individuals, officers, enlisted, go through BUD/S, they’re doing everything together. It’s the officers’ job to, you know, be in charge of them, but during basic underwater demolition SEALs, they’re going through physical phase together, dive phase together, land warfare navigation together. Then they go into SEAL Qualification training, where they’re learning close quarter combat, diving, land warfare, weapons manipulation, free fall, learning everything that enlisted and officer learn the exact same thing to earn their trident as a SEAL. When they get to their team, that’s when enlisted will specialize, whether it’s breacher, sniper, communications. The officer will be the one who coordinates all those positions and utilizes them to the best of their ability. When it comes down to deploying and being in combat, the officer’s role isn’t just sitting back. He’s carrying a gun just like the enlisted. If there’s a firefight, he’s the one getting involved as well. In the end of the day, it’s his job to make sure his guys are coming home it’s his job to provide that, the big picture. He needs to step back when the bullets are flying and like, “Okay, what’s the situation we have here? What’s my next step? I need to be thinking three steps ahead, so I can protect my men and provide them the necessary assets they need in order to defeat the enemy.” (DF: Right) But you’re providing them with all the logistical and tactical oversight, so they are able to successfully do their mission. Most of the time, you will go on missions with them. 00:06:00:12 DF: So, a bit of both? 00:06:01:13 AD: Absolutely, but it’s so important that the officer knows his role, “Hey, you’re not the guy kicking in the door, but you need to know how to,” (DF: Right) cause that time will come. 00:06:09:04 DF: Right, right, so they really separate in the professional development portion. (AD: Yes, yes) These candidates or these, these officers, what types of personality traits do you see consistent among them or in the past that maybe brought them to the place they were as successful officers? Do you see consistency there? 00:06:27:03 AD: Definitely. There’s traits that Naval Special Warfare looks for in their officers. It’s important to know that, you know, officers should be professional. You know, they need to have tenacity. The leadership is what brings it all. Guys are not going to follow you if you do not know how to lead, you know, taking charge and leading. But to go back, the teams are the teams. It’s a team, so you need to work together. You need to know how to, regardless of what accession source for the officers, ROTC, Naval Academy, Officer Candidate school, you need to work together. You need to be able to work with, there’s introverts, there’s extroverts, you need to know how to work and handle and how to communicate what you’re trying to get done to each one of these individuals. And at the end of the day, it’s got to come together as a team. Naval Special Warfare hones on, you know, being professional, being that quiet professional, humility, having military bearing as an officer, that’s so important. 00:07:15:27 DF: Define that a little bit for me for people that might not be familiar, military bearing, yeah. 00:07:18:02 AD: Military bearing? So, a simple one, how you look in uniform, right? Some guys may, the simple one, a gig line where your belt, your belt is off-centered. Having good military bearing is making sure your belt is aligned with all your creases and your top and…(DF: attention to detail, okay) exactly. Um, the officer is expected to lead from the front in that sense, so if you look like a complete pile of messed up stuff…what your bosses see of you reflects down to your men. If you don’t look good, he’s going to assume and your guys will not look good. 00:07:49:26 DF: Right, right, so setting an example, setting the right example. 00:07:52:28 AD: Yes, being that leader, setting the example, carrying yourself with pride, especially with everyday tasks, as simple as keeping your uniform clean, having a good clean haircut and shave, you know, having that good military bearing. 00:08:04:11 DF: It’s funny to hear you say that because my father is a West Point grad, and hearing you give such a succinct explanation of him is really hilarious because that’s like my whole childhood. It was stressful, (AD: yeah I bet!) you know, cause just attention to detail. I’m not like him in that regard, so it’s just funny to hear you say… 00:08:19:27 AD: But you grew up probably learning like, “Okay,” and that’s… 00:08:21:26 DF: Yeah, right. That is important, and I knew as a professional, I do have a lot of attention to detail, and I do feel like I guess that is kind of what you’re saying about military bearing … 00:08:29:28 AD: And you, you developed your own leadership style from that. (DF: Right, I guess that’s true) So, it’s true, you learn it from different leaders. You can take bits and pieces from people, “Hey, I look up to him,” or, “This is someone I don’t want to be,” so you take what they do poorly, and you say, “That’s not going to be part of my package of a leader.” 00:08:44:20 DF: So, I guess maybe reading between the lines, it’s good for people to take leadership positions early in their, you know, adolescence or early adult life. 00:08:52:28 AD: I mean just as a human being it’s important (DF: Right, right) to have that. You don’t want to be, [DF: Not doing that, right ] exactly. Developing your leadership skills early on is very important because one, it can only grow. It will get stronger, and you’ll be able to utilize it and shape it into what Naval Special Warfare is looking for in their officers. And simply as being active as an individual, participating in sporting events, participating in volunteer work, community outreach, just being involved and having people skills is one of the most important things of being an officer. Basically your whole growth is your rehearsal before you get there. So, you want to be as prepared as possible before you actually go and do the SEAL route, just exposing yourself. Just don’t be, in the teams, they call it a gray man. Don’t be a gray man, and what that is (DF: Yeah, I think we’ve heard that before) is just someone who just goes, you know, [DF: Sliding under the radar, right] exactly, just coasting through, and you’re doing things right, you’re not doing anything wrong, but you’re not excelling. You’re just being average. SEALs are not average. They want above average, exceptional. 00:09:52:13 DF: Where do you kind of come into play in terms of making the selection? Is this after people have decided to become a Navy SEAL, or is this way earlier in the process, in the recruitment process that you come into the fold? 00:10:03:13 AD: So, my role, specifically, I start engaging or communicating with aspiring SEAL candidates once they’re in college, right. Now, I do get calls or emails from high school students, and I tell them, “Hey, you know, the most important thing is get your education. Get that four-year degree because no matter what, in order to become an officer, you need to have that degree.” So, then the next step is, all right, so how, what should I do to get that degree? (DF: Right) Should I apply and go to a service academy, whether it’s West Point, Naval Academy, you know, Air Force, or should I go to a regular college that has an NROTC program attached to that college and do it that way, or should I just go and get my degree and then situate myself, experience a little bit outside of college and get a job and see what’s out there and help build my whole person my brand and then do officer candidate school? So, I’m dealing with OCS, ROTC, not as much service academies, specifically the Naval Academy because they have their own process, but I’m dealing with students or college graduates who are in the process of, “Do I want to become an officer? How do I do that?” 00:11:07:17 DF: Okay, so for people that are in school or going to go to college, are there certain educational tracks that are more beneficial to them becoming successful or even being accepted as a SEAL officer, whether it’s political science or international, whatever. 00:11:21:18 AD: If you want to know what majors, it doesn’t matter, and what I tell all my candidates is, “Do something you enjoy because at the end of the day, if this doesn’t work out, at least you have something to fall back on.” You need to have that backup plan, and in the teams, that’s part of your PACE plan, your Primary Alternate Contingency Emergency, your secondary plan is your alternate plan. What is that, right? “I want to be a journalist,” “I want to be a historian,” okay, so do that. The selection panel is looking at if you do say, for example, economics, and you have a 2.0, right, that’s going to look poorly on you, (DF: Yeah, right), one, because you have no drive and no determination to excel in something. You’re just trying to get by just so you can get, “Hey, I want to be a SEAL officer. I’ll just choose something easy. It doesn’t matter what I get it.” It does matter. You know, you can have a 2.4 in a chemistry degree and have a 2.0. The board’s going to look at that, the SEAL board and say, “Okay, it’s a challenging major. He’s trying to balance this with athletics or with ROTC or with clubs or volunteer work, and it’s a challenge,” but he or she is showing that they have that work ethic and determination to, you know, “Okay, I’m going to graduate with this, (DF: Right, right) and this is something that interests me.” 00:12:26:01 DF: I think that answers the question really well. I’m sure a lot of people think that there is, “Well, if I have a degree in this, then it kind of fast tracks me” but… 00:12:33:00 AD: Degrees don’t, honestly, um, Big Navy would say, “Something STEM,” you know, what, science, technology, engineering, math, right. If you, if you go ROTC or Naval Academy, you’re going to get one of those, but if you’re at a regular college and doing something, I tell all my officer candidates, school candidates, “Do something you enjoy,” cause that’s the most important thing. 00:12:53:00 DF: Yeah, I was just going to say that I think the character comes through whenever people are doing what they really enjoy. (AD: yeah) What avenue into SEAL officer selection brings in the most candidates or that you get the most candidates from? 00:13:04:04 AD: So, the most success at BUD/S, at SEAL training, comes from the Naval Academy. They have a set foundation of how they raise and grow the SEAL officers of the process. You know, they have a great process. Something we do is focus more on the ROTC and the OCS candidates. We do get a good amount of applications, and we have to cipher through them and see, “Okay, which of these applicants do we want to give a chance and invite to SOAS?” And from there, it’s pretty much they have to prove themselves once they get to SOAS. (DF: Right) The biggest source that we get, in my role, is OCS, people who are, have no military experience, (DF: Right) coming right off the street with a degree or about to get their degree, or coming from corporate America who wants to become a SEAL. That’s the most people I’m engaged with right now. 00:13:50:13 DF: So, people are starting this application process at a Navy recruitment office, um, it starts from the very beginning. They’re on a separate track than Navy recruits. Are these guys going to boot camp and then following up with more education, or where does that separation really start? 00:14:03:24 AD: So, specifically for officer candidate school, OCS, this is the civilian that comes off the street, whether they have a degree or not or about to get one. They go to their officer recruiter at a Navy recruiting station. They start the process. This individual has no commitment to the Navy until, one, he completes SOAS, two, he’s selected to go to BUD/S. He’s still is not committed to serve. There’s no obligation to serve. It’s as soon he goes to OCS in Newport, Rhode Island. It’s a 10-week course that’s learning a foundation of being an officer. That’s officer boot camp. They don’t go to Great Lakes (DF: Okay, okay). They don’t do any of that. For a civilian coming off the streets, they have no military exposure until they get to SOAS. 00:14:45:10 DF: So, are they then brought in to the fold at prep school in Illinois, or do they skip?... 00:14:50:03 AD: Absolutely not. They don’t do that at all. The enlisted track has their own track for getting to BUD/S. The officers have this totally separate track so…. But for OCS specifically, after they go to the recruiter, the recruiter will set up all the OCS application process. They submit a Naval Special Warfare application, if they’re invited to SOAS, they go to SOAS. Once they finish SOAS, and if they are selected to go to BUD/S in September by the SEAL selection panel, then they will receive orders to go to OCS in Newport, Rhode Island. Upon completion of that, then they’ll receive their orders to BUD/S, and then they’ll report to BUD/S when their orders drop by the detailer. So, my role as a SOAS Program Manager is to mentor and provide guidance for Officer Candidate School (OCS), you know, the regular civilian who does not know anything about the military and now all of a sudden wants to be a SEAL officer, right. Once they get in contact with me, I don’t go out recruiting or doing any of that. My job is to strictly give them information and provide and almost hold their hand through the process to make sure that they’re doing, everything that is needed in order to have a successful application and submit it to the SEAL officer community manager. There’s a lot of steps for OCS. I also support the NROTC process, which is specifically… 00:16:04:09 DF: Let me interject real quick. That’s the, that’s the Navy… 00:16:06:20 AD: So, NROTC, which stands for the Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps, basically, those are individuals who are either on scholarship or not, attend a college, and if they’re on scholarship, they have their education paid for, but then they are obligated to serve; upon graduation, they’ll earn a commission. For OCS specifically, a kid off the street, and I don’t mean kid, individual off the street who has a college degree or is about to graduate, they reach out to me. They get in contact with me through the SEAL/SWCC webpage, or if they somehow find their way to the SEAL officer community manager page, my contact information’s there. And when they reach out to me we begin the process right there. The big questions are, “What do I need to do? What’s the first thing I need to do?” They come to me and ask me basic questions, “Okay, I want to be a SEAL officer. What is the route I need to take?” First thing I tell them, one is, “Ensure you’re on track to get your college degree,” cause if you don’t have it already, but the big thing they first need to do is go down to a Navy recruiter and speak to an officer recruiter specifically. When they go in there, they talk to that officer recruiter and say, “I want to be a SEAL officer through OCS.” That gets the ball rolling because there’s two processes. There’s the OCS process, and then there’s SOAS, or Naval Special Warfare process, and it’s two applications. They’re independent of each other, but they run concurrently. In order to move on to one, you have to complete certain steps of the other. So, the first thing they need to do is get their OCS application moving, and that involves talking to an officer recruiter. That officer recruiter will start the paperwork and get them, into MEPS. Which is the Military Entrance Processing Station. It basically gives them a physical assessment and makes sure they’re qualified to join the Navy or the military. Um, later on down the road, they’ll get more physically assessed to make sure they’re good to go for BUD/S, but this is just to get them in the Navy. (DF: Right, gotcha) They’re not in the Navy yet, but this is just (DF: Starting the right classes, right)…They have the right eyesight, they have the right weight and height, and they don’t have any lingering health issues that would restrict them from being a commissioned officer. At the same time, they have to take a couple of tests similar to the enlisted tests… 00:18:07:25 DF: So, this differs from joining A, the “Big” Navy, and B, joining NSW as enlisted because they’re kind of starting that professional rating from the first time they visit the recruiting office by getting in contact with you and then also submitting additional paperwork. 00:18:23:11 AD: They need to get certain things moving in order to have their Naval Special Warfare application (DF: Right) able to start. And the big one is when they get back from MEPS, they receive an N3M letter, which is basically a doctor letter saying they are qualified. They can take that letter and then start the Naval Special Warfare process because that letter helps them accomplish the physical screening test and that’s one of the requirements for SOAS. 00:18:46:10 DF: So, after speaking to the recruiter and taking some of those initial tests and kind of getting the paperwork started, are you in contact with them at all through the rest of the recruitment process as they roll in through boot camp and then even to prep school, are you in contact with them there? 00:19:00:17 AD: I’m in constant contact with them, getting updates, “Okay, I just completed my MEPS, I just completed my OAR, what’s next? What do I do?” That’s where I’m constantly hands on with them saying, “Okay, now you need to start your application for SOAS,” um, and I direct them to the SEAL OCM, the community manager webpage, which can be found at the SEAL/SWCC webpage as well. The OCM page is the authoritative. It has the one through eight requirements in order to have your application submitted. And my job is to help them with each one of these requirements and tell them what is the board exactly looking for, one being SEAL PST, the physical screening test. What is a good score for an officer? 00:19:40:17 DF: Really to interject real quick. (AD: Yeah) When you say, “What is a good score for an officer?” is there a lower standard or a higher standard for that? Talk about a little bit. 00:19:48:09 AD: Okay, so the PST, physical screening test. Enlisted take it, officers take it. A passing score is 1,200. That wouldn’t even get you near the door to have an officer application submitted, a 1,200. We’re looking at 50 pushups, 50 sit-ups, 10 pull-ups, a 12:30 swim and a 10:30 run, right. That’s bare minimum. That would not fly for the OC community, for the officer track. 00:20:09:29 DF: And so, you’re looking for people that are, I’m reading between the lines a little bit thinking you’re not necessarily looking for higher capacity physical work, but it’s… 00:20:21:11 AD: The way we narrowed it down working, you know, looking at data and looking at past success rate at BUD/S, SOAS, of PST scores, right, the magic number is roughly 800 comp score or better, when I mean better, the lower the number, the better the score. If you go to SEAL/SWCC webpage, there’s an officer PST calculator. When I said that 800 is the magic number, I tell all my candidates, “You need to be shooting for anything in 700 or lower.” You know, under 800, you’ll be looked at, but when you get down to the low 700s, that is what the board wants to see because you’re physically prepared to accomplish or at least attempt SOAS and then maybe down the road, do BUD/S. So, scores like that is we’re looking at a swim time under nine minutes. We’re looking at a run time under nine minutes as well, pushups, sit-ups, 90 plus, pull-ups, 15 plus. If you can hit these scores, you’ll have a physically competitive score with these numbers in your SOAS application. I know I keep interchanging NSW application, SOAS application. It’s all the same (DF: Okay) It’s basically found on the SEAL OCM page, the separate requirements, and the biggest one they’re going to first see, and even if you get it, what they’re going to look at is your SEAL PST score, “Okay, he’s under 800. Let’s continue to look through his application. What else does he have that attracts us to him or her, in Naval Special Warfare?” 00:21:37:16 DF: So, let’s speak about that a little bit. I think the important thing to take away is that the SEAL officer PST, not quote requirements, but they really are requirements, are really even more strict than, than the, the BUD/S requirements for, for a SEAL, so it’s more competitive. (AD: Yes) But other than the PST score, when you’re talking about looking deeper into the application, what else are you looking for? 00:21:56:06 AD: Can I just add one thing, [DF: Sure, of course.] So, between officers and enlisted, right, the SEAL officer score needs to be much more competitive. The saying goes, you know, “You’re a leader. You need to lead from the front,” so you need to be in the front physically as well, so that’s why our score’s a lot more strict and is lower. 00:22:12:12 DF: That makes a lot more sense even if they might not physically be doing more work, as a leader, they need to be looked up to and respected, point blank. [AD: Yes, yes exactly.] That’s a big part of it. Okay. 00:22:21:19 AD: So, other parts of the application for the SOAS or NSW specifically, one, you’re going to have a resume. Your resume is your life, basically painting your brand, your, your whole person onto a piece of paper. You know, they only want a one pager. So, just like it’s a job interview. That’s what SOAS is. It’s a job interview for BUD/S. There’s physical, there’s behavioral, there’s mental, all different types of tests that you will go through at SOAS. But in order to get to SOAS, you need to get invited, and to get invited, you need to have a solid resume that shows that, okay, you have the things that Naval Special Warfare is looking for. 00:22:55:25 DF: So, we talked about the physical, we talked about the mental briefly. Obviously, the college aspect and showing those kind of intangibles, leadership, taking initiative, being part of the community, fill in the blank, doing clubs (AD: Yes) or having that involvement, (AD: Yep) those personal skills. Are there additional I guess detailed requirements for academic standards or years spent at sports or anything like that on the resume? 00:23:18:16 AD: Yeah, so, the other things they’re looking for specifically is, okay, do you have community outreach, are you being involved with your community, are you being involved with your school. This is all building in your leadership because, one, you’re going outside your comfort zone, that’s what SOAS and BUD/S is, and you’re striving to be successful, so volunteer work, community work, clubs and activities, just like we talked about, sports, athletics. I’m not saying if you’re in ROTC or an OCS that if you never played a sport since high school to go join varsity football. What I’m saying is you need to do something you enjoy that you did do in high school. Try to go do a club. Go do an outside intermural sport…(DF: taking initiative in general) take the initiative. 00:23:57:13 DF: So, the resume being essentially a life picture, a personality picture, of their history. What else is included? 00:24:03:11 AD: Other than the resume, you know, which is your life story on a piece of paper to impress and to show the board, “This is what I’ve been through. This is some of the things that I’ve achieved in life, and this is how I can bring it to Naval Special Warfare SOAS.” The other things they’re looking for, just simple things. You need a photograph of yourself in business casual minimum. I’ll tell you right now, if you submit a picture with you with a full beard and a T-shirt taking a selfie in a car, the board’s going to pretty much take your application and not even look at it (DF: professionalism). They want professionalism right off the bat. So, I’m saying you got to go get a tailored suit, but a nice collared shirt, looking professional is, will carry miles, first impressions. You need an official PST score, and what that means is throughout the United States, we have NSW mentors and coordinators that are open and willing, their specific job is to work with enlisted, but they are more than happy to bring in officer candidates to work out with them. If anyone needs that information, I can provide that contact list, I can provide introductions to you, but their one thing in order for you to work out with them and specifically for OCS candidates is to have that MEPS letter saying you’re physically qualified because they don’t want to waste their time with someone who’s not, so… 00:25:15:28 DF: I’ll interject real quick and say for listeners, you can tune into our episode where we speak with a mentor and talk about that boat team process if that’s some area that you’d like more detail on. 00:25:24:28 AD: Yes, perfect, that’s exactly it, and, they are more than happy to have officer candidates come, but you need to utilize them to have an official PST because they’re the ones signing the name at the bottom because they’re qualified to do so. So, I always give them the contact of what’s in the nearest Naval Special Warfare mentor coordinator near you, so I’m providing that information. So the PST score, your resume, a photo. You’re also going to need your official college transcript, understanding that some candidates, ROTC or OCS may not have their degree or official transcript yet, but it shows that they will graduate on time, whether it’s May or December. The big one, and this is another important one, is two letters of recommendation, and I tell everyone, the question I always get is, “Oh, I don’t know any SEALs, I don’t know anyone that can really write a good letter for me that’s in the community,” and I stop them right there. I’m like, “The board’s not looking to see who you know or the signature block of who you got a letter of recommendation from.” They want to see someone that knows you, knows your character, knows how you are as a person, knows what you can provide in a leadership role and why you’d be a good fit for an officer because that’s what you’re going to be at the end of the day, whether it’s SEALs, helicopter pilots, Army infantry, you’re going to be an officer. That’s what they’re looking for in the first. So, if you don’t know a four-star general or a Navy SEAL commander, get your high school sports coach, whether it’s football coach, get your high school guidance counselor. They know you as a person, and they can write a real personal letter about you that the board will definitely read and get an idea of what type of person you are. That’s what they’re looking for letters of recommendation. So you got your letters of recommendation, you’ll need that letter from MEPS for OCS candidates specifically. That’s called the N3M letter. For ROTC it’s a DD Form 2807. So, you have all those, and in addition, you need the Naval Special Warfare Questionnaire. That can be found at the SEAL OCM page. It’s a straight five question, 200-word max for each question, and it asks you straight point, “Why do you want to be a SEAL?” explains some leadership challenges you’ve faced. They just want to touch the surface of what type of person you are and have an understanding before they look at it during the down selection panel in order to receive an invitation to SOAS. 00:27:35:07 DF: I’m hearing that you’re looking at a, a broad spectrum of this person’s personality, their personal history, their motivation. You’re looking at their education, you’re looking at their physical capabilities, professionalism, some of those intangibles, really getting a really broad picture of this whole person’s life and their personality. I guess short of meeting a person and being in their life, this is as close as we can get to capturing the character of these individuals. 00:27:59:18 AD: Yes, yeah, and that’s all we can base things off of until we can actually get them where the rubber meets the road and just get them to SOAS. If they meet all the requirements, and they are within the confines of what we’re looking for, they’ll receive an invitation, and then it’s up to them to prove themselves at SOAS. So, just to give the listener an idea of the actual process is in summary, right, there’s multiple ways to become a SEAL officer, whether it’s going to college for ROTC scholarship, going to the Naval Academy, going to a regular college and earning your degree and going to officer candidate school route, they all have to go, whatever the way it is, they have to get their college degree. Each one of those will give them a commission. In addition to, another path to do it is say you go to the Naval Academy, receive your commission, and you don’t go into SOAS or BUD/S. You know, you have to go serve in the Navy. You can always lateral transfer, and what lateral transfer is, basically, you earn your warfare qualification of the assignment you were given, whether it’s surface warfare, pilot, whatever. Then you can lateral transfer into the Naval Special Warfare community. But of all the accession sources, the process is the same where you have to submit during your junior year, whether it’s OCS, Naval Academy, ROTC or one of the other service academies. You work with me to make sure you have all the requirements in place. You can find my contact information on the SEAL/SWCC webpage. But the end of the day is, you’re trying to get to SOAS. That should be your focus. Once you get to SOAS, that’s where you prove yourself, and then that’s where you’ll have the opportunity to potentially go to BUD/S. 00:29:28:29 DF: Well, thank you so much for taking the time to sit down with us. I think it’s very helpful, and it will be a really great companion to the website. 00:29:34:10 AD: One last thing to leave the audience with, if you have any questions about the application process, please reach out to me. I can provide you that information. There’s individuals who submit applications and never talk to me, and usually their application isn’t wrapped nice and clean for the board. So, please reach out to me. I’m here for specifically OCS and ROTC, but I’m open to answering any questions that anyone has about the SEAL officer community. 00:29:56:15 DF: Perfect. DF: Find out more at and join us again for the next NSW Podcast.
Feb 12, 2019
19 Medal of Honor Recipient Ed Byers
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The Medal of Honor is our nation's highest award for bravery in combat. We asked Senior Chief SEAL Ed Byers, Medal of Honor recipient, what it means to serve to our country during dangerous and covert operations. For more, check out 00:00:21:23 Daniel Fletcher: Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward Byers is the 6th SEAL to earn the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions during Operation ENDURING FREEDOM on December 8, 2012. He discusses the challenge of going from a life of secrecy to the responsibilities of a life in the limelight. He says he wears the Medal to honor his fallen teammate from that mission, and continues to humbly serve as a mentor and inspirational representative of the Naval Warfare Community. Here’s his story: 00:00:55:17 DF: The main objective of this podcast is really to assist in continuing or growing the quality and preparedness of NSW candidates, specifically SEAL/SWCC guys. In many ways, you set the bar for standards for people in other branches of the service and as well in the Navy, but at the same time I think if people that are coming into this process are trying to shoot for fame or success that they’re probably going to miss their opportunity to be successful because, as I’ve learned, so much of success in the teams is about that team, not about the self. 00:01:34:19 DF: How, how can people that are intending to become high performing NSW operators kind of navigate that duality between self and team to be successful team member? 00:01:44:14 EB: Well, one of the, one of the fundamental principles of, of BUD/S is in the very beginning, is they have to have, they have to start off with a clean slate with the people that make it through the pipeline and actually show up to the teams. So, what they do through a whole lot of pain and some suffering and trials and tribulations is they get you to repeatedly fail or struggle through things in the hopes that you start to realize that you cannot do this process alone. You can’t make it through BUD/S alone. So, they strip away your personal identity in the very early stages, and they do that through a multitude of different exercises, and while you’re going through that, you really don’t understand it at the time what they’re trying to get to, and what they’re trying to get to is to make you realize that you have to start thinking about team before self. And when you start to do that, as pretty indicative of each class, is the class will start to grow together, and they’ll become more efficient, which means they’ll get beat less, and you’ll end up with this core concept of, you know, team gear, your gear and then yourself, and that’s the order in which you take care of things. 00:03:10:19 DF: So, do you think it’s fair to say that maybe in the beginning parts of the process or even through professional development after BUD/S, that there is more of a focus on self because obviously when you’re working together, there’s a big aspect of like you’re saying, you’re kind of almost becoming, the team is yourself, right, or kind of becomes yourself, (EB: right) so that is where you’re focused on, where success is. Are there aspects of your career in NSW that are more focused on yourself, like whether it’s professional development? You think that’s something that people should hone in on, the ability to kind of switch back and forth and have that awareness? 00:03:47:23 EB: Well, there’s always going to be an aspect of self. We are individuals. We, everybody has their own personality and their own, their own things that make them tick and what defines them, but just like any good building, it has to have a good foundation, and that’s where BUD/S comes in. They have to lay the foundation first and teach you these inherent traits that our community believes makes a good team guy. Eventually, there will be times where you’ll be out on your own. It’s no secret that at any one time in this world right now, Special Operations are in over 130 countries around the world. So, a lot of those countries may only have one or two people in them, (DF: right) so there will be times if you’re at a certain level or on a certain team where you will be on your own, and you may be the only representative to the US government in that country, so you absolutely need to have a person who can fluctuate back and forth between team and then knowing that you might have to do some alone. But while you’re doing that alone, you’re always thinking about how can then I best support my team. It always comes back to supporting the mission, you know, the cause, your brothers, the team (DF: as your foundation)…as your foundation. 00:05:19:03 DF: What do you want to see in a teammate that may be new to your team as an indicator that they’re going to gel well with you and there’s going to be success? 00:05:27:24 EB: Naval Special Warfare community has a very unique advantage, and the advantage is that is first of all, we have a volunteer military, and then we have individuals then that want to volunteer again for what they already know as being the hardest military school that exists. So, if you make it through that, you already have a person has an innate nature to want to be part of the best team there is, (DF: Right, right) that is incredibly driven. They have an intense desire and passion cause there’s no way you’re going to make it through that pipeline, BUD/S is the end of pipeline, if you don’t, and they’ve learned that they need to work together as a team. So, when you show up first to your team, then you kind of start right back over again because you become close with the people you go through BUD/S with, but you may be the only guy, the new guy that shows up to your team, and they have no idea who you are. There’s a saying in the community that’s, you know, “You earn your trident every day.” It’s every day you have to come and bring the best work ethic, the best mentality that you can bring and show that to people. There is no mistaking that BUD/S is the easiest part about being team guy, hands down. It’s a hard school, and a lot of people fail, but that is the easiest part about being a Navy SEAL. Showing up to the team and doing this day in and day out, going on deployment after deployment is where it takes a whole lot of resiliency, determination, dedication and commitment. So, when you show up there, and you have a new guy that comes in, and the first thing you’re going to look for is when are they going to start to broaden, spread their wings a bit, show a lot of initiative fundamentally, be the last one to leave at work, is able to look more at the broader picture and go, “What else needs to be accomplished?” and not have to be told what to do. Those are the things right off the bat cause I know the guy is (DF: proven, right) hard, right. He’s in good shape, that he has some fundamental, you know, core concepts built into him from what the pipeline is, but now we’re looking to expand him and grow him as a person, (DF: right) right. So, those are the things that were expected of me, and that’s something I would expect of somebody coming in to my team initially looking at them. 00:08:15:15 DF: Something that I’ll reiterate that you said about starting over again, and when you get to a new team or whatever, it’s really even more than that starting every day, you know, you need to earn it every day, and I think that kind of plays into the answer as well as far as like what you look for in a person that is going to be functioning at the highest levels, is are they willing, or are they able to come in with that mindset, a little bit of humility but then at the same time, like stick with it. How do great team members, and yourself included, balance that need for grit and toughness with the peace of mind and maybe calmness that’s needed either on mission or through training? 00:09:02:01 EB: So, the easiest way to balance that is, is what’s fundamental to our community. We’re Naval Special Warfare, and we’re the maritime Special Operations branch. So, with that said, water is fluid, and we spend our life around water. You have to be able to ebb and flow with the ever-changing environment and mold yourself to the situation and fill in where it needs to be filled in and bend around situations that, frankly, can’t be solved or maybe too hard or complex at that time (DF: right, right) to tackle. So, that’s step one. The next step is there’s a lot of compartmentalization. You can’t take what you do overseas in a battlefield environment and apply that same tactic and aggression (DF: right) and grit and toughness when you’re back home in a training environment, and you’re around people that’s never experienced that or have (DR: right, right) no idea what, no concept to be able to relate to you. So, you have to be able to push back and forth between environments, and make yourself able to be able to communicate in both environments and work in that battle space. 00:10:25:02 DF: Do you think how quickly you’re able to make those changes is a distinct advantage? Cause it seems like that kind of stuff comes and goes pretty quickly, you know, changing between staying calm and pushing through, whether it’s when you’re physically pushed in demand, and there’s a lot of demands and having that perspective, that ability to switch back and forth, do you think that’s something that has given high performing members an advantage or even enabled them to get to where they are? 00:10:53:15 EB: It definitely gives the community an advantage. I mean the community as a whole is a pretty smart group of individuals, and I don’t have the exact figure. I think it’s well over, you know, 50% of people have degrees and even advanced degrees, and that’s across the entire community. So, we take a lot of pride in the fact that we’re also freethinkers. It’s back to that concept of you can be operating a team in one environment, and then, you know, six months later, you could be on your own and having to solve these problems with absolutely no supervision and just making decisions as you go. So, we 100% rely on the fact that guys can switch back and forth, understand situations and blend themselves into that appropriate environment. 00:11:47:14 DF: Yeah, I think that, that’s something that there’s maybe a misinterpretation or misrepresentation, or people are confused about as in the civilian space or even in other armed forces that, and we’ve touched on this numerous times, that operators are a certain way, and generally they don’t realize how academic these people are. It’s even more so the mental aspects of the job that are what’s more required cause the physical will get you so far, but do you think that’s kind of in line with your perspective of the teams in general? 00:12:26:23 EB: Being a team guy is extremely complex. You got to know the basics from, you know, how a gun works to advanced ballistics if you’re a sniper, to advanced explosives, which is physics and chemistry (DF: Right, right) if you’re a breacher, maybe you’re a medic, and maybe you’re all three, (DF: Yeah, right) and then maybe you might be a communications guy that has to know advanced communications, and that’s just on a military side. (DF: Right) But then you get put in environments where you have to be able to speak, talk and act like a businessman or how to navigate embassies and do all that. So, you’re having to bridge both the civilian side of the world or non-military agency side of the world and also know how to handle all your military knowledge. 00:13:20:12 DF: Are there any parts of your childhood that you think uniquely kind of set you up for success as an operator with your background? 00:13:27:26 EB: Absolutely. I fit the typical majority of team guys, and I’m a Midwestern boy that, you know, grew up in Ohio. I grew up on a farm that was on a river, so I was around water, and I was around woods, and my dad was a, a general contractor, so he was in construction, so it just lends yourself to always being thinking about things and building things and unique challenges that come with that, and then it gave me the opportunity to also get out and be in the environment and be around water, and fortunately, came from an era where we didn’t have, you know, smart phones and iPads and everything else that pulls at people’s time and bandwidth. And it drove you to be outside and do these things. And then there was a lot of, there was a few key factors that came out, like the first movie Navy SEALs came out, and there was a handful of books coming out about team guys in Vietnam, just right around that time when I was fairly impressionable around, you know, ten, (DF: Right, right) ten to twelve year, you know, age range. So, my father was in the Navy at the very end of World War II, but it wasn’t really talked about in our family at all, and that was the only part of our family that had military. There was just something that just was always innate to my desire of everything military was intriguing to me (DF: kind of planted a seed a little bit)…I don’t know if it was necessarily planted. It was just, you know, it was the, the Rambo era and Rocky. It’s that growing up in that scenario where those were the cool movies of the ‘80s. So, as a young boy, that drove a lot of my mentality and especially being in the country. I mean country is going to be more, more of a tendency or lean towards, you know, hunting and shooting and fishing and all that stuff, it helped me get to where I wanted to go. And by the time I was in high school, that was the only thing on my mind, was, “I’m going into, going into the military.” 00:15:48:25 DF: Did you, at that point in high school, did you know that NSW was kind of your track, or you kind of just a little bit more vague at that point? 00:15:55:10 EB: I had it narrowed down. Northwest Ohio was not, is not a very big military area, (DF: yeah) so I did my due diligence of narrowing down the branches, and it came down to the Marine Corps and the Navy. But I already kind of knew I wanted to be a SEAL. I think I was just checking my last box and going, “Let me just see if the Marines is where I want to go with Force Recon.” Ironically, my first tour did, was with the Marine Corps, so I spent my first three years as a medic down at Camp Lejeune, which was a great tour of duty for me and really set a, a very good foundation of becoming a SEAL in the fact of I realized what I had during those three years in the Marines was not a lot, and then going into the Special Operations community, all of a sudden you’re just inundated with the best technology and gear and training possible, so it makes you really appreciate even more, at least from my perspective, where I was at. 00:17:03:05 DF: We talked a little bit about your growing up, and in light of that, do you, see people that have children that grow up to be successful military members or just successful in general, people that are either team members with kids or in other military branches, is there something different you think that they do that gets their kids prepared for success in the military than maybe other families? 00:17:29:09 EB: Well, I definitely think parental involvement in a child’s life is going to help them for sure. (DF: Yeah, right) I have a daughter that’s a competitive figure skater, and if we didn’t constantly pour into her to, you know, about her training and nutrition and everything else, she would not be at a national level like she is right now. Just like any parent would prep their kid, they want them to go to, you know, Stanford or Harvard, and they put them in prep courses and get them surrounded in test taking and being book smart, becoming a Navy SEAL would be the same way, but I didn’t have any of that. (DF: Right, right) I grew up. I didn’t have, there was no one around me to motivate me to do anything special. It was something inherent inside of me that it was in my mind and in my heart that that’s what I wanted to go do. I wanted to become part of the best and be part of a group that’s incredibly unique and special. I wanted to be someone special. And that is the greatest thing about human nature, is you can never, just like a book, you can’t judge it by its cover, you never know what’s inside a person’s mind or in their heart or in their gut, and that drive of personal tenacity can make people do some incredible things. You see that a lot in BUD/S, where you have the collegiate level swimmer or the cross-country runner that was the state champion and you’re like, “Yep, those are the guys that are going to make it,” and then what will happen is that those guys that you thought would make it are the ones that quit during Hell Week. And the guy that you looked at and go, or would have never have guessed was going to make it through is the one leading the pack and the charge throughout the class and there at the end. I talk about this when I go to schools, and I speak to, to all ages of, of kids. I can count on my hand the amount of people that actually thought I was going to become a Navy SEAL. The majority of people thought, you know, it was a pipedream and that I was wishing. There was no way this kid from northwest Ohio, doesn’t have any military background, was never really physically active other than playing soccer until my senior year in high school, was going to go on and be part of a most elite Special Operations unit in the military. So, while it’s great that parents should be absolutely part of their kids’ lives, and if that’s what they want to do, you know, help them and give them opportunities to do that. At the end of the day, it comes down to that child to have that desire to want to do it, and it’s what we always tell our daughter, too, “You can quit any day you want. We’ll love you the same, we’ll stand by your side,” but I have to see it from her that that’s what she wants to be, and every day, she gets up, puts on her skates and hits the rink, and that’s the same as a kid that wants to become a SEAL. Parents provide them the opportunity, but they got to be the ones going, “I need to go to the pool and put some laps in,” or, “I need to hit the gym,” or, “I need to go for a run.” My training when I growing up on a farm was I would do breath-holding contests in the bottom of my pond for minutes at a time, you know, cause I thought you had to be able to hold your breath as a SEAL underwater and be comfortable in the water. That’s what I had access to me, and that’s what I did. I see its absolute advantage to have that, as a child or a young adult with your parents wanting to drive you to that way, but you don’t need that. 00:21:25:11 DF: Yeah, it’s almost even a detriment, you know, if you don’t have it inside you, then it’s an external thing, and that goes away when you’re tired…that goes away when you’re hungry… 00:21:33:07 EB: Living up with expectations can be a hard, a hard thing, and if you’re, you know, that’s another balance of if your parents drive you, are driving you to that, and they want it more than you do, that scenario never goes well. 00:21:45:16 DF: That’s dangerous. 00:21:46:15 EB: Cause it’s not going to be your parents that are going to be holding the boat over your head when you’re cold, wet and tired. 00:21:51:05 DF: It’s almost like the flipside of that. You talked about adversity yourself, people saying, like, “There’s no way,” like, “All right, have fun,” you know, and that’s got to drive you more than someone telling you that you can do it almost sometimes. 00:22:03:29 EB: I think that’s probably one of the biggest motivators of all time, is when people say to other people that they can’t do it. I mean and the people that come back and go, “Who are you to tell me what I can and cannot do?” (DF: yeah watch me!) and that’s a big driver for sure. 00:22:21:06 DF: Yeah, I kind of think that’s a pretty consistent thing for, through the people I’ve spoken with in the community there, “Yeah, I can do it,” like just confidence. I mean it’s tough because there’s some times not even really a word that accurately describes that kind of level of drive of just seeking challenge in general, you know. You see somebody else do it, you know it can be done, like, “I can do that,” or, “I want to prove I can do that,” even to yourself. I think that’s kind of what you’re talking about a little bit at the core, people having that as kids, you can’t really just, you can’t necessarily make your kid feel that way. 00:22:52:02 EB: You can’t make your kid feel that way. Fundamentally, as Americans, our nation was founded on a rebellious nature, and we’re fighters to the core, and that’s what makes our force so unique is we are individuals out there, and it starts in their youth, just like it did with me, of those that just want to be part of something special, and they know in their mind and their heart that no matter what, they’re going to make it through. They’re going to suffer whatever amount of pain, they’re going to put whatever amount of risk to their personal safety on the line to make it happen, and it’s what they want cause it’s, that’s what they envision. That’s their dream. 00:23:28:24 DF: You talked about the difference between going between, you know, deployment and being back home or that kind of switch. Is that similar to what you deal with being in the public so much being a team member that has to make the switch? Is that, is that in line with that kind of skill that you need to be able to be a good operator? 00:23:47:26 EB: One of the aspects of being a Navy SEAL or Naval Special Warfare as a whole in Special Operations in general is that, and it’s what drove me to want to become part of that community was the, the secrecy that surrounded the community. So, the people that want to be a part of that want to be a part of it because they just like it for the job. You’re not doing the job to become famous (DF: Right, right) or seek that, you know, recognition. Another tenet in the community is, you know, “The deed is all, not the glory.” So, it’s very hard sometimes to make that transition. 18 years of my life I didn’t have any sort of social media interaction. Nobody knew who I was. There wasn’t a single picture of me on the Internet. So, the day that the president put the Medal of Honor on me is the day that changed my life fundamentally forever, and then you’re thrusted in the spotlight. So, like anything, you can take that as being another stage in your career and your duty and your job and the next mission line, or you can complain about it. Well, it does no good to complain about it. It’s not going to change the scenario. You have to learn how to operate and work within that environment. The Medal of Honor is a very, a very humbling to be a recipient of, and it plays an incredibly important and unique role within our nation. You know, there’s 73 living recipients in our nation right now that range from World War II to the global war on terrorism. And it’s a representation and validation of the type of heroics that are continuously witnessed within our military and our modern day warriors. I just happened to be a beholder of one of those, but it represents a culminative effort of what our entire group does within Naval Special Warfare. We’ve been, you know, had the distinct privilege, cause it is a privilege, to work with the most incredible individuals on the face of the planet. And if anyone was to listen to this and go, “What do I want to do in life if,” you know, to be a banker or finance or want to be a SEAL, or what have you, is, this is the most exclusive job in the world that you can do because it’s a job that no matter how much money you ever have, you, you can’t buy it. You have to earn it every single day. So, I got to be around for 20 years of my life these individuals that I’ve seen time and time again do the most heroic things in the world. But true to the nature of what our ethos represents, they’re probably never going to get recognized at a level where an entire nation is going to know who they are. They’re going to be a name on a wall in a building that you can only get to if you walk through the gates of BUD/S in Coronado. When I look at it from that perspective, it becomes an obligation and a duty to have to be out there and represent what it is our community has done, and to pay homage and tribute to all those who, especially within our community, who have paid and sacrificed with their life, in particular, Nic Cheque, who was killed on that hostage rescue mission in 2012. So, when I think about that, when I wrap it all into that, it becomes something I’m comfortable with doing. But for the majority of people out there, that’s within our community, they’re just wired that way. They don’t want to be known. They don’t want to, anyone to know who they are, and they like it that way. They like living in the shadows and going about overseas, doing our nation’s work protecting… 00:28:21:26 DF: It’s certainly a lot easier that way. 00:28:23:23 EB: It’s definitely a lot easier that way, so the community has to be that way. 00:28:28:13 DF: Well, I will say that your malleability or flexibility there that you did mention earlier, kind of talking about kind of being like water, I mean it does speak to that and your own personal character. You know, you get dealt this hand, and then you’re going to make something fruitful out of it as opposed to whatever the alternative is. So, I think people can take that away from the discussion even a little bit to know that things aren’t going to go always according to your plan or expectation, and if anything, it’s usually not that way, so if you’re unwilling or unable to adapt, then you’re kind of stuck in the water for lack of a better phrase, you know. 00:29:05:09 EB: Very rarely in life does anything go according to plan, so. 00:29:09:28 DF: I guess that’s kind of a bigger, overarching kind of thing, word of wisdom I think for people for any point in their life, not necessarily just for BUD/S or NSW or the community at large. You mentioned that you were traveling around, where you speak to schools or whatever. Through that kind of exposure, is there anything that you’ve kind of come to have as a piece of your own personal voice that you try to communicate to people, kind of something that you like to, to remind people that’s unique to your experience? 00:29:37:27 EB: Yes, there’s definitely when I speak to the younger generation, there are a few core concepts. And I’m always going there in the capacity as a Medal of Honor recipient who happens to be a Navy SEAL. There’s six tenets to what the Medal of Honor represents to the nation, and it’s embedded in what they have, it’s called a character development program, and it’s sacrifice, integrity, patriotism, commitment, citizenship and courage. And the core concept around that is anyone can be a hero. You don’t have to serve in the military to become a hero. You can be an everyday citizen who is just, does the right thing at the right time, and that’s what would define you as a hero. We see this in papers all the time with younger people or just general citizens that rescue other people or put their life in danger to save someone else. That is an absolutely a definition of a hero. What you see a lot in, in the younger generation nowadays is they have, there’s a huge problem with, with bullying, so whether through cyber bullying or just within the school, and the environment is much different because back when I grew up, there was, if you did something, it would take a, it would take a minute for people to hear about what you did. Nowadays, everyone can hear about it in your entire school in the matter of a minute, and that brings on a whole lot of unique different pressures. They still have the same type of struggles of, “I don’t have any friends,” or a small, a very small group of friends, or they don’t see themselves as being courageous or that they can do something unique. And my message always to them is, “Don’t let anyone ever tell you what it is you can do in your life,” cause if I did that, I wouldn’t have been standing on that stage talking to them. If you listen to what other people tell you, then you’re never going to accomplish what it is you think you can do. I see the most incredible young boys and girls that you would never think when I ask them, “Hey, how bout you tell me about a problem you are having in the school today?” and then you’ll see that this one little hand, you know, raise up from the crowd, and they bare their soul in front of 1,000 other classmates, and it was a person that come to find out has no friends and is dealing with a lot of this internal burden of self-doubt and, or maybe depression or what have you, and I look right at them, I go, “You’re going to be someone absolutely incredible,” cause that takes the most insane amount of courage to be able to do that and have everyone in your school judge you, and it changes their life. I’ll follow up with them six months later, you know, ten months later, with the teachers or what have you, and that person’s, those few sentences that you said in front of their entire school completely change their whole persona and their confidence and everything. So, it’s just quieting the noise around you and not listening to all the negativity and looking yourself in the mirror and believing in who you are and what you can accomplish. 00:33:19:15 DF: I think that’s a pretty big thing to do for the community at large, that’s huge. A lot of people I think would maybe take the easier way out as opposed to really trying to lift people up like from the core like that, so that’s pretty powerful you get to do that a lot. 00:33:35:19 EB: I don’t get to do it as much as I’d like. 00:33:38:11 DF: Earning your Medal of Honor, it’s obviously a huge life-changing event, but for people that might not know about it, um, you can give us as brief of a version as you feel comfortable kind of explaining just to give our conversation a little context. 00:33:52:08 EB: So, in the history of the United States, there’s only been 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients. Half of those came in the Civil War, and President Lincoln designated the Medal of Honor to be the only award given for battle. That’s out of the 42 million Americans that served in the armed forces. To equate that, it’s one ten millionth of a percent to become a Medal of Honor recipient, and the reason they designated it as a recipient is because you don’t, we don’t win awards in the military. You never come in the military because you want to get accolades and different awards for going to combat. So, that number is unique, extremely unique and small within itself. Now, if I jump to Naval Special Warfare as a whole, I became the 6th Medal of Honor recipient in Naval Special Warfare history out of, there’s currently seven, and that happened in 2016, about three and a half years after the operation in 8 December 2012. This was the first time that the Navy had a living, active duty recipient in 45 years. (DF: wow) So, the reason I say that and why it becomes so important to who I am now is because of with any great honor comes that great responsibility. You become a recipient of this medal because your peers thought you did something that was worthy of this. But I personally wear this to give tribute to Nic Cheque. And on 8 December 2012, we were based out of a remote base in eastern Afghanistan, and we got intelligence directing us that an American doctor, Dr. Dilip Joseph was taken hostage by a bunch of Taliban captors. So, we were under a time-sensitive target. We had some variant intelligence over whether or not he was going to stay within country or leave, so we had to go and execute this operation on little fidelity surrounding his situation. Hostage rescue at the tactical level is the hardest thing a military unit can do in combat. There’s so many complexities. It’s, you don’t know the state of the captors, you don’t know the state of the hostage, you don’t know the internal dimensions or things that are happening in the building. There’s a lot of things that can go wrong, and there’s, you can’t just, unlike movies, you can’t just fly in your target and be inside the room in a matter of minutes. So, that night, myself along with my team, we launched, and we patrolled for about five hours through the mountains, pretty cold night out. Like I said, it was December. And as we were approaching the target building, Nic Cheque, who was our point man, was right in front of me, and a guy and one of the sentries came out to go to the bathroom as it was getting close to sunrise and call for prayer. Nic saw him and immediately engaged that individual, and we started sprinting towards the door. It wasn’t a normal door, though. It was layered blankets, so they were very hard to weave through, and we tried ripping them down, and we couldn’t, so it wasn’t like you could open a door and make entry. By the time I finally got in, I went to my area of responsibility, and there was an armed Taliban at the end of the other side of the building that had an AK-47 pointed right at me. Fortunately, I was able to kill him, and I saw someone else moving across the floor, and I didn’t know whether or not that was one of the hostages, or it was one of the terrorists that was trying to go towards some more weapons. So, we thought that could have been three hostages, two other doctors along with Dr. Dilip Joseph. So, by the time I got to him, I was able to straddle him, and I had to adjust my night vision and look down, and I had been trying to get some facial recognition. The same time this is happening, calling out for the doctor to answer, “Hey, are you in this room?” just something. Right about that time all that happened, he rogers up and says, “Hey, I’m over here. I’m over here.” And so, I engage the person I was on top of, and then I got up off of him as fast as I could, ran over and then jumped onto the hostage. When I did that, I grabbed him and brought him in close to my body armor to shield him from everything else that was going on, and there was another one of the terrorists in the corner who was just waking up. It was very early morning, and this all happened relatively quick. So, fortunately, he was within arms’ reach, and I was able to pin him by the wall by his throat and was basically choking him until the rest of the team was able to get in and eliminate the threat cause he was reaching for guns. 00:40:25:21 EB: That all happened in a matter of about a minute, a minute and a half. Everything happened really quick. We didn’t know at the time was that Nic entered the room first. He had been mortally wounded. He’d been shot. So, as we’re pulling the doctor out of the, out of the room, I noticed that Nic was being worked on by our medics, and being a prior medic myself, I went over and started helping doing CPR on Nic, on the helo flight back to the base where he was pronounced dead. That one evening is without a doubt, captures to a T what it is to be a Navy SEAL. It was a, a mission that was completely successful. That is success in the military world, even at the expense of losing Nic because that’s the job you sign up to do. With Nic was what it meant to be a Navy SEAL. He was like the hardest guy I ever met, incredibly resilient, just tough as nails. The guy would get knocked down, get right back up again, and he portrayed every part of our ethos that night. And it’s the reason why I continue carrying on the mission of getting out there and speaking about that night to be able to tell people about Nic and what he meant, and will always mean to this community. 00:42:29:02 DF: And about sacrifice, yeah. 00:42:30:25 EB: Sacrifice. 00:42:34:12 DF: I can’t thank you enough for your time. We really appreciate your words of wisdom. I think that some people will gain a lot from this conversation, so thank you. 00:42:40:25 EB: I appreciate it. Thanks. DF: Find out more at and join us again for the next NSW Podcast
Jan 08, 2019
18 NSW Prep School
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Future Navy SEALs and SWCC must make it through one important course before they attend training in San Diego: the NSW Prep School. In this episode, the director of Prep discusses how his staff physically and mentally prepares the students with running, swimming, strength and conditioning, exercise science, and kinesiology. For more info check out DF: Naval Special Warfare Preparatory School, otherwise known as NSW Prep, occurs in Great Lakes, Illinois over two months. There is one goal of NSW Prep: to improve SEAL and SWCC candidates’ mental and physical readiness to prepare them for the challenges of BUD/S and BCS. Cordy Pearson, who you’ll hear from today, is the Program Manager for NSW Prep and speaks about expectations for this major milestone in the process. 00:00:39:26 DF: Cordy, thank you for taking the time to sit down with us. Obviously, you have a really unique perspective. We’re hoping that we can transfer that to as many people as possible that want to find out more about what you do here. If you want to start a little bit about your career and how kind of what led you here. We can start there, or if you just want to jump right into what you do right now, we can do that. 00:00:56:04 CP: Came in right out of high school. I was a state champion boxer before that, not much pool work or swim work, came straight into the Navy. September 11th happened when I was in first phase, changed the course of how things I thought (DF: Right) were going to happen, and I ended up doing two platoons with SEAL Team One. I was a lead breacher and lead vehicle driver for both those deployments, ended up getting out I was looking to start my own business, got a call to come up here. This place had just started, then they offered me a lead instructor position, then over the course of four years, worked myself into the program manager position, I’ve been the program manager for six years. 00:01:34:16 DF: In an overarching way, what is the Naval Special Warfare Preparatory School, and what is its kind of mission and goals? 00:01:40:18 CP: The mission of the NSW Preparatory School is to train, mentor and coach perspective NSW SEAL and SWCC candidates and NSW-centric specific core physical and mental skills. 00:01:54:17 DF: Unpack that a little bit. What does that kind of mean in say real world terms, on a day-to-day basis for you? What types of things do you try to do? 00:02:00:09 CP: We try to prepare the students as best we can for the rigors that they’re going to face out at BUD/S (DF: Okay) and BCS. We basically want to help them get through the next major crucible, which would be Hell Week or The Tour. That’s how we gauge our success. We do that by running, swimming, strength and conditioning. We have professional staff that does that, and we help them with their mental toughness, their military bearing. We also talk to them about ethos, core values, and some nutrition and injury prevention as well. 00:02:31:29 DF: Is everyone that’s working at Prep here Navy staff? 00:02:34:24 CP: So, we have a mix of Navy and civilian staff here. Civilian staff consists of coaches, so they’re subject matter experts in running, swimming, strength, conditioning, they have educations in kinesiology, exercise science. We have two former SEALs that are working in tandem with those coaches to help deliver the NSW message and the way the students should be acting (DF: Right, part of that ethos you spoke about)…and those evolutions, explaining to them why we do some of the things that we do. 00:03:02:00 DF: Okay, so how does this tie into the boot camp piece that they’re all going through at the same time? Is this after, is this before, is this during? For the layman, can you kind of paint that picture for us a little bit? 00:03:11:23 CP: So, yes, for how this is structured, going from boot camp, all enlisted people come from boot camp, and anybody who’s from the fleet would come here, (DF: Okay) so we get all enlisted candidates for SEAL and SWCC (DF: Okay) …And that’s right before they get shipped out to San Diego. 00:03:29:04 DF: Okay, so the selection process is made, and then they’re transferred to you? 00:03:33:03 CP: Our goal from that is to take them from boot camp or from the fleet and help prepare them in an 8-week process and get them out to BUD/S as physically prepared, mentally prepared and injury free as possible. One thing that we try to help with is with their skills as far as running, swimming, strength and conditioning, exercise science, kinesiology, and try to help them as much as possible. 00:03:58:28 DF: What can recruits expect to experience whenever they’re turned over to you and your team so to speak? 00:04:03:23 CP: First off, they’ll be expected to take a PST. They’ll be expected to pass that PST. At that point they should be able to pass a PST even on their worst day so that there’s no question. The PST basically assesses trainability, so if an individual falls short of the standards, which are posted on in a PDF format, (DF: Right) which candidates can go ahead read, follow to the T because that’s exactly how we’ll administer the test when they’re here. They’ll be an indoc week process, and over the course of the next six weeks there will be a ramp up training with the running and the swimming and also the physical conditioning piece; we’ll be in the gym; we’ll be on the beach doing sand bag PTs. They’ll be out doing team-building exercises, rope climbs, things of that nature, and then towards the end, we’ll taper things off, get them ready, test them out on the exit test. So, there are two tests that happen here. One’s the initial PST, and the other is the Exit Standard test. 00:05:07:10 DF: How is this exit PST different than the ones previous? 00:05:10:26 CP: Well, it’s, it’s basically a lot larger, and it’s at the end of the pipeline here. Once they have successfully passed, and they only get one shot at it, they’ll be able to progress on to San Diego. 00:05:21:20 DF: Is that something that you think that recruits should try to be concerned with before they even get to basic training here? 00:05:26:28 CP: I don’t feel like they need to really focus on that as much, I think that they should, anybody that’s listening to this probably needs to focus on their PST scores and make sure that those (DF: Right) are in line and to become as physically prepared as possible, (DF: Right) but also bear in mind that they don’t need to over-train. 00:05:43:02 DF: Are you getting the EOD and the kind of other part of NSW coming through here, or is this just all SEAL/SWCC candidates? 00:05:48:21 CP: It’s all SEAL/SWCC candidates. 00:05:49:27 DF: Okay, how long between graduating from boot camp and then getting to BUD/S are they in this phase where they’re kind of ramping up if that’s an appropriate word? 00:05:59:23 CP: So, we don’t ramp them up immediately because we understand that in boot camp they will lose some shape, and most candidates will understand that as well. Once they get here, we’ll take their PST scores, and we’ll basically try to put them into certain run groups (DF: Okay) if we need to, (DF: Right) so slower runners may be in a different group than some of the faster runners. And we do is we try to train the students as best as possible given their weaknesses, so they can talk to any of the coaches. They can pick their brains; that’s what they’re there for. Coaches are more of a positive motivation vice the (DF: Right, right) negative motivation that they see out in San Diego a lot of times, so it’ll help them basically find whatever they’re deficient, identify it, try to fix it. Midway through the training here, we do what we call Mock Exit Test (DF: okay) so it’s the exact same 1,000-meter swim, pushups, sit-ups, pull-ups and then 4-mile run. The only difference is it’s not a final test. (DF: Right, right) It helps the individual identify if they are deficient in that, that they have the next four weeks to go ahead and try to work on where they are. (DF: Right, right, to kind of get a baseline of where they’re at.) Correct. 00:07:10:11 DF: So, can you go back over the exit details in terms of distance times and such one more time if we haven’t already? 00:007:16:03 CP: The exit test is at the very end of the training pipeline here. And it will assess whether or not the individual will be able to go out to San Diego or not if they pass it, upon successful completion of it. The SEAL standards are a 1,000-meter swim with fins, and that’s combat sidestroke only, and that has to be under 20 minutes. The pushups have to be 70 in two minutes. The sit-ups would be 60 in two minutes. The pull-ups are ten. The run is four miles with pants, tennis shoes, and that’s in 31 minutes or less. For the SWCC standard, on the exit, it would be a 1,000-meter swim as well with fins, combat sidestroke only, 22 minutes and 30 seconds is standard for that. The pushups are for two minutes, and they have to get 60, sit-ups, 60 for two minutes, pull-ups, seven. The run is three miles, and they have to do that in under 24 minutes. 00:08:10:25 DF: Do you and your staff see people failing to be able to hit these numbers this much into the, into the pipeline? 00:08:16:10 CP: We’ve had multiple classes where everyone has passed the exit standard, and we’ve had everyone pass the PST as well although there have been classes where some do not pass it, and unfortunately, they don’t identify as trainable (DF: Right) at that point, and … 00:08:28:18 DF: Are those more ailment issues, or is this kind of a point where people are flushed out initially in terms of fitness? 00:08:35:24 CP: As far as ailments are concerned, it should not be a concern because everybody needs to go into it healthy. We try to ensure that everyone is healthy, (DF: Right) barring them hiding some type of an injury, which we dissuade because they’re not doing themselves a favor by going out to San Diego. (DF: Yeah, or you guys.) Or them, mostly themselves because it’s kind of a detriment to them to be hurt and sent out there when we do have medical staff here that are trained and willing and help with the rehabilitation process here. 00:09:06:10 DF: There is a strong focus on conditioning, what are some other of your secondary or other main objectives with this aspect or this portion of the pipeline? 00:09:15:24 CP: Well, as far as other objectives, there will be some academic training, so we try to let them know as much as possible what their body’s going to be going through, (DF: Okay) whether training with these individuals, so injury prevention, nutrition, we give them classes in that, some mental toughness, and that’s designed by our psychiatrist ,psychologist at the center. We work on the core values and the ethos because their integrity is paramount. We do stress that quite a bit here, (DF: Right) so we try to send them out there prepared in that aspect as well. 00:09:44:11 DF: What else is expected of the candidates from you guys? 00:09:47:05 CP: As far as what’s expected is 100% every day. They need to be here to perform. I would expect that any candidates that feel any pain or are injured that they identify that here so that we can help them. They need to understand that this isn’t to be gamed or something that you should be reading up on the Internet to try to see how you can get an angle. It’s more about being very open and honest mostly with yourself when it comes to training and put forth max effort when needed and to also pick the coaches’ brains and to pick up where they’re deficient. 00:10:20:14 DF: What type of assessments are you guys doing, is this kind of something that’s kind of ad hoc in terms of why you’re watching these guys work out, or how does that work? 00:10:26:05 CP: So, as far as assessments are concerned, we track every score physically that they’re doing so that we can kind of get a better idea physically of what the candidate’s capable of doing. We’ll do 3K time trials and do the tactical athlete test, it’s another battery of tests that we actually have to administer here, but we try to track their progress in almost everything from running, swimming and strength and conditioning and then put that together in a package. (DF: So, it’s constant.) Correct. 00:10:52:28 DF: That’s interesting, you have put it out there, “Do your best,” but it doesn’t seem like they do one thing wrong, and they’re out in terms of performance… 00:10:59:24 CP: Absolutely not, not here. We’re not an attrition centric phase of the training. We’re here to try to mitigate that, (DF: build them up) to build them up and send them out there. Guys are physically as in shape as anybody that should be in their first platoon, but really it does boil down to the mental capacity once they get out to San Diego, and that’s the hardest part. 00:11:22:12 DF: The hardest part of this for them is mental, is that what you’re saying? 00:11:25:18 CP: The hardest part I think with all of this training is mental. Physically, it’s arduous, but it’s something that everybody should be capable of doing. If I were able to take a SEAL’s brain and put it in any one of these young men’s body once they leave here, they’d be a Navy SEAL. 00:11:42:00 DF: You mentioned earlier about people kind of like trying to out-game the system, with the amount of information that’s available online and stuff in the media. 00:11:48:20 CP: I’d say that you would have to probably watch out for some of the books and the websites that are out there. I know that there’s a lot of information and misinformation that can be passed when it comes to this. There’s a lot of attention towards it. I would say that if you’re at, that’s the main source that commands official word on how we conduct training, and it has all that information in there. So, I’m not saying that any of these, I don’t know all these websites or all these books, (DF: Right, right, right) whether they’re good or bad or indifferent. I can’t attest to them, but I can tell any prospective candidate that if they’re probably listening to this, they’re on the right track. They need to listen to their mentors and listen to their coordinators and maybe just don’t get too far into the weeds with things. You don’t have to take cold showers for a year to prepare for (DF: Right) cold ocean. 00:12:38:03 DF: Right, right. In light of that, is there any additional training or exposure to any apparatus or anything like that you think is worthwhile for this part of the process cause it seems like you’re exposing them to some new things than what they’ve been accustomed to in trying to gain a certain PST score. 00:12:55:16 CP: Right, I think that a lot of candidates focus on their PST scores and their physical capabilities, but some of the things that they forget about are water comfortability, being comfortable in the water. A lot of times at swim time or being a good swimmer doesn’t translate or correlate with water comfortability, the two toughest things that we actually have to do or what students find the hardest here are sand bag PTs and treading water with bricks, which can be mitigated by possibly joining a water polo or recreationally diving as safely as possible with all the safety constraints, you know, in place, not doing anything under the water, learning how to do an eggbeater kick, learning how to tread water, sand bag PTs, those are longer, and they seem to be a little bit more arduous on the students when they carrying them, and it gets a little hot. (DF: Yeah, right) So it’s kind of a mental toughness piece with both of those. But getting the fins on their feet to help with their ankle flexibility prior to them coming in, even though the PST doesn’t swim with fins, they’re going to be having to swim with fins in BUD/S and BCS predominantly, and a lot of the students end up with ankle pain, (DF: Right, right) and some of the pain that they will experience are, it’s normal. It’s just part of the process of building the strength and trying to build a better candidate. Some individuals don’t understand that pain, and it’s okay if they need to see somebody in our medical department about it, which I do try to get them to do so we can rule it out if it is (DF: Right, right) something they can work through. And if they can work through it, you have athletic trainer on staff trying to get them back out into the evolutions and back into the training, help them understand it better. But prior to that, if they do any sand bag PT or any type of workouts with that or maybe even just snorkeling or things that are safe (DF: Right) that they can do that helps kind of build that water comfortability so the (DF: Right) first time that they’re in a situation (DF: It’s not brand new)…it’s not completely brand new or something that they are wide-eyed about (DF: Yeah, right. Yeah, right) and get scared because if they start off scared, it’s harder for us to train that in the short amount of time that we have with them. 00:15:03:19 DF: What other parts of the prep school would you think are valuable for people to know a little bit more about? 00:15:07:19 CP: I think that one of the things that they need to understand is prior to coming to boot camp is some of the studies that we’ve seen, this generation has 10% less bone density than prior generations, (DF: wow) which we see a lot of lower leg stress injuries, stress reactions, a lot of stress changes and stress fractures, all which will set a candidate back or eliminate them from the program, which would be a disservice to the candidate if they’re not preparing correctly from the beginning, if they’re not doing things like obviously running (DF: Right, right, right) and getting out, they’re on variable terrain and the right shoes at the right pace and not over-training or doing too much, so it’s kind of striking that fine balance between that. Also, vitamin D supplementation, we have a study that we’re conducting now to see if some of the supplementation for vitamin D will actually help the students with some of the stress fractures, or stress changes, help mitigate some of that, some of that risk. You get vitamin D from the sun, (DF: Yeah, right) you get vitamin D from milk, it does a body good, it’ll strengthen your bones, I don’t know if it’s a cultural thing or what, or people are just drinking less milk. 00:16:16:26 DF: I think it’s a lot more video games and less running around. 00:16:19:04 CP: Yeah, get the controls out of your hands, and go outside and play, and that’s one of the things like how somebody can prepare for prep is have fun with it. You don’t have to go take the cold shower and stress out about what you’re about to do. You should be very focused. You should be very professional in the way you want to train that’s why I say go ahead and snorkel or join a water polo team. 00:16:38:19 DF: Is there certain things that people should try and take advantage of while they’re here that you see people maybe not doing or that you think people should kind of double down on while they’re here? 00:16:48:05 CP: I think that what a candidate should take advantage of while they’re here is the coaching. The coaches are here for them. They’re open, you’re able to talk to them. I think that they should do their homework prior to coming here. Obviously, they’re doing that if they’re listening to this podcast right now, but to try to get as comfortable and to understand where they’re going and to focus on this time as kind of it’s a development time. It’s a time for them to grow. We’re not trying to attrite them here…It’s not part of the game. 00:17:17:18 DF: Yeah, I can see that’s…Yeah, people coming in thinking that they’re going to be grilled, and it’s really an opportunity for them to learn. 00:17:23:11 CP: Right, and a lot of candidates come to us, and they think that we’re playing games with them (DF: Right, right), or we’re…when we’ll actually try to tell them something that we want them to listen to, but they’re, “Oh, well, I think this is a game.” (DF: Yeah, right right, they’re on guard, yeah) Or they’ve read something somewhere, they’ve gotten it passed down from other candidates (DF: Yeah, from yesteryear or whatever) or somebody that didn’t make it through, so there’s a lot of misinformation out there. And to kind of stick to the ethos, which they can read as a civilian and start to memorize and kind of make that a part of their life (DF: Right, right, right) prior to even coming in (DF: Right) and help build that integrity and that good person cause that’s what, we’re looking for good people that are also in shape and can do the job to mental capacity, (DF: Right) so striking a fine balance before that. But you can do that by having fun, getting out there, (DF: Yeah, right) and going outside and playing and running, swimming, strength and conditioning. Get the fins on. That way you’re not shocked by the fins when you get here. Do a run analysis so you know what type of run shoe that you should be running in prior to that. They have professionals, and they have different resources that are out there that are safe, (DF: Right, right) especially this website, that they can reference, and it’ll give them a good declination for them to follow (DF: Yeah, yeah), a good direction. 00:18:34:11 DF: So, short of not being able to hit your numbers, what other kind of reasons do you see people dropping out of prep or being asked to leave? 00:18:41:00 CP: So, we have a 12% attrition rate basically, so 12% of the candidates that we get here won’t make it onto San Diego for one reason or the other. Less of half of that are because they drop, or they, they quit, so we don’t really see much quitting up here, which is a good thing. 00:18:56:18 DF: Yeah, yeah, it means you guys are doing your jobs (CP: Correct, correct) and the people before you are. 00:19:00:05 CP: I think that those individuals that do quit, some haven’t even started. Some didn’t understand as well (DF: What they were getting into, yeah) what they were getting into but kind of that mental realization that this isn’t for them, but it’s few and far between. 00:19:13:23 DF: Yeah, we’ve heard that in talking that the why portion of the motivation for, for following through and wanting to become a NSW candidate or active NSW is one of the most important parts because it’s a foundation for whenever you’re tired, when the chips are down so to speak that that’s got to be there, or else you’re going to want to go home. 00:19:33:14 CP: Exactly. (DF: Yeah) You need to be focused on what you’re about to do, so if you have certain things or extracurricular things that are pulling an individual’s mind away from the task at hand, which is this is the number one thing that you should be focusing on, is making it through training, and everything that you do, even when you make that decision as a civilian prior to coming in, should help lend to that. 00:19:56:13 DF: So, I think that, based on talking to you and the research I’ve done, it’s important for people to come into this part with an open mind and understand that they’re getting help at this stage and to kind of continue to absorb from the people that are around in terms of professionalism and knowledge, obviously continued hands-on training with technique and such, but this is not really a time to, try to be a tough guy. This is a time for you to have personal development or physical development, the whole kind of, the whole piece. 00:20:23:05 CP: True, but there will be some toughness pieces in this. Just the training alone, on its own, it’s tough, (DF: Right, right) especially when you get to week six, you’re doing interval runs, you’re treading water, you’re in much better shape, but it gets arduous, so there has to be some type of mental toughness when it comes to that. So, there will be kind of a tough love feeling here. (DF: Right, right, right) We’re not here to, to coddle you (DF: Yeah) we’re here to coach you. You’re here to make the standards and to perform for yourself and for others, and if you’re injured, (DF: Right) it’s your job to let us know that you’re injured so we can help you take care of that, get you healed, get you back on that pipeline we’re here for the same goal. We want to help you get through. The easier part is to help than to have somebody quit, and that’s at BUD/S if (DF: Yeah, right), somebody’s going through that mental stress, but the reason we need that and the reason we do have to have a little bit of stress up here is because we can’t throw grenades at you like it’s time of war and see how you’re going to react. You have to be stressed a little bit, help make those decisions. We’ll talk about what was done or how they did it, and they need to understand that there’s consequences for making the wrong decisions as well and to try to kind of teach them before they go on to make any other mistakes and to kind of give them that NSW centric (DF: Mindset, yeah, right)…mindset to help them succeed and to help our community with, like you were saying, a foundation that they can build on (DF: Right). And it is all building blocks, so I mean folding your T-shirts may not translate to being overseas on a real world mission. It doesn’t translate in the beginning, (DF: Not directly, right) but you have to prove that you’re capable of folding your T-shirts and capable of having shined boots, capable of doing these regular military things before we can trust you with a weapon that you’re now going to have to clean, and it’s going to have to be maintained that will possibly have to fire to save somebody, a teammate, a hostage, whatever, but that starts in the beginning, so it’s all crawl, walk, run. We’re in the crawl stage here, (DF: Okay) so we try to kind of set the candidates’ declination as best as we can here to help them succeed not only in first phase but future, and that goes with nutrition as well. They’re stronger, they eat better, they are just a better candidate than we would have had prior to this coming through. And a lot of the guys don’t even make it and go on to the Navy, take these key building blocks and help improve it, possibly come back around for a successful try, or they go out to the Navy, and they do great things there and help build a better sailor, and that’s really what we’re here for. And anybody joining the military should understand that they’re here to serve their country first and foremost, so that’s your building block, (DF: Right, right) and, well, what makes you want to serve your country, and what makes you want to be that type of person, that great American. Is it driven by yourself, your own personal needs, or is it driven by you’re capable, you’re willing, you’re motivated, and you want to try to, to be that tip of the spear, that person one day, and you have the discipline to go ahead and train for it and train correctly for it and to have the focus in such a long pipeline (DF: Yeah, that’s true), to stick with it even though it’s cold, wet, tired, and those things will happen, and the reason they have to happen is because when you get out there, and you’re at war, or you’re operating, you’re going to be in the worst situations, and BUD/S will look like a piece of cake (DF: Yeah, right) compared to that, so that’s why we have to train like that. 00:24:04:11 DF: Well, thank you so much for sitting down with us. Your knowledge is really valuable to the people that are trying to come through this process. I think it’s important to hear from as many people like you as possible, so we appreciate you taking the time. Thank you so much. 00:24:13:23 CP: Great, thank you for having me. DF: Find out more at and join us again for the next NSW Podcast
Nov 28, 2018
17 SEAL/SWCC Water Confidence
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Comfort, speed, and efficiency in the water are all hallmarks of a successful NSW recruit. Aquatics expert Dan Kish talks with us about developing confidence in the water. For more information visit Sound ups: “Get your heads up and get your eyes open. Stop trying to hide from the pain.” “Heads up; eyes open.” DF: Welcome to, “The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday,” the official Navy SEAL podcast. DF: Comfort, speed, and efficiency in the water are all hallmarks of a successful NSW recruit. Today at NSW Preparatory School we continue our discussion with aquatics expert, Dan Kish, to speak specifically about safely developing confidence in the water. 00:45 DF: This will be a popular episode because there are so many people that are not comfortable in the water and even before that flat out can’t swim or have had very little exposure to the types of swimming that you’re talking about. For people who are in that camp, what is your recommendation for them in terms of kind of introducing water sports initially into their training regimen? Do you recommend people kind of start with the real basics like modified freestyle just to kind of learning to at least kind of start the crawl, walk, run kind of part of this swim process? I can’t help but think that there’s going to be a lot of people that tune into this episode to learn like, “Hey, I’m a bad, I know I’m a bad swimmer,” or, “I think I’m a bad swimmer. Where do I even start? This combat sidestroke, I can barely even get in the water without feeling like I’m going to drown, you know what I mean? 1:29 DK: That’s common. A lot of friends that joined, you know, higher military branches and very weak and deficient in the water, and they knew it, and they asked me like, “Hey, I know you can swim. Can you help me out here?” and I would drag them to the pool with me. Water polo is another great way to become comfortable and confident and with team building going on. It’s the most calories you’ll ever burn in a match or game, you know, one game of polo. There is no rest cause you’re treading no matter what you are doing. You’re in the pool. You are sprinting. And great ways to become, you know, a little bit more comfortable and confident. You don’t have to be the fastest swimmer. We just want you to have a good foundation or base that we can build on and make you, you know, get dialed in and tuned in to become much, you know, more efficient in the water, and it should be the last of your worries once you get out, you know, two mile swims in the bay, water rescues, pool comp, knot-tying should be flawless once you get out there I hope. 2:30 DF: So, you just mentioned a comfortable or confident base. Can you maybe give me your definition of that? It doesn’t have to be precise, but I’m sure people will, set that as a benchmark for where they want to get at a bare minimum. And so, kind of maybe give me a picture of what that means to you. 2:43 DK: It’s very easy to identify who is scared or uncomfortable in the water from day one. If you’re swimming with big eyes, panic mode, just trying to find the wall as fast as you can, that’s wrong. You know, slow things down. You should be able to swim, you know, longer distances. You don’t need to have a ton of speed, but your 500-yard times should hopefully be under that ten minute, you know, nine minute base to be good and comfortable in the water. If you’re over eleven, twelve minutes, you’re going to struggle significantly in the pool evolutions that take place here. 3:24 DF: So, that’s a pretty good number then. People can actually kind of have a metric for themself to say, you know, “Where I’m at in this spectrum in terms of comfortability.” Obviously, I think with the type of instruction you can provide in your other teammates, obviously people can get much better and much more comfortable, especially with additional exposure, but that’s a good place for them to start is that what you’re saying? 3:42 DK: Yes, get your, you know, 500-yard time down, you know, with the least number of strokes as well. So, be efficient and get your time down. We call that here golfing, where we want to take the lowest number of strokes while going the fastest time. We’ll play around with that a little bit. And we will always train half the time on our right side and half the time on our left side here at the prep school. Majority of us have a strong dominant side, and majority of us have a bad side, and we want to be good on both, and that helps play a role with being comfortable no matter, not always operationally speaking you can go swim down on your right side and swim back on the mission on your right side as well. Be good on both, and that’s the same with freestyle. You’ll always breathe half the time over your right shoulder, half the time over your left shoulder. 4:33 DF: Is that a testing requirement for the PST to be swimming half and half on each side? 4:39 DK: That is not a testing requirement here. When we train, we enforce it heavily. If you watch the Olympics, you’re like, “Oh, Michael Phelps only breathes over his right shoulder.” Correct. They race like that. They do not train like that. You will always train half the time on your good side, half time on your bad side or with breathing on a freestyle or combat sidestroke, so we do enforce that pretty strictly here, be good on both. And that will help any one side develop better as well. 5:10 DF: Let’s talk a little bit about buoyancy. It’s something that I really wasn’t even that aware of until maybe a few months ago when we started doing a little bit of reading and research about the PST in general. How can someone determine whether they’re negatively buoyant or positively buoyant, is that something that’s easy to determine, or is it just like, “I keep sinking to the bottom of the pool...” How do you determine that? 5:28 DK: So, that’s funny. We’re all humans. You know, we’re all pretty much the same. How come you’re buoyant, and I’m negative? It makes no sense. However, about 20% of the candidates that come through, you know, sink to the bottom. 5:43 DF: Is that a body composition thing? 5:45 DK: Body composition plays a low role. You see, you know, the bulkier muscle guys, but we still have some candidates that exhale all their air and are still bobbing at the service. 5:57 DF: Yeah, ‘cause I definitely sink if I let out the oxygen out of my lungs, so. 6:00 DK: Which is good. What I tell them is, “You need to learn how to control your body in the water.” Some of us are positive, some of us are negative. Both have perks here at Naval Special Warfare Prep School. When we swim, we want to be at or even better on the surface, right, so we want to be positive in the water. You know, the less drag, you’ll increase speed. If you’re negative in the water, you’re going to be working a little bit harder. We want to get that body position at or on the surface. But if you’re negative, once we start working, the first time we do pool skills, one of the stations is floats, and your hands and feet will be together behind your back, and you need to do what it takes to control your body. You have to stay at the surface, you have to stay inside your six foot by six foot, you know, box, and you can’t just travel or swim all around. And for some of us, it’s the easiest thing you’ll ever do, right. You just be a bobber in the water, simple, hands and feet together. Other candidates that are negative, you’re going to be working a little bit harder. You know, get those little dolphin, shrimp kicks going, stay at the surface the entire time. So, yes, we’re all humans, why is it different? Some of us are positive, some of us are negative. Females float better than men, different demographics float better than others, everybody, everyone is different in the water. You need to learn how to control your body in the water. 7:24 DF: So, talk to me a little bit about that. Is that just a matter of keeping a certain amount of air in your lungs? You did mention something about, you know, kind of flutter kick or shrimp kick a little bit to kind of help keep yourself propelled towards the surface. Can you talk to me a little bit about that? Like what types of techniques maybe someone should investigate or kind of try out in the pool or in the ocean or wherever to kind of figure out what works for them. What’s the starting point for that? 7:43 DK: Yes, so here we have fresh water pools. In the ocean, different density makeups, it’s easier to float salt water than fresh water. So, if you’re positive in the water, you can almost get in a vertical position, straight up and down, which is quite difficult to do. You have to be very positive in the water. And then you’ll play with your lung capacity. Can you breathe and exhale and still stay at the surface or on the surface? 8:07 DF: So, you’re talking about really kind of staying like a pencil in the water, not moving your arms too much and just using your breathing to kind of determine at what level you start to, your mouth will start to sink under the water. Is that accurate? 8:17 DK: That would be someone who is extremely positive in the water, can float very easily. 8:22 DF: Just by kind of, just sticking their body vertically in the water, and their face will stay above water. 8:27 DK: Which is a small percent of candidates that come through. The majority of us, we want to get our body into a question mark shape almost, so your head will be down in the water, the buoyant parts of your body are obviously your lungs, your organs, your chest cavity is quite positive and buoyant in the water there. So, once you get your body in your question mark shape, so your hands will be together behind your back, your feet will be together, bring your knees up to your chest, and they’ll float at the surface. And then when you do need a breath, work your legs, kick your head up, get that quick breath in, and get right back down, head down into that question mark shape that your whole body should be in. This is the majority of our candidates that we see during our floats. So, during, we started doing some pool skills and drown proofing tests, you have to float for three minutes. So, stay inside your six foot by six foot box staying at the surface for those entire three minutes. 9:27 DF: It seems like you’re saying the majority of people are negative, it’s either negative buoyant or buoyant. Is that correct terminology? 9:33 DK: From the second half of the spectrum I would say a little bit more negative in the water. When you come, your feet will be tied together here. So, you need to learn how to control small dolphin kicks or working, you know, with the lower half of your body there to keep yourself at the surface and then work those into your breaths, so get a good rhythm, kick your head up for a breath, kick your head right back down, try and stay in that question mark shape. But we will work with you here. We have five aquatic coaches here to help you, make you more comfortable and confident in the water. 10:06 DF: I’m just going to interrupt real quick cause I think that’s a really key point, comfortable and confident in the water. Being exposed to water, underwater is a really fast way to make you uncomfortable, and developing the techniques and skills to give you the confidence to know that you’ll be able to get a breath when you need one as opposed to when your body’s kind of wanting one is, I think is a pretty big key to even developing your skill and efficiency in the combat sidestroke. Being able to know that you can get the breath you need, and you don’t need to break from that mental focus and put your chest up and, “Give me a second to regroup.” I can’t think of any other way other than just exposure and time, practice to really accelerate that unless you have any tips that you can add to that. 10:47 DK: Absolutely. The first three letters in SEAL spell sea, right. You’re going to be in the water. That should be the least of your worries if you have a mission, operationally speaking, if you’re in the water for that long, about your swimming abilities or how comfortable and confident you are. We are humans. We’re not designed for the water at all. We walk upright, we have a curved spine, we need air. We do not belong in the water. I think we’re one of the few mammals at birth that cannot swim. Spend time in the water to become comfortable and confident. It does not happen overnight. The golden rule we have here is every day you’re out of the water, it takes about two days to get back where you were, so if you have, you know, a long weekend, or you’ve been out of the pool for a week, it’s going to feel like you’re swimming in mud and all sluggish because you naturally will lose that feel for the water. We need to spend time in the pool, you know, find pools. You don’t have to swim lots. Back in the day, we used to swim, you know, up to 100,000 meters a day, just spend time… 11:47 DF: You mean individually, an individual would swim 100,000 meters in one day? 11:53 DK: That’s common during peak training, training trips, training times, but here at prep, we swim about 2 to 4,000 meters a day, which we want some quality training with also some treading, some pool skills taking place, water rescues, whatever else we do. So, here at prep, we swim about 2 to 4,000 meters a day to help us from, you know, kicking, swimming, pacing, long distance swims, short sprints. We kind of do a mixed bag with all the strokes almost every day here. 12:27 DF: Let’s talk a little bit about mobility. There’s obviously huge focus on strength and coming into this pipeline, you know. These guys have to do X number of pull-ups and pushups. Guys have been asking each other how much they can bench since they were teenagers, right. Not everybody has the type of genetics that you are gifted with, the type of swimmer body that you would see versus, you know, an Olympic weightlifter or fill in a blank for any other sport, right. That seems like it would be a little bit of an issue for some people, whether it’s the shoulders and their ability to reach and kind of cause a little bit of that stuttered stroke and stuff like that. Do you work on mobility here, or do you recommend the guys and athletes that are kind of coming into this process work on mobility? Any specific exercises for that, that you recommend? 13:08 DK: We all love those big, bulky mirror muscles. Those are not going to assist you in the pool. We want to have, you know, the longest range of motion possible, increase, you know, your shoulder mobility, make you more efficient in the water and just to help with injury prevention as well. So, stay away from bulky muscles. We want to be flexible, so we will do some stretching here, increase your range of motion, shoulder mobility. If I see some candidates that are really bad in the water, I will pull them aside and show them some extra stretches they can do to help them, help them out. There’s been a couple times, as groups, we’ll do, a class stretch. With the swimming background, I do, a majority of all the shoulder mobility, increase that range of motion, but there are some partner stretches, you know, grabbing your hands behind your back should be taking place. If you’re bad at that, work with a towel little by little. Working on perfect streamline. A majority of our candidates can’t even do that, where, you know, everyone can show me a streamline, but is your wrist over wrist, are you squeezing your ears with your biceps, are you as long as possible in the water? And it’s just unnatural to be in the water keeping your arms above you for that long that I think candidates really don’t expect, and it will help you out in the long run, you know, be more efficient and hopefully prevent some injuries as well. 14:33 DF: After speaking with people involved with kind of the strength and conditioning out of water portion of building up for this, there’s a big emphasis on the parts of the body that people aren’t working on in the gym, you know what I mean, the upper back and the shoulders specifically I think are, got to be a common weak point for people, not necessarily in strength but in mobility and being able to get a really, really long stroke, you need to be able to get your hands straight over shoulders, and you see nobody off the street can do those types of movements to be able to make their body that long. Do you think that’s representative of what you see in the pool? 15:03 DK: It is common. Hopefully, it will go away over time. Once we do start swimming, you’re going to start getting used to having your arms out in front of you for long periods of time, whether we’re doing some, you know, kicking drills in the streamlined position, whether we’re just swimming some long-distance freestyle sets, where we kind of over-exaggerate, you know, front quadrant swimming. You’re always keeping one hand out in front of your body, you know, the most efficient ways to swim freestyle, and that should start going away over time, but hopefully you can come with a good range of motion in your shoulders. We’re not going to overstress your shoulders too much in the pool. A lot of us swimmers have been doing it for many years, we’ll start having some shoulder injuries more common in the pool. Ankle flexibility is also a huge one that gets overlooked in the pool. A lot of our candidates kick like they are wearing boots, and they have no boots on. 15:55 DF: So, you’re saying keeping their foot at like a 90-degree angle? 15:58 DK: Correct, which is not what we want to do here. You should not have to think about pointing your toes while kicking, but ankle flexibility plays a big role in the water. We will slowly increase the amount of meters we do with fins on starting off with no fins and then slowly working our way up to, you know, 4, 5,000 meters with fins on, but if you have poor ankle flexibility, there’s some other stretches you can use, you know, such as writing the alphabet, sitting on your feet while you’re watching TV or whatever it is but other, natural abilities to get kind of overlooked in the pool there. 16:34 DF: So, you mentioned fins, what’s your take on the fin issue in terms of for prep and training, how do you recommend people incorporate, if at all, fins and masks and goggles and caps or whatever it is into their training process developing for PST tests? 16:53 DK: So, almost every pool has some basic equipment. Luckily for swimming, you don’t need any. If you want some goggles or a mask, absolutely wear them. Take your mask off every now and then. Swim, you know, swim with your face in the water. Your gear will fail. Masks will break. Mission still needs to be carried on. You shouldn’t be freaking out if you have no mask. You can still swim; still carry out the mission. Fins, just wear some regular rubber surface fins. You don’t need to have 10-foot-long dive fins, some ridiculous things on your feet that are, you know, stiff as a board. Just basic surface fins or Zoomers, which are those little bit shorter looking fins. Help you out just condition your legs a little bit more. Kickboards are almost found at every single pool as well. We do use those here at prep as well, you know, condition your legs. If you can condition, you know, the biggest muscle groups of your body, the rest of your body will be good to go as well, so we will focus a lot on kicking. It’s also the quickest way to get in shape as well, kicking with the board, without a board, you know, in streamline position, on your side. We will do a lot of other drills, you know, with some equipment on, some equipment off, so be comfortable all strokes with, without equipment. You should be good in the water no matter what. If you’re wearing pants, if you’re wearing a shirt, just a suit, all have different feels for the water, which you should be able to, execute with no problem. 18:20 DF: What kind of things that are a little bit unconventional do you think are helpful that you would recommend that are safe for people to develop their skills and their capabilities and their comfort level? 18:29 DK: One great thing about swimming, there’s infinite amount of drills you can do to help you out, become more, you know, comfortable in the water, are just bite-sized pieces of the stroke. So, you can start swimming, you know, with just one arm or just, you know, one leg out of the water. We’ll do some goofy, you know, body balance drills like that. Always swim with a lifeguard, with a buddy. You don’t need to do underwater swims. You do not need to do, you know, anything crazy outside of here, you know, at a pool, just do some basic lap swims, different intervals, different distances. You know, join your high school team, polo team. Treading is a big one. I think it’s overlooked. 19:08 DF: You mean in terms of people not practicing that? 19:10 DK: Correct. Coming here with no base on how to tread in the water, so staying stationary at the surface with your head dry, and we’ll do this for extended periods of time. Our hands out of the water, with, you know, one hand out, two hands out in the streamline position, and you need to learn how to control your body in the water. So, come with a good base of tread, whether it’s the eggbeater kick, which you see the most efficient way to tread, or with a breaststroke or a scissor kick to help you out keep your head above the surface there. 19:43 DF: You talked a little bit about, “no need to underwater swim…” How is the PST, administered in terms of starting off your swim? Are you allowed to go underwater and push off the side of the pool and go as far as you can underwater? Are you able to kick off and do that on every lap? What are the, kind of, standards for that? 20:00 DK: So, once we start doing underwater swims here, we have a one-to-one safety ratio. So one candidate per one staff member, you know, with fins, snorkel, rescue tube in case something happens in the higher risk training evolutions. However, once we start doing our swims in the water, every time you push off the water without fins on, you should be executing at least one underwater breaststroke pull-out, which is the most efficient way to swim underwater. Not the fastest way but the most efficient way to swim under water. So, push off in that tight streamline position, so we have wrist over wrist. You’re squeezing your ears with your biceps, you know, powerful push off the wall, you know, as tight and streamlined as far as you can. Then when you start slowing down, your hands will separate, start anchoring, you know, your arms, push that water past your chest, past your hips, past your feet, long glide, and then sneak your hands back out front while executing a breaststroke kick. Underwater swimming is the single greatest thing you can almost do to become better in the water because you’re building up your lung capacity, you learn how to catch and move through the water and obviously how to be streamlined as possible in the water. So, it’s a great thing. We do not allow our candidates to swim underwater, though, without us there, so there’s a fine line with the safety issue, but off every wall, execute one underwater breaststroke pull out. Try and travel about 15 meters off the wall. 21:34 DF: You mean in total before initiating a stroke or...? 21:36 DK: Correct, which is, in the competitive world, that is how far you are allowed to go off every single wall, so try and use that, you know, be comfortable with pushing off in the streamline position, executing one underwater breaststroke pullout, and try and travel as far as you can. And you should be relaxed while doing this efficient way to swim under water. You should not be having a higher heart rate, freak out mode, which we see when candidates start doing, you know, our underwater swims. Sometimes you see people, with big eyes, start breathing too heavily, and that’s when stuff can go south very quick. 22:12 DF: How do you feel that open water swimming plays into the training process to get you to BUD/S? 22:19 DK: So, I strongly enforce that every candidate that leaves here can do the one mile in the bay, mile and a half, two-mile open water swims under those time standards of 90, 85, 80 minutes. They’re all physically able to do that. One thing that you cannot teach in a pool with a line telling you where to go with no waves, no marine life, no tides pushing you around is guiding and sighting. So, once we start doing some buddy swims where you’re partnered up with someone, you’ll always swim within six feet of each other at all times. So, guiding and sighting is one thing that’s difficult to teach in a pool, so every once in a while when you swim, work on picking your head up, looking down range, focus on, you know, a person walking by, a fixed object down far away, you know, mimicking a boat, a buoy, a bridge, an island, whatever’s out there, and then without stopping or pausing in the water and continue swimming. We will be swimming 4,000 meters, you know, a day, which is well over two miles in 90 minutes, so everyone is obviously able to pass that time standard here, but open water is a new realm, and Mother Nature can play a big role sometimes with what’s taking place there. 23:37 DF: Yeah, I guess there’s a big safety issue, too, if you lived by the beach, and you wanted to try to get out in open water and that’s where you’re going to practice your strokes. I’m going to have to guess that’s not something you recommend in terms of trying to increase your fitness level generally unless you’re really an expert swimmer, and even so, I don’t think that that’s really worth the risk. 23:56 DK: Unnecessary. Find a pool with a lifeguard, make sure you have some swim buddies around, you know, go work out or train with people, similar in speed or age, and try to push each other that way. You don’t need to find open water. Here at Great Lakes, we have Lake Michigan in our backyard. We are only in there, you know, a handful of times a year due to the amount of safety equipment, staff, everything that takes place in order to swim outdoors, and the limited window, which we have here in Lake Michigan is quite small, and that’s if the weather cooperates with us on those days. So, there is a lot of safety aspects takes place to swim open water, but easily find a pool, get your workouts in there, and, you know, try and do, you know, 3,000 meters, which is two miles, hopefully under the 90-minute mark. Spend as much time in the water as you can, and come to prep with a good base or foundation that we can build on. 24:56 DF: Well, Dan, thank you so much. Where can people find out more about any other details they might want to about this topic? 25:00 DK: So you can go to, wonderful illustrations, pictures and descriptions about what to expect here at Naval Special Warfare Preparatory School. Music up 25:09 DF: Great, Dan. Thank you so much for your time and all the great information. 25:11 DK: Any time. Music Continues and end.
Nov 08, 2018
16 From Fleet to Naval Special Warfare
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Naval Special Warfare is always looking for hard-charging, motivated applicants, including Sailors already serving in the Fleet. We talked with a SEAL Officer whose job is to pick the best applicants from the "Big Navy" for a career in NSW. For more information visit Sound ups: The only easy day was yesterday... DF: Welcome to, “The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday,” the official Navy SEAL podcast. DF: Naval Special Warfare is always looking for hard-charging, motivated applicants from all communities. However, specific attention is paid to existing Navy sailors wanting to convert from a career-path in the “Big Navy” to one in Naval Special Warfare. I’m Daniel Fletcher. Today I speak with the Special Operations Enlisted Community Manager, a SEAL Officer, to find out more about the conversion process. 00:46 DF: First, thank you for taking the time to sit down with us. I know you’re a busy person. You have an important job; you have a lot of stuff going on. I think the information that you’ll be able to give us will be really valuable to people coming through the pipeline, so thank you first and foremost. Tell us a little bit about your roles and responsibilities, kind of your baseline areas of focus. 01:01 ECM: I’m a Lieutenant Commander in the US Navy. I’m an 1130 Designator, that’s a SEAL Special Warfare Officer. I’m currently the NSW Enlisted Community Manager. This is typically like on O4, O5 SEAL assigned to the Bureau of Personnel. We advise the Commander at NPC and staff on SEAL enlisted personnel matters, so anything from policies to planning, to trying to develop incentives to keep people in the Navy or join the Navy. 01:31 DF: Correct me if I’m wrong here, you’re kind of a strategic piece in keeping the right numbers and types of personnel coming into the pipeline to keep mission capabilities where they need to be? 01:40 ECM: Numbers is certainly a big part of it. We also focus on the quality and putting everything together, whether it’s the recruiting mission, the training at the Naval Special Warfare Center. We don’t necessarily oversee that, but we’re definitely influential (DF: A big part of it) in all the decisions. 01:57 DF: One of the main reasons why we’re here is to talk about the specific selection and the draft process. Just to give people an idea of some of the stuff that might be a little intangible that kind of contributes to whether they make it through or not, maybe if you could speak to that a little bit and give us a little bit of your insight of some of the things that might be a little bit overlooked in terms of what you’re looking for in these candidates. 02:18 ECM: We use what we call the whole person approach, so we look at the candidate completely. Everything that we know about the candidate, everything that’s put into the package, we assess, and no one single factor is going to disqualify that person. We take what we’re seeing of the candidate, and we compare it to what our needs are. We have certain needs with year groups to correct inventory shortfalls… (DF: When you say inventory, sorry to cut you off, you’re talking about personnel?) Right, absolutely. So, when we’re short on year, whether that’s not enough people made it through BUD/S or the SWCC schoolhouse, we’ll look to make up those shortfalls by bringing people that are already in the Navy, fleet sailors. 02:58 DF: Are there any areas of the process that you think candidates might overlook as being more important than they might realize in terms of this whole person approach? 03:07 ECM: No, I think a lot of stuff that make people a good sailor out of the Navy is the same things we’re looking for them to make good SEALs, and that’s things like being a good team player, being a leader within their organization and sustained superior performance. And we use the standard Navy assessments to, to evaluate that, so things like their evaluation reports that they get from their commands and the people they’re working for out in the Navy. We value what they do to make themselves a better team player at that command, so any qualifications that they can earn out in the Navy, that all contributes to the way we evaluate them. 03:39 DF: Is there a certain ratio that you see that is kind of consistent in terms of people you’re pulling in from Big Navy versus people off the street? 03:45 ECM: No, I’d say the success rate, or attrition rate, is pretty consistent, whether they’re coming off the street, a street session, or somebody that we’ve brought in that’s already in the Navy. 03:56 DF: Do one or the other in particular have an advantage do you think? It seems like maybe the people coming from the Navy side might have a bit more of a paper trail that you guys could reference and weed out a little bit more. Is that the case? 04:05 ECM: I wouldn’t say anyone has an advantage. That’s going to come down to what that person has on the inside; the personal commitment that they’ve made to complete training. That’s unique for everyone, so those attrition rates are pretty consistent. 04:19 DF: Our core audience is the recruit. I would love to find out a lot of details about your individual job in terms of responsibilities... and day-to-day stuff that you do. I think it’s really fascinating. From your perspective, what can a SEAL/SWCC candidate do to best prepare themself for this selection process in your mind? 04:37 ECM: Number one is be a sailor in good standing, right, so excel where you’re at in the fleet, in the job that’s assigned to you and all the tasks that are given to you by whoever you’re working for in the Navy. That’s first and foremost. We don’t want folks who’ve been in trouble or problematic. We need to have trust that they’re going to, you know, be able to succeed in environments where a lot’s expected out of them. 04:57 DF: Are there areas where you feel like candidates are over-focusing on certain aspects of the process or certain numbers they’re trying to hit or any of that? You find that to be the case at all? People maybe have the wrong impression of the selection process? 05:08 ECM: So, another big part of what we’re looking for candidates is physical fitness, and we measure that through the PST. I think there’s probably a lot of people that narrow their focus down to the PST and the numbers they’re generating and their PST score, and while that’s very important, like I said earlier, we use the whole person approach. Strong character, strong mindset is very valuable to a candidate. I used to tell people that it was about making it through BUD/S is about 80% mental and about 30% physical. I know that math doesn’t initially add up, but it basically means it’s going to take more than what you got. You got to find a place somewhere inside you to find that extra 10% and then give it, right. I’m a firm believer that BUD/S is mostly mental. It’s going to come down to having that mental strength and that mental discipline to get up every day and go to work and go train in austere conditions, in an environment that is pretty hostile to you, every single day, and you got to find that motivation to get up and go do that. 06:08 DF: We’ve talked on that basically with everyone we’ve spoken with, about the importance of the mental aspect here, so I think it’s great to hear that again. I think another thing that I’ll try to highlight, you can correct me if I’m wrong, is that you’re looking for people that are leaders and that are also great teammates, and that’s not something that’s really measured in a really clinical sense. There’s no PST for teamwork that I’m aware of. Is that something that’s done with relations to their superior officers? 06:33 ECM: Sure, so I think you’re right in saying that’s a little difficult to measure. A couple ways we measure that is through letters of recommendation from immediate supervisors. So you think most of the people that we’re targeting for our fleet conversion to SO and SB have less than six years of service and are an E5 or below. 06:50 DF: Is there any particular reason, just ‘cause their age, or is it a lot of reasons? 06:54 ECM: We target those guys because we don’t want to bring them into the community too senior. Right? So we don’t want a guy who’s kind of new to the teams and may have some Navy experience but not a lot of experience in the teams in a position where they’re leading troops, leading SEALs in a position where they don’t necessarily have the experience base to support that leadership role. 07:15 DF: I gotcha. So, is that something that you encourage actively to seek out letters of recommendation, or is that kind of a more organic process you kind of wait for that to happen? 07:24 ECM: It’s something that’s encouraged to be included in their application for fleet conversion, so we’re looking for letter of rec from LPOs, Chief Petty Officers, Senior Chief Petty Officers that are in that sailor’s chain of command that can kind of speak to what that person is doing on a daily basis for that command and where they’ve seen that sailor demonstrate leadership, initiative, all those characteristics that we’re looking for. 07:48 DF: Do you guys have a face-to-face interview process to validate any of that stuff, or are you guys going off paper for most of that? 07:54 ECM: An option available to the sailors is engaging with the SEAL/SWCC scout team, and part of that process of putting their application together involves an interview with the scout team. 08:05 DF: That makes sense. 08:08 DF: How often are you doing this process, and maybe give us a little bit of an overview of what that looks like for you? 08:12 ECM: Quarterly, I hold a fleet conversion panel, and we take applications from fleet sailors looking to convert from whatever rate they are in or status they’re in if they’re undesignated to SO or SB, right. So, we have a need, specific year groups, to assess sailors in those year groups into SO and SB into the pipeline. We apply historical attrition rates to those numbers. General rule of thumb, it’s about five sailors to make one SEAL. So, this quarterly panel that occurs is, the voting members are SEAL and SWCC E7 and above who review the packages, applications, all the documents within, brief that sailor’s record to the group, and then we vote on that sailor whether or not we’re going to give them a shot going to BUD/S or SWCC. 09:01 DF: How many of you guys are sitting down to do this? 09:04 ECM: It’s anywhere between five and ten folks. 09:07 DF: Okay, and what are some of the first things that you look for that you’re kind of just, “This person’s in,” in terms of weeding out those application packages? 09:13 ECM: So, first and foremost, we’re looking at what the community’s need is. We advertise that need via the NPC, Naval Personnel Command website. We have a spot on there, and we’ll open up year groups to conversion based on our need. So, if we have a year group where a lot of qualified personnel, qualified SEALs or SWCC get out of the Navy unexpectedly, we may open that year group for conversion. So, that’s first and foremost. We’re looking at “What do we need as a community?” to bring folks in. Second, we’re looking at “Does this candidate meet all the minimum requirements?” Is this a complete package, right? So, are they within age limits? Are they within time and service limits? What’s their current pay grade? And as long as all the prescribed requirements as outlined in the MILPERSMAN 1220 tack 300 for SEAL, tack 400 for SWCC, are met, we consider that a valid application, right. 10:07 DF: So, you’re pushing people aside that are just, outright, they’re not able to be there for rules. 10:12 ECM: Right, if you can’t follow instructions, and you can’t, if you can’t go down a checklist and put an application together…I don’t want you to check my parachute, and I don’t want you to check my dive rig. You got to figure it out. So, that’s step one. Don’t let your career counselor do it for you. If they want to help, absolutely. That’s an asset to tap into, but it’s your responsibility. It’s your application; it’s your package. So, that’s step one, and those are the ones that go to the panel to be looked at, and then, you know, it’s a competitive process, and we want the best and the brightest that the Navy has to offer, so it’s not a free for all. We don’t take everybody within our need, and we start to look for red flags, and then we look for the quality of the candidate, right, so we’re looking at the PST score, not only the raw numbers of that PST, but we’re looking at how that PST compares to all the candidates we’ve selected in the last 12 months. 11:02 DF: And that’s in terms of trying to make sure you have a balanced force? Can you explain why you’re looking at those numbers compared to the stuff that’s kind of historically recent? 11:10 ECM: We look back at the last four quarterly panels, and we look at all the candidates that we selected, and we create essentially a distribution, a bell curve distribution, and we look at where this new applicant falls as far as standard deviations above or standard deviations below the mean PST score. Now, if you’re below, we all know a lower PST score is better, so if you’re below that means you’re a pretty good athlete, right. You’re running faster, you’re swimming faster, stronger. If you’re way above, you’re going to be a little bit weaker in that pack, and we know that the weaker you are physically, the more challenging it is for you to complete the course at BUD/S. So, if you have a high PST, meaning a bad PST score, your likelihood of success is probably lower than somebody who has… 11:59 DF: And you want people to make it through the process. This isn’t just for fun. When you talked briefly about kind of red flags, can you maybe give us some examples of those? 12:07 ECM: In dealing with the fleet sailors, we have a lot of folks who have been to BUD/S before, or have been in training before, so we ask that if you have been to BUD/S before, and you are now looking for a second chance at BUD/S that you have served your minimum 24 months in the fleet. 12:24 DF: You mean after your first BUD/S excursion? 12:28 ECM: Correct, right, right, so regardless of why you stopped training, whether it was your own choice, drop on request or an injury, removed from training, you go out into the fleet for a minimum of 24 months. We get a lot of folks who apply at the sixth month mark, twelve month mark looking to come right back. That’s not really our deal that we’re offering. We can’t say we made a good evaluation on your ability to correct whatever deficiency you had, whether you were immature, whether you were not physically fit enough or just didn’t have the mental game. Two years is the period of time we’re looking to make that assessment. We’re also requiring those students or those applicants to write a personal statement saying why they did not complete training the first time, and this is pretty important. We want to hear in your words, why they didn’t complete training. We’re not looking for a novel. We’re not looking for a chapter book on that; we’re just looking for one page, concise, to the point, but also pretty descriptive of why you didn’t complete training the first time and why you need a second shot. So, that’s one of those red flags we’re looking for, and anybody out there that’s not an author, an English major, we’re not grading your punctuation, we’re not grading your grammar; we’re looking for content, absolutely. Another thing we’re looking at is the evaluations that a sailor has. So whether they have never been to BUD/S before or had been to BUD/S before, we’re looking at the evaluations, and we’re looking at how well they’ve done. We’re looking for people to break out amongst their peer groups on a ship, so the way the Navy evaluation system works is there’s EPs, early promote, MP, must promote… 14:02 DF: When you say break out, you mean kind of people that are accelerated in their promotion process, or maybe you can explain. 14:08 ECM: Not necessarily promotion but doing well, doing everything that they’re asked and exceeding those expectations wherever they are out in the fleet. So, if they’re working on a ship, and they’re a group of 30 other E4s on the ship, you know, we want to see someone in the top seven of those 30. Not necessarily, you know, a disqualifying thing, right, so if you’re not an EP sailor, if you’re an MP sailor, we’ll still take a look at you cause we’re looking at the whole person approach, and there’s no one thing that’s going to disqualify anyone, but that certainly would help. 14:39 DF: My impression is that you follow the steps, there’s not much you can do to change who you are at a core. You’re looking for a specific type of person that’s capable, not necessarily someone who’s able to check these boxes. 14:52 ECM: Certainly, we look at letters of recommendation pretty equally, no matter who they’re from, whether it’s a Commander of a ship or the Senior Chief in a division on a ship or a Troop Chief from a SEAL team, or a CO from a SEAL team. We weight those equally. 15:10 DF: That makes a lot of sense. So, we have people that are applying to this process that are not rated, and they have a rating. Can you talk a little bit more about that? We briefly touched that earlier. 15:18 ECM: There’s probably some misconception from guys who do not pass at one of the training pipelines we have the first time, and they end up going to the fleet, by picking one rate over another or maybe remaining undesignated, they’re going to have an opportunity to return to training faster than someone else, right. So, to dispel some of those myths, 24 months is the minimum period of time that you need to spend in the fleet. You’re not getting around that. The second part of that is, is we want you to become valuable to the Navy in that 24 months. Whatever you see the best way for you to contribute to the Navy, we want to see you maximize that. For some people, that may be being undesignated and contributing to the Navy effort in that sense. In other people, it might be going out and finding a rate and completing an A school and contributing in a more qualified or technical sense. Whatever is right for the individual is going to work. Our goal is to really look at what have you done in the two years that you were in the Navy before you reapplied…and how you’ve done it and how successful you’ve been at it. ‘Cause, really, getting a rate is not for everyone, being undesignated is not for everyone. Everyone’s got their own unique skills and attributes, and we really want to see you maximize that for the Navy. We want to see you maximize those skills you have to become valuable for the Navy, and then we’re going to assess that and say, “This guy is a team player. This guy is making the most of assets he has,” and we like that. 16:45 DF: Yeah, I think that definitely rings as a smarter choice than trying to predict what would be a more successful choice for them. You have a lot of responsibility; a lot falls on your shoulders in terms of making the right choices. What’s the most difficult part of your job? 16:57 ECM: A big part of what we do in community management is planning for the future, planning for growth, planning for unexpected losses, planning for how individuals will interpret our policies or incentives. This is challenging because there are so many moving parts. We build session plans based on factors such as current requirements, what we have on hand as far as SEAL and SWCC qualified personnel and historical success rates. All these numbers change independent of each other, and sometimes in difficult to predict patterns. The human factor can sometimes be unpredictable. 17:27 DF: Yeah, exactly. Trying to predict where things are going to go is a unique challenge. 17:33 ECM: Yeah, all these different variables kind of contribute to what we set as a session in production targets. And honestly, there’s a lot of numbers that go behind it, but there’s a lot of variables that are hard to account for, and trying to predict how many guys are going to graduate each year, it can be pretty problematic. 17:49 DF: Yeah, I think that’s a really good point to bring home. What kind of advice can you give to someone who is putting an application for this process? 17:55 ECM: Sure, I’d say if you’re thinking about applying for a Special Warfare special program like SO or SB, the best thing you can do is put a complete package together with your best foot forward and get it submitted. So, there’s some misconceptions out there that there’s a lot of people that can stand in your way from putting in an application. I think that’s incorrect. 18:17 DF: What do you mean by stand in your way? 18:19 ECM: If you’re not getting a lot of support from your command that you’re at, certainly they can voice that opinion, but they can’t prevent you from applying for one of these programs. That goes the same for the community managers that I work with at BUPERS. All the communities have a need to fill sailors into jobs. Our need is pretty strong in the Navy’s opinion, and there’s very few cases where another community’s need outweighs our need. It does happen sometimes, and it’s always on a case-by-case basis. So, best thing you can do, as a sailor, is put your application together, make it the strongest application you can possibly make, whether that’s your letters of recommendation, your PST score, your evaluations, the qualifications you’re earning on the ship, and make sure it’s submitted. It will get to us. We will look at it. Based on our need and that sailor’s qualification, we’ll make our selections, and we’ll go to bat for you if we really want you, so put your best foot forward, get your application in, and we’ll take care of it with community managers and commands if we need to. 19:24 DF: Well, I think you dropped a lot of wisdom on us. It’s been super helpful to talk to you. I think your words go a lot of way to help people kind of make this transition and hopefully get more successful people through the BUD/S process. Thank you so much for your time. 19:34 ECM: You got it. DF: Find out more at, and join us again for the next NSW Podcast.
Nov 08, 2018
15 Dive Motivation: Recruit Mindset
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Navy SEAL and SWCC candidates get a taste of NSW training at boot camp. The Dive Motivators begin the process of familiarization -- and selection -- of candidates for the long training pipeline ahead of them. Reality sets in quickly. Listen as we talk with a SEAL Master Chief. Find out more at Sound ups: “you have to pay attention to detail and you have to give it your maximum effort” “Division, attention!…” DF: Welcome to, “The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday,” the official Navy SEALs podcast. DF: Navy boot camp is the first place Special Warfare recruits will receive unique training. It starts early, with what they call “Dive Motivation.” This is where special warfare candidates perform their morning workout. I’m Daniel Fletcher, today I speak with Dive Motivator, SEAL Master Chief Steve Drum to get some personal advice about recruit fitness. From mental performance and focus to the physical standards test. 00:43 DF: Well, first of all, thank you for taking the time to sit down with us. I know you have a busy schedule. Your words of wisdom will be really appreciated and I think really nice insight for people that are going through this process. 00:53 SD: Sure, my pleasure. 00:54 DF: Tell us a little bit about what you do here on a regular basis. Your main priorities and responsibilities briefly, that would be a great start. 01:00 SD: Within our commodity, we have all of the Warrior Challenge programs, so SEAL, SWCC, Diver, EOD and Air Rescue. And so what we do here is we facilitate a progressive workout schedule to consist of roughly 26 workouts. About half of them are going to be progressive swim workouts, and the other half are going to be progressive run workouts. After you show up here at boot camp, and you pass the PST. Then you are going to be put into a schedule where you’re going to start off with a three-mile run some basic, fundamental swimming drills to get stroke development down and things like that, and it’s all just to get you further comfortable in the water. It’s all to get you some more mileage and time on your feet okay, but it’s important to note that we’re here to facilitate these workouts, but dive motivator training here is subordinate to the overall training that you receive at boot camp. You’re here to be a basically trained sailor. That’s front and foremost here. Official Naval Special Warfare and NSO programs officially start when you graduate boot camp. That said, we’re here to make sure that you’re as prepared as you can for the next phase in the pipeline. So, we’re here to give you not just the workouts but give you mentoring, turn the heat up on you a little bit to ensure that you’re able to collaborate with your shipmates to the left and right of you to be able to buy into something greater than self. That you’re able to get along, and you’re able to buy into the mission that we have here. 02:31 DF: You’re kind of a bridge in terms of the fitness piece between people taking their initial PST and then arriving at BUD/S if they make it that far? Is that fair, or is that not accurate? 02:40 SD: We’re going to make sure that when you show up, it’s a different animal than when you were probably taking the PST back with your mentors and your coordinators. This is why we always advise that you have a good cushion when you show up here at RTC. 2:53 DF: When you say cushion, you mean a baseline fitness level, or what do you mean by that? 2:56 SD: If you are leaving at your 15-day PST, and you’re just doing the bare minimums, it’s going to be hard here for the following reasons. A: you’re going from, unless you worked a really difficult job right before you shipped, you’re going to go from a minimal amount of stress, plenty of sleep, good nutrition, and maybe some of these guys, two workouts a day, and you’re going to come over here, and you’re not going to get the sleep, you’re not going to get the high quality food, you’re going to be stressed, we try to give you a minimum of three workouts a week, but sometimes the training schedule, again, the other mandatory testable events, your firefighting, your live fire training, all you other drill, that going to take front and center. Your last week at training here at boot camp, you may get one or sometimes zero workouts, but we’ll do everything in our power to make sure that we’re bridging that gap as you asked, bridging that gap between showing up on the street and making sure you are getting time on your feet, that you’re going to be training outside on the track when the weather supports it, and you’re going to be getting into the large pool and getting longer swims. You’re going to get introduced with fins if you haven’t done that already. You will be in a good place when you show up to go across the street. It’s very critical that they understand boot camp is not just a speed bump. You are here to be a basically trained sailor, and that’s very important because as you learn how to take information from your recruit division commanders. You process that information, and you execute it to 100% adherence to the instruction. If you can’t do that, then we can’t really use you in the SEAL Teams or any of the other programs. 4:37 DF: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. First and foremost, you need to join the Navy, and to do that, there’s a lot of fundamentals. Your piece is more getting your feet wet so to speak, in terms of physical intensity, and kind of trying to maintain fitness level, but primarily people need to be aware that they’re here to become a sailor. They’re not here to come and just work out, right? 4:54 SD: Right, when you get here you’re going to learn how to march, you’re going to learn how to fold your clothes and make your bed, and we’re not just doing that. You’re not folding your clothes and making your bed just to do it. You’re doing it because even in the SEAL Teams, when we start talking about free-fall jumping on oxygen and building rigs to throw out of the plane and all these type of things are very sequence oriented, and they’re very detailed, and they have to be done 100% correct all the time. And so, you wouldn’t want to skip the boot camp training if you could. You want to go through it because it’s only going to help you be better at making it through to your ultimate job, your ultimate goal. 5:31 DF: Right, I think that we made that clear with some of the other people that we’ve spoken with and that’s been hit home a lot. It seems like that’s a common thing for people to think they’re just going to breeze through this process and try to get to BUD/S and that this really isn’t that important, and I think it’s important to reiterate that even coming from your side in the fitness area that’s a top priority of yours to make clear. (SD: yes) So, we’ve heard from people to aim for a competitive PST score. Does that line up with your thinking? 5:57 SD: We are strict here with the PST standards. We’re not trying to fail people, but when I say that you need to do 50 perfect pushups, that means 50 perfect pushups. Go and research what exactly the standard is. It’s breaking 90 all the way up, locking the elbows out all the way down, breaking 90, and so that’s what you’re going to be held accountable for and if not, you’re going to get stood up, and you’re going to fail the PST for that day, and you’ll be given a couple more opportunities, but, again, your life is going to be a lot easier if you just pass the first time out the gates. I’m not interested in seeing 100 of your crappy pushups. I need to see 50 perfect ones. 6:39 DF: So, I’ll read between the lines here, and you can correct me or tell me if I’m wrong, but would it be a good idea if you’re a recruit, you’re at a boat team or with a mentor, to even maybe ask, “Be strict on me with these standards because I want them to be right, I want them to be perfect.” Because who knows who’ll be judging them when they’re at home before they get here, is that do you think that’s a good idea? 6:55 SD: Correct. Absolutely, 100%. Again for whatever reason, people think, “I’m going to try to get as many as I can” at the cost of perfect form, and that’s not going to work out for you well. That’s not what we’re looking for here, so, again, when I say perfect pull-ups, that’s dead arm hang, chin all the way over the bar, not up at the bar looking up at the sky. It’s chin over the bar. Your sit-ups, arms crossed thumbs on your clavicles, all the way up to elbows right below the bottom of the knees and then all the way down, upper back touching the deck. So, we’re strict about it. 7:29 DF: Yeah, and as you should be, right. (SD: Right.) I think that kind of makes sense that people might be struggling a little bit more when they get here than they might anticipate, because they had previously had X score, and now maybe they’re struggling like you said, they’re not doing this at 5 in the morning in their hometown. They might not be doing this on, you know, lack of protein shakes and lack of pre-workout supplements, fill in the blanks, so I think it’s important if you recognize that things are going to be more intense. 7:56 SD: You better drop the No Explode. If you think you’re going to have that kind of stuff to help you here. You’re sadly mistaken. 8:00 DF: Yeah, yeah, I think that’s important that people realize that it’s going to be a different environment that they’re in. The numbers aren’t just going to be passed on. What should a potential SEAL or SWCC or fill in the blank NSW candidate know about the dive motivator process and the stuff that you do here that they might not be aware of? 8:14 SD: So, first off, you’re going into an NSW program, either SEAL or SWCC. You are going to be segregated into that division whereas we’ll typically pair up the NSO programs. Now, they’ll be some, maybe some overlap between the two, but the best we can, we try to keep NSW with NSW and NSO with NSO. NSO being Air Rescue, EOD and Diver. 8:38 DF: And then SWCC/SEAL. Their training will be the same here? 8:40 SD: You’re going to get whatever specifics you need once you get to your respective preparation course or A school you’re going to get dialed in. When you leave here to go to prep for SEAL and SWCC training, they’re going to start teaching the knot tying, the lifesaving, things like that that are going to help you, but right now, we’re all about the general purpose fitness and water comfortability, stroke development and time on your feet. 9:04 DF: So the NSW candidates you see coming in here, are there any low points in their skills or techniques that you see as a consistent issue that you could maybe point out? 9:12 SD: One of the things that kind of is a pet peeve of mine that we see here is, we’ll still see people who will show up routinely who have never swam without a mask or goggles. And so, you’ll see them, and they’ll get in here to do this PST in the pool, and they can’t even stick their faces in the water, and to me I’m baffled because so much of first phase in BUD/S is without your mask, is with you trying to see underwater without a mask, so you’d better be doing, I’m not saying to swim all the time without a mask, but do both. Learn how to swim with a mask on, without a mask. Another thing that I want to highlight, if we don’t get to it later, I’ll talk about it now is, don’t cram for the test when you get here, okay. By the time you get to BUD/S or SWCC training or any of the other programs, I want you to be fresh, injury free. So, start your training far out enough in advance. If you’re going through the SEAL/SWCC website, then you’ll know. Find out who you can rely on in that forum to give you the sound advice. If not, you can reach out to the actual professionals on there, and they’ll tell you. Ultimately, all you have to do, is do well on the PST. If you want anything above that, that’s a bonus, but I wouldn’t get too carried away. Definitely don’t be working on breath holds, don’t be doing all this crazy stuff trying to tread with, with scuba tanks on. I just, be very comfortable in the water, maybe you can work on some treading with and without fins, but don’t show up hurt. Don’t be trying to, (DF: I see, over-train.) don’t be slacking and then figure you’re going to start ramping up all this running and swimming, and then you’re going to be prone to overuse injuries. You’re going to show up, and you’re going to be hurt, and you could lose your contract, get dropped from the program. 10:52 DF: So don’t over-train. 10:53 SD: Don’t over-train or under-recover. Make sure that you’re ramping up, you’re hitting it hard, and then as you get closer and closer, you’re fine-tuning it, you’re at a good place where, yeah, you’re still getting the reps in, you’re still getting some volume in, but you’re training intelligently, and there’s really in today’s day and age no excuse whatsoever to not have the information you need to train smartly. Don’t get carried away with a lot of these programs that tell you that you need to go and do a mini Hell Week or go to these really expensive rigorous courses, where what you really need to do is make sure that you’re doing this program for the right reasons. Understand that you really want it because you’re going to be tested, and when, even in boot camp, you may have your doubts, where you’re like, “Ah, I don’t know if this is really what I want to do,” but remember, it was a good idea when you thought about it. It’s not any less of a good idea now that you’re eight weeks in, six months in, okay. It’s still a good idea, and you’ll still be glad that you’ve completed the program successfully. 11:55 DF: Are you guys doing your workouts on kind of a consistent time of the day? You guys always here in the morning? You guys kind of surprising people? How does that work? 12:02 SD: Good question, good question. Yes, you’re going to do everything that a basic recruit does here at boot camp. The exact same things, only you get to start your day a couple hours earlier. You’re going to REV typically about 4:30, and then you’re going to show up over here at the dive motivator at the combat training pool, and we’re going to start kicking the workouts off at about 5:15 and you’re going to be wrapping and on the road to breakfast, at about no later than 7:15. Your initial PST’s going to look like this. You’re going to show up, and you’re going to do your third-class swim test, which is pretty easy for those who’ve been training well to get here to do these programs. You’re going to jump off a tower, you’re going to work on float, basic swim stroke, flotation with your coveralls, things like that. At some point, you’ll practice an abandoned ship rescue at sea type thing with an inflatable raft, but as soon as you’re done you’re going to roll right into your PST. We’re going to hit you with the swim, followed by your push, sit, pull, and then we’re going to take you out to the track outside during the warmer months. When it’s cold, we’ll take a bus, and you’ll go across a street to an indoor track, and you’ll do your run there. 13:12 DF: What is the flexibility like for people that might not be hitting the right number for PST and need to retake? How many chances do they get, or if they’re really close, or if you feel like there’s maybe some sort of excusable reason why maybe they didn’t hit the right number of laps, they miscounted, or maybe they have a slight injury or something like that. Where you know that the candidate should be capable of hitting a better number? 13:31 SD: You definitely want to pass the first time, your life will be a lot easier. However, we’re definitely going to take into consideration things like injury, things like, “Hey, I had to get some teeth pulled.” If you fail your initial PST, full transparency here, you will have ‘til your fifth week of training to pass your PST. And if you don’t pass it by then, then you’ll be reclassified. 13:53 DF: So, there’s plenty of opportunity for the right people to hit the right numbers? 13:58 SD: Correct. (DF: Okay, that’s good to know.) And it’s also it’s important to know that when you quit the program, you still are obligated to stay in the Navy. You’re obligated to go reclassify, okay. If you are medically dropped or medically disqualified, you have the option to, to try to, to stay in the Navy for a different program that you may qualify for, or you can elect to separate at that point because that’s the contract you came in at. But if you quit, then you are going to go reclassify, and it’s not going to be the same rate that you joined at. It’s going to be what’s available at the time. But, again the overarching theme here is that you’re coming here to be a basically trained sailor, and you’re going to learn the tools that you need at boot camp while you’re learning to be a basically trained sailor. That’s absolutely going to help you to be a better SEAL, SWCC or NSO candidate. We provide three points for mentoring typically with the recruits. The first piece is kind of like, “Hey, the welcome aboard. Here’s what’s expected of you when you show up to dive motivator for PT.” The second one is usually I’ll give the introductory brief, and what I get into there is the big four sports psychology, and I get into what I call the Operational Mindset. And the operational mindset is purpose, “Why am I here?” and commitment,” yes, I made the right decision to come here. I absolutely am ready to start buying in and then collaborate with the people around me, collaborate and be a part of the Navy, be a part of the team.” The second piece is preparation, and not just the preparation like the physical piece of training, the pushups and the swim, but also the preparation to make sure that no matter what happens, we’re as ready as we can be. To include making sure that all of our stuff, our backpacks are packed the night before, inspecting my bunkmate’s, he’s inspecting mine, to make sure that all of our gear is ready. In terms of, the mental piece, BUD/S training is all about testing your mental fortitude, it’s about testing your ability to stay calm and perform under pressure, and it’s about your ability to collaborate and be a team player. That’s what all this is about, and the cold water and all the physical conditioning, that’s all the medium in which we, test that. So, it’s getting into your mind and understanding that you are going to suffer. You are going to have moments of doubt, but you have to revisit why you’re there. And I tell people to write about it, “Dear Diary, no kidding. This is what happened to me today, and this is how I can be better tomorrow,” really sit there and reflect and figure out how you can increase your performance. We talk about the big four, we talk about the goal-setting, so when I’m doing things where I’m extremely stressed, and I want to elect to quit or to panic, I can keep focused on my goal of that particular evolution, and I do that by going through mental rehearsal or visualization techniques to think about it. “All right, this is what’s going to happen to me. Let me walk through,” and I use that in the SEAL Teams. When I was doing the more stressful things like close quarter combat, clearing rooms, I would sit outside the door before training, and I would go through it in my head. And I would also do performance based self-talk, “Okay, if he goes left, I’m going to go right,” and I’m going to think about what’s going to happen to me beforehand because your body absolutely processes that as a little bit of experience beforehand. And we even get into mindfulness a little bit, slowing your breathing down, taking deep and long breaths to make sure that you’re kind of dumping a little bit of stress and getting into that habit of being able to focus back on what our goal is. So, we choose what the goal is, and performing that goal rather than choosing panic, rather than choosing fear and quitting and things like that. 17:35 DF: I want to highlight one part of what you just said and that was the journaling portion. We spoke with Mike Caviston and that’s a part of his recommendations as well, journaling your workouts. Something that’s consistent that I’ve heard through almost everyone that I’ve interviewed, is the “why” part, “Why am I doing this?” and the goal-setting part, and I think that incorporating that “why” part into the journaling of your fitness, I think that’s a really good piece of advice for candidates because when the dust settles or, you know, you boil everything down, that’s what you’re left with, the “Why am I doing this?” and like you’re saying, remind yourself of, why it was a good choice to begin with or whoever is your inspiration or whatever your inspiration is, keeping that forefront is, I think that’s important. 18:13 SD: Absolutely, and you write things in your journal like, “This is why I want to be a SEAL or SWCC, and this is why this is a good decision,” and write down, “I know that I’m going to face challenges. I know that there are days when I’m not going to perform well, that I’m going to fail things potentially.” Things are going to test your confidence, and so when that happens to you, you go back to that journal that you wrote in, you know, months ago, and you’re like, “Yeah, I’m prepared for this,” because when you’re cold, when you’re tired, when you’re stressed, you’re more prone to an emotional hijacking. It’s just like when you’re under the water, and you’re doing pool competency, and your body starts going without air, you forget your goal, and you elect to want to bolt to the surface, and then you’ll regret it. You’ll fail. Same thing here. When you are tired and when you’re stressed, you’re prone to let emotions negatively impact your decision-making, whereas you make it a routine to actually revisit when you wrote that stuff in a clear, well-rested, unstressed mind state, and you revisit that, and you say, “Yes, that’s right. I know this is what I want. I made the right decision to come here. I knew this was going to be hard. I’m going to have hard weeks, but I can do this. This is very, very doable,” and that’s absolutely the truth. You pass the screening test, you have what it takes to get through BUD/S. People go through, and they’ll get only more further refined. You’ll be even more confident in your knot tying, your lifesaving and drown proofing and things like that. You’re given the practice test at that point, but at the end of the day, it still comes down to being able to push the negative thoughts out of your brain, deal with what’s happening, deal with the fear, deal with the stress, the uncertainty and drive through it. 20:01 DF: I was expecting to sit here and talk to you about, you know, the details and minutia of the training process, the gear you use and stuff like that, and it’s interesting to hear that’s really not what’s most important. The physical part is just what’s going to push you through. But your mind, it can’t break, and that needs to stay focused. 20:18 SD: You know, it goes without saying you need to have a very highly elevated level of physical fitness and swimming ability, of course. I was never really particularly good at anything. I could do PT okay. I could make my timed runs. I was a complete disaster in the soft sand, got gooned on just about every single run, but then I’d say, “Hey, maybe that made me a little bit tougher when Hell Week comes along,” and I wasn’t a strong swimmer. I was comfortable in the water, I had that going for me cause I spent a lot of time in the pool as a kid, but I was not a fast swimmer. I was not a fast runner. I was not a PT stud, but yet six months later, I’m sitting there on the grinder graduating with the class that I started with. 20:56 DF: So, I’ll just kind of highlight the things I think that I’ve heard from you that are really important. Obviously making sure you’re paying attention to detail and doing the basic things at boot camp. You can’t brush over that. (SD: no, you don’t want to) You can’t just slide through because I think that a lot of people are just thinking, “This is BS work that I need to do to get to BUD/S.” But it’s been reiterated multiple times that these are things that will be checked on at BUD/S. This is not just busy work. This is not just BS to kind of give you a hard time. 21:20 SD: Look at it like this. Hell Week is the first major hurdle. After that comes the second major hurdle, which is in Dive Phase, and it’s known as the Pool Competency. Up to that point, you’ve never been scuba diving, it’s all still in the pool, and you’re learning how to put the gear on, how to take it off in a very precise sequence okay. So, you’ve got to know that reflexively all of those things are now added to what’s known as the Pool Comp Test, where you’re given all the different problems related to cutting off inhalation, exhalation, hoses on your breathing apparatus, and you have to work through that problem, and when you sort it out, it has to be in those exact procedures, only you’re stressed, and all you want to do is get a breath of air, and you’re doing the Funky Chicken. If you are thinking of that process instead of just head down like a pack mule, when you’re folding your clothes and when you’re making your bed, if you’re trying to figure out, “Okay, I’m in the moment. I’m thinking about why this is important,” if you’re kind of thinking about that early on, you are really setting yourself up for success when you are hopefully making it through Hell Week and finding yourself stressing out about Pool Comp. You will have effectively set the table if you’re able to be in the moment, understand why all the things that you’re doing are important. 22:41 DF: That can’t be overemphasized because there’s so much in the media about the physical portion, about the toughness, about the logs, the sand, the cold water. But there’s procedure, there’s attention to detail, there’s order that is equally a part of this training process. That’s not tough guy stuff, it’s focus, and that’s connected to this process, which goes back to the crawl, walk, run. You know, you start with T-shirts, and then it ends up being dive apparatus and jump gear or weapons systems. It’s all procedural, and that’s often just really glossed over. That these guys are just tough guys, you know what I mean? 23:12 SD: It is, and the other piece that’s worth mentioning that’s absolutely the linchpin for the whole community, for the whole program is that based on that motto you’ll hear in the SEAL teams, “Long live the brotherhood,”. You’ve got to start putting the people to the left and right of you needs above your own. Me as an example, I wanted to be a SEAL because I figured, “Hey, it would be cool to crawl around and paint my face green and get challenged by a very difficult selection process.” but that was not enough to keep me there. Once I got there, and I realized that I was surrounded by the best people that I would ever work with and I would ever be surrounded by, I knew that I had found a home, and I knew that that’s why I wanted to stay there. And when you show up at boot camp, it starts there. You start building, and a lot of those guys are going to go away statistically, that’s just inevitable, but you’ll be left with a core bunch of guys that you’ll start identifying as great Americans, and this is who I want to spend you know, a career with in many cases. You’ll be expected to start thinking in that mindset as soon as you get here. We don’t do this training alone. We can’t get through this training by ourselves. We’ve got to start leaning on each other, and you’ll find guys that, that have trouble with swimming. They’ll go over at night when they come back. They’ll have a couple kids that are probably water polo players in college, and you’ll be like, “Hey, can we talk about that eggbeater?” or whatever, whatever it is. You know, that’s what it takes for a class to be successful, for individuals to be successful. I mean, I know great Team guys that could barely pass the timed run in third phase, but they’re phenomenal, phenomenal guys, and they were really good at other things, So we try to say, hey, these minimum standards are low because you may suffer in one area but be really good in all the other areas. If you have trouble with the run, but you’re crushing the other areas, you know, there’s room for you here. We’ll find a way for you to fit. 25:08 DF: If you had the ear of a candidate and you had just a couple minutes to give them some of your solid rocks of advice for this aspect, and the whole process, what else would you say to them? 25:15 SD: Invest in the mental process. Again, figure out why you really want to be here. Spend a lot of time thinking about it understanding it, and write about it. Get in the habit of reflecting on your experiences. In life, we’re only as good as our ability to draw the right conclusions from what’s happened to us and how those inform our decisions tomorrow. Spend as much time being deliberate, thinking about your successes and how to repeat them and how to further improve them. Make sure that you are spending enough time investing in your training, way in advance to you showing up at boot camp. Make sure that before you ship, you are nice and healthy. If you’re worried about breath holds and things like that do freestyle sprints. That’s going to get your wind up. That’s going to help your, your capacity. Just spend time in the water and just be comfortable. Make sure you’re swimming with a mask on and a mask off. Make sure your PST performance is 100% and in accordance with the instruction. Get somebody to film you doing your pull, push, sit. Make sure you’re cranking out solid, perfect reps. And, you know, if you do all that, you show up, and you’re ready to be part of a team. You have everything you need to be successful and make it through this program. 26:31 DF: I think that’s some really great, powerful advice. Thank you for taking the time to join us. 26:33 SD: Thank you, my pleasure. Music up DF: Find out more at, and join us again for the next NSW Podcast. Music Continues and end.
Nov 08, 2018
14 Recruitment Health
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Physical and mental health is important to the recruiting process for SPECWAR candidates. We spoke with an expert at the Navy's Recruit Training Command to find out how Navy SEAL and SWCC candidates can stay on top of their game. For more info check out Sound ups: “You have to pay attention to detail and you have to give it your maximum effort” “Division, attention!…” Daniel Fletcher: Welcome to “The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday,” the official Navy SEAL podcast. 00:15 DF: Mental and physical health is essential to a successful trip through Navy Boot Camp, even more so for NSW candidates. I’m Daniel Fletcher. As we continue our boot camp series from Great Lakes, Illinois, we sit down with medical liaison for crew training command, Chief Hospital Corpsman Jeff Ramirez. We answer some common questions about recruit medical history, mental health, medications, and preventative care. Listen up. …music continues 00:44 DF: Thanks for sitting down with us for one, and if you could just briefly talk about what you do here that would be a great start. 00:49 JR: I deal with all medical related issues, in terms of recruit appointments, any injuries that we have here going to network hospitals, to the federal healthcare center, outsourced down to Chicago. Any questionable areas that the doctors have that they need to liaison with the RDCs here in terms of missed appointments or recruits not eating enough, or even if they feel like they’re getting too much exercise, because there’s instances where we start breaking some recruits down that are couch potatoes, and then they get over here, and they learn right away that it’s a little different here. 01:21 DF: What types of tests or any type of screening do you administer, or is that not part of your position? 1:28 JR: So, that’s not part of my position here. So, I deal with the docs, and it’s going to range from mental health to your physical therapy, your preventative meds and then general, sick hall, but it’s every illness or injury or anything medical related between RTC and the providers. 01:46 DF: Okay. Are there any ailments or injuries that you see specifically for the 800 guys that are coming through the pipeline here? 01:51 JR: 800 guys... I would say the biggest injuries that I see would be shin splints, stress fractures and not getting enough nutrients. Rhabdo, Rhabdomyolysis. We’ll see that. They didn’t train for the pipeline before they got here. So, when they’re doing the DIVEMO PT, their body is breaking it down. (DF: Pretty severe.) Their muscles are breaking it down pretty severe, yes. 02:13 DF: I guess that is kind of a form of a failed test so to speak, if someone’s put in a position physically where their body is not holding up. Are there any other specific medical tests that are given periodically or on a routine basis that you see NSW candidates having issues with? 02:30 JR: Special physicals. They’ll go to special physicals. They’ll answer the questionnaires there, go through their overall history to see if there’s anything that raises any red flags. In terms of anything periodic, that doesn’t happen unless they, they choose to go to sick hall. You know, if they’re having some issues that RDCs say they see, any 800, any recruit really walking around with limps or looking distressed or sick, we’re going to send them to sick hall regardless. You’ll get your labs drawn over there, or if you’ve got to go to bone density scan or X-rays. A lot of 800s, you know, they really want to be here most of them, so it’s kind of hard to get them to go to medical sometimes. So it’s, you know, its our responsibility, and I get a lot of phone calls about that, “Hey, I have a recruit that’s kind of been limping around. He says he’s okay, but, however, my spidey senses are telling me he probably needs to get seen.” Then we’ll go ahead and send him in there and usually find out something else. 03:22 DF: If there’s somebody who gets to this point in the process and then a medical screening turns up not good enough or a fail, whatever you want to call it. Are there chances for a candidate to kind of retake a test? Can you tell me a little bit about that landscape of that kind of situation? 03:36 JR: So, if we’re going to use vision as an example. So if you came in. the MEPS doctor says your vision’s a certain score, and you come here, and it’s not, or you’re colorblind, they’re going to reissue the actual test again. So, you’re going to do one at MEPS, you’re going to do one here. If you fail that, you’re going to do it again. And if all the scores end up as the same here, then they’re going either request a waiver, if you’re eligible. The special phys docs, they’re going to determine whose waiverable per the BUMED instruction. So they’ll go in there and make sure it is a waiverable condition, whether it’s vision, hearing. If it is waiverable, we’ll keep them in the pipeline here, and then the waivers usually come back by the time they get out of here. If it’s not since they’re most of them are contracted, then they can opt to either pick a different rate or pretty much get separated in their contract. So, your basic recruits, they’re coming in they’re not contracted like the 800s. If they don’t meet specific requirements for a certain job, then they’ll get put in another job. But for the 800s, if they don’t want to fulfill their contract because they can’t, due to something medically related, then they can either opt to go or stay with another rate. 04:43 DF: Our primary audience is, I guess I could say the laymen or the layperson or civilian. So I’ll do a little bit of interpreting for them. So, someone who comes into the Special Warfare pipeline is kind of quasi hired by the Navy, and they can then choose to choose a different direction to take their career. Is that, is that accurate? 05:01 JR: Yes. That’s exactly what I’m saying and if they got their heart set on being a SEAL, and you don’t meet the medical qualifications to fulfill that contract, then yes, you can drop on request and get separated from the Navy all together. 05:13 DF: Or decide to to make a different decision. How often do you see that misalignment of MEPS decision versus something onsite here? 05:21 JR: There is those that do fall through the cracks. There’s always human error. It’s not as much as we think. Most of our, our drops are usually “drop on request” really, after. In terms of medical, it’s not as much as we, we actually think. 05:36 DF: Okay, well, that’s good to hear. What types of tests can a recruit fail to have them say, “You’re not going to be able to be in the Navy at all”? 05:45 JR: Hearing’s on a bigger scale right now than vision is. 05:48 DF: Why is that? 05:49 JR: Any kind of permanent hearing loss, the deeper decibels. It’s an automatic disqualifier, and some of them aren’t even waiverable. 05:55 DF: So, you’re saying that it’s starting to become a bigger issue than it used to be? Or it’s more noticeable or... 06:00 JR: Probably more, more noticeable. I would say that the ear buds and the working out. I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t say, “I do it myself.” I would imagine that has something to do with it. So if you listen something loud, right away you’ll have that, that that minimum hearing loss, the temporary, lower frequencies, but the higher frequencies, that would be you consistently listened to your earphones really loud when you’re in the gym 24/7, or in your cars nowadays. 06:27 DF: No good. I’m guessing that there’s sometimes injuries that happen during basic training that can kind of put someone in that same situation. Is that something that people should be concerned with, or is that pretty rare in terms of shin splints that are so severe, or whatever it may be that they’re not able to continue? Do they have a chance to maybe, have a few weeks to kind of heal up? 06:47 JR: So, we have the recruit convalescence unit that’s actually here in Ship 4. The reason for that is if you get shin splints or stress fractures, you actually get a rehab time. So, when you go to the hospital, you see one of our docs, and they say, “Hey, you got shin splints. You’re going to be Light Limited duty for 21 days.” So, that’s 21 days of rehab. So during that 21 days they’re going to go to Ship 4 and their job is to get better. They’ll be put in a hold status until they are fit for full duty. Once they’re fit for full duty, they’ll incorporate with another 800 division to keep the training going. 07:15 DF: Does that happen often enough that you think that’s a successful way to deal with that? 07:19 JR: I don’t think it happens as much for the 800s. For the regular recruit divisions yes, for the 800s, no. 07:25 DF: And that’s the same process for both of them in terms of the time that they’re given and stuff like that? 07:28 JR: Yes. If you look at the recruit convalescence unit, you’ll have for every 30, 40 recruits, you might have one 800 in there. Usually when the 800s get injured, it’s because that individual didn’t prep. So, he came over here and did a little bit more running than he or she was doing at the time. 07:45 DF: Right, right, right. From your perspective, what type of advice would you give to someone coming into the pipeline to avoid types of medical issues that we’re speaking of? 07:52 JR: The biggest thing is prep. So, don’t do the bare minimum before you actually get here. Going over to DIVEMO PT, they’re going to give you a workout you know. So if you weren’t prepped before you got over here, it’s going to show, and it’s going to show quick. DIVEMO’s really where they start falling out, its not regular PT. It’s not the PT that all the other recruits get here because you’re contracted. You’re going to do something more strenuous. So, definitely prep is huge. 08:18 DF: Is there part of the process that you think people should be maybe more aware? 08:21 JR: You have to prep. Prep’s the biggest thing. If you’re taking a lot of protein powders and all this stuff you can get from GNC or, whatever you’re taking, just remember you’re not going to have it here you know, the stuff that gets you over a good workout, because sometimes you’re pushing your body so much that you need that extra protein, or you need a little bit extra, (DF: or whether it’s Pre-workout or whatever) pre-workout, you’re not going to have it here. That’s going to cut straight out of your your whole diet. Now you need to know how to eat correctly, and we do our classes here to teach you how to eat. However, it’s a lot better if you have the history of doing it and you know your greens, you know your fruits, you know what you’re doing. Because you can’t just take that simple protein powder and call it a day. It’s not going to happen here. 08:57 DF: Right. If there’s anything that you see on a common basis that you think that people should be more aware of, it would be great for you to kind of cover some of that as well. 09:04 JR: One big thing is the psych issue. And when I say that, it would be more geared towards the mental health part of it. Mental health is a big part here, and it’s a great, great tool for crew training command. Some of the 800 guys that we have, we’ll get them, and they’re watching videos and everything since they were young, they’re real motivated, can’t wait to do it. Which is outstanding. However, they come to boot camp, and they figure out, “Maybe this is not what I wanted to do.” So, it’s a general hype that they get themselves going through for however long that they get themselves hyped up for, but they get here, and they kind of shut down a little bit, and once they shut down, it’s kind of hard to pick them back up. So then they end up going to mental health and talking to them. Sometimes they can say things that may disqualify them. Does it happen? Yes. And it’s not, you know, on a huge scale; however, it does happen. Almost like they pretty much psych themselves out. The first couple DIVEMO days, they kind of psych themselves out, and they go, “Okay, maybe this is not what I want to do,” cause it’s strenuous. It hurts. At the end of the day, this is what you wanted, and you’re getting trained by the best people we have over there, but sometimes they can... psych themselves out and they put themselves in a bad position. 10:08 DF: I think you brought up a good point. So much of the focus on the prep and even further along in the BUD/S process, and then throughout, there’s a huge emphasis on physical preparedness, physical capabilities, but the mental aspects seem to be coming to the forefront a lot more than it used to be in the past, and even awareness of mental health issues. Speak to that a little bit, are there underlying issues that people should be aware of if they want to come through basic training, or maybe in the past, they had issues with depression or anxiety. What’s the Navy’s kind of opinion on that in NSW and the Big Navy, and how does that kind of fit into your job? 10:44 JR: I work with mental health really, really closely here, and the reason being is because it is a different kind of day and age. We do have kids getting prescribed meds from an early age. However, that’s not all disqualifying factors. Yes, there are certain diagnosis where it’s going to be a disqualifying factor, and that’s just kind of what it is. If you are bipolar type II or something like that, it’s going to be a disqualifying factor. However, if you struggle a little bit through school or even your first year of college, and you’ve shown progression, and you have those notes by a doc saying that you’re good to go, you’ve been on meds for a little bit, or something bad happened in the family, these are all things that they are waiverable. You’ve just got to show the actual documentation. So, in terms of someone prepping to come here, it’s good to know that if you’re going to get your civilian medical records, and it’s going to say that you’re put on a certain medication, don’t just stop. Don’t just stop and say, “Okay, well, I’m going to stop taking this because I plan to go to boot camp in a year.” So, if you stop when your doctor tells you to stop, and then you show the progression for the one or two years, preferably two, you know, the doc can sign off on that and say, “Hey, this person fell into a kind of a slump, did what he had to do, she had to do, and recovered fully. We’re good.” Where we have the issue is when someone goes to a hard part in their life, gets prescribed some medications and then decides this is what they want to do. They want to go to boot camp and then just stops it. So, when you get someone’s civilian medical records, it shows that you were getting treated, and then there’s a blank. So there’s really nothing to go off of, and now you got to get reevaluated here (DF: It’s a liability issue) its huge. So, there’s nothing wrong with mental health. It’s a part of all of us whether we like it or not; however, it’s the way we go about it. 12:22 DF: Well, I think that’s a good thing to point out. I think a lot of people might say, “You know, whatever existing condition whether it’s physical, mental or whatever disqualifies me,” and I think reading between the lines is talk to your doctor, and you guys want to see as long of a spread between, whether it’s a prescription or a diagnosis and having some evidence to say, like, “Hey, this is where I am now.” I think that would be helpful for a lot of people to hear because a lot of people just might say, “Well, I can’t do that now.” 12:46 JR: Absolutely. And I mean overall in mental health, there’s a lot of different areas, a lot of different diagnoses, and it doesn’t speak for every single one of them, but there’s a big chunk out there that you can still be in the Navy, nothing wrong with it. They just need to see the full treatment plan. They can’t just cut it off in the middle cause you never went through treatment. 13:05 DF: There seems to be maybe some confusion in the aspect of medical records and how that’s integrated into the Navy from civilian integrating the sailor life. What’s that process look like, or, you know, does the Navy scoop up everyone’s medical records when you come in? 13:19 JR: Any diagnosis, anything that legally you have to put on your medical history form, and that’s a medical history form that’s legally used by the whole Department of Defense. You do have to provide that documentation if you put a diagnosis on there. So, if you put a diagnosis on there, you have to provide that actual information because the docs want to know what the treatment plan was for and how it’s going to affect you. In terms of receiving all the civilian medical records, we’ll get what you put in there. Do we get them all? Probably not. With that being said, we probably don’t get it because they’ve still got human error, or you’ve got humans lying as well. 13:56 DF: Right. Do you see that as an issue normally, or I guess not normally, but...? 13:59 JR: I think it is an issue. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have recruits separating every day because they’ll go to mental health, or they’ll get seen because a past injury is going to act up. Past injury acts up here, and we find out that it’s something that was pre-existing. (DF: You can’t lie about that) So, now, if they want to stay in, we’re going to request those civilian medical records so we can see if you can actually stay in. But in terms of the Navy just reaching out to civilian hospitals and getting medical records, that’s not even legal. 14:23 DF: Well, obviously, it seems like being honest on your, on your forms is probably not only legal but the better thing to do for your own success. 14:31 JR: Yes, absolutely. So, like I said, any medical history form you get in the Navy, you have to list, legally. That’s why they’re asking you. We’ve got to know what’s wrong with you, and if you don’t provide that, that actual information, I mean you can get in trouble for that. But in terms of if you don’t provide it, and even if we think something, it’s not like we can reach out to where you got seen as a kid and say, “Hey, I need those records.” It definitely doesn’t work like that. 14:52 DF: Are there any kind of medical issues that can develop here that can disqualify someone completely from the Navy? 15:00 JR: Reoccurring stress fractures or reoccurring shin splints. You’re contracted to be here, however, if you can’t get past DIVEMO because you just keep on breaking, unfortunately. That’s not your fault. However, that’s something that would definitely you want to make it much farther than that because you’re pretty fragile, and after this pipeline you’re going into something even more, more aggressive. 15:20 DF: Right, right. More rigorous. Appreciate you taking the time to sit down and talk with us. I know this might not be the most glamorous topic, but it’s just as important as every other part of this pipeline. You know, crawl, walk, run. Medical is a big part of that. Thank you for your service, and thank you for the time today. 15:58 JR: Absolutely. Music up DF: Find out more at, and join us again for the next NSW Podcast. music continues and end.
Sep 20, 2018
#13 Navy Recruit Training: NSW Track
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To be a Navy SEAL or SWCC, you must first be in the NAVY. The first stop in the training pipeline is Recruit Training Command, known informally as "boot camp." In this episode we visit RTC and learn more about boot camp for NSW candidates. DANIEL FLETCHER: To become a Navy SEAL or SWCC you must first learn to be a sailor. This essential process starts at Recruit Training Command, Great Lakes, Illinois. First utilized in 1911 and home to the United States Navy Boot Camp. This, is where it all starts. Sound Ups: “you have to pay attention to detail and you have to give it your maximum effort” “Division, attention!…” …music continues DF: Welcome to The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday, the official Navy SEAL podcast. Every aspect of a Navy recruit’s life is scheduled, categorized, and inspected. There are rules and standards for how the toilet paper, toothbrushes, and T-shirts are stored to how they eat, dress, walk, and speak. I'm Daniel Fletcher. Over the next few episodes you’ll hear from a select group of people responsible for on-boarding NSW candidates into the Navy. Today I speak with Chief Petty Officer William Roberts, one of the Recruit Division Commanders conducting this eight-week orientation. 01:00 DF: This podcast is meant specifically for people in the SEAL/SWCC pipeline. For a minute, if you could talk a little bit about how those candidates are treated or the process. Maybe, is it different than people that are off the street joining the “Big Navy?” 01:15 WR: As an RDC, which is a short term for Recruit Division Commander, we’re just responsible for how ever many recruits come in. It doesn’t matter if it’s 105 recruits, 60-something recruits. We’re just responsible for their day-to-day care and their day-to-day wellbeing from the time they arrive to the date of departure. We take care of when they eat, when they sleep, what training they need, where they have to go, when they have to be there, how they fold their clothes. We train all of that from beginning to end, from day of arrival to date of departure. 01:44 WR: For anyone that’s in what we call 800 Divisions, which are your SEALs and SWCC recruits or candidates, boot camp is not any different for them than it is for anybody else. There’s a few other requirements in regards to what we call Dive Motivation PT that they have to participate in on a daily basis Monday through Friday. Outside of that, the only difference here is that there is an expectation that they are going to be better than those that are coming in for “Big Navy” just “Regular Navy” as we call it. There’s an expectation that they’re going to perform a whole lot better than those recruits, so there’s, for lack of better terms, a bull’s eye on their back. Everybody’s gunning for them; all the other RDCs are gunning for them. Staff, not necessarily gunning for them, but every simple mistake they make, it’s highlighted because they’re what’s called an 800 Recruit. 02:36 DF: So the 800 Recruits coming in here, they have a higher expectation of themselves as well and that they’re going to be held to a higher standard later on through their employment with the Navy. 02:47 WR: Definitely. The idea is that they come here, they know why they’re here as far as being in the Navy. The Regular “Nav” is more, “I didn’t have a choice. There was nothing else left for me to do. I don’t know what I want to do, so this is just the option for me to try right now.” Whereas in SEALs and SWCCs, they kind of know they’re signing up to put their lives on the line. They...know... that’s what they’re going to do barring that they make it through the training pipeline. 03:13 DF: Right. Right. Yeah, I think a lot of people think that if you want to become a SEAL, you go to Coronado, you go to BUD/S, and you become a SEAL, and they kind of skip over the process of basic training or Navy recruitment process. Probably do a lot of reading about Navy SEALs and the BUD/S training and all the stuff that they’re going to have to do and Hell Week and the whole 9 yards. When they’re joining the Navy, there’s a lot of rules and regulations and discipline that needs to come first before holding logs over your head. I think that’s an important distinction. 03:46 WR: Definitely. Recruits that come in for that program need to know that they’re in the Navy first. The way that I tell my recruits that I’ve had so far is that not every sailor is EOD or SWCC or SEAL, but every SEAL or SWCC driver is a Sailor. So, they have to know that that’s what they’re in here to do. They’re here to be Sailors. Being a SEAL or SWCC is just the job that they have while they’re in the Navy; no different from myself as an Aviation Electronics Technician or anybody else that has a particular job in the Navy. We train them to the best of our abilities to be Sailors. 04:23 DF: What do you think a new recruit needs to know before they get here or maybe any expectations you think that aren’t obvious? 04:30 WR: They need to know that they’re going to be held to a standard right away; that the standard for their PT sessions and Dive Motivation PT is different from what the standard is to be in the compartment. They need to know that coming here, being a SEAL by nature of what they chose to do, they are a leader. A lot of recruits that we get in nowadays want to come in and be what’s called Gray Men. They just want to get through boot camp and keep their heads down. 04:56 DF: You said Gray Man? 04:57 WR: Gray Man. 04:58 DF: Explain that a little bit more for me. 04:59 WR: They just...They want to be nobody in the division. So, in the division, we have Divisional Staff, and a lot of times, they’ll talk to people that have been through boot camp before, and those people are letting them know if, like, your RDCs don’t know your name, you’re doing a good job, and that’s not necessarily the case. For me personally, as an RDC, I make it a point to know every last one of my recruits, whether they’re doing good or whether they’re doing bad, or if they’re just that person that’s kind of in the middle; I get to know all of my recruits. So, every division needs leadership. It can’t come from the RDCs all the time, and we miss out on a lot of good leaders because they’ve been told to just be a gray man and kind of put their heads down, and I guess, blend in to everybody else. Don’t stand out. 05:37 DF: Because they think it’ll be easier? 05:39 WR: I believe so. I mean it doesn’t make it easier for them. It might make it easier for them as an individual, but it makes it harder for the division because they might be the one leader that the division needs, and if they don’t step up and take that position, then it just makes it harder for the division, which in turn makes it harder for them because if the division is suffering, everybody is suffering. 05:57 DF: That’s something that I’ve found through a lot of the people I’ve interviewed that leadership is important, and teamwork is important, even almost the most important, (WR: Definitely.) and encouraging people coming into the recruitment process to take leadership positions and really embrace that mentality, not try to kind of just slide through under the radar and get it done, but step up and be a leader because they need to stand above other people, and they need to take those leadership roles. So, I think that’s a good nugget to take away, is to not try to just skim by but step up, you know what I mean? Make an impression and help the people around you because that’s another thing I think is a little bit of a misunderstanding with a lot of the SOF guys, is that they’re stars; they’re all stars, but more than that, they’re teammates, and I think that’s an important distinction. (WR: Yes.) 06:42 DF: We took a little tour of the facility here, The Ship you call it, which is actually almost like a barracks. We walked through... some of the people that just got here...they’re kind of learning really fundamentals and then up to where you’re working with people that have been here for a few more weeks. It’s almost shocking to come in off the street from a hotel into this environment where it’s different than being out on the street. Maybe if you could walk us through your typical day, what your schedule is like on an average day or maybe what you did even today just to paint a picture for the people listening what daily life is like when they’re here. 07:11 WR: On a day-to-day basis, you’re looking at 04:30 wake up time, getting the house on spot and being ready to go by 04:45, being down on what we call the Grinder, formed up in mass formation by 04:50, and then we’re going to march to our Dive Motivation PT, which is a good mile, maybe a quarter mile away. And then you’re going to form up there, get dressed, get changed out for what you need to do, and you’re going to do whatever the Dive Motivators have in store for you as far as PT is concerned that day. After they release you, RDCs will pick you up, you mass back up, you march back, you eat breakfast. You are required to have at least one hygiene period a day. So you might hygiene early in the morning right after PT, but if you get in trouble, and you need to be disciplined, you might do something that causes you to sweat, but you’re not required allowed to take another shower. That’s up to the discretion of the RDCs. I could tell you that there’s been times where I put my recruits to sleep sweaty to teach them a lesson. It just depends on the RDC, of course. You eat chow three times a day, and then after that, based on what the training is, you will go into evening routine. Evening routine is just the time to kind of decompress the day and relax and get prepared for the next day. 08:25 DF: What time is that starting usually? 08:27 WR: 20:30 is evening routine, and then at 21:30, you have Taps, which is lights out, and everybody goes to sleep. Most recruits are up at like three in the morning because they want to make it to Dive Motivation PT on time. They have to make sure house is on spot, and it normally takes them a good hour to make sure the house is on spot, so they’re getting up early and getting everything ready to go. I train my recruits. “When I turn these lights on, you will be ready to go.” All I have to do is inspect so we can leave. And if it’s not done, then you’ll be late to Dive Motivation PT, and if you’re late to Dive Motivation PT, they will handle you accordingly over there. 9:02 DF: So, not a lot of free time. 09:04 WR: The only free time is maybe evening routine, and there is free time on Sundays, but that starts at a certain time. You have what’s called Holiday Routine, which is 07:00 to 13:00 on Sundays, and then you can go to the chapel if you’re a religious person or spiritual person, you go to the chapel; you can write your letters home to your families, shine your boots; get your uniforms ready to go for the week. Everything you do is about preparing for the next day. I always train my recruits, and, again, I want to be very clear that every RDC is different. Every RDC has their own way of doing business within a framework of our regulations. But I always train my recruits, “Make sure you do something today to make tomorrow easier for you.” So we’re always going to prepare for the next day the day prior. 09:51 DF: Obviously the people that are coming in, these potential NSW recruits, are already in great shape. They’ve been working out with boat crews probably for quite a while. And they’re continuing to exercise while they’re here. Do you find that there’s any drop in fitness level, or are they getting in better shape while they’re here, or what’s your impression on that? 10:07 WR: I think it just depends on how things go. I’ve never had a problem with a recruit during PT. One of my divisions was all SO, all SEAL Operator candidates, and every last one of them passed their PST on the very first time, minus one; he miscounted the laps, but other than that, they passed their PFA, which is something that has to be done in order to get out of boot camp. The PST is something for the SEAL Operator side or the SWCC side. We have to do a PFA. 10:35 DF: Can you talk a little about what the PFA is and what it’s for and what it entails? 10:39 WR: So, the PFA is what’s called our Physical Fitness Assessment. That’s the Big Navy physical fitness test. Everyone in the Navy, no matter what you do, is required to take this test. 10:49 DF: Is that done after you’ve been here or right when you get here? When is that done? 10:52 WR: There’s an initial PFA, which is done maybe three or four days after you arrive, and then you have what’s called an RDC Assessment. A RDC Assessment PFA is in the middle of boot camp, and that’s kind of to assess how the RDCs are doing to catch up the recruits that might have struggled during the baseline PFA. That’s normally not a problem with SO and SWCC candidates. And then you have the Official PFA. Now, the Official PFA has to be passed in order for you to graduate boot camp. So, you have to pass that in order to graduate boot camp, minus some other things that you must have, but in regards to physical activity, you have to pass that in order to graduate boot camp. 11:30 DF: And what are the details of that test? 11:33 WR: The PFA just requires you to do, based on your age, a certain amount of push-ups, a certain amount of sit-ups, and a mile and a half run in a certain amount of time. 11:40 DF: So, that’s something, for the guys who’ve been training for NSW, should not be an issue. 11:44 WR: Not a problem at all. 11:45 DF: So, is that something that’s ranked, or is a pass/fail thing? 11:47 WR: It’s a pass/fail, pass/fail. 11:50 DF: I know there is some concern that the fitness levels of these guys may drop while they’re here because they’ve been working it hard to try to really maximize their physical strength and their endurance. Are there facilities here for them to squeeze in an extra workout? 12:02 WR: There are no other facilities here that they can use while they’re in what’s called a Recruit Status, or here at boot camp. However, our 800 Recruits do have pull-up bars and leg lift systems so to speak within the compartments. So, when we’re not doing Active Training, when it’s Evening Routine, and it’s kind of their time, that’s when they can do their extra pull-ups if they want. That’s when they can do their extra leg lifts if they want. They can do their push-ups; they can do sit-ups; they can do whatever they choose to do physically during their Evening Routine time or any time that the RDCs are not actively training them. So if they struggle with push-ups, or they want to get more push-ups in, they definitely have the time to do that. I’m not an advocate of recruits being out of their racks after Taps. However, I do know that recruits don’t just go to sleep when we turn those lights out. So if they want to do some push-ups and different things like that as well, they can do that. That’s not necessarily the right thing to do, but they do have that time to do that. 12:58 DF: We talk a lot about the physical requirements, and that’s something that’s pretty well known in the public even, but what other specific expectations do you think that recruits should have in mind? 13:07 WR: So the one thing that recruits should expect to get here is to be told how to do everything, and that everything has a purpose. You’re going to be held accountable for everything, from the way you fold your underwear, which we call skivvies, the way you fold your T-shirts, the way you fold your uniforms, where you put things, where you stow things, how your mattress or your blanket is folded, the way your sheets are made, the way your bunk is made. All of those things are checked every single day, and to be prepared, number one, to be taught how to do that, but to have the attention to detail. I think a lot of times with SEAL and SWCC, they come in so focused on getting to the next phase of the pipeline that they don’t have the attention to detail necessary that they need to be successful here, and you have to get through this process in order to get to the next process. Outside of that, and I’ve noticed that even with the recruits in general, not just SEAL Operators but just recruits in general, a lot of them come in and have never been told that they’re wrong or never been told that they made a mistake, and that that mistake is not acceptable. So that’s normally the biggest problem we have with recruits, is telling them that they’re wrong and getting them to accept the fact that they’re wrong, and they have to adjust their mindset and their attitude to move forward. 14:24 DF: It seems that that’s a big takeaway, kind of maybe humbling yourself and not getting ahead of yourself. It might seem like basic stuff, but it’s foundational, and it’s the next step, and take it seriously. Slow down, listen to people. Do you think that life is hard here for recruits? 14:41 WR: At the beginning, very much so. At the beginning its very… 14:44 DF: Define what you... When you say “beginning,” what do you mean by that? 14:47 WR: When they first get here, boot camp is very difficult because there’s somebody immediately in your face telling you that you’re wrong. Again, have an open mind to the fact that everybody’s different. Everybody is going to lead you differently. Everybody’s going to talk to you differently. Me personally, I don’t yell at my recruits at first cause I know they don’t know. But then I train them, and once I’ve trained you, and I know you know it, now I can start yelling if I choose to do so or start disciplining you if I choose to do so about you not reaching what we call here Checkpoints. Everything that we do is a Checkpoint. Do it the way we told you to do it, but it takes a person to buy in to “it matters how I fold my T-shirt”. “It matters that my keys should be tucked into my T-shirt.” “It matters that I lock my AMB drawer,” which is the personal drawer that recruits have here that they can put their letters from home and address books and different things like that in there, their wallets that they come up with, but those drawers have to be locked at all times that they’re not actively in it, but you have to believe that that stuff matters. And as soon as you believe that it matters, boot camp is easy because now you’ll take care of it. If you don’t think it matters and you won’t take care of it, and then you’re being held accountable or singled out or yelled at or whatever the case may be on a routine basis. 16:00 DF: It strikes me, the parallels, with some of the basic stuff that the recruits are learning here with a lot of regular life stuff. You might not think that school is important when you’re in school learning algebra or whatever, but it’s learning how to learn, learning how to live, learning how to discipline yourself; attention to detail; it’s the things that, the kind of between the lines stuff that you’re really learning in this process that maybe people gloss over cause they just want to play with guns. When the 800 guys are on The Ship here, is there any way to tell them from the other recruits, or is it something just really only staff knows? 16:28 WR: When they’re in uniform, you probably only going to know if you’re staff. Most of the 800 Recruits, especially those that are really prepared, you can look at them and tell, “Okay, that’s 800 Recruit, just based on their physical attributes and the way they look.” We have a thing about 800 Recruits, 800 Recruits will not stop talking even though they’re supposed to stop talking… they’re chatty. They’re very chatty for whatever reason. I don’t know what that is, but, so you can tell them by that and just their physical attributes. 16:56 DF: You mean amongst themselves or talking back to you? 16:58 WR: No, amongst themselves. Amongst themselves, they’re very chatty. And then also too trying to get them to separate their relationship because in Special Warfare, there’s a lot of first name basis and really a lot of camaraderie and buddy-buddy regardless of pay grade because “we’re all Special Forces.” It’s not like that here, so we have to make sure you’re not going to call me by my last name like we’ve been growing up together. You’re not going to thumbs up me; you’re not going to high-five me or anything like that. You’re going do it the way I told you to do it, and then when you graduate, then we can talk about the rest of the stuff after that, so that’s one of the things as well, but normally just their physical attributes. 17:36 DF: Sometimes a recruit may drop out of this process. What are some of the common issues that you see that are causing that to happen in this part of the pipeline process? 17:43 WR: Most of the time the recruit drops out, it’s something in their medical background. I’ve had some recruits get very homesick. Some recruits just can’t adapt to what we do here because they have a mindset coming in that all they’re going to do is work out and go eat, and that’s not what we do. We we turn civilians into Sailors. That’s what we do, and the rest of it is up to them how they succeed in the pipeline for SEALs or SWCC. Maybe some physical injuries that might happen while they’re in boot camp, maybe they twist an ankle, or hearing’s messed up, or maybe their vision is messed up. And it’s tested here because no matter what they say out before they get here, if the doctors here say there’s something wrong, then that’s what we’re going to have to go with. 18:26 DF: Are they more strict here you think, the Medical? 18:29 WR: I’m not really sure. I never really get into it. We typically just kind of take care of that and just make sure the recruit is taken care of one way or another; try to build them up cause a lot of them are very disappointed when they find out that they can’t do what they joined up to do. Just try to build them up and let them know they can still have an impact in the Fleet without being a SEAL or SWCC. 18:51 DF: Are there different medical standards for different tracks through NSW, like if you want to be EOD versus SEAL, or is the standards the same, do you know? 19:00 WR: There are certain standards changes with vision. There are certain standards changes with hearing. There are different standards for SEAL Operators and SWCC versus EOD in regards to PT for the PST. There’s different standards for that, but on the medical side, I’m not sure if there’s that many differences. 19:17 DF: Your position is really key in that cultural shift between civilian life and Sailor life. A lot of the time spent before getting here is spent on physical preparation with mentors and Boat Teams or Boat Crews. Talk a little bit about what’s needed to effectively transition from a civilian life into becoming a Sailor. 19:34 WR: Well, the most important thing is is just having the right mentality, having the right attitude, being positive about what you’re getting ready to go through and understanding that you put in a lot of sacrifice to get to this point and don’t risk it over the fact that you don’t like that someone told you were incorrect, or someone’s trying to tell you a certain way to do something that you don’t necessarily agree with. Again, everything that we do has a reason and has a purpose. Even myself personally, I’ve been in 19 years, and I still fold my T-shirts the way I learned how to fold it in boot camp, which is still the same way we do it today here now that I’m training recruits. So the mental aspect is probably the biggest portion of it, just having an open mind to what you’re getting ready to get into. There are things that are going to be thrown at you. I like to tell my recruits, it’s like drinking out of a fire hydrant because we’re constantly giving it to you, and we only have eight weeks. If there’s anything you can get from your recruiters, I think they give you something that has your general orders in it, maybe something that has the Sailor’s Creed in it. Memorize those things before you get here. It’s only going to help your time here at boot camp be that much more successful because if you already know that, then that’s other time that you can spend learning something else that you might struggle with because immediately, we’re going to get right in day one, we’re going to start grilling you on that because we know that recruiters gave you that information. So, we’re going to start grilling you on it right away. 20:54 DF: What part of that process do you think a lot of the the 800 candidates trip up in, thinking that they know everything or…? 20:59 WR: Candidates slip in that process because they don’t think it matters. My all SO Division, it wasn’t until maybe week three that I had to kind of get them in the right mentality of why we do it the way we do it; why it’s important for you to be a leader; why it’s important for you to know the things that you want to do. And by the time we got to the end, they were very grateful and thankful for the information that we gave them. All they’re thinking about is the physical aspect and just getting to pre-BUD/S and BUD/S. To them a lot of times, boot camp is just a red tape portion that they have to get through, and it’s so much more than that. 21:33 DF: We touched on something before we were recording that I think is important to bring up. When these guys walk in the doors here, the people that they’re interfacing with, like yourself or whomever, they’re not all Special Forces guys. They’re not all SEALs. This isn’t a retired SEAL community here that people are coming to learn from guys that have been through it. I think that probably affects the mentality, and it’s important, I think, to speak to that a little bit. That humbling yourself is really important. You know better than anybody that’s here, and you’re not going to be. We’re all a team. Do you think that has anything to do with it? 22:02 WR: I think there’s some separation because SEALs are an Elite Force. And everybody knows that whether you’re in the Navy, outside of the Navy, everybody knows that the SEALs are the top of the line when it comes to Special Forces, and there is some separation. There’s some pride in that, and there should be, but also understanding that for SEALs, a lot of the things that they do, Regular Navy is involved in it as far as getting them to where they need to go and supporting them, whether it’s air support or on ground support, whatever the case may be, so understanding that in the team, everybody has a vital part whether you have a trident on your chest, or myself, I’m Air Warfare, you have all these different type of entities that are involved in the mission. And so I do think that some of that is they let the pride of being a SEAL kind of get in the way of understanding that. 22:49 DF: Even though they’re not even there yet. 22:50 WR: Exactly... Some of them come in with a mindset of, “I’m a SEAL,” and they need to understand you are not a SEAL. You’re not even a Sailor yet until you actually graduate boot camp. And even at that rate, you’re still not a SEAL until you go through the rest of the pipeline and do all the things that that entails. 23:09 DF: One of my big impressions from dealing with Active Operators is the the strength of character and professionalism that they have, and it seems like that this is the place where a lot of that is really built. 23:17 WR: Yes. We’re going to instill in them military bearing. We’re going to instill in them professionalism and all those things that come along with it; the ability to turn it on and turn it off. I tell my recruits there are certain times where you need to be a robot, and there are certain times where you can kind of be yourself, and we can relax. But when it’s time to turn it on, you need to be able to turn it on, and if you can’t do that, then we’re going to have it on at all times and just be a miserable time here, or we can, you know, kind of enjoy and make the most out of the process. 23:46 DF: Right. There’s a lot in the media about Hell Week, BUD/S, the strongest, the most elite physical specimens that are going to be the ones who get through this process. If you listen to other episodes, you know that it’s 70, 80% mental. What a lot of people gloss over is that the stuff that they’re learning here, they’re going to have to do it at BUD/S. They’re going to have to keep their stuff squared away. It’s not all just going to be push-ups and sand. They need to do the things that they’re learning here. It’s not like this is just throwaway knowledge. Is that correct? 24:16 WR: It’s absolutely correct. Everything we train them, they’re going to use at some point in time. If they wind up on a ship, the way we fold our T-shirts saves them room. So now rather than having two T-shirts, you’re going to have five or six T-shirts with you. Everything that we do serves a purpose, and that’s the one thing that recruits coming in should really focus in on. The mentality of accepting what we’re teaching them and knowing that they can use it not only in the compartments with their main RDCs, but they can also transition that into their Dive Motivator PTs. They can transition that into their pre-BUD/S, they can transition that into BUD/S to at least alleviate one problem that might come up while they’re in their training, or they can just focus on the physical because they know they’ve been trained by their RDCs. Of course, there’s going to be some differences in standards. There’s going to be other things that are going to be required as they move further along in training, but at least here, they know, “I was trained to put this item folded this way, put it in this spot, and that’s the only place it goes.” And if they can get that down here, then the rest of it should be easier for the most part at least transitioning to whatever they’re being told to do at their next phase of training. 25:20 DF: I think that’s really important. If you can’t prove to be trusted with handling your T-shirts, how are you going to expect to be trusted with thousands of dollars worth of weapons systems, night vision goggles, fill in the blank? You know? I think that’s important to understand. 25:33 WR: We train them that everybody’s dependent on everybody. I have a family at home, and I always tell my recruits, “My family’s dependent on you when you graduate from boot camp to save my life if it comes down to it.” Whether you’re Special Programs, whether we’re on the Fleet together because you didn’t make it for whatever reason, my family is dependent upon on you. Your family, is why you’re here, are dependent upon me or whoever your RDCs are to make sure that you’re taken care of, to make sure that you’re healthy, to make sure that you’re being cared for. Treat it=== with respect, all those different things that any parent would want for their child, we’re kind of helping each other. We’re going to do what we have to do for you, but in return, you have to pay it back. And what you can do in the pool and what you can do on the track is not paying your RDCs back for the time that they spent. You have to prove to us that we can trust you. ‘Cause if I can’t trust you here at boot camp, how can I, in my right mind, pass you through to get to the Fleet and handle more important things, whether it’s SEAL or Regular Navy. 26:26 DF: We talked a little bit about people dropping out of this process, whether it’s, you know, being homesick or injury. Is there anything else somebody can do to get themselves kicked out of here? I’m sure there is. What kind of stuff do you see that’s typical that you want to steer people clear of? 26:37 WR: There’s a lot of things we have what’s called here a SEAL’s Top Six, sexual harassment, no recruit-to-recruit contact. A lot of times, the, especially with SEALs, they come in, and they kind of know everybody that’s there for the most part ‘cause they were together at some point in time, and they want to high five, and they want to give daps or bro hugs or whatever the case may be, and that’s not tolerated here. You can’t do that. No sexual harassment obviously. You can’t abuse any drugs, and that can be as simple as a cough drop. If you go to medical and get a cough drop prescribed to you that has your name on it, you cannot give it to anybody else. That’s abusing drugs in the eyes of our Chain of Command, so you can be sent home for that. A lot of people make the mistake of trying to have that last little party before they get here, and then urinalysis comes up, and they pop for something on urinalysis, and they’re automatically kicked out cause it’s zero tolerance for drug use. Not passing that final PFA that we talked about earlier. Normally not a problem with SOs, but, again, if they miscount, it doesn’t matter how fast they ran it in; if they said they did 12, but they only did 11; you’re supposed to do 12. They just failed it. You get two times to do that, of course. They normally don’t make the same mistake twice, but not failing the PFA. And we have what’s called Battle Stations, which is our pinnacle training evolution, and you can fail that. I can’t really go into details about a station. You’ll learn about that as you come through boot camp, but if you fail that, you will be set back automatically two weeks in training, and Battle Stations is normally a week or the week of your graduation, so… 28:10 DF: Yeah, people think they might be over the hump. 28:10 WR: People are getting, they either think they’re over the hump, but also I…I always try to bring it back to the recruits’ family. Your families have already bought your tickets. Some of them are probably already on the way, now you have to make that phone call and tell them that they can’t see you, and they just wasted a trip. Or they have to rearrange their lives and get rescheduled for time off for different things like that depending on their, you know, their jobs or whatever it may be. But there’s a lot of rearranging that goes down, too, and if they just get down to the attention to detail portions that we talked about earlier, Battle Stations will be a breeze. It’s just about paying attention and locking in to finishing the goal, which is getting out of boot camp. 28:48 DF: So, if you if you were to talk to somebody, let’s say, I’m joining the Navy, and I want to be a Navy SEAL, what part of this process that you’re involved in would you highlight and say, “Make sure you do this”? 28:58 WR: Listen, humble yourself and listen. Even if you think it’s wrong, listen. Follow the instructions that are given, and allow the people that are in charge to do what they do. If they’re wrong, let them come back to you and tell you they’re wrong. If you find something that’s needs to be corrected, there’s a way to do it. There’s a tactful way to do it. Just embrace everything that’s going on, learn from it, know that you didn’t come here to make friends. You will, but you didn’t come here to make friends. The thing I tell my division the most is, “Let your light shine. If you’re a great person, you have the means to be able to pull somebody up, then let your light shine. Don’t try to hide your light because you don’t want to be called out, or you don’t want to be put in front of the camera so to speak. Just be who you are, and be the best that you can be.” 29:49 DF: What are you passionate about? What gets you up in the morning? 29:52 WR: I’m passionate about my job. I feel like as an RDC, and, again, I have to say this cause not everyone is the same, and there’s no guarantee that somebody coming in now is going to have me as an RDC, but I feel like I’m bigger than my title. I’m bigger than an RDC. I’m…to some of these recruits, I’m a father, a brother that they never had, a mentor they never had or something like that, so I’ll always keep in mind the fact that me being an RDC gives me an opportunity to change the world because if I can just touch one person, then I did my job. 30:24 DF: Appreciate you taking the time to sit down with us. 30:26 WR: No problem. Thank you for having me. DF: Find out more at, and join us again for the next NSW Podcast.
Sep 19, 2018
#12 Combat Sidestroke
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The open water can be deadly, and Navy SEALs and SWCC must master this unpredictable element to make it their ally. This episode explains NSW's secret technique: the Combat Sidestroke. More info can be found at Music Intro 00:20 The open water can be both deadly and unforgiving. Before sailors become SEALs or SWCC, they must demonstrate mastery of this punishing and unpredictable element; making it their most valuable ally. I’m Daniel Fletcher, today we speak with aquatics expert Dan Kish at the Naval Special Warfare Preparatory School. We discuss the best practices, tools and techniques used exclusively by Navy SEAL or SWCC candidates and operators, particularly the Combat Sidestroke. Let’s DIVE in. 00:53 DF: For starters, thank you for taking the time. Your expertise is super important to be able to share with as many people as possible that are trying to get successfully through this program. For starters, if you can just go ahead and spend a little bit of time talking about your role here in Naval Special Warfare, and then we can take it from there. 01:06 DK: Sounds good. My name’s Dan. I am one of the physical training leaders here at Naval Special Warfare Preparatory School, and my main point of focus is the aquatic side. So, it’s much more than just swimming. We spend a lot of time on treading, water rescue, pool comp skills. My job is to help make the candidates as comfortable and confident in the water over the eight weeks here and plan and execute all the workouts safely to the highest standard that we expect of them. 01:38 DF: The water aspect of, of kind of the initial exposure to the standards of the, the physical standards test is usually where a lot of people I think are at their weakest. At least most people have not been exposed to the level of swimming that is needed, required to be able to make it in the program or even kind of start training. So, I think that your information will be really valuable for a lot of people listening. Maybe if you could just start off with talking just a little bit about your background in aquatics. I’m guessing that you were a swimmer, or you were involved in some sort of water sports before you came into the program. 02:11 DK: So, correct. I always loved being in the water. I was that kid you couldn’t get me out of the pool, the lake growing up. I got pretty good at swimming, so I swam, you know, the aquatic kid, high school, club, college, a little bit of postgraduate swimming, so all the staff members are Division 1 swimmers, collegiate swimmers. Did some postgraduate swimming, was good, got into coaching, became successful at that, and I’ve been here since class 297, so just over five years now, and I love it. We get all walks of life from kids that have barely seen a pool, barely passed the PST to get in, to Olympic Gold Medalists and everything in between there, so all walks of life come through, and kids just want to learn, get better in the water, but water is majority of time their weakest, you know, environment to be in. We’re humans. We don’t belong in the water at all, and a lot of kids come to prep not prepped for what we’re about to do here. 03:11 DF: The focus of this episode is the Combat Sidestroke, and we’ll get to that in just a second. You mentioned a couple other areas that your focus is on, whether it’s treading water and stuff like that. Are there areas that maybe other than the Combat Sidestroke that people should maybe investigate in addition to that stroke specifically to at least kind of get themself familiar with? 03:32 DK: Absolutely. Besides just swimming the Combat Sidestroke, we swim slick, so without fins on and then with fins on. We also train freestyle almost every day, and we also swim breaststroke here, so they all are great assets to know and learn. The better you are at all the strokes, the better you’ll be at any one. We’ll even throw some butterfly just for fun in there as well, great, you know, cardio building tool, great fuel for the water, but they all serve a purpose. We swim a lot of freestyle when we start doing rescues to get to your victim, great way, you know, to increase your lung capacity there. Breaststroke, we want to learn the pull for guiding and siding purposes, the kick to help you with the tread and to learn underwater breaststroke pull outs or the most efficient way to swim underwater there. 04:19 DF: So, basically, I mean you covered almost all aspects of aquatic sports, you know, in terms of swimming styles and stuff like that. I would be hesitant to say maybe it’s worth someone’s time to really become very, very, very proficient in all of those. Obviously they’re going to be using those strokes to train at more of a fitness context and more of just kind of a development context, not necessarily they’re going to be specifically quizzed or tested in those areas. But obviously it’s helpful to know that, that’s not the only thing you’re going to be doing in the water obviously. 04:46 DK: Correct, the exit test, so in order to leave Naval Special Warfare Preparatory School, you have to do the 1,000 meter swim Combat Sidestroke under 20 minutes, which our average time is right around 17 minutes. However, we still want you to become great at all the strokes, all the skills. It’s just more tools you can add to your toolbox to help you out further down the pipeline. 05:11 DF: So, obviously we’re going to try to unpack a little bit about some of the unique I guess challenges or difficulties that people have or maybe not so unique, common difficulties people have with this specific stroke. So, if you want to kind of start in really a broad sense, maybe take 1,000-foot up view of areas that you think are common that people have a misconception or maybe a very, very, very common mistake and maybe the quick fixes for those things just as kind of a real quick touch on that area. 05:38 DK: So, Combat Sidestroke, I swam competitively for over a decade, and I didn’t even know what Combat Sidestroke was until I got into the military, and then I started realizing what the stroke was, why it was created and then how to critique and correct it to be as efficient as possible, trying to be the fastest as possible and still create that low profile while swimming Combat Sidestroke. So, a lot of the times, the first couple weeks here, and what I really need to stress is technically correct swimming, so work on perfect, pretty Combat Sidestroke. Speed will eventually come, but focus on just perfect technique starting off, trying to be as long and efficient in the water as you can. We see a lot of students or candidates that come through that have, you know, a little bit bigger and bulkier muscles. Those are not always the best for in the water, decreasing your range of motion. You always want to be as long as possible. Get your stroke count down, help you prepare for those longer, open water swims that’ll be taking place. 06:40 DF: So, is it fair to say that you, that you see a lot of people that are maybe just learning for the first time, kind of trying to “over muscle” to kind of push and pull, to put too much into it and not focus on, on taking their time and lengthening their stroke and being efficient? Is that, do you think accurate? 06:54 DK: Yes. I witnessed that today during a PST. Just because you’re taking more and more strokes, you know, you’re swimming more violent and higher turnover rates, sometimes you feel like you’re going faster, but the clock doesn’t lie. There’s a kid swimming next to him taking half as many strokes and going faster, so I see that man attitude where you want to race and compete, and you’re taking a ton more strokes, but you’re just working harder to go, you know, the same time or sometimes even slower. 07:24 DF: It doesn’t mean you’re getting anywhere faster. DK: Correct. 07:27 DF: Are there any big areas, or maybe what are some of your cues that you say to get people to kind of slow down? I would obviously think just like a running race, people try to, they go out hot, you know. Their adrenaline is pumping, they’re breathing faster, everything, you know what I mean. 07:39 DK: Absolutely, and we see that here. Over the eight weeks, we do many different workouts from short, fast, you know, high intensity sprints to longer distance, and the last couple weeks here, we focus a lot on pacing, we always have the clock facing you. You will always watch, you know, the clock when you leave, what your splits are, are you hitting your goal times, are you making the sets, but running and swimming, you’re always against the clock. You know, in the weight room, it’s weights. In the pool, you have to watch the clock to see, you know, how fast you are going. 08:13 DF: Other than kind of I would say, an excuse me for not using maybe the correct terminology, maybe strokes per minute or whatever the term is, what else do you see in terms of kind of like “sloppy” form that’s a really common theme that you’re constantly having to cue people with, you know, not to do? 08:31 DK: So, other things we see in the water, in the pool, a lot of candidates will we be swimming uphill, which is quite natural with the body position in the water. Same thing as running uphill, running uphill is a lot more energy. 08:43 DF: Now, when you say swimming uphill, can you give me a kind of what that means to you? 08:48 DK: Coaches are yelling at you like your feet are dragging on the bottom of the pool, your hips are sagging down, you are creating more drag for yourself, so running uphill is very difficult. Swimming uphill would be the same metaphor for that. To correct that, we want to try and get your legs going a little bit more, so your feet should be, you know, near or at the surface. Your hips should be at the surface as well as, you know, your whole bodyline, your head. Normally, it’s, when people are not using their legs as much or thicker candidates in the water, but this will have a direct correlation, and once we start doing buddy tows, you’re going to have that same bad body position. Now, you have to tow someone. You’re creating a significant, you know, higher amount of drag for yourself, which is, you know, stay away from swimming uphill. 09:36 DF: And is that typically a head position issue that kind of leads and the body follows it, or what is, what’s usually the culprit there? 09:44 DK: So, correct head position does play a major role for that. The top of your head will always be pointing in the direction of travel. Majority of candidates, we’ll see, you can swim really good, showing me the top of your head pointing forward, but then they go and take a breath, and they will lift their head to breathe, which will shoot that body position, you know, back uphill, which is incorrect, creating more drag. A lot of our candidates are good until they do take a breath. So, A, don’t breathe, or B, learn how to control that breath. 10:17 DF: Or get back into position. 10:19 DK: Absolutely, so snap that quick breath in. You’ll have one eye in the water, one eye out of the water, and when your mouth is above the surface, you are inhaling only. We should not be hearing you exhale and inhale when your mouth is above the surface, you know, so dump that air out right before your breath. You know, if you’re very negative in the water, keep the air in, but right before your breath, dump that air out. When your mouth is above the surface, inhale only, eyes right back down, and that’s for freestyle and for Combat Sidestroke, same body position. 10:48 DF: So, would you say that that’s probably the largest deficiency in people’s stroke whenever they arrive or really the thing you see most common is body position in terms of kind of swimming uphill like you’re speaking about and not being able to breathe very efficiently and get back into the right position? Is that the most common problem that you see? 11:08 DK: Body position plays a major role. Conditioning and speed, you know, will come along, but if you’re swimming uphill, you’re just burning wasteful energy. Another major issue we see is a timing issue, which we see candidates stop, pause or sink at some point in their stroke. We always want to move, you know, forward in the water, whether it’s Combat Sidestroke, breaststroke or freestyle. A lot of times we’ll see them move forward in their stroke and then take a breath and stop, pause, sink and then start moving forward again, stop, pause, sink. We want to always move forward in the water even during your breath, so never shut down your legs, maintain that, you know, body moving forward. Don’t, just because you’re taking a breath does mean you stop, pause or sink. 11:56 DF: So, what do you think the culprit is there? My first kind of instinct is to think that the rhythm there is not quite at least, they’re not comfortable quite in the rhythm of the stroke yet, an experience thing, or is there, are there other culprits? 12:08 DK: It’s actually difficult to do, so they will have a, you know, pull, breathe, kick, glide, pretty common pattern for Combat Sidestroke and for breaststroke. So, you obviously start with your arms, then get your breath, execute your kick and hopefully have a long glide. Now, during the breath part of that, don’t stop dead in the water, do not sink and create more drag, and, you know, you should always be moving forward. So, once again, back to the breathing, normally our candidates are good until they do take a breath and then stop in the water there. Keep your legs going, so especially with freestyle, never disengage your legs. Always keep your legs going behind you. And in Combat Sidestroke, you know, during your recovery, try and have as, the least amount of underwater recovery as possible. So, when your arms are underneath the water, try and have the least amount of resistance that you can, active streamlining. 13:03 DF: So, active streamlining, and you said something about recovery. Now you’re talking about basically getting your hands back out in front of you for the stroke again. Can you maybe go into a little bit more detail about that? You’re talking about the efficiency or the least amount of resistance, is that what you’re saying? 13:16 DK: Correct. So, for Combat Sidestroke, it was designed to be very low profile, so no white water or splashing taking place. It’s a very efficient stroke. However, just like breaststroke arms, the underwater recovery part of the stroke is underwater, which is not very efficient because you’re pushing yourself backwards when you do that. We want to over-exaggerate the underwater recovery and minimize the amount of resistance when you move your hands back out into the streamlined position. 13:49 DF: So, you’re not fighting yourself essentially. 13:51 DK: Don’t push yourself backwards at all during your strokes. 13:54 DF: Okay, okay. So, is this stroke used primarily as a test and fitness mechanism if you will, or is this stroke used operationally during mission? 14:09 DK: So, both are correct. The stroke is great to increase your overall fitness levels without banging up your body, right. Swimming is a great way, whether, whatever stroke you’re doing, increase your overall fitness with very low to no impact, right. You should be able to swim, you know, for hours, still feel good. It’s not like you’re banging up your body, high stress, high impact environment. So, when you do swim, make sure you are over-exaggerating full range of motion. You should be feeling good, feel loose in the water, so that plays a cardio, you know, fitness role in it, but operationally speaking, it was designed to be efficient, so you could be able to swim your long distances, you know, infiltrate and extract a couple miles and still carry out the mission. The low profile aspect, so when you’re swimming up to shore, you don’t have a bunch of white water splashing behind you, a bunch of noise coming in, and it is quite simple to learn and execute. We do a lot of the fine-tuning, getting dialed in here, but if you look throughout history, you know, swimming has played an important role in the history of mankind and in warfare in every century. It goes back, back in the day, but just recently with the UDTs, you look at World War II, Korea, Vietnam, there’s many aquatic stories from, you know, the greats, the Medal of Honor recipients, where if they did not have that maritime, aquatic background, we would not have heard about these stories at all. 15:39 DF: How does the Combat Sidestroke differ from the regular sidestroke? Is there glaring differences, very similar? Just maybe kind of give me some detail on that would be great. 15:48 DK: So, the common sidestroke that you see from swim lessons or, you know, at your local YMCA, where you are basically, you know, picking apples off a tree and putting them in the basket, I remember being told that when I was like three years old. Combat Sidestroke, you’re going to have a little bit more rotations, so we’re not going to be swimming flats. 16:07 DF: So, in the hips or the shoulder area? 16:10 DK: So, just like any sport, you’ll have a lot of power come from your hips and your core. Back to those common mistakes that we see from our candidates, where people swim flats, which we do not want. Swimming is not just your arms up, swimming is not just your legs down; you want to get your whole body engaged. Drive with your hips and your core, back on to streamline on your stomach. 16:35 DF: I see. Maybe, I would say there’s no glide phase of the stroke, but towards the end of the stroke, I see what you’re saying. You’re facing the bottom of the pool more than just facing the side of the pool. 16:44 DK: Correct. Your bellybutton will not point to the wall the entire time. You will be rotating, so your bellybutton will point at the wall and the bottom throughout every cycle. When you take your breath, you know, with one eye in the water, one eye out, you’ll be looking at the wall. And then once you execute your scissor kick, so your top leg will start initiating that rotation, your top leg will go forward, execute your scissor kick, and while doing that, you’re going to drive with your hips back into the streamline position. So, it should be quite fluid motion during your, you know, pull, breathe, powerful kick and glide, but we’re not swimming flat on one side the entire time. You’ll be rotating just like we do in freestyle, same thing with Combat Sidestroke. Drive with your hips and your core, full body exercise. Don’t swim flat, and then don’t over rotate either. So, we see some candidates where they want to take a big breath, and they look up to the ceiling, and then they have to spend all that time going back into the streamline position on their stomach, wasting a lot of time and over rotating onto their backs, which is what we don’t want. 17:49 DF: That’s kind of what you’re talking about, the one eye cue as opposed to your, you know, whole face and both ears out of the water, you know, kind of thing. 17:56 DK: And that plays a role with swimming uphill. If you take your head up to breathe, for your breath, you know, your hips will drop. If you over rotate on your back, you’re just wasting more time, which is unnecessary and inefficient, so we want to be as efficient as possible while swimming then. 18:12 DF: We’re looking at the PST a little bit kind of like a race even if it’s just against the clock or yourself. Is working other strokes you think really beneficial to kind of helping the Combat Sidestroke time diminish in terms of kind of water fitness if you will? That’s probably not the right term, but. 18:28 DK: Absolutely, no, absolutely. The better you are at all four strokes, the better you’ll be at any one. All those elite swimmers, if you see, you know, just a butterfly or just a backstroke, they swim all four strokes almost every day still, whether it’s, you know, just a little bit, a warm up, a cool down, you know, main set. You will always train, you know, more than just Combat Sidestroke on your good side the entire time. So, like I said, we’ll do some freestyle almost every day with, you know, give yourself challenging breathing patterns. A wonderful way to build up your lung capacity while, you know, having a little bit of elevated heart rate with freestyle. Combat Sidestroke both sides. We will train breaststroke. The first week here, we’ll break it down where we have, you know, demonstration, drills, which, drills are just bite-sized pieces of the stroke broken down, so just the kick or just the arms, you know, focusing on being as hydrodynamic and focusing on the underwater recovery aspect. So, we will focus a lot those first week or two here on drills that are just bite-sized pieces of stroke to, you know, put it all together in the long run. 19:39 DF: So, my kind of takeaway so far about kind of developing up your Combat Sidestroke ability is general comfort in the water through a variety of strokes and being in there often enough that your body’s kind of, not necessarily grown used to it, but it really has in flexibility and strength to the point where you’re comfortable enough to get the time that you need. It’s not that you need to do these crazy static breath holds or put weights on yourself or do this type of really hard plowing work so much as it is getting yourself comfortable enough that you can do the stroke properly. And I think putting that before busting your butt on the sidestroke that you’re not doing right, it seems like that kind of stuff comes even more important than your Combat Sidestroke. Is that true, or am I really kind of a little bit off there? 20:27 DK: No, that’s a good summary of what we’re talking about here, that focus on, you know, part bit by bit, and then you’ll eventually put it all together, work on that perfect technique, and then slowly start, you know, increasing the amount of time you spend in the pool. Then start watching the clock a little bit more, you know, a little bit more intense workouts, and then start watching your times drop hopefully. 20:51 DF: This is a new stroke for I would say the vast majority of people if not everybody. You know, people have probably barely been exposed to the sidestroke, the normal sidestroke we’ll call it unless they had swimming instruction, right. So, Combat Sidestroke being totally new, people I’m sure will jump on the web, or maybe if they’re lucky or smart enough to find a swim coach or team or group, ask them about it. What do you see that’s common misinformation about this specific portion of the training process? 21:20 DK: One of the worst ones that I witness online, and all the staff see it, too, is when swimming Combat Sidestroke, your lead arm or the arm that always, you know, your bottom arm, so if you’re swimming on your right side, your right hand, just like a breaststroke pull, the right hand should stay out in front of your body. You’re not pulling that arm all the way down to your hips and then pushing yourself backwards almost with the underwater recovery portion. So, your lead arm, or you’re swimming on your right side, your right hand will always be out in front of your chest, so a small range of motion. You’re not getting a lot out of the arm, so during your pull and your breath, your hand will start coming towards your chest, and then when you execute your kick and your glide, push it back in a streamline. But do not pull that lead arm all the way down to your hip, stop in the water and then all that underwater recovery, it’s going to start pushing you the opposite way of which you want to be traveling. 22:19 DF: And so, that’s something that you see as kind of maybe a piece of common misinformation? You know what, honestly, I think with the term even sidestroke, it seems like that lead hand, is that what you call it… (DK: Lead arm.) Your lead arm is doing a little bit more of kind of a tugging crawl. It’s not doing a full stroke. It’s kind of there almost treading water, pulling you forward kind of consistently, not, not a full stroke so to speak. It’s more of a repetitive kind of a crawl, I guess is maybe not the right word. 22:47 DK: Correct, it’s a smaller range of motion out in front of your body, which is a sculling motion, so keeping your hand, you know, you’re not going to get a lot of power out of it, similar to a breaststroke pull, just enough to pick your head up for your breath and shoot back down or streamline. 23:00 DF: Yeah, more of kind of a corkscrew and not a full shoulder stroke all the way to your side. I see what you’re saying. 23:06 DK: But that also plays a role once we start introducing buddy tows or water rescues. You’re going to do that same exact motion with that lead arm the entire time. So, it’s still a drill that we’ll do here that will also be used down the pipeline with water rescues. So, it plays a role, and it reduces the amount of time of underwater recovery and the stroke, which should make you more efficient, less drag increasing speed there. 23:33 DF: So, for people, for the folks at home, it would be great to see this visually. You’re showing me more of a, of a rotation past the elbow, a circular rotation as opposed to a full stroke. It’s kind of a constant, more of a rotation as opposed to a stroke. That does make a lot more sense, to be able to keeping you from having more of a cycle in the stroke and keeping you moving forward as opposed to that pause that you’re talking about earlier as a problem. 23:59 DF: There’s a lot of talk about technique, and that’s also in the kind of judging standards for the PST, whether it’s pull-ups, pushups, clean reps. Is there anything for people testing themselves in this process to be aware of in terms of technique that will get them kind of a, red flagged, or, “This lap doesn’t count,” or anything like that they need to be aware of? 24:22 DK: Yes, so when we do our testing here, your wrists will always be in the water. So, the whole point of Combat Sidestroke is to have that low profile, where we’re not taking, you know, freestyle strokes with your arms flying all over the place. So, maintaining that low profile of keeping, you know, your wrists or hands in the water at all times. So, if we start seeing the hands come out, you know, you’ll be warned strictly once by an instructor, staff member, and if it happens again, you’ll be pulled from the test. So, that’s one of our criteria as well as never touching the bottom of the pool while we swim. You know, if you take a break, you know, 500-yard swim, operationally speaking, it’s going to be taking place in the ocean. There’s no, there’s no wall or floor to stop and take a break, so never touch the bottom of the pool when you’re swimming, and don’t spend time on the walls. So, when you do practice in the standard 25-yard pool, spend as little to no time on the walls as you can. 25:21 DF: When you’re tested here, what apparatus is used in terms on person? 25:27 DK: The initial entrance PST, you have to swim your 500-yard swim, which can be swum Combat Sidestroke, breaststroke or basic sidestroke, and that has to take place under 12:30 in order to get into our program. You’ll be wearing tri shorts with the, you know, the traditional UDT shorts. 25:49 DF: So, you’re talking basically like swim trunks, spandex, kind of set up? 25:51 DK: Yes, not a lot of drag. They’re not beach board shorts, which are good for training, actually… (DF: Almost like a running short, kind of.) Correct, with a standard dive mask on, so covering the nose. During the exit test, you will have the same swim trunks, a dive mask, but now you’ll be having fins and booties on, so rubber booties around your feet, your fins over that, your dive fins over that, and you’ll be executing 1,000-meter Combat Sidestroke under 20 minutes. 17 minutes is our average, so you should be crushing that. You should be able to float, you know, a 17-minute 1,000-meter swim no problem before you leave here. 26:32 DF: And that’s mask as well there? 26:34 DK: With your mask on. 26:35 DF: Okay. Well, great. I’ll let you kind of, kind of summarize and give us the, you know, you have 15 seconds to give somebody the important pointers of the Combat Sidestroke and then, you know, water comfort in general. I think we’ve covered just about all of it. I think it’s worth it kind of giving you a moment to kind of wrap up what you think is kind of key big points. 26:46 DK: Find a pool, get in and swim, try and join a swim team or a water polo club, get with your friends, get in the water, spend as much time in the water as you can, and come to prep with a good base or foundation that we can build on. 27:01 DF: Well, Dan, thank you so much. Where can people find out more about the specific standards for Combat Sidestroke and any other details they might want to about this topic? 27:08 DK: They can go to SEALSWCC.COM, wonderful illustrations, pictures and descriptions about how to swim Combat Sidestroke and what to expect here at Naval Special Warfare Preparatory School. 27:18 DF: Great, Dan. Thank you so much for your time and all the great information. 27:20 DK: Any time.
Sep 04, 2018
#11 Navy SEAL Nutrition
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Hydration and blood sugar are crucial during intense physical training. Our staff nutrition expert explains how a solid eating plan may be the key to avoid training failure. For more go to 00:00:03 The only easy day was yesterday. (Intro) 00:00:22 DF Intro: What we put in our bodies affects everything. Today we sit down to talk with a Navy SEAL and SWCC nutritionist. You’ll hear from my colleague, Angie Giovannini as she speaks with Justin Robinson about the importance of nutrition during and after training. 00:00:38 AG: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us a little bit about a really important pillar of training, which is nutrition. If we could just start out with you giving us a little bit of your background and how that fits into your work here at Naval Special Warfare. That would be really helpful. 00:00:52 JR: Great, well I’m happy to be here, too. I’ve been working at this Center, AKA the schoolhouse, for the last two and a half years. So, I started in June of 2015. Before that, was teaching college for a year, was in a similar position to this with an Army unit for a couple weeks before the government that had some cuts that came down, so it’s nice to be back into that system. Prior to that, I worked in professional baseball. I did a dual undergraduate in kinesiology and nutrition, and then my master’s degree is in kinesiology as well. I am a registered dietician and board certified specialist in sports dietetics, which I know is a mouthful, but…it’s the sports nutrition credential for dieticians. 00:01:38 AG: And so what drew you to Naval Special Warfare? How does that all fit in here? 00:01:41 JR: Really just working with people who are highly motivated. I’ve done the general training. I’ve done the personal training, I’ve done the general nutrition counseling, worked in the hospitals, and that’s great. You can make an impact, but I feel I’m at my best when I’m working with people who are highly motivated, people who will push me to do more research, to read more articles so I can come back to them and provide them with resources and information that will improve their careers, try to add some longevity to their careers. So, that’s probably the most, is highly, highly motivated population. 00:02:17 AG: And so, just to start out, let’s talk about how important nutrition is. Why is this something we’re even talking about today? 00:02:23 JR: Great question. Everybody’s got to eat. I look at it this way, that nutrition won’t be necessarily the difference maker. Having a solid nutrition program will not make you make it through this training pipeline. However, poor nutrition can be the reason that you don’t make it. So, we definitely see early on, in the early parts of phase and early parts of training when the intensity level is very high, we see low blood sugar or hypoglycemia. We see dehydration, we see heat injuries, and so, the individuals coming through the pipeline, the students who aren’t hydrating, who aren’t fueling high enough are going to get that low blood sugar, and it doesn’t matter how motivated you are, how fit you are, how strong you are, if you have low blood sugar, you can’t perform. And so, I like to say that it won’t be the reason you make it through, but it absolutely can be the reason that you don’t, so I want to eliminate that. 00:03:19 AG: Okay, on the flipside, there’s certain diets and certain eating choices that you make that can make you perform at your best… (JR: Absolutely) So, what are some things that you would recommend? 00:03:31 JR: So, it’s funny because especially now with so many different diet plans being very popular, it’s almost like a dichotomy. You have the vegans over here saying that plant-based is the only way to eat, and it makes you healthy, etc., etc. And on the other side, you have more of the carnivores, whole 30, Paleo and even the ketogenic crowd, who’s saying, “No, no, no, this is the only way to eat.” And so, as part bystander looking, trying to sort through the research, my goal is to try to find those common denominators. Why can a plant-based, meat-free vegan diet work for somebody, and likewise, why can an incredibly high fat, low carbohydrate diet also work? So, what are those common denominators? So, to answer your question better, I believe those common denominators are eating real food. You can call it clean eating, which has a very loose definition, but my definition of clean eating is real foods – so foods that don’t come in packages, food that’s not processed. If you do have food that comes in a package, the product over here that has five ingredients is probably better than the one over here that has 20. If you don’t like to cook – and here’s my first piece of advice – if you don’t like to cook, learn, learn how to do something other than cereal, macaroni and cheese and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, learn how to do things like overnight oats. Learn how to cook some meats or some eggs because I feel that calorie for calorie, when you create something in your kitchen, it’s going to be healthier than it would be from a restaurant or a fast food restaurant, so clean eating. Try to eliminate added sugars, try to eliminate as much processed food as you can; would be those common denominators. 00:05:10 AG: And how do you see nutrition fitting in to the bigger picture of the fitness plan? I know there’s some pillars that you guys look at as a whole, as a big picture. 00:05:19 JR: I would say for longevity. In some respects, it’s similar to baseball. When you work with baseball players, and they play 162 games, and in my opinion, my role there wasn’t necessarily to make somebody better for one game, but it was to make that person just as good on game 162 or just as strong, just as fit as they were on game one or in spring training. So, looking at this training pipeline here. If you just look at an hour of what the students do, a lot of really fit people, a lot of strong athletes say, “I could do that.” Say, “All right, yeah, you maybe could do a log PT sessions, but could you do log PT after a 4-mile run in the sand, knowing that you have a 2-mile swim coming up, knowing that you’re going to get four hours of sleep, wake up and you do the whole thing again tomorrow, wet and sandy?” So, it’s about that longevity, sustainability and just trying to have those good foods more for that endurance and more for the long haul, the 21 weeks all the way up to a year and a half of training, depending on which pipeline you’re going through. So that’s what it is. It’s about the endurance factor. 00:06:27 AG: So, say I’m just considering for the first time going, you know, into the SEALs or the SWCC team. What would be the first steps you would suggest I take in reconsidering my diet? 00:06:40 JR: I think the most important factor is the right diet plan for the right part of the training program. So that’s what I really like to hone in on for my education piece is that what you’re doing early on in training will differ from when you get to qualification training, and that’ll differ from when you get to the teams as an operator. So, finding the right overall diet plan, I feel, is that first step. So, if you’re looking at some of the trendy diets as I mentioned – I’m not getting paid by anybody to say anything – so I don’t feel that a ketogenic or Paleo diet might be appropriate for an incoming student, whereas it may have application for operators or for qualification training students. So, getting enough calories I think is going to be the number one point. Getting enough carbohydrates, getting enough hydration, getting enough healthy fats, because it is very intense. So, I’d say that making sure that you’re feeding your body enough total energy. The second component to that would be to get your total weight and your body composition in check before getting here, because once you get to Prep, or once you get to Coronado, that’s not the place to try to gain that last ten pounds that you know you need to gain, or try to lose that last ten or fifteen pounds. So get your body composition where it needs to be. 00:07:58 AG: Is there like a metric or...? 00:08:00 JR: We don’t give hard numbers. So I can say that where we see the fewest amount of injuries is in that 10 to 15 percent body fat range. Typically, if incoming students are too low, so 7, 8 percent really fit athletes, then they have trouble keeping weight on, or maybe their endurance suffers. On the other end of that spectrum, if somebody’s coming in at 18, 19, 20 percent body fat, then they’re probably carrying around too much weight on their frame. So, 10 to 15 would be that range. But I would say we, the metrics we look at would be more of an obstacle course type of output. So how are you doing with body weight push ups? How’s your 4-mile run? How are your pull-ups? And if your run is suffering, but you’re really, really strong in the gym, well, then maybe you need to lose a little bit of weight. Likewise, if you’re a very, very fast, strong runner, but you can’t do that many pull-ups, then maybe you actually need to increase upper body strength. So it’s, I apologize, I can’t give you all that hard answer. I know, everybody loves numbers, and I’m sure there’s a lot of number geeks out there like me, but I’d say that 10 to 15 percent range. 00:09:07 AG: Okay, so let’s, let’s take it down to the most basic, you know, I wake up in the morning, I decide I want to go into Special Warfare. I go downstairs, I look at my kitchen. What do, you get to be there next to me, pointing out different things that I need to change? What do you think some of the most common changes would be? 00:09:26 JR: So, I’d say one of the first things would be to get rid of the breakfast cereal and the Pop Tarts. So sorry, no Cinnamon Toast Crunch. But looking again at whole foods, and if you really can’t think of anything else, think carb, fat, protein, fruit, vegetable. Just get in the kitchen, try to find something that looks like a carbohydrate, a protein and a fat. Put that on your plate. Try to get a fruit or a vegetable, try to get some color. So, eggs are fine. I know for about 30 years, we had the low-fat guidelines and low cholesterol, and we’re finding out now that that’s not as true as you once thought. So scramble some eggs would be fine; throw some spinach in there. If you want some breakfast meat, I would suggest ones that say ‘nitrate-free’ or ‘no nitrates added’ or uncured. So some uncured bacon, some eggs, some spinach, and then your carbohydrate, which could come from oatmeal or fruit. So, nothing too complex, carb, fat, protein, color, fruit or vegetable, and do your best to eliminate things that come in packages. 00:10:28 AG: What do you think of those categories? What do you think people get the most confused about? I mean, you know, you say carbohydrate – that could mean a lot of things. 00:10:35 JR: Is ‘all of them’ an answer? I think, I think we get confused, and I’ll try to hit on each of these very briefly, but I think we get confused on protein. So, with protein, we know that athletes or incoming students have high caloric needs, high protein needs, but that doesn’t mean that they need to fill their plates with protein. So, I like to say think of your plate for an entire day, your breakfast, your lunch, your dinner, your snacks, and about a third of that should be protein. If you get too much more than that, it’s not going to shut down your kidneys, but then you’re probably not getting enough of the other quality nutrients like carbs and fat. With fat, the biggest thing there is – again, we thought for so long that fat kind of makes you fat, but now we understand that it’s a great fuel – that the healthy fats, the Omega 3 fats that are in fish and chia seed and flaxseed and walnuts, have a strong anti-inflammatory effect on the body. So that would probably be the most controversial, is fat. And then carbohydrate – almost as controversial, but you, again, I think with a very, very high-energy output, a high caloric output, you need carbohydrates to fuel that. Again, once you get to a certain part of the training pipeline, or if your goal is to reduce weight, then we can modify carbs a little bit and tweak them down, but if you’re going into this pipeline on a low carb diet, you’re probably not going to have the energy to make it through. 00:11:58 AG: So, sugar is something that comes up a lot now. It seems like that’s under attack the most, and it appears that there’s science behind that, but would you agree? 00:12:06 JR: I would, and I would say we need to specify, though, between naturally occurring sugars and added sugars and then further specify between athletes and non-athletes. So, if you’re a non-athlete, then absolutely limit total sugar and especially added sugar. If you’re an athlete, I wouldn’t worry so much about naturally occurring sugars in fruits, for example. They’re a healthy carbohydrate. I would do your best to limit added sugars, which would be, some of them are very plain to see, like Skittles are all sugar, Fruit Loops are all sugar, but then there’s added sugars in products like yogurt and granola bars, and then there’s some of the, I guess you could call it a ‘hidden sugar’ in a product like sports drinks. So, if you are going to consume those added sugars, make sure that it’s within that 30-minute window around an exercise session because that’s when your body can use them up. So, 30 minutes before, during or 30 minutes after, but a sports drink is not the beverage of choice on a Saturday afternoon on a recovery day when you’re just sitting around the house. 00:13:11 AG: So, recover. (JR: YES!) That’s a topic that I definitely want to talk about. How, how do we recover best, most efficiently? Is it supplements? Is it food? What is the magic formula? 00:13:24 JR: Top priority I would say is sleep. I realize it’s not necessarily a nutritional issue, but most 18 to 22 year olds likely don’t sleep enough, and, you know, it’s funny; a quick story. When I was in college, my roommate on my way to gym would always say, “Oh, you’re going to go do some bodybuilding,” and actually I’d say, “No, I’m going to do some body breaking down. I’ll do my bodybuilding later on tonight when I sleep.” And so, that approach of that you recover when you sleep, it just kind of switches the mindset a little bit. So even before I focus on nutrition, if I see somebody who’s, who has poor sleep or is only sleeping four or five hours a night, I will focus on that. And then maybe we’ll have a team approach to see what we could tweak on that, but drinking the right recovery shake or eating the right foods is, has a lesser impact than something like sleep or potentially just taking off a day here and there. So listening to your body, knowing that there might be some days when you might need to skip a session just so you could foam roll and stretch and do some of those topics that I’m sure you’ve talked about on some of the other podcasts. But to hit the nutrition standpoint, sleep number one, proper mobility exercises, two, three, I’d say hydration. So, we’re getting into the nutrition aspects, hydration, because when you are breaking down muscle tissue, when you’re working out muscle glycogen, you’re also burning through water. And so, when we replace that muscle glycogen or the storage form of energy in the body, we need water to go along with it, so I’d say hydration one. And then, the rules aren’t really that different, the carbs, the fats, the proteins. I try to make things simple, so the old-school theory was I need carbs before a workout and protein after a workout, and there’s some truth to that. I try to make it a little bit easier and say get a combination of carbs and protein before and get a combination of carbs and protein after. And then, in your later meals, maybe in between your workouts, that’s where you maybe have a slight emphasis on the healthy fats, cause fats do digest rather slowly. So, a high-fat meal an hour before a run is probably not the best idea, but a high-fat meal two or three hours before, or two or three hours after is a great idea. 00:15:44 AG: So, you don’t, you don’t think protein powder is the answer? Cause it seems like that is pushed on us a lot. 00:15:50 JR: I’ll give you two responses to that. I think that in general, protein powders and shakes and bars are convenience foods, so, yes, they can be part of an overall training program for an athlete, and they can be beneficial. But I would still focus on whole foods first. Having said that, the other part to that, the other caveat is our supplement policy, which I know we’ll, we’ll get into a little bit. So, most protein powders would not be permitted for students going through the training pipeline. So my short answer to that is, try to do your best to train like you will when you get here. Create a similar environment for you now so that when you get to Prep, when you get to Coronado, when you get out to the teams, you know what to expect, and your body knows what to expect. 00:16:40 AG: Well, let’s just dive in then, supplements. 00:16:42 JR: So, supplements. I’ll start off with the letter of the law so to speak. The supplement policy only permits foods that say ‘nutrition’ facts versus foods that say ‘supplement facts’. So, anything on the back of a food label is going to typically say nutrition facts, drug facts or supplement facts. Anything that is a nutrition fact or drug fact is regulated by the FDA, the Food and Drug Administration. Anything that says supplement facts is not regulated, so no supplements are regulated in the United States. An act that came out in 1994 deregulated supplements, meaning that I could put – and I’m using an extreme case here, but it’s possible – I could put steroids in my protein powder and sell it, and somebody starts taking it, like, “Man, this protein powder’s really working,” and it’s, “Well, yeah, it’s not the protein in there. It’s the contaminated steroids.” And, so you hear of collegiate athletes and pro athletes testing positive, and they’ll blame it on a supplement because they probably took a supplement, they allegedly took a supplement that was not regulated and not properly tested. So, our supplement policy here is it must say ‘nutrition facts’, one, it must also be a single serving size. So we do believe that students need additional calories, additional carbs, fat and protein, so having a bottle of protein shake is fine. Having a protein bar is fine because that’s a single serving. The other component to our supplement policy is no energy drinks. We really want to do our best to limit caffeine, especially if you’re consuming a pre-workout, and as we just said maybe contaminated with amphetamines or the amount of caffeine listed may be different from what’s actually inside of the product. So it’s very easy to over-consume caffeine or amphetamine types of substances, which will affect heart rate, which will affect your body’s ability to regulate your temperature. And as I said, our students working out here are already at a high risk for dehydration and heat illness. So, it’s a very strict policy to be honest, but it’s also a very black and white supplement policy. For any students coming through who maybe do need a pill, a powder, for example, maybe someone who’s had a history of stress fractures and needs vitamin D or calcium, that has to be approved by a Navy medical provider. So, you can take things like fish oils, calcium, vitamin D, multivitamins if a Navy doctor says yes, for whatever reason this is what you need. So, my advice to students is train with food, cause like I said, I wouldn’t want, you know, the placebo effect to kick in, and you’re taking something that maybe is legit, it’s clean, it’s not going to make you test positive, but when you get here, you don’t have that anymore, and it’s like taking away the binky, you know. Or, and it’s such a mentally demanding environment here that I wouldn’t want that lack of a placebo effect, or I wouldn’t want you to take that away and think, “Oh, I need my multivitamin,” or, “I need my protein powder in order to recover properly.” It’s not physically necessary, so kind of get used to that now would be some of my advice. 00:20:05 AG: Yeah, that’s huge. Those are some very important takeaways, so nothing that says supplemental info on the label, train with whole foods, and pretty much, you know, do your best to eat vitamins in the food format, not in the pill format. 00:20:19 JR: Precisely, and if you need those extra calories, and you want convenience food, it’s fine to have the bottled protein shake, or some of the energy bars or protein bars. Again, going back to the clean eating, when you’re searching through the different ones, don’t necessarily just go for the one that has the most protein as a lot of us do, but maybe try to find the ones that have a grass-fed protein that’s a little cleaner. Try to find ones that don’t have artificial sugars, artificial colors, artificial flavors. So again, that fewer ingredients still applies to the bottle protein and the bars. 00:21:51 AG: So, while we’re talking about the labels, there’s a lot of words on labels that are hard to understand. Are there a few that you would say that are just no, absolute no’s? I remember partially hydrogenated soybean oil being something that’s pretty bad, or there are like three things that you just say no, no, no? 00:21:09 JR: Great question, and partially hydrogenated oils would be high up on that list. I would say anything that has a color or a number associated with it. So, you know, Red 5, Blue 4, any of these different artificial colors. So that would be the first thing. And I like to say that if a fifth grader could not pronounce it, it probably shouldn’t be there. So polysorbate 80, and sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate, and some of those ones that, yes, if you’re a college chemical engineer chemistry student, you know what those mean, but if a fifth grader can’t pronounce it, you probably shouldn’t put it into your body. 00:21:48 AG: Nice, I like that rule a lot. So, when you look at the top part of the label, you know, percentages of everything, is there any sort of rule of, you know, not over this amount of sugar in one serving size or something like that that you would say is a rule of thumb? 00:22:03 JR: Another awesome question. And I would say when it comes to the percentages, my rule is to ignore those, because those percentages are based on a 2,000-calorie diet. And I would say that most of the students coming through the pipeline here need at least double, and sometimes even triple those amounts. So, early on --- and to throw the calories thing out there, some of the numbers – early on in training, students here are burning 5 to 6 thousand calories per day, and during Hell Week or during the Tour, that number goes up to 10 to 12 thousand calories per day. So, looking at the percentages and thinking that you need a 2,000-calorie diet, you’re going to be incredibly under-fueled for this training environment. So, I, I like to look at the ingredients. My other rule – ignore the percentages. I actually get away from the macros, the grams of carbohydrate, fat and protein to be honest, and I go straight to the ingredient list. The ingredient list is listed from largest amount of that food to the least, highest to least in terms of its weight. So, if you’re looking at a product, a bar, and brown rice syrup is the first ingredient on that energy bar, that means – which is a sugar – that means there’s more added sugar in that bar than anything else, whereas another bar over here, the first two ingredients may be cashews and dates. And yes, dates have sugar, but they’re a natural sugar. So, that would be my rule of thumb, is ignore the whole top part of that label, go to the ingredient list, look for things as we said that a fifth grader can’t pronounce, try to find the products that have the fewest number of ingredients, and then try to find the ones that don’t sound like artificial or added sugars. 00:23:48 AG: Okay, so, you know, a lot of people when they turn 18 are shopping for the first time, and that is going to be a lot of people that you’re seeing here. Do you have advice for someone as they walk into the grocery store to do the right thing? 00:24:02 JR: So, you always hear the tip of, ‘well, stick to the perimeter’, and I believe in that to an extent. However, there’s a lot of frozen foods in the middle, a lot of frozen vegetables and frozen fruit to make smoothies, in the center aisles that’s really healthy food. So you’ll hear that one a lot, and there’s some truth to it. The best advice I could have is it starts before you get to the grocery store, and that’s to make a plan. We talk about with operators here you have to pay attention to detail, so you have to be very detail-oriented thought process. So I say make, make a menu for the week, and you don’t have to make a menu of breakfast, lunch and dinner and snacks. The easiest way to do it would be to make a menu for five days, just for dinner. So, here are my dinners for the week, and I’m going to plan to have leftovers one night, and I’m going to plan to eat out one night, and then maybe my lunch is going to be my leftovers from the night before. So, make that five meal, week-long menu, and then see what ingredients you need, and use that to create your shopping list. Cause otherwise, I think we’ll have a tendency to buy the exact same things every single time we go through the grocery story, okay, we’ll get milk, we’ll get bread, we’ll get a thing of lettuce, and then we’ll go home that day, and we’ll make a salad, and then the next Sunday, we’ll open up the bottom drawer, and that lettuce is wilted, and you’re wasting money. So, I know at 18, budget is a concern, and so if you plan to do things like the salads and your fishes and your fresh meats early in the week, then you can plan to use your frozen foods, frozen vegetables later in the week. 00:25:40 AG: So, we were talking about all these things that are so good for you. One of my personal favorite expressions in this community is, “Work hard, play hard,” which indicates a certain amount of consumption of other things outside of training. What, what are your suggestions on managing that? I mean, you’re going to go have fun, you’re going to drink, you know, you’re going to eat junk food. What do you do when that occurs? How do you get, how do you recover from that, you know? 00:26:07 JR: Yeah, you’re absolutely right, “Work hard, play hard”. Another quote in this community is, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.” So I know where you’re coming from with that thought process. So, I’m a big fan of the 80/20 rule, which you may have heard before, where if you focus on healthy eating 80 percent of the time, then that other 20 percent you can have the junk food and go out and enjoy it. So, within that, I’ll say two things: one, depending on your personal goals, you may need to adjust that. If you struggle with losing that last five to ten pounds that you know you need to lose cause you want to get that 4-mile run time down, you may need to be on a 90/10 type of diet. And then when you get to a certain point, you can go a little bit back towards 80/20. So, I’ll say this, on the second part of that is, eat what you like. I always tell people that the double fudge brownie, a small portion is better than an entire tray of low-fat, sugar-free brownies, alright. So, make, satisfy yourself, and what I usually tell the students and the operators here is lump all your junk food. So your fast food, your desserts, your alcohol, lump that all into the 20 percent as well. So, if you, if you like your double IPAs and your wine, then you go for that…(AG: eat a salad) And a salad! That’s the exact, exactly just like that. So do what you like, just try to control, think about a week-long process of, “All right, where’s my junk food, where’s my booze, where’s my fast food, and, you know, how am I going to manage that all into my 20 percent?” 00:27:46 AG: And not everyone’s, you know, do you have advice for someone who, they didn’t eat a salad, they got drunk, and they had a cheeseburger, and then they’re feeling bad about that? It’s like what, what do you suggest to get back on the wagon again, to get back in the mindset? 00:28:00 JR: Great question, and it’s all about establishing healthy habits. So, if you have the habit of drinking a lot and very frequently, then you’re probably also going to have the habit of going out and eating the cheeseburgers, or the pizza, or the tacos late night. We’re in San Diego, so it’s, it’s California burritos here. I know it, I understand it. So I would say just getting back into that routine the next day, of, “All right, yesterday was yesterday, today’s today, and I need to get back into my fitness routine.” It’s funny when you read about habits that people who are more fit, people who exercise more, you know, people who make their bed, if you’ve heard that from one of our former leaders here. When you make your bed in the morning, that everything else just trickles down. 00:28:48 AG: Start the day doing something that’s productive so that the rest of the day follows from there. (JR: Exactly, exactly) Is there, is there a Navy SEAL and SWCC equivalent of making your bed first thing in the morning? Is there a nutrition equivalent of that? 00:29:00 JR: Oh, man, that’s a good, that’s a very fair question. I would say drinking water. I think we, the first thing we typically do in the morning is we go to the bathroom, and we wake up dehydrated. So I’d say start the day hydrated. There it is, start the day hydrated. Your brain cells need water, your muscle cells and so you can think more clearly, you can listen to your body a little bit more clearly in terms of your hunger and satiety when you are hydrated. 00:29:27 AG: That’s really interesting because I’d say a very large percentage of us start the day with coffee, a diuretic essentially, so maybe like chug a glass of water before you have that coffee? [JR: Exactly.] All right, I like that. So, we’ve, we’ve gone, you know, big picture down to some of the, the smaller, sweat the small stuff kind of details of this. Let’s bring it back to the plan. If I’m looking at this for the first time, and I’m trying to map out how I’m going to attack, you know, my journey to the Special Warfare community, what would you recommend I look at first and then, you know, how to map it out? 00:30:07 JR: So, the first step would be some form of self-assessment, and I think the easiest thing you can do is just write down what you eat and what you drink, because I feel that we are in autopilot when it comes to nutrition most of the day, that we don’t realize we’re grabbing this snack or grabbing that snack, or at the end of the day, we don’t realize that we maybe over consumed on this product, maybe under-consumed on this product or under-consumed water. So, I’d say that first step is just the self-assessment, the awareness of, “Alright, what am I actually putting into my body?” Cause you can go online and download a diet program, but it may not be specific to you. “What are one to three aspects I can focus on today or tomorrow morning that will improve what I do?” It might be drinking more water, it might be not skipping a meal. There’s 100 different things we could look at, but the self-awareness is probably that first step. 00:31:01 AG: How often do you find that people are surprised once they do start tracking? I’d imagine it’s a very high percentage. 00:31:08 JR: Very high percentage, yeah, 9 out of 10. In fact, there’s some studies, this is more on the weight loss side, but just simply tracking their calories and not having any input from a dietician, that alone, people lose weight. So, you can become more fit simply by becoming more aware, as I said, of what you’re putting into your body or what you’re not putting into your body. 00:31:29 AG: That indicates a lot of mindless activity going on, so it’s all about mindfulness… (JR: Exactly, yes) Well, I know one of the things that you wanted to make sure we addressed is, you know, there’s, there’s a plethora of information out there. There’s a lot of data, there’s a lot of research, there’s a lot of websites and apps, and you, you know, your goal is to make sure that people have a simple, have simple explanations and ways of attacking their health and nutrition. What would you kind of dispel it down to for some takeaways? 00:32:02 JR: Great question, and we touched on this when we were discussing protein a little bit, but if you think about that big plate, again, your breakfast, your lunch, your dinner, all your snacks, and about a third of that plate should be protein. Well, about another third of that should be vegetables, and so I would say that most Americans, including athletes, including Naval Special Warfare operators, don’t consume enough vegetables. So make a third of that plate vegetables. And then make the other third of that plate your carbohydrates, your starches, your starchy vegetables. So, potatoes are a starch, peas, corn and carrots are starches, not vegetables. And just kind of think about that third, third and third with your healthy fats spread around. And then if you need to gain weight or lose weight, we can modify that a little bit. If your goal is to gain weight, maybe the carbohydrates is a little bit bigger portion. If you need to lose weight, maybe the vegetables becomes a little bit bigger portion. But that would be a great starting place, is thinking about, again, what you’re putting into your body, what foods are going on that plate and just having an honest, you know, gut check moment of, “All right, well, what does my plate look like today? What is that pie graph look like?” And then, “What are some steps I can take to make sure that I tweak that pie chart to look a little bit more like that one-third, one-third, one-third?” I’d say probably most of the students, we think about half of it is probably the protein, and about another third is our starches, and then maybe that last little sliver is our vegetables. 00:33:33 AG: Are there any trends? I know you said that it’s an individual thing, and then everybody at every stage along the training process and wherever they are in life has to look at it, but are there any trends that are just ridiculous that right now? You know, it changes every year, but… 00:33:49 JR: It does. So, again, what is appropriate for somebody who is diabetic or somebody who’s overweight or even somebody who is a Special Operations Forces operator, may not be appropriate for a student. So, if I’m looking at something like intermittent fasting, for example, which is a very popular trend, where it’s eight hours of eating and 16 hours of not eating, I would say that is not appropriate for a student coming into this pipeline because you’re just going to be grossly under-fueled. When you get to a point in your career where you maybe will have to go out on a three-day hump, and you don’t have access to food, well, then maybe use some intermittent fasting along your training pipeline to get your body used to not eating would be absolutely appropriate. But when you get to Prep, when you get to Coronado, you’re going to get three squares a day, and during certain parts, you’ll get that forth meal or snack, so get used to that regiment. Feed your body, because you’re going to need to burn through those calories. So, that would, that would be the one right now that I would say would not be appropriate for students coming in. 00:34:54 AG: So, hydration is important. We understand that. I think that’s widely known and maybe something we can all focus on more, but is there a certain amount that we should be focusing on, is it a percentage of body weight? How do you look at that? 00:35:08 JR: Yes, exactly, and we like to say get at bare minimum half your body weight in ounces, and so that’s if you have a low training day, and you’re not really sweating or burning a lot, but that can go all the way up to three-quarters of your body weight. And for incredibly intense days or for those of you who are in the Midwest or the east coast, where it’s really hot and humid, then maybe even your body weight, in ounces. So, if you’re 200 pounds, you should be drinking about 100 ounces of fluids per day. And it is definitely a relative amount. You know, there are people who will say, “Well, you should drink eight glasses,” some people say you should drink a gallon. Well, a gallon is 128 ounces, so for most 180 to 200-pound students coming in, that’s probably a pretty good range, a good estimate. I would also say we should talk about electrolytes and the sodium and the potassium, and that if it is hot and humid, you need to make sure you’re getting some form of essentially salt into that water. And it might be water and salty food; it could be a sports drink. Some people will talk about hyponatremia, which is too little sodium in the blood. We don’t see that here. In my two and a half years here and in talking to the medical providers who’ve been here long, longer than I have, I don’t know that we’ve seen any cases of hyponatremia, but we’ve absolutely seen plenty of cases of heat illness and dehydration. So, if you’re thirsty, you should drink, and you should probably drink a little bit beyond your thirst. You know, thirst is a really good regulator. I would say just drink slightly beyond your thirst, get half your body weight to three-quarters of your body weight in ounces of fluid per day, and then make sure that when you are exercising, getting some sodium especially, in one form or another. 00:37:01 AG: Should anyone be worried about over-hydration? 00:37:04 JR: And over-hydration would be that hyponatremia. It’s, I’d say, in the population coming in here, it’s probably pretty rare. You have to be drinking for like four or five hours. Where it can become a threat would be people who are running marathons who finish in that five to six-hour range and have been drinking water every aid station. But like I said, you know, if we’re going to put our money down on something, I’m going to put my money down on somebody being dehydrated in this population, than somebody being over-hydrated. So, you don’t ever, you may not need to go over one ounce per pound of body weight. That might put you at that risk for over-hydration or hyponatremia, but half to three-quarters per pound is good. 00:37:48 AG: While we’re talking about amounts, when it comes to advice about, you know, shifting to eating a whole food diet can be a little challenging for somebody who hasn’t done it before or maybe who hasn’t cooked for themselves before. Are there any kind of little tips that you’ve learned along the way for the daily consumption, you know, especially as someone on the go? What would you recommend? 00:38:11 JR: One of my go-tos is trail mix, and if you find a Whole Foods type of store where they have the bulk section, you can make your own trail mix. And nuts and seeds and dried fruit, and you can get different varieties of that. Do one that’s almonds and tart cherries. I love tart cherries, I love tart cherry juice. So trail mix, things like hardboiled eggs, I think are incredibly easy. And then as some of the different energy bars that are whole food bars, if you want to get adventurous, you can go on Pinterest, for example, and look up homemade energy bar recipes. So, I would say those things, trail mix, hardboiled eggs, homemade energy bars. And then there’s 1,000 different recipes for like overnight oats or homemade oatmeal’s, where you can put in almond butter. One of the favorites of the students here that we do a little cooking class when they get to qualification training. And pumpkin pie oatmeal is one of the favorites, where you put some canned pumpkin, some dark chocolate chips, a little bit of honey, sea salt and the oats, and it’s five minutes and delicious. 00:39:19 AG: That sounds great. I love that. Yeah, I’ve heard a lot about that lately. Is there anywhere people can go to find out more about this? I mean I think there’s, you, I think you have a lot more to share. 00:39:31 JR: Well, I know where, the website is constantly being revamped, and, you know, I’m working on some different pieces, getting some more nutrition education to go along with all the great training information that’s already present. So, I keep coming back to that. 00:39:44 AG: I just want to thank you, Justin, for being here. This has been so interesting. I feel like we could talk for days about it. Maybe we’ll have you back again sometime…Part two. 00:39:53 JR: Absolutely, I appreciate your time, and best of luck to everyone out there for, with their training. 00:39:58 DF: Find out more at, and join us again for the next NSW podcast
Jul 20, 2018
#10 SWCC Career
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SWCC are special boat operators who conduct covert missions from the water, at night or under fire. Learn more about these unique warriors in this episode. For additional info check out 00:00:02:05 The only easy day was yesterday. (Intro) A crucial part of any Naval Special Warfare mission is the covert insertion and extraction of operators, especially at night or under fire. The team responsible for this, SWCC, or Special Warfare Combatant-craft crewmen, are trained extensively in how to pilot and maintain special boats and their weapons. They are physically fit, highly motivated, combat-focused, and responsive in high-stress situations. They frequently work with the Navy SEALs. Today we speak with Bill, the SWCC Instructor of the Year who is also responsible for the first block of SWCC training, called Basic Crewman Selection. Let’s get started. 00:00:58 AG: Well, first, I’d like to thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today. I know you’re a pretty busy guy. 00:01:03 B: Oh, you’re welcome. 00:01:05 AG: If you could start by introducing yourself and letting the audience know, you know, what you, who you are and a little about what you do. 00:01:11 B: Yes, I’m Petty Officer First Class Bill. I’m an instructor here at the SWCC Schoolhouse, specifically our selection phase, which we call BCS, stands for Basic Crewmen Selection. 00:01:22 AG: So, what does it mean to be an instructor here? 00:01:24 B: An instructor, what that means here is that we are the primary role of, of conducting evolutions for the students and anything and everything that’s required for the students to get through our, our schoolhouse. 00:01:42 AG: Very nice. And I think you, you left out something in your introduction. You’re not just any instructor. You’re the Instructor of the Year? 00:01:50 B: Yes, I was fortunate enough to be, to be awarded the Instructor of the Year. I got a lot of help from a lot of guys previous to get that award. 00:01:58 AG: What does that mean? 00:02:00 B: Well, what those qualities would mean to me personally is that you are the example for what you would want a candidate to become. So, anything ranging from character and competence, what we always hit for, our students, that’s what we’re looking for, so we’re demonstrating that ourselves with our personal leadership, team ability, with how we are physically, on evolutions, our personal fitness, our knowledge, everything that we want out of the students that we are demonstrating that ourselves. 00:02:34 AG: Okay. How did you decide to go SWCC? Where did that come from, the motivation? 00:02:40 B: I decided to go SWCC about ten years ago when it was actually through a YouTube video, showing the capabilities and everything going on with the Riverine aspect of SWCC. I saw that video, I was interested in the military before, kind of just cruising through, looking at different Special Operations positions, and that’s what I was into, and I saw that one, and I was immediately hooked. 00:03:04 AG: Awesome. I think we should pause for a second to let anyone listening know where we’re sitting cause they’re probably going to be hearing some sounds around here. Can you tell us what we’re looking at over here? 00:03:13 B: Yeah, so right now, we’re sitting at what we call here Pier Four in the Slab. It’s a, it’s a main spot that we conduct a lot of our training here at the Basic Crewman Selection phase of the SWCC Schoolhouse, where they do many different physical activities, they start their underways here, and they perform countless swims down here, so if, if anyone chooses to go the SWCC route, they would be spending many hours where we’re currently sitting. 00:03:42 AG: Nice. Well, before we start talking about what actually happens when you go SWCC, I want to just start by asking you if someone’s interested in going that direction, what do you think the best first step is? 00:03:53 B: The best first step to become a, if you’re interested in becoming a SWCC, is first looking up all the open source information out there on what a SWCC means, what does it mean to become a SWCC, because the first step is making sure that that’s what you really want to do. It’s a great job, and there’s, there, and there’s a lot of good things about it, but you first need to know what it is and why you want to do it, and then you start getting into the details of precise things you need to do to prepare. 00:04:27 AG: So, to get to that stage, what, what is the course like that people have to go through? 00:04:34 B: The first course would be the physical preparation. So, actually on the SEAL/SWCC website, there’s an extensive amount of information on what physical standards someone should be at to be properly prepared, and that’s where you would first want to look to see the running times you should have, swimming, push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, general body calisthenics that someone should be at so that they have a good shot at making it through. 00:05:05 AG: Okay, and can you describe that it’s a 7-week course? 00:05:07 B: BCS is a 7-week course. 00:05:10 AG: Okay, so could you walk us through that course? 00:05:12 B: So, when someone comes to training, when they start BCS, the first week is a large amount of different physical evolutions that we test their personal grit, their team ability, and it has a small amount of classroom instruction revolving around coastal navigation. So, there’s a lot of different physical evolutions based off things such as running, push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, there’s a lot of swimming, there is a lot of team building exercises with, with small boats that they all have to maneuver together, hold together, do different relay races that force a lot of teamwork. 00:05:58 AG: Is that, before we move on to the next phase, personal grit, that’s an interesting phrase. 00:06:03 B: Grit would be a huge factor for our selection course, not the only one, but it is a primary factor, and the entire course is both developing and testing grit. So, it’s a combination of we’re selecting those with enough grit, and we are developing grit at the same time. So, that is throughout, and it changes on how we do it, and week one is mainly through those physical evolutions with a small amount of classroom instruction. 00:06:35 AG: Okay, and then the next? 00:06:38 B: Then the next two weeks, week two and three, are similar; however, it changes into less on the physical. We start introducing more classroom time because there is a large amount of academic learning they need to know before we get underway on the, on the boats, so we have to start from square one on everything to do with navigation, the fundamentals of the craft that they’re going to be on and basic seamanship. So, we get into that on weeks two and three, while at the same time still having the, the physical grit side, but now they have the academic side as well, and… 00:07:19 AG: And you bring up a point, which is that they haven’t even touched a boat yet at this point. 00:07:22 B: Not yet, not yet. 00:07:24 AG: Even though the boats are the main objective, but you got to get through this before you can, (B: Correct) okay. 00:07:29 B: Correct, so they have quite a bit of, they have a steep learning curve to even get to that point, so we don’t just jump immediately onto it. Then when we get to week four, is our underway week. we also have physical test gates, so it’s less about grit building on this week, and it’s more about performance. So, we’re going to be executing everything we’ve learned, and you’re also going to have to execute your, your physical performance on this week, so both. We start getting underway, start doing all the basic underways, mainly revolving around navigation, but we also do anchoring, towing, hull inspections, some other fundamental seamanship skills. At the end of that week, then week five is our, is our crucible week. We have the Tour…(AG: Crucible week?) Yes, so… 00:08:21 AG: Why’s it called that? 00:08:22 B: It’s not called the crucible week, so it is called the Tour. Week five has the Tour, and what I meant by that is that, that is what Basic Crewman Selection is leading up to. So, the first four weeks is all leading up to the week of the Tour, where they put together everything that they’ve been learning, and we call it a day in the life of a boat guy. So, it’s three days of minimal sleep, testing them on everything they’ve been learning and a huge amount of physical activity. So, they’re going to be wet, cold, tired and tested for three days straight. 00:09:00 AG: Talk about grit, geez. 00:09:03 B: So, once they get through that week, there’s a phase line within BCS, so that’s when the students get their brown shirts. They transition from white shirts to brown shirts, and then that’s a symbolic transition that they have been selected for, for further training. So, they’ve made it through our Tour, and those students have demonstrated the capability and grit to transition into the next phase of training. It is still… 00:09:33 AG: So, if anyone happens to be walking around Coronado and sees a bunch of guys go by in brown shirts, that means they have? 00:09:37 B: They know that they made it through the Tour. Then we transition to week six, and week six is when we start getting into more advanced skills, still fundamental, and we get into basic driving. Up to this point, the students haven’t been driving at all. All they’ve been doing is the navigational side, learning the fundamentals of what an engine is and everything else. So, we start off the week with teaching about maintenance on crafts, official maintenance and how to drive the craft. We start off with the smallest craft we have in our inventory. It’s a small rubber craft where it is called a CRRC, Combat Rubber Raiding Craft, and it uses a small 55-horsepower outboard motor, so we put that on the back of the small craft, and they practice basic maneuvering, driving straight, doing different turns, mooring up onto the side of other boats or piers, and the fundamentals there with driving. That’s how this week goes. It’s different underways, a lot more classroom now. The PTs go into more of on the minimal side. They’re always going to PT for their entire SWCC career. 00:10:55 B: Then we’re transitioning into week seven, and that’s the last week of Basic Crewman Selection, and during this week, we, we cumulate everything they’ve learned, and we do what’s called an FTX, and that’s a Final Training Exercise. So, they get taught some basic mission planning, they know how to drive these small CRRCs, and we give them a mission, and they go ahead and execute this mission under instructor surveillance, and we grade them, and that is the culmination of everything that they’ve done in BCS. So, they get to see and execute what all their hard work has led to. 00:11:39 AG: Wow. And of all these stages, would you say there are one or two where you lose the most amount of people? 00:11:47 B: Absolutely. So, we lose the most people during week one and week five. So, week one being the first week of BCS, it’s a shock to a lot of candidates that come through, and it’s a, it’s a steep curve for many people, and then we also leave, lose a significant amount during the Tour, where they go three days straight, and they’re on minimal sleep, cold, wet and tired the entire time. 00:12:16 AG: So, what would your advice be for someone knowing that? You know, you’re on the other side now. You can see what holds people back. 00:12:24 B: My advice would be starting from the time that you want to become a SWCC developing grit within yourself. So, there’s great information out there publically, open source, they can just check out right on the SEAL/SWCC website on what they should be doing to physically prepare, and you need to immediately start working towards those targets, and if you hit those targets, exceed those targets. Never be satisfied, and every single day, be building a habit of grit, and they can do that indirectly even though they don’t have these exact tools just through their lifestyle. When they’re working out, are they truly pushing themselves, or do they listen to that little voice in their head that, you know, tells them that they want to stop or slow down and do that? Are they, do they set themselves at rigid schedule, or are they letting themselves just wake up every day in the morning whenever they want to? Are they doing everything they can to start having a lifestyle of grit is what I would suggest to anyone that wanted to become a, become a SWCC. 00:13:31 AG: Lifestyle of grit, I like it. What did you do to, to get to this place? How did you prepare before you, when you decided you wanted to go that direction? 00:13:40 B: Ten years ago, there wasn’t a SEAL/SWCC website with as much information. Wikipedia had the, the entrance scores required. I was working at the time, so I would wake up before work to go use the pool every day and, and just work out twice a day until I came in. I would, I had quite a big deficit to do with things like pull-ups and other upper body physical because I grew up playing soccer, so that was where I had the biggest improvement that I had to make. The running, I had to mainly just maintain. At the time, I was a decent runner, so I was still working on it. However, the swimming and the upper body strength, I had a lot of work to do, so that’s where I devoted most of my attention to try to become the best overall possible. 00:14:29 AG: That’s good to point out to people that might think that, because they’re not the best swimmer right now, there’s no reason they couldn’t get there, (B: No, absolutely not) or any other form of physical… 00:14:41 B: Absolutely not. If there’s enough time, and there’s information out there that if this is what you want to do, you, anyone out there could, through enough personal effort, become ready, if you haven’t ever swam before, there’s great information on there on how to swim. They need to learn the combat sidestroke and practice it every day until they feel good enough at it and then do it a standard amount for the workout templates that are out there, maybe three times a day. If they, if they didn’t run very much growing up, then they need to work on that, and usually what’s much different for people is being comfortable in the water. I grew up on the West Coast, California, so I was able to go into the ocean pretty often, you know, so I had an advantage of being slightly more comfortable in the water than someone that’s never been in the water before. So, that is, if they don’t have access to the ocean, they absolutely need to get in the pool as much as possible and just get comfortable in the water, and that’s by spending more time out in the water. 00:15:54 AG: And it also sounds like you don’t necessarily have to know how to drive a boat to… 00:15:57 B: No, so fundamental math skills, it is needed for navigation, so if you frontload that, meaning, you know, if you graduated high school eight years ago, and you haven’t touched math in a while, being able to do everything on paper, not use a calculator, long division, decimal, multiplication, those basic skills, you know, you just need to brush up on real quick, but everything else we will, we will teach you here what to do with navigation, with the boats, with engines, with communication radios. The training is extensive when they get here, and as long as they’re willing to pay attention in class and do their homework, they will have ample opportunity to perform at their required needs. 00:16:48 AG: Do you think your job is pretty cool? 00:16:50 B: Yeah, I do. 00:16:51 AG: It looks cool from the outside in. 00:16:54 B: Yeah, so I mean just what we were saying before with how many jobs out there get to show up each day, work out for a while and then, you know, essentially practice being a team. So, it’s, you feel like you’re in a team each day where you show up, work out and then just refine your skillsets, and it’s, it’s great each day. 00:17:17 AG: What about when you’re actually on a mission of some sort? 00:17:21 B: What do you mean by that? 00:17:22 AG: Could you walk us through what that is like, just a little bit of the highlights? I know you can’t talk about all of it, but… 00:17:27 B: It could drastically change depending on what type of mission you’re on, and, you know, with the mobility piece, you know, it’s rewarding to, to know that you’re being part of this bigger system of making sure that the objective is met, you know, taking guys where they need to go, bringing them back if they got in trouble, and it turns into what we would call a hot extract where, you know, you need to make sure to lay down, suppressive fire and get them out of there fast. And there’s a lot of different opportunities for SWCC. It’s, it’s hard to explain. The fundamental aspect there is with the, with the small crafts, with taking people where they need to go, doing surveillance with the crafts or anything else that’s needed. We also, pride ourselves on just being experts in mobility, so if we need to do it in other vehicles such as Humvees, we will. Anything that we need to do to help out, we will. 00:18:26 AG: That’s interesting, not just boats. 00:18:28 B: So, that’s the primary piece, it’s the boats, but we are flexible to adjust to whatever is currently needed. 00:18:35 AG: How do you select someone after the 7-week process, like what, you know, say someone gets through the whole thing, is there a reason you might still not want them on your team? 00:18:45 B: Yes. So, we, we break it down very simple that we select on character and competence. So, what we mean by that is first with the character is things such as does he have good integrity? Is he a good team player? How is his grit? Can we trust him? Is he going to be a good teammate with us later on? Then competence, and that’s all about performance, and BCS, that is, how do they do on our evolutions? Can they run fast enough, swim enough, do enough pull ups, do fast enough time in the obstacle course, are they, are they passing all the whatever they’re thrown at during the Tour, and then in addition to that, the academic side for the SWCC training, can they pass our academic test, we do different chart tests in the classroom, and are they learning what we require them to learn, so those are the… 00:19:41 AG: But it’s probably important to pause and say that you’re teaching them everything. 00:19:46 B: We are teaching them. 00:19:47 AG: So, so it shouldn’t be intimidating. It’s more like when you get here, pay attention. 00:19:51 B: Right. If they are doing their side, we prepare them with everything they need to know, and we pride ourselves on being excellent instructors in the classroom and adjusting to the individual student’s need with helping out with them as much as possible. So, we don’t expect anyone to come here being experts in navigations or knowing the, the inner workings of an engine. We’ll get them there. However, they need to do their side, their homework, and this needs to be their life while they’re in BCS, and student, candidates that have that mentality that they’re all in, and they, this is their, their current dream at the time, and they will succeed if they are willing to, to learn everything they need to learn and have the grit on physical evolutions. 00:20:40 AG: So, one of the things on your website, it says they need to be morally, mentally and physically qualified. And I think we’ve talked about mentally and physically quite a bit, but what does morally qualified mean? 00:20:52 B: Morally qualified has to do with the character I was talking about with character and competence, so one big one’s integrity, so we have a lot of responsibility and trust in our job with what mission set we are expected to perform overseas, so we need to be able to trust a candidate coming through that they’re going to be part of this small team, a boat crew, for example, will have anywhere from three to five people on it, and that’s not very many people, so each person’s going to have a large amount of responsibility and require a large amount of trust. So, we need to know that they’re going to do the right thing when no one’s looking. That’s what we say. So, no matter what, they, you know, they will earn our trust, and they’ll always do the right thing, and that’s the easiest way instead of going down into all the different possible situations with the integrity. Can we trust them when no one’s looking? 00:21:48 AG: Yeah. That’s powerful. We pretty much covered what it means to be mentally prepared, but do you have anything, I feel like that’s an important subject to make sure we… 00:21:57 B: Right, mentally prepared is there, will be different activities or evolutions that they had not seen or did not prepare exactly for here. Besides the fundamentals of you know that you’re going to experience running, you know that you’re going to have to swim, do the obstacles, push-ups, sit-ups, different activities with boats, you know that that’s coming, but there’s going to be something that, that comes at, you weren’t exactly ready for, and at that moment is when you’re truly tested that you need to be shortsighted and just know that you can get through it, and it might feel overwhelming at the time, but just push through. 00:22:40 B: You know, you go through a lot of work on a mission and execute the mission as a SWCC, and you, everything goes smoothly, comes back, not too eventful. However, in the time where you’re needed the most, there will be a very stressful situation where you got to have a lot of mental fortitude to know that you’re going into a real bad situation, and you got a high chance that it’s not going to go well, and you got to stay focused and make sure you do your part to get them out of there. Otherwise, it could be catastrophic for whoever you’re working with, then in turn, for yourself. 00:23:10 AG: I called this a job earlier. It seems like that’s the wrong word for it. 00:23:14 B: Well, I would say any, any job that is very involved would be, you know, you could classify it as more of a, of a lifestyle. People that want to become champions in whatever they pursue are completely immersed in what they’re doing, and everybody else is, so it adjusts the culture of what you’re in. You’re working with a group of people that this and their family is basically the only two things they got, so they, they try as hard as they can, and, you know, it definitely goes more towards the lifestyle side of things. 00:23:48 AG: What’s your favorite part of what you do? 00:23:50 B: Well, that’s, that’s a hard question to answer, but I couldn’t really say any one particular thing so that the whole package is what’s enjoyable. Right now, I’ve been an instructor for almost three years now, so I’ve really enjoyed being part of this process, and it just morphs over time. So, when I go back to a boat team because I’m not at a boat team right now, I’m going to be working with guys that I was part of them going through selection, so my experience will be, you know, more rewarding as time goes on that I both get to do the job, and I’ve been part their career path, and it just keeps on building on itself. Is great being part of that. 00:24:32 B: I like the day-to-day aspect, and I think that that’s important for people to remember that, that just the fact of training, for example, is great, where, say you were returning at night, practicing with night vision, that you show up later on in the day. You get to go train and shoot guns and everything else that people would probably pay money to do, and that’s what we’re getting paid to do and then... 00:25:00 AG: A lot of people pay to do the things… 00:25:02 B: Right, so, of course, you know, the missions are good, and that’s, that’s what we all want to do, and it’s important to remember, too, that we get to enjoy the regular day-to-day as well because if you’re just thinking about the mission, that can be pretty draining, so we’re always training for the mission, but you got to learn how to enjoy both training and the mission when it comes. 00:25:26 AG: All about the journey? B: Yes 00:25:29 AG: What else do you want to talk about? What do you think is important for people to know? 00:25:35 B: I think it’s important for people to know and to, for the, you know, to become a SWCC, is when you get here is to be shortsighted, not in a bad way, meaning when the days get really hard to just focus on the current now, and can you keep on going right now, and when it feels overwhelming, and let’s say, for example, you’re not a gifted runner, and you’re struggling on a run. Can you take one more step? Can you push yourself a little bit harder? And most people will find that they do have a little bit more in the tank, and if they start on that right now, then they’ll be in a good place months later when they get to here, or when they’re really cold at nighttime. Are you so cold that you absolutely need to be warmed up right now, meaning are you at a health risk, or is just very uncomfortable? And it will most likely just be that you are uncomfortable, and I am not suggesting for people to get themselves cold. That is something that they need to just deal with when they have to. However… 00:26:46 AG: You can’t train for that is what you’re saying. 00:26:47 B: No, there’s no reason to be trained for that, so they just need to practice PTing, physical training is what I mean by that, working out as hard as they can, finding a quality program, and there’s templates on the SEAL/SWCC website, and learning how to swim and just being more regimented because they’re going to be one, entering into the military, and two, within a very quick time period in a military selection course. So, depending on what they did before enlisting, that’s going to be a massive culture change and during a selection course, so start becoming more regimented and hold yourself to high expectations through the day with everything you do. 00:27:33 AG: So, everybody’s had that feeling when they’re, when they’re working out or doing something challenging where, you know, like you said, it’s, “Can I take that next step?” and I think, I don’t know if everybody does this, but I feel like there’s sort of a voice that talks to you. Do you, do you have that? Is there something that goes through your head? 00:27:53 B: Well, I think for me personally, I can’t speak for other people, but it’ll be more of doubt or anxiety if I’m doing something that I really don’t like, and I think that this will be a good point to bring up that, that if you are doing something challenging, let’s say a long run, for example, and you, you gave in a little bit, and it’s important to not beat yourself up about that, meaning if you’re in this training progress, and you’re trying to get much more physically fit, you’re hearing that you should ignore that voice, and you don’t. Well, you don’t want to go down the path of feeling like, “Oh, no, now I can’t accomplish this.” I think it’s better to have small targets and constantly, the constant improvement method I think is best. So, instead of if you’ve been doing nothing, all of a sudden trying to match an ultra marathon runner, that’s not feasible, but the, constant micro improvements every day will help that, that voice in your head, and it’s never going to go away. So, it’s about knowing yourself, knowing what type of personal anxiety or stress will happen to you at different points and just being much more self-aware each day. So, if you go through a day and feel like you didn’t accomplish what you wanted, have a little reflection time and think about why you didn’t, what you can do better next time. 00:29:15 AG: Everyone has those moments, right, and what you’re saying is if you don’t get through it this time, don’t double down on that, you know, just get back up and… 00:29:23 B: Right, just always learn from it. Always learn from your mistakes. Everyone’s going to have mistakes, everyone’s going to have those weak moments, but how do you learn from them, how do you improve, and if you’re constantly improving and have less of those, in six months from now, then you would be far, much more far along in your personal grit you could say or fortitude or capability of, of withstanding different challenges. 00:29:49 AG: Since you became a SWCC, has that affected your personal life? 00:29:56 B: Absolutely, I do believe it’s improved. So, right now, after being a SWCC for about ten years, I feel capable of much more in my life’s challenges, whatever it may be, so I feel more capable of personal challenges now. Not only am I SWCC, I try to excel as much as I can in that, I’m also going to school on the side on top of this fulltime job. I have a family, I try to do my best to be a good husband and a father there, and I feel much more capable of accomplishing all of those challenges, and, and I attribute that a lot to the different stressors and everything that I’ve developed a lot more grit through this job. 00:30:38 AG: So, you’ve gotten through the 7-week course, you’ve been successful, you’ve been selected. What’s next? 00:30:45 B: Well, not quite. So, next, they got two additional phases of training before they are pinned as a SWCC operator. (AG: not done yet.) They’ve made a major milestone in the process. Getting that brown shirt is huge, and then they have two more phases that are each seven weeks. The next one is BCT, which stands for Basic Crewman Training, and that’s where they learn the fundamentals of weapons, shooting. They start their process of shoot, move, communicate, where they learn more about engines, getting into the finer details. After that, the next 7-week block is Crewman Qualification Training, which we just abbreviate CQT. And in CQT is really where they start running in their training, meaning they start driving the 30-foot RHIB, they start shooting out on the boats, they start using radios, they, and they end up at the very end being able to do a much more realistic final training exercise in culminating all the skills, executing it themselves on that 30-foot craft. And once they’re all done with that, that is when they will be pinned a SWCC and have the graduation ceremony. 00:31:59 AG: And, and after graduation, walk us through what, what is happening now? What, what’s the next step? Like how do you feel, what’s going on? 00:32:09 B: Well, the next step is you, you would report to a boat team and start your journey there, but more on the feeling part is it’s a very special, great feeling of pride knowing that you look back and reflect on all the hard work you’ve done, whether it be a year or longer of, of preparation for this accomplishment, and it’s something that no one could ever take away from you. So, you know yourself that through your own dedication and hard work, you’re achieved something great where you’ll look back and realize how many people did not accomplish it through whatever reason it might have been, and that’s something that that will stick with you for the rest of your life. 00:32:51 AG: And do you start working up right away or? 00:32:54 B: It’ll change for different people, but you will, you will show up to your perspective boat team, and you’ll get inoculated in that, that team culture where you will still be a, you know, you’ll be a new guy, and you’ll have a lot to learn and a steep learning curve, and the job never ends with the learning, and the effort never ends. It’s just you’re, you’re continuing on your journey, and you’re getting closer to being able to deploy and do your job real world. When you’re pinned as a SWCC, you’re not quite a, self-sufficient boat operator yet. You’re, you got a lot to learn before you’re, before you’re ready to deploy as a boat guy. However, you have validated that you’ve done what it takes to become a SWCC, and you instantly are part of that, that team, and everyone brings you in, and everybody knows that you got what it takes to be here. 00:33:55 AG: And it seems to me like you guys, you really support each other. (B: Absolutely) You want, I mean it’s more than the average workplace in terms of support goes. 00:34:06 B: Well, yeah, so everybody knows that you’ve been through that selection course, and it brings an instant bond to each other. So, if you go to a different boat team or around different boat guys that you’ve never met, you have an instant bond with them, and, you know, you gravitate towards them if you’re in a group of people that are a blend of boat guys and not boat guys. Of course, the boat guys are going to come together and want to talk and hear, you know, their past history of what they’ve done at the teams or different things, and that’s another special thing that, you know, that you only get through going through this selection course. 00:34:42 AG: And what’s the first mission feel like? 00:34:45 B: Well, that’ll be different for a lot of people depending on what type of mission but it’s a good feeling knowing that what you’re doing is for the country or for that mission set. There’s very few people in the United States that are able to do that, so you’re, you’re being part of history essentially. 00:35:05 B: There’s, there’s a huge amount of important jobs for the country, and this is absolutely not the only one. It’s just that you know that you’re being part of the greater system there in a special way, and you’ve worked very hard to, to do it, so you’re having direct impact, and you’re part of a huge amount of people that are part of that system that aren’t just SWCCs, and it’s good to look back on in your life later on and know that you did that. 00:35:32 AG: And what motivates you? 00:35:33 It’s always good to reflect, and I know 30, 40 years from now when I’m not in this job anymore, I was part of that. So, for example, if you read Vietnam was way before my day, and, you know, there is a lot of great people that helped out that, and then I’m helping out in my current situation here, the current conflicts, and, you know, my life was about more than just myself. And after this job, whatever other job I do whatever it might be, that these experiences can never be taken away. 00:36:08 AG: Incredible, a life about more than just yourself. 00:36:12 B: Yes. 00:36:13 AG: Pretend you’re speaking to someone who’s just like thinking about it. In two sentences or three sentences, what would you say to them? Why would they want to join? 00:36:21 B: I would encourage anyone that is interested in being part of the US military of Special Operations with, with small crafts, that like the idea of shooting big guns, driving fast boats, and this is a great career that they can have fun and do important and impactful work along the way. 00:36:40 AG: Love it. Thank you so much for being here. We really appreciate it, and is there, where, so you, you’ve mentioned a couple times, but just to make sure everyone knows using the best place to get information outside of this podcast would be the website? 00:36:55 B: Absolutely. So, that’s the purpose of the SEAL/SWCC website, so we have people dedicated, and that’s their job to provide information, and that is by far better than the way I did it ten years ago and just essentially look up hearsay. So, if I had the opportunity ten years ago to just get it straight from the source, that is what I would’ve done and what I recommend to anyone. 00:37:15 AG: Awesome. Thank you again. 00:37:17 B: You’re welcome.
Jul 11, 2018
#9 Injury Prevention
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Training inevitably leads to injury, but with the right guidance you can avoid most issues and recover faster. Our staff physical rehab expert talks about how you can reduce your risk of injury. For more info go to 00:00:02:05 The only easy day was yesterday. (Intro) In training, when you push yourself to the limits there is always a risk of injury. In the special operations field this is even further magnified. Today we speak about the fundamentals of fitness and injury prevention with expert Don Kessler, a man from the highest levels of competition. He is on the ground every day helping Special Warfare trainees perform their best and has some solid advice. Let’s get started. 00:00:43 DF: Thanks for taking the time to sit down with us and speak about what you do for NSW. First, let’s talk a little bit about you for a minute, 40 plus years of physical fitness background with athletes varying from high school students to Olympians. What do you think uniquely qualifies you for your specialized position that you have at NSW? 00:01:10 DK: Well, I started out as a hospital corpsman after getting my master’s degree in physical education, and this was during the Vietnam time, and I eventually got stationed at the US Naval Academy and working as a hospital corpsman there. I moved into athletic training as my profession, but I had years of experience in the military going into that, and I loved it so much that I decided I was getting out of the military to continue on in athletic training. So, I went through, again, working in high schools, colleges. I worked at the Olympics, I worked with US Soccer, so there were many different variations I went to, and when the time came to retire from college athletics, I didn’t feel like I should stop. And so, I contacted some people in the NSW community that I knew and said, “I think I could be some help or benefit to them,” and they said, “We agree.” They thought that my experiences would be able to help teach some of these people some of the things that we do in athletics but also that we should treat the NSW people as Division 1 or professional athletes. 00:02:17 DF: How does the training that you do now specialize from the typical sports medicine that you’ve seen earlier in your career? 00:02:25 DK: My job in the medical side of BUDS training is that I’m to do the functional rehabilitation. So, we have three physical therapists that work with us that will work with the initial part of an injury, and I’m to functionally get them back into full action. They call it the BRIGS program, taking you from the very simple things of coming out of an injury or post-op and getting you back to able to do the obstacle course. So, that’s what my job is, it’s unique among any of the programs that we have in that I have to know what are the things that they ask of the students, both SEAL and SWCC, to make it through the training. And so, my functional rehabilitation is built towards what do you need to do to pass, or what do you need to do to pass through Hell Week or the tour. 00:03:21 DF: So, it is very similar to a lot of other athletic training, you just, a different kind of endgame, so to speak, in terms of what their capabilities need to be? 00:03:30 DK: It’s, like with any sport, and as I used to tell the students that I would have as athletic training students, that you have to look at the team you’re working with and know what is required of them in each thing and even watch people coach them and decide if I’m going to rehab them, what am I doing specifically for that sport. If it’s a thrower, if it’s a swimmer, if it’s a runner, I need to know specific things I need to do to get them back to full rehabilitation. And so, what I did was spend about two months just watching what they did in training and say, “All right, when I go to do my rehab, these are the things that I’m going to need to incorporate in the functional training to get them back to full 100%. 00:04:19 DF: Is there differences because of the loading that these guys are under a lot of times with heavy packs? It seems like to me that that’s one of the differences between training for a marathon or another body weight endurance sport versus the types of things that these operators do. They carry a lot of gear. Would you say that that’s accurate? 00:04:39 DK: In the, in the early phases of training, the heavy gear is just moved from one place to another. It’s not something that they’re really training with. They will eventually step it up and move it up, and they get later phases, but most of the problems we run into are things that involve endurance, whether it’s a run, whether it’s a swim, whether it’s an obstacle course, and we have to get them ready to be able to handle those and repeat those over and over and over again. 00:05:09 DF: Do you see that the injuries that you typically see are, like you just mentioned, are a result from maybe a too sudden of an increase of exercise volume? 00:05:19 DK: I would say there’s certainly an increase in volume. Some people come in trained too much for it already, and any addition that is made to their training puts them over the edge. The people who are peaking slowly have less problems, and that’s what BUDS prep does, and that’s what BO does, is to try to peak you and bring you along slowly, so most of that works fairly well. Many people come in way over trained and become stale as they say in athletics, and therefore, start on the downslope even though they’re going to slowly start increasing what they had been doing. 00:05:57 DF: So, I think it would be helpful if maybe you kind of unpacked that a little bit, talking about the progression of the scale or intensity. You’re talking kind of about peaking in terms, do you mean condition or wear on the body? Can you maybe unpack that a little bit? 00:06:14 DK: I would say more than anything else from the injury wise, it’s the wear on the body. On the physical therapy side, 60% of the injuries that we see on a daily basis are stress fractures, 60% are stress fractures, and so we have to slowly build them up, and if they do get a stress fracture, we have to again start at ground zero and build that up slowly. So, that’s what I mean by that. With the prep students, they start them doing a little bit of running and try to increase that as time goes along and try to make it go faster. When they get to here, again, in basic orientation, again, it starts a little bit slow, trying to show you what you’re doing and doing it once in a while and then start increasing it as you get into first phase. You will then have everything thrown at you every day, and then when you get to Hell Week, it runs on 24 hours a day. So, it peaks, the progression does. That gives them the ability, if you’re doing this right, to be able to handle that peak, but some people come in too high already, or they try to do extra beyond what is needed to be at that phase, and then it’s too much for them when they add more. 00:07:29 DF: I see what you’re saying. So, is there a difference between what the SWCC recruits are seeing versus the SEAL recruits in this process? 00:07:38 DK: The SWCC and SEAL will start prep together and do everything the same in prep. They will do BO together, and then after BO, they will break off into their branches. The BCT that the SWCC people do will be a little bit modified. They won’t be doing quite the much as, quite as much quantity, but they will still be doing the same things that the SEAL people are doing. So, again, it’s the same exact training. They keep right on up until they break out, and then there’s just a slight variation as to the quantity that’s done. 00:08:13 DF: You’ve mentioned the term BO a couple times. Can you tell us about that, what that is, what that means? 00:08:17 DK: BO is Basic Orientation. So, when the students come from prep in Great Lakes they are, all start out in Basic Orientation, and it’s a slow process of trying to learn what is required of them on a daily basis for their swims, for their runs, for the obstacle course, for their barracks inspection, personal inspection. It’s a watered down advance part of what’s going to happen in Hell Week or the tour or any other phase, and so they slowly as the weeks go by will increase the intensity of what they’re doing and the quantity of what they’re doing. 00:08:57 DF: Okay, let’s roll back maybe a few weeks or months in this kind of process. I’d imagine part of the reason why your voice would be so helpful here is being able to have these recruits hear you before they arrive and go through this orientation process. This is I think the kind of the jewel of being able to talk to you. What do you think these recruits should not do when they’re preparing for their PSTs before they even arrive? 00:09:28 DK: I would have to say it’s almost like getting ready for a track meet. You don’t want to be training for a marathon to be able to do a one-mile race, and the same thing goes with preparing to go to basic training and then to go to prep and then to go to BO. If you’re trying to do the amount quantity wise and the intensity that you’re going to need further down the road, you’re going to break down beforehand. So, it’s important to remember there are requirements to pass the PST. Shoot for what you need to do to be prepared for those requirements and not worry about what you need to do to get through Hell Week in that the amount of mileage you need to put in, the amount of lifting you need to put in or the amount of swimming you need to be in is nowhere near the amount that you’re going to need later, but you need to be able to do well at what you’re going to do at a lower level, but by being prepared to doing something at upper level won’t necessarily make you better and may break you down when you get to that upper level. 00:10:31 DF: I think that’s a really important distinction to make because we’ve talked with a number of people through this process, and there’s a sense of continued reflection on the documents and the guides that have been well-vetted and written for recruits through this process. I think that there’s a tendency, especially coming from a very high performing collegiate background, all these people are athletes, to want to push, want to push, want to be the best, want to be the top, and I’m hearing that continuously don’t push to the point where you’re hitting your limits. Follow the measured approach, the crawl, walk, run approach that’s kind of been echoed by a few different people, so it’s good to hear that from you, too. It seems like the guides that are available for people and the training programs that are available for people are designed for your success. They’re not necessarily for the lowest people on the rung to be able to get through. There is a measured approach for a reason, and it’s not only just to get people in the right condition but to prevent long-term injury. 00:11:39 DK: Absolutely right. The people that I end up seeing for medical treatment are usually those people who’ve pushed too hard. And that’s why I was brought in because they felt that in the past, if you were dropped because of medical reasons, many times you were left by the wayside and never really could get back into what was going on. And they found that many of these people were some of the best athletes that they had, and they just over trained or had a freak accident and got an injury. And what we wanted to do is take that out and say, “Hey, we want people like that. We want people who will push themselves, but let’s give them a framework to work in,” and rather, instead of just going crazy doing a lot to say, “Here’s the measured amount you need to do to get better,” and that’s what we have honed over the years to say, “I know exactly what it takes for you to have a fracture to get back to running full, and I know how many weeks it takes, I know how much intensity I have to do it each one, and if you add more to that, you’re probably going to get injured again.” And I’ve seen it time and time again. As it is with the people who have followed the pattern, and I’ll just say with stress fractures, we’ve dealt with stress fractures. I’ve had 148 guys I’ve used the Altered G, which is gravity assisted running, and of those people, all of them have passed. Only six people were reinjured, which is about 4%, and the history with stress fractures is if you’ve had one, it’s the best predictor of getting another one, and you have a 40% chance of being reinjured if you’ve had a stress fracture. So, we’ve been able to hone that down to about 4%, which is amazing. I’m going off on lectures at colleges and universities to talk about that, to try to help them with what we’re doing, but that’s what we’re saying. We have done this, we have seen this, we have a measured approach as how much to do, and the word we try to get out to you beforehand is don’t wait to get hurt to do this measured amount. Do the measured amount beforehand so we can bring you along gradually through the training throughout the cycle. 00:13:47 DF: So, for the people that don’t have a world-class rehab facility whenever they’re in the earlier stages of training, is there anything you can say to them about comparing the type of pain that’s causing injury versus the pain of, of your muscles burning? Can you speak to that a little bit? 00:14:04 DK: Well, again, looking at most of…DF: Like when to stop I guess…DK: Mostly people have had, are athletes of some sort, whether they’re swimmers or water polo players, ice hockey players. They have an idea from high school training or college training about what I need to do to get in shape, and there is that, you know, soreness when you start getting in shape, but after that, it never should be a real soreness. You should say, “Hey, I got a good workout,” but you never should be getting sore that the next day, “Oh, I don’t think I can do it.” If you’re doing that, and you’re getting more sore each day, then you’re already start over training, and that’s one of the best things that we’re trying to say is that, yes, there should be a breakdown, but there also has to be recovery. You just can’t keep pushing every day although you can do running one day, swimming a day, biking a day, almost like a triathlete and say, “Hey, that will get me there. It gives different parts of my body a chance to take off, but I’m still working towards the end,” and that’s the approach we push with the patients who are already injured, but certainly it’s necessary for the people who are just starting out. 00:15:13 DF: Right. So let’s say you’re earlier, you’re earlier on in this process, maybe you’re six months into training for your PST, and maybe you sustain an ankle injury, or you, you determine that you maybe might have stress fractures. I’d imagine it’s very important and even more so later on in the process to be able to maintain your engine, your cardiovascular capability through an injury. Is there anything you could recommend to people that might be “nursing” an injury early in this process to be able to keep their fitness level up instead of just drowning out? 00:15:45 DK: Absolutely. We always keep the conditioning. When we have somebody who is injured, and again, we’ll use stress fractures as an example because it’s one of the most prevalent injuries that we see, those people even if they are injured and are on crutches, they are working out, and their workout for aerobically will be sitting in the seat and doing an upper body arm bike, or they’ll be swimming. And eventually if they’re off crutches, we may have them biking and changing the speeds and resistance and things like that, so they’re constantly doing aerobic conditioning, and then we will eventually take them along to what the phases of running is concerned. But if they had an upper body injury with swimming say or the obstacle course, again, they’re on the bike, and they’re pedaling away, or if they can run, they will run, so they’re constantly keep their aerobic base going all the time, but we have to work to the specifics to what their injuries are and rehab that injury and then incorporate that into their fitness once they’re capable of doing it. 00:16:50 DF: Yeah, so it seems like a little bit of that can be done with common sense on your own if you’re in the early stages of this training process; do something that you can do and try to keep the intensity level going. 00:17:01 DK: Absolutely, except for the one machine that we have is gravity specific, everything else is something that you could have in the basement of your house, a bicycle, medicine ball, some dumbbells. There is nothing that I use in the rehab that involves anything complicated at all and have stations set up that people will be doing squats, or they’ll be doing lunges, or they’ll be doing hamstring curls. They will be doing planks, they will be doing sit ups, dips, pull ups. There’s constantly things they can do that involve no special equipment at all, and that’s what we try to teach them, is that you don’t need to have big heavy weights of 400 pounds to be able to get through this. You need to move your body weight and be able to push that through what is required of you. 00:17:49 DF: So, maybe if you could be the voice in a young recruits ear who sees these really “macho” characters who are almost beyond super human doing things that people would love to be able to do with their bodies. They’re strong people obviously. There’s a focus on strength that I think maybe is a little misplayed. I think a lot of the most successful candidates are endurance athletes like I’ve heard from other people. Maybe you could maybe summarize a little bit about that kind of philosophy that people have like they need to be the strongest people on the block to be able to make it through this program. Is that true, or maybe you could give us some information there. 00:18:24 DK: I would say the eight years that I’ve been here, there are certainly many SEAL operators who are pretty big, strong, intense but not to the numbers that you see on movies or TV shows now, that the average guy would be able to do what he has to do, is an endurance athlete. And I had an operator one time tell me he needs to be able to carry our heaviest weapon ten miles; he doesn’t have to carry ten weapons one mile. So, they don’t need to be that big and that strong to do it. They have to be big enough and strong enough to move things and move themselves with heavy backpacks and stuff, but the heavier they are themselves, the more chance they have of injury and the more difficulty they will have trying to get over the obstacle course or trying to make 4-mile runs. So, they have to get strength, but, again, more than anything else, they need endurance. The activities they call for and are posed the most strain on are going to be the tour and Hell Week, and it’s difficult to make it through if you’re too big. 00:19:33 DF: So, I guess maybe if you could be the word of wisdom for these young people to kind of instill some discipline into them on maybe self-reflection of what really is needed to get through. What kind of advice would you give to people in terms of taking a look at themselves and seeing what should be, you know, their goals and such in terms of their physical fitness? 00:19:56 DK: I think their goals should be what their PST is first, what do they need to do to pass the PST and do well. Do you need to be really strong, have a heavy bench press or a squat to do it? I don’t think so, and that is the first objective they have, they need to pass that and do well with it, which is going to include speed and endurance and some strength, but it’s not going to be an over amount of any one of those. As they move further down the line in the training, they’re going to ask more of them, and the more of it will be more endurance than it will be strength, so be very careful of not trying to do too much of one, thinking it will carry over into one of the other fields of swimming or endurance running knowing that that is one of the many measures. And so, what happens with push-ups after a while at Hell Week especially? I tell them, “The only time you really need neck exercise is when you get to Hell Week,” The strength that you’re going to need is on the obstacle course, climbing over that, doing the climb up the tower and things like that, and that’s what I put in my training is what, what are parts, some parts of the obstacle course because that’s something I know you’re going to have to do outside. Let’s make sure that you have the strength and the endurance to do it in here, and then I’ll let you go to the obstacle course and do one obstacle. How’d you do with that? And we move them along like that, so, you know, none of it is involved that, “Hey, I need to get your bench press up or your hand clean up,” or anything like that. I don’t do any of that at all. We work on muscles that are not even shown in most strength things. They’re shown mostly in rehab because that’s what’s injured as opposed to your shoulder, gluts, hamstrings, things that people, it’s not glorified, they don’t see it, but when a SEAL breaks down, a SEAL instructor breaks down, those are the things that happen, and we say to him, “Wow, if you had done this way back when, you probably wouldn’t need this shoulder operation as a 30-year old operator,” you know. Pitt was involved in some big studies there, and they looked at all the injuries that the SEALS had, and I saw, well, a lot of these are the same as what these guys are getting in our training. If I show them this now, hopefully, it’ll carry through their career that they’ll do that twice a week and be able to keep from being, you know, inoperable kind of cause we take care of the SEAL and SWCC instructors, too, and the injuries that they have, which are much worse now because they’re inoperable condition are the same exact things that the kids get other than stress fractures. Most of the guys have gotten smart enough to either not run much anymore, or they know exactly how much they need to run to do what they need to do, you know, but that’s, that’s what we look at and see. 00:22:41 DF: Are there any, we mentioned stress fractures, are there any other major issues that you see with people coming “off the street” when they enter into BUDS that you would like to maybe kind of nip in the bud or along the lines in the, in the guide that you would like to address? 00:22:56 DK: I would say shoulder and back are two big things, and the shoulder is rotator cuff. Very few people do much with it. They really only think of it with a throwing injury, but the rotator cuff is very important in all the things that you do because it stabilizes your shoulder before you do any exercise. And it’s not shown in a weight room as an exercise that’s going to make you look big and strong because it’s three tiny little muscles that are underneath the deltoids that nobody sees, but if they go, and they always go first because they’re very small and very weak, then you can’t do anything else, or you’ll dislocate your shoulder, you’ll tear your labrum, and it can all be prevented by doing some rotator cuff exercises, and they are simple exercises. We call them the T, where you take dumbbells, light dumbbells, and lift them in the front and the side and the back, external rotation exercise, where you’re lying on your side and bring your arm up, and one exercise for the supraspinatus, which is called the empty can. And those exercises are done as a preventative thing, but they are the base if you don’t have a good rotator cuff, you have difficulty in the obstacle course, boats overhead, logs overhead, all those things, but also in bench pressing. Every year in football, when springtime will come around, and everybody’s trying to do their maximum weights, I would have football players with shoulder injuries, and most of it was rotator cuff from trying to bench press and build up those muscles but do nothing for the rotator cuff. And I would just back off on how much they were lifting, work on the rotator cuff, and they’d get better, and then we could increase their weights. So, it’s important to keep that as a basis all the time to have a strong rotator cuff. And it’s not more than 15 pounds that’s needed. I mean it’s a very lightweight that anybody can have in their basement to do, four simple exercises for strengthening for that. The other is the back, one of the most common injuries, not only in our environment but in society in general, and people will want to do all kinds of exercises that involve bending over and twisting and lifting, which are the worst things that you can do for your back. People who have disc injuries, people who have stress fractures of their back are usually from bending over and lifting something without getting your feet underneath you, almost like a squat, to pick it up. And so, if you do those as exercise as prevention, you’re actually doing the worst thing you could do because that’s what injures you. So, it’s more important to do the tiny little muscles that are around the spine that you can strengthen just by doing planks, and you can do a front plank and a side plank and a back plank and all variations. You can do it for time. There are all kinds of ways you can do it, but those strengthen the core muscles around your spine, and then you can start doing sit-ups and extensions, only if your core is strong, and those simple things, which involve 15 pounds at the most and/or your body weight will prevent most of the other injuries that we see. 00:26:08 DF: So, focus a little bit more on some of the less glamorous exercises it seems in support of the bigger body parts and muscle groups. That’s a very good point. I think a lot of people totally miss on. How many times have we seen people in the gym doing curls and doing bench press, and these are the “strong” guys in the gym, and then the next thing you know, right, they’re on crutches or the shoulder is… 00:26:33 DK: So, basically we’ve started kind of from the top, and we’re working our way down by talking what I just did about shoulder and then the core. The next would be your legs, which would be most of the people spend it doing squats or lunges or something that’s going to be working on their quads and do very little for their glutes and their hamstrings. And again, it should be a balance. There should be a balance of the percentage of strength from your quads to your hamstrings, and we see this with problems with hip injuries later on, and again, just like the shoulder, we may see it as a strain of the muscles in the hip, or we may see it as a labral tear, which, again, is cartilage in the hip just like in the shoulder, or we may see it that you may have sciatica and nerve problems, things like that because of poor position now because your quads are so much more dominant than your hamstrings. And so, again, I’ve seen this with all sports throughout high school and college, was the emphasis was on, “I need to have this strong quads,” and, yes, you do, but if the ratio becomes such that you have a 5 to 1 ratio in many cases, let’s say you could squat 500 pounds, I’m sure we could hardly find anybody that could curl 100 pounds with their hamstrings. So, again, that’s why I say it’s a 5 to 1 ratio. And when you workout, I mean when I’m running and doing something explosive, that ratio has to be 1 to 1. If my quad strength is five times what my hamstrings strength is, where do you think the injury is going to happen? And where do we see this in the NFL and baseball? What is the major injury you see that they say, “Oh,” it’s hamstring, and no one understands why, why we have it. Well, I can tell you, if your leg is extending with a 500-pound force, and you only have a 100-pound force to slow it down, to keep it from hyperextending, after a while, it’s either going to fatigue, or it’s going to be overcome by that strength. So, that’s what we need to think about, is, yes, you need to do the quad work, but remember there’s a balance of front to back, and everything we do. When the shoulders, what I talked about, yes, you can do bench press, but you also have to do the posterior part of your shoulders. Here, yes, you can do squats and lunges, but you have to remember I have to do some hip extension work. I have to do some hamstring curls to try to balance it out and get the ratio better. This can even prevent some things like the runner’s knee because, again, you’re so quad dominated that in a true running form, you should be more glute-dominated. And if we get those stronger and get that explosion, it’s supposed to be the biggest, strongest muscle in your body. Well, there’s a reason for that cause it’s supposed to be one that explodes to drive you forward, and so, you want to strengthen those glutes and strengthen the hamstrings, to balance. If you don’t, you’ll have knee problems, so we see that also. 00:29:24 DF: So, in terms of maybe the lower extremities, you know, ankle, knees and such, a lot of that seems to be just volume of training, right, wear and tear, or is there any preventative maintenance that can be done there? 00:29:34 DK: There is preventative maintenance, and, again, if you look at many athletes, from their knees down, they haven’t done anything. They may do some calf raises, you know, and that’s usually common. If they’re straight leg calf raises, then they got a barbell, and their shoulders, or they have leg press, and they put their feet out there, and that’s all they do. And that’s good in most cases, but in reality, it only really helps the gastroc, right, and there are two muscles that are in the lower leg that are combined, and that’s the gastroc and soleus. And the soleus attaches below the knee, and so you actually have to do the exercise bent legged also. So, we teach that, yes, you’re going to do the straight leg, but you also need to be seated with a weight on your thighs and do calf raises that way so you involve the soleus. And the soleus is really the muscle that you use more for running because your knee should be slightly bent as you’re running. You really don’t get to full extension of your leg until at the very last push off, okay, so you need that soleus in there. Most people don’t do that at all and also with their stretching. They don’t do a stretch. They may do the straight-legged stretch, but they won’t do it with a bent knee, and you need to stretch one straight-legged and one bent because, again, there are attachments above and below the knee. But not only just those because, again, now we’ve overemphasized the back of the leg, we haven’t done anything to the front or the side, and that’s, again, where we see a lot of problems with a stress related problem, is that the anterior portion where your anterior tib is lifts your foot up and toes. Well, when we’re running in soft sand, there’s a lot of that going on, and they have difficulty with boots even lifting that up high enough to get over it, and so they start using that a lot, so you need to do some anterior tib raises. And again, it’s not a lot of weight. It’s 1,000 foot strikes per mile, so you need something you can do a lot of repetitions with. Now, I can’t tell somebody, “Go out and do 1,000 reps of that,” but you need something with resistance, whether it’s your hand, whether it’s a towel, whether it’s a band and get sets of 20, sets of 50 that you’re doing that motion. And so, we get to the ankle, instability when we are running in soft sand or on the beach, and you step in something, you have to have the ability to be able to handle all the different directions cause your ankle is going to do it. So, that means you have to do an inversion and eversion, and again, if you use your towel, your hand or, again, a resistance band and go through those motions and use your peroneus longus, use your posterior tib muscle. Those are muscles that, again, we don’t require any extra equipment, we don’t require any more time, any more resistance. It’s just a matter of getting those repetitions in. And the last thing I’d say is that one of the exercises I have to do with our stress fracture guys is to just throw a towel out on the floor and curl it up with your feet, just like you’d be curling up with your hands and your toes because the muscles that flex your toes are running up the inside of your leg, and they also support your arch, and so if I strengthen those and get those used to repetitions, that will make it so that I might not have as much difficulty running in soft sand in boots and also prevent plantar fasciitis, too, so I mean there are, you know, we’ve basically gone from the shoulders down, a lot of simple little exercises that balance out things that you’re already doing. Those are the preventative things that we see are neglected, and they end up being the things that get injured. 00:33:06 DF: I think that’s a really good summary. One thing that I think would be helpful if you covered, and my guess is that the reason why a lot of these bigger muscle group movements are predominately focused on and a lot, like you said, football strength, whatever, because they’re, they’re impressive numbers, and they’re measurable, where it’s like a lot more difficult to maybe do some of that type of measurement with like the exercise you mentioned about curling a towel with your feet. What ways can people measure these types of movements really simply? Maybe you could talk to that a little bit. 00:33:38 DK: I’m one who really believes in using objective measurements in the lifting that we do. I want to know exactly how much somebody is lifting and what they need to be as I feel over 46 years of doing this, knowing it takes this amount of strength to be able to prevent that as a rotator cuff. If in an athlete you can’t do 15 pounds, you’re probably going to have problems. So, I know that if I’m starting with five, I know where I need to get to and can make those progressions. And some of these exercises, it’s difficult to do that, and that’s why we ask for repetitions instead, but you can even push that a little bit, and, again, trying to get as objective as possible say with a towel curl exercise. You, again, start out and make it easy, and you’re doing 50 of them, then put a book on it, build it up, and if that gets easy, put your boots on it and pull it in, or put a cement block or something on there that makes it more difficult. But again, with all the lower leg injuries, we are saying, “You are going to do 1,000 foot strikes per mile. During some of this training, you’re going to be running six to ten miles a day, so you need to prepare yourself for that.” Now, again, I’m not asking that you do 1,000 to 6,000, but you need to be doing sets of 20, sets of 30 so that your body at least knows what to do, and you can start strengthening those muscles. 00:35:01 DF: Great. A lot, we talk this being a lot about endurance, a lot about body weight, so, and you’ve mentioned that there’s not a tremendous amount of equipment that’s required for you to be able to hit your PST number and come into BUDS, and we talked about endurance being very important. Can you talk a little bit about footwear? I think there’s some trends out there for barefoot style running shoes and or running barefoot in sand, all this kind of stuff. What… 00:35:26 DK: But they won’t have that option when they get there. They will just be boots. There’s no, and the boots that they get were the ones that everybody’s issued. We can’t even change the style of the boot until after they’re into second phase. So, the footwear that they’re going to wear, I would tell them not to train in that, in that it’ll, it’ll throw off their mechanics, and it’s more important to have good mechanics and run properly, and I would say more, more towards the barefoot in that you’ll have a better style, and then as you add shoes, as you add boots, your body will adapt to that, but I certainly don’t recommend people going barefoot who haven’t run barefoot before. Again, with anything, you add a new exercise, it’s a shock to your body, and, again, I want to add steps of how many repetitions or how many days a week I do that, and it’s a matter of adjusting for your body to the stresses and new stresses that you’re adding to it. So, it’s kind of unique in that I’ve been doing it for about six years watching, you know, these guys run, and we’ve got all these stress fractures. And again, it’s probably best, again, to get them early or to get them up at prep, and I’m not moving to Chicago I can tell you that right now. I moved from New Jersey here 13 years ago, and there was a reason, but, you know, when I was trying to get them ready, they had to be able to pass their 4-mile run or 3-mile run. And so, I knew I not only had to get them back in condition, but they had a definitive line, as you said. It didn’t matter about push-ups, pull ups, sit-ups. They had to pass their 4-mile run. If they didn’t pass it, you know, no matter what we did rehab, they were out, so I’m going like, “How do I make them most efficient?” I know this post stress fracture guys, I know that they’ve got to wear the boots, I know it doesn’t matter if I put an orthotic in it or not, it’s going to be in the ocean, wet and sandy, you know, that’s not going to happen, that I know that they’re going to be running on the beach, high tide or low tide. I know they’re going to be wearing those pants, and I know it’s always a 4-mile run, and I know what the time is, 32 minutes and then 31, then 30. So, how do I know that when I’m teaching them to get back to running I’m making them the most efficient that I can? They’re broken for whatever reason. How do I know that if I do this and make them better they can? So, at that time, a tour group came through, Alberto Salazar. I don’t know if anybody’s familiar with him at all. Alberto is the coach of the Oregon Project for Nike and has taken US and the world’s best distance runners and worked with them, and Alberto was coming through, and it just was timely that I’m about that same time scratching my head, going, you know, I can get the limp out of somebody, I can make them stronger, but is this the best they can be with what they have? And so, I posed that to him, and I said, “You know, I don’t really know that, and, again, having worked athletics for over 40 years, that a distance coach has ever said, ‘Well, this is the best way to run. You know, this is the most efficient way.’” And he goes, “Well, I coached that.” “We’d never beat the Kenyans if we didn’t take care of everything, including technique and diet and sleep,” I said, “Wow, I’d love to learn it.” He goes, “Come on up and see.” So, I went up to Nike at his invitation, And he, the first thing he did, he sat me in front of a computer and said, “Watch these high speed films,” and then talked me through what they were doing, and then he showed me footplate films of how the foot was landing. And then we went to the treadmill and had Galen Rupp. I don’t know if you know Galen is the ten-time 10,000 meter champ of the US and silver medalist in the 10,000 meters in London and only the second time he ever ran the marathon got the bronze medal in the last Olympics. So, you go, not a bad runner. I guess he’s done something right with him, and he’s coached him since he was in high school. And so, he had Galen on the treadmill and went absolutely, you know, “Here’s what he’s doing, here’s what I’m watching, here’s what I’m coaching, here’s what I’m trying,” and it was like some of the things were just like, “Wow, I’ve never seen that, never known that.” And so, that night, I stayed up there for three nights, I’m a runner myself. I’ve been running for over 50 years and tried, you know, one of the things on myself, you know, and it’s like, “Wow, that feels a lot better,” you know, it’s like, “Wow.” The next day tried, you know, something different, and I kept feeling better with it. 00:39:46 DK: And so, I get back, and I started doing research on the medical side to say, “All right, if I’m more efficient to make me faster, does that make me have less injuries?” and so, started looking at each thing on research wise. I went through about 200 research articles and said when you break them down individually, yes, they do. And so, started putting it together, and so I started teaching my guys who had stress fractures, and the first thing I remembered was an ice hockey player from Brown University had bilateral stress fractures. And you watch him run on the treadmill, and you went, “Oh, my God, he looks like he’s still ice skating,” you know, it’s like one of these all over the place. Had trouble passing his 4-mile run, and so started doing what I call the FASTER program, and he got better. He even said to me, like, “My legs would always get tight as soon as I started running, my shins would, and I don’t feel that at all.” It’s like, “Oh, that was a good sign,” and so eventually he got, got out in running, he ended up passing and going through Hell Week and everything else. He said he knocked three minutes off his 4-mile time and now is on the teams on the east coast, and he’s been there for a couple years cause he’s been doing this for about two and a half years. And Alberto posed the question to me, what kind of sports background did it come from? I said I had never really looked at that and started looking at it, and as you would think with stress fractures, it was swimmers, water polo players, ice hockey players, and we always used to say it was bone density, and yet we do bone density tests and calcium tests and vitamin D, and everybody would be within normal limits. But you look at these guys and watch them run to evaluate the first time, and you went, “Oh, my gosh. No one’s ever shown you how to run because you didn’t need it to be a good swimmer, and you didn’t need it to be a good ice hockey player, but you’re not a good runner.” So, I found out keeping track again over all this time, over 75% of the guys who got stress fractures are from sports that are non-running sports. And, you know, I already named it. If you were a soccer player, football player, lacrosse player, you could still get it, and most of the time it was from over training. I actually film the guys for 15 seconds from the side and 15 from the back and watch the running mechanics, and then we sit down from the app and go over each of the six things and have had great success with it, and the whole point is, again, not over training. When I start training them back again, I don’t ever let them even do a 4-mile run. They do intervals where they’re doing 30-second intervals, short recovery and do that for three miles maybe, or they’re doing minute intervals that we’re trying to build up their strength and their aerobic capacity but not trying to just do mindless miles, and that’s what I see kids do, is to get ready for the PST or to get ready for the 4-mile run, “I’m going to run 8 to 10 miles a day, and, therefore, it’ll be easier.” Yes, it’ll be easier, but you won’t necessarily be faster because you never worked on the mechanics, and you never worked on the speed and power that you need to do to be faster. If you didn’t use more muscle fibers to go faster, you can’t go faster. I don’t care if you ran 20 miles. You’re not going to be a fast miler if you didn’t do speed work to be that fast, you know, and so that’s what we try to teach. 00:42:57 DF: So, all just, as a wrap up…(DK: It’s much too long!) DF: No no, I think you touched on a very important part… 00:43:02 DK: It’s where I got to rebirth at 68 years old to say, “Wow, you know, this is something that’s untouched. Why, why?” 00:43:09 DF: Yeah, just cause you learned how to run when you were a kid didn’t mean you learned the best way to run. 00:43:12 DK: And actually the command saw that 100% of the guys that I was working with were passing the 4-mile run. I said, “Well, it’s better than the rest,” and we had guys who weren’t injured and weren’t passing the 4-mile run, and they asked me to work with those guys for a while, and all of them passed, again, just doing simple mechanics and doing shorter distance but faster and a short recovery in between, intervals as such, and, you know, everybody made it. So, again, something that should be pushed earlier to say, “Hey, don’t just go out and do mindless miles. Do some intensity, get some short recovery so that you’re still pushing the heart, and do that intensity again, and you’ll do a lot better than just doing multiple miles of, you know, slow, easy jog,” yeah. 00:44:01 DF: So, in summary, if you had the ear of somebody who’s going to be entering in this process, in 15 seconds, what would be the quick elevator pitch to this kid that’s going to enter the process? 00:44:14 DK: I’d say balance, front to back, quads to hams, shoulder, and endurance. Think of, yes, I need strength, but I need to be able to do it multiple times for a long period of time. And so, it’s more important to have that endurance factor to get through the early part of our training. Later on as they become a SEAL, it becomes specific, but right now, they need to be able to make it through the training, and the training involves endurance. 00:44:40 DF: Are there any resources available to these potential candidates to prevent this type of injury? 00:44:44 DK: Online, there’s the physical training guide, and there are also some rehabilitation exercises that are shown on videos that they should be able to understand and be able to apply all these techniques. 00:44:58 DF: Well, we’re out of time. Thank you so much for joining us. It’s been really, really helpful. 00:45:02 DK: Good. 00:45:04 DF: Find out more at, and join us again for the next NSW podcast
Jul 09, 2018
#8 Mythbusting BUD/S
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People say a lot about SEAL training, but only we can give you the true, updated info. We asked two First Phase staff to debunk the popular myths about BUD/S and tell us how it really is. For more info check out 00:00:02 The only easy day was yesterday. (Intro) 00:00:30:00 SC: Hello, everyone, I’m Scott Williams, a member of the Navy SEAL and SWCC Scout Team here at Naval Special Warfare Center. I’m here today with Ken, a retired SEAL currently on the training staff at basic training command and an active duty SEAL, Steven, who is also on the training staff. The topic of our discussion today is myth-busting BUD/S, so let’s get right to it. 00:00:56:00 K: Hi, my name’s Ken. My background is 33 years active duty service, retired in 2016, was hired on about right after retiring to first phase at basic training command, and I’m the deputy OIC [Officer In Charge]. 00:01:12:00 S: Hi, my name’s Steven. I have almost 20 years in of active service and still active, and I’m currently on the training staff at Basic Training Command, BUD/S. 00:01:21:00 SW: There’s a lot of chatter and written material on the market these days usually produced by ex-SEALs, and it talks about how candidates can prepare for BUD/S. Most of this seems to be from the perspective of guys that went through the SEAL pipeline years ago. Is it the same old BUD/S it used to be? 00:01:43:00 K: Well, from my perspective of having gone through it 33 years ago, no. It’s more professional, it’s harder because the candidates that are coming our way are better prepared than they ever have been, and what we’re looking for is that mental toughness. The attributes that we’re looking for are, or the traits: grit, integrity, honesty, team before self. Those words were never used when I went through 33 years ago, but they’re used today, and that’s what we’re looking for young men to display those things. 00:02:24:00 SW: Thanks, Ken. Steven, your perspective? 00:02:27:00 S: I would absolutely agree. I went through 17 years ago, so half of Ken. It’s absolutely more professional now. Without a doubt, I would, I don’t know if I would say it’s easier or harder, but it’s absolutely more professional. The reason I would say it’s hard is that everything we do in the training pipeline is to elicit a response from the students of what we want to see, and the characteristics that Ken just listed out, you can’t get those from every single class. Every class has their own personality by doing the exact same thing every time, so there’s small changes that are done for a reason to elicit certain responses that we want to see or to encourage certain attributes that we want to put forth. 00:03:18:00 SW: It seems like there’s a lot of books or videos out there that give you tips or tricks on how to game the system so to speak. Can that be done? Is that realistic? 00:03:32:00 S: I think it’s hard, especially the way we look at the program now with getting, encouraging those certain attributes. The pipeline is so long that a lot of the tips I would think you see are just for potentially first phase, which is only seven weeks of a over a year long pipeline. If you are using tips or tricks, they might work for a day, a week, two weeks, but with a pipeline being so long and so professional nowadays, that’s going to come out at some point in training in my opinion. 00:04:05:00 K: Yeah, I would say you can. The young men that come through this program, if they get with the wrong sort, those that have been in the pipeline for a long period of time, never having even completed first phase yet, could lead some astray, like, “Hey, cut this corner doing this way. Cut that corner doing that way.” That’s not what we’re looking for. Can it happen? Yes. Do we want to see it happen? No. We want everybody to experience BUD/S the same way. The kid that gets out of this program who cheated to get through the program, most likely even if he gets through the whole entire over year process, it’s 64 weeks long, he will be found somewhere at SEAL team I don’t care cause he will display that color. Leopards don’t change their spots, so if he cheated from the frontend, it will come out somewhere along the way. 00:04:58:00 SW: As members of the training staff, how do you evaluate candidates? What, what are you looking for in those guys when they’re out there on the grinder, in the dunes? 00:05:13:00 K: We’re looking for the individual who will, again, put team before self. So, when you think of log PT or you think of a boat on your head with seven guys underneath it running, we’re looking for the young man that’s going above and beyond. He sees that his partner’s hurting; he picks up that extra weight. 00:05:32:00 S: For me, the meathead version is I look for guys that will be hard when it’s hard. Things like cheating the system or cutting corners is, is being easy. That’s, that’s not what I’m looking for. As Ken referenced, the hard stuff, log PT, land portages, Hell Week, I’m looking for the young man that will display the characteristics that we’re looking for and be hard, be a good teammate when it’s hard to be a good teammate. 00:06:04:00 SW: Some of these outside sources have recommended taking things like caffeine pills or other chemical training aids. What do you say about that? 00:06:16:00 S: On the anything chemical aids, I think a lot of the stuff that’s probably designed for the average guy walking around doing the average job, it’s extremely dangerous to put that in your body in the training pipeline that we conduct because we are, your body’s going to put through stuff that that stuff is not designed to be in your body when you’re doing it, all day long calisthenics and physical activities. We see a lot of young men, unfortunately, that will have glucose issues or overheat, and some of those are attributed to taking something as simple as Monsters. So, anything that is designed to influence your heart rate one way or the other I think is extremely dangerous in a pipeline of this caliber and how intense it is. 00:07:10:00 SW: Did you say glucose issues? 00:07:12:00 S: So, you have your insulin in your blood or not enough sugar in your blood, so you’ll have issues, not be able to physically perform, which puts your status in the pipeline at risk because if you’re not performing to the standard, then you can be removed from training. 00:07:30:00 K: Yeah, I mean every class will see it, and it’s an unfortunate thing. We put in front of these young men nutritionists that give them all the keys to success to physically get through this program on what to eat, what not to eat, when to eat and how much to eat, what to stay away from. Every class, they come in thinking because somebody told them, “Take this supplement. It works. It got me through.” Well, it didn’t. It didn’t get them through, and it’s unfortunate. So, like Steven said, we will be out on evolutions, and you will see young men go down, and when you pull the string on it, there’s something there. They didn’t eat the breakfast they were supposed to eat, they didn’t eat the lunch they were supposed to eat, or they were taking a supplement they shouldn’t be taking. 00:08:18:00 SW: Now, they get plenty of food when they’re in BUD/S, don’t they? 00:08:22:00 K: Oh, yeah, probably too much food. 00:08:24:00 SW: I mean it’s not like during Hell Week, you starve them, right? 00:08:27:00 K: No, they get to eat four times a day during Hell Week. On top of that, they add in, or we add in, snacks and hydrates, so the young man can get through this thing. And what happens is we’ll set the young man up for failure as well if he’s on a supplement in the first three weeks, and then he gets into Hell Week, and he no longer has that ability to get to whatever he was taking, it comes out real quick, and he crashes, and he’s no longer in the program. So, my advice to anyone is don’t take supplements. Heed our words when we tell you don’t take them. 00:09:02:00 SW: Part of the mindset that’s been put out there is, is ways you can make your life easier at BUD/S, and the instructors have been described as being pretty tough, and, of course, training is tough, but the suggestion is that they can be bought off by, you know, coffee and donuts at the barracks inspection and so forth. Do you, do you see that happening? 00:09:32:00 S: I see occasionally during barracks, barracks inspections students leave stuff out purposely, but I don’t know how it’s worked in the past, but I would say in the last at least five years if not more, we treat those as gear drift like you would in any inspection, and you’ll see it the first, maybe the first inspection, where someone’s read something somewhere saying if I leave gifts out or tobacco out that I’ll get an easier time during the inspection, and now those are hits in the inspection, and they failed because of that stuff, and then you’ll see it the one time, and they’ll figure out, “Okay, yeah, that was complete crap that I heard or read, and that absolutely got me in more trouble than trying to put it out in the first place.” 00:10:19:00 K: Yeah, I can’t add anymore to that other than it’s funny to watch the look on their face when they believed in their hearts after whatever they’ve read that this gift, this offering would make it easier on them. And when they see it go sideways, and it doesn’t work out that way, it changes the behavior. 00:10:38:00 SW: Along those same lines, some have characterized the instructors at BUD/S as sadistic and violent. Would you say that’s the case? 00:10:48:00 S: Absolutely not. I would say that, as I alluded to earlier, the staff, every interaction we have with any of the candidates is to elicit a response. It is calculated and done for a reason. That’s why we try to make each class experience going through BUD/S to be exactly the same, but there is small nuances that elicit some of those characteristics we want to see, so can the staff be audibly aggressive or intense in interactions with the candidates? Absolutely, but that is a calculated move done to elicit a certain response to see a performance change or to see a character attribute change. There’s never, the only time staff ever comes anywhere near the students is for safety reasons or something like that. There’s no…It could be, I can see how a student would see cause they’re not behind the curtain, thinking that it’s sadistic, but in actuality, it’s a calculated, calculated method to elicit certain responses. 00:11:56:00 SW: No beatings behind the dunes and behavior like that? 00:12:00:00 S: If there are remediation tools that we use, and it is told to the students why this is happening before it happens, what they learned, when there’s discussions afterwards what they learned, and that’s, again, that’s a tool used to elicit certain responses or to promote good behavior vice bad behavior. 00:12:24:00 K: You know, we can’t speak for the past. I can only go two years back. That’s when I was hired on, and when I say our staff is more professional today than it ever has been before because of things like what Steven just put out there, we look for and we elicit behavioral responses based off of what we do. Now, in the past, had there been potential for instructors with students sadistic behaviors taking place, I can’t speak to that, but I will tell you today for the last two years, that does not happen. 00:13:01:00 SW: So, just a few years ago, Naval Special Warfare Center created the Instructor Qualification Course, the IQC, to formally professionalize the instructor cadre of all the phases. Have you seen that as a really significant step toward how instructors carry on their duties within first phase? 00:13:32:00 K: It has definitely helped in a sense of giving the instructor tools to be able to use as he’s in front of the student, student base. It has allowed a more confident instructor to stand before them with better knowledge and is equipped better to handle that student I want to say cohort ’cause it is. It’s about 150 to 200 people. So, from a professional standpoint, yes, it has. 00:14:07:00 SW: But I think the idea is that, or the impression is out there that BUD/S instructors have the latitude to on a whim decide they’re going to be tougher on the class today. And Steven, you spoke about this earlier, about how every response, every evolution out there is pre-briefed and is not as random as the students may think it is. 00:14:38:00 S: Just like certain operations are planned months in advance, you also have time sensitive operations that are done hours away from now. That’s almost the exact same thing with the BUD/S training pipeline, at least for First Phase. We have schedules, but if we are not seeing the attributes or the responses that we need to, we will change the schedule. We will add things, take things out, but every time we do that is to elicit a certain response. Every interaction with the student base is for a reason. It’s to have them display to us something that we want to see, and if we’re not seeing that, we can make minor tweaks. But the bottom line is those interactions with the student base are for a reason to elicit certain responses or to have them display certain attributes that we want to see. 00:15:35:00 SW: So, it’s not just the beatings will continue until morale improves. There’s, there’s an objective to every evolution and even remediation. S: Correct. 00:15:45:00 K: And there’s a curriculum that’s followed almost to a T, but there is the, if you’re not giving us the response that we need to see and that we’re looking to see, we have other tools to make you show us that. It may come off as we’re being sadistic, but we’re not. It’s just physical activity to elicit a response that we want to see. 00:16:10:00 SW: Now, I’ve heard this around the campus before that BUD/S is to some extent a bit of a mystery. Should it stay a mystery to candidates, or is some of the information out there actually good to have before they get here? 00:16:30:00 K: Can you give a specific? 00:16:33:00 SW: Some websites will give out training information, for instance, how to train for BUD/S. Is that worthwhile information to have before it gets here? 00:16:47:00 K: Sure. Again, the program itself, because of the length of it, and we’ll talk specifically just for first phase at BTC, you can know all the keys to the kingdom; you still have to physically go through it. So, log PT’s coming, you can practice log PT activities if you want. There’s plenty of videos out there showing you how to do it. It’s not the same until it’s game day, and you’ve got six other people on that log trying to do it. Working by yourself is easy. Working as a team, that’s what we’re looking for, is teammates, individuals who will work hard together. So, yes, we don’t mind, get yourself physically ready for this program, but the program itself is tough. You can’t hide from it. 00:17:42:00 S: I would concur. I don’t know, I don’t know how you would train for BUD/S other than putting in the work. You know there’s going to be running, you know there’s going to be swimming, you know there’s going to be a lot of calisthenics, so I don’t have any problem with anybody trying to get ready for that. 00:18:02:00 SW: But what is your best advice to a candidate that’s thinking about coming into the SEAL pipeline or getting himself or herself ready? 00:18:15:00 S: There is going to be growth on the mindset side going through this program, specifically first phase. It is hard to plan on doing some physical growth when you get to this program. You need to show up physically ready to go through the program but also have an open mind that you’re going to grow mentally a lot more than physically here. We’re going to beat you down physically to grow you mentally. What I mean by that is I think students sometimes come, and they want to try to cheat the system on a uniform inspection or a barracks inspection when in actuality what we’re trying to ferret out is I’m only going to give you, I’m not going to give you a gun and a radio and a bunch of other high-speed gear when I haven’t seen if you can take care of just what I’m giving you. So, when we first get here, we just give them a uniform. That’s it. Show me you can take care of this one thing, and then we will move on in the pipeline, as you go through the pipeline, more stuff to take care of, but if you can’t take care of just your uniform, then you’re proving to me that maybe you don’t have the capacity to progress in the pipeline. So, I think if students come here with that mindset of, “Okay, I’m going to make some mistakes. I’m going to prove that I can take care of this one thing myself. I’m not going to cheat it, I’m not going to buy extra, I’m going to prove that I can do this one thing by myself,” then that will make it easier for you as you go through the pipeline to set those good habits of taking care of your stuff, you taking care of your stuff, not someone else, not buying it on town, you taking care of that stuff. That’s what we want to see. So, show up physically ready cause you’re, you’re going to need to. You can’t grow physically in BUD/S. It’s the complete opposite, but on the same hand, show up open-minded that you’re going to make some mistakes, but those mistakes will help you further in the pipeline if you just do the work yourself. 00:20:26:00 K: But from a physicality piece, back to your, the genesis of your question, so the person who wants to come to this program has to take a PST. And if you pass the PST, or you score within the range we’re looking for, you have the physicality to at least get to Prep [Naval Special Warfare Preparatory School]. And when you go to NSW Prep post boot camp, that’s an 8-week program that does nothing but collegiate level get the human system ready for BUD/S. But you’re only going to be as strong and as good as what you put into it. If you don’t put the work into it even during Prep, and you show up to Coronado day one of NSWO or BO, Basic Orientation, your life gets woken up really quick on, “Oh, my gosh, I probably should’ve put a little bit more into it.” So, I’ll use this analogy of if this is the field you want to get into, and you know that the physicality it takes to do it, make that your craft, hone that, but the system today gives the young person everything they need to be successful here at BUD/S. It’s up to them whether they choose to take that on or not. That gets to the mental aspect of it, which is another component to this, which I would argue is probably about 60 to 70% of first phase. Where are you mentally? Do you have a good anchor for why you’re here? The physicality piece, if you’ve got physicality, you’re going to be okay here, but it’s really the mentality that we’re looking for. Will you keep going and keep going even when you’re exhausted? So, that’s what we’re looking for. 00:22:10:00 SW: So, the cheats and the shortcuts, they, they start adding up, they start having sort of a cascading effect on your ability to mentally and physically perform when it counts as the pipeline progresses, so you might be able to beat it today, but the fact that you didn’t get that mental lesson cause you shortcut it means that tomorrow it’s going to be even harder. 00:22:35:00 K: That is correct. There’s another component to this as well, so you have the mental, the physical, but you also have the human dynamics. So, on any given class that comes our way, it’s about 150 young persons that are coming from Prep in Great Lakes. There’s a human dynamic there that has to take place as well. So, I would say for those individuals who are very individualized, you need to learn to be in a team, to work with people. The individual does not fare well here because that is not what we’re looking for. We’re looking for young men, young women that can work as a team. 00:23:16:00 SW: It reminds me of, you know, the proverbial college star quarterback who gets drafted into the NFL and thinks so much of himself that the rest of his team hates him, and that first season, he ends up falling on his face because he doesn’t have the support of the rest of his team. They don’t want him around no matter how good he is because he’s not a teammate. 00:23:45:00 K: Correct, but you’ll see that. You’ll see that in this program, the young man who, “It’s all about me, I’m going to worry about me, I’m not going to worry about anybody else,” they don’t do well here, and they either have to change that behavior and realize that it is a team concept that we’re looking for, or they just go away. 00:24:04:00 S: Everybody has bad days in this pipeline, and if you think, “I’m, I can just do this by myself. I’m never going to have a weak moment,” you are sorely mistaken because we will make sure that you have weak moments, and if you are trying to do this by yourself, and you’re not a good teammate, the team will not be there to carry you along or lift you up or motivate you when you’re at those weak moments. So, everybody’s going to have them. That’s why you have, that is for a reason, so just try to get that response be a good teammate, work as a team. If you are not working as a team, then when you are having one of those weak moments, your team is not going to be there to lift you up. 00:24:50:00 SW: Let’s talk about the operational relevance. Some people see First Phase as just a big beat down session to weed guys out, and that’s all there is to it. We’ve talked about how some of those suggestions out there may be a little misleading when it comes to, “Here’s some shortcuts. Here’s some cheats,” and we talked about how that cascading effect happens. It ultimately leads, leads to failure, but carry that forward for me, about the lesson learned now about doing it the right way, going through the pipeline and how that translates later on when you put on the uniform, and you’re deployed out in the country, overseas, maybe on a small S&R [Surveillance and Reconnaissance] mission. 00:25:42:00 K: Well, I would, I’ll start with this. My hardest day in 33 years was not BUD/S. It just wasn’t, but BUD/S set the template for how I could manage sleep deprivation, physical exertion, doing the job that I was doing many a times, and that is almost to a man on the staff that we currently have. It’s funny when you hear them talk cause they will tell the students, “This is not hard compared to what you are going to face in reality going down range or deploying somewhere. We’re going to ask more of you, but you got to be able to get through this before I can ask you more,” if that makes sense. 00:26:28:00 S: And just to build on what Ken said, as I was talking about doing your first PI [Personnel Inspection], you’re going to make mistakes. Put in the work. It’s going to pay it forward. There are a lot harder times in your career than BUD/S, but BUD/S is on that same path just walking you, getting you stronger, getting you mentally stronger, giving you the tools mentally and physically to be able to push through whatever it is you’re doing that is hard, so you can be hard when it’s hard. I don’t want to go down the line of difference, things, doing this job overseas, but it sets the tone to show you that you’re capable of way more than you think you can, and everything takes practice, and it’s good for BUD/S to, it’s important that you practice being hard. It is going to be harder once you leave the program, period. 00:27:26:00 SW: The thing that reminded me of deployment and kind of you’re on your own or a very small team is when you mentioned the Personnel Inspection. You know, we give you a piece of gear to take care of. Can you prove that you can take care of that piece of gear? And then later on, you start adding more pieces of gear. One day, you’re out there, and you have your gear, and your teammate has his gear, and there’s no one else to take care of your gear, and I think, when I think about that personnel inspection as the very first lesson in being self-sufficient, taking care of your own stuff, not relying on other people to do it for you, I think it’s one of those things that goes back to, “Well, how do we, how can we game the system on how to get around this?” There’s no gaming the system out there, is there? 00:28:23:00 S: With a pipeline as long as this is, I don’t, I don’t believe, or it would be extremely difficult to game the whole system. There’s so much that’s built on every day. That’s why they say ‘the only easy day was yesterday,’ and if you’re gaming the system over and over, you’re going to, it’s going to come out. It absolutely will. 00:28:44:00 K: One simple thing, the helmet. Have students in the past purchased extra helmets, had somebody out in town paint their helmet, put their numbers on their helmet, put their name on their helmet? Yes, that has happened, and we have found them. What are we looking for? We’re looking for the young man that’s, the young person that’s going to sit there and do his own helmet, paint his own helmet, sand his own helmet. Why? Cause he’s shown me that he’s going to take a weapon system later on in his career, and he’ll have it clean, so when I need him on the battlefield with a clean weapon that’s functional, he’s there. There’s no guarantee with the young man that goes out and has somebody else do his helmet that he will be there for me when I need him, so that very simple thing, a helmet. Just do your own helmet. 00:29:33:00 S: Just to add to what Ken said, mistakes you make on the battlefield do not impact you; they impact your teammates. And that being said, one of the things I tell the students is if you successfully make it through this program, you will be protecting our brothers on the battlefield, and we take this very seriously, so they should take it seriously because mistakes they make are going to affect their teammates, not themselves, and we take it seriously because if you make it through the pipeline, you are going to be protecting us or our brothers on the battlefield. That’s a fact. 00:30:08:00 SW: I think I saw somebody, I think it was maybe the safety officer, and this was a while back as I was crossing the grinder, had a sign above his door that said, “The enemy thanks you for not training or not giving 100 percent effort today.” 00:30:24:00 K: I’ve seen that before, yeah. 00:30:27:00 SW: 100 percent effort is something that you guys really need to see from, from your candidates, and when they don’t give 100 percent effort, what’s the result? 00:30:39:00 S: I would say I don’t need to see, I’m going to assume that what I’m seeing is 100 percent, and then I’m going to measure that 100 percent against the standard, so whether you give me 100 percent or 70 percent, I don’t care. If you’re having a bad day, I don’t care. I’m going to automatically assume that what I see from you is the best you can do, and then I’m going to measure your best against the standard. If you did not meet the standard, I’m sorry, I told you up front give me your 100 percent. I’m going to assume you’re giving me your 100 percent, and if I, I’m just going to see what you give me, assume that’s your 100 percent and measure it against the standard. And if you don’t meet the standard, then it’s not my fault. I was measuring what you gave me. I’m assuming it’s your 100 percent, so it’s risky I think for students not to give their 100 percent because I’m going to assume every time how you run, your uniform, your room, all the test gates, I’m assuming automatically you’re giving me your 100 percent. 00:31:46:00 K: It’s a great way to put it. It all circles back to what Steven said in the beginning: the candidates we’re looking for are those that are going to be hard when it’s hard only every day. 00:31:59:00 S: Be a good teammate when it’s hard to be a good teammate, when you’re tired, the boat’s been on your head all day, but you have to do your part. That is what we are looking for. 00:32:11:00 K: And we don’t get to see that all the time. There’s what the instructors see from a student, and then there’s what the students do on their own. There are a lot of activities that take place at the end of a workday. You’re judged by your peer group on did you do your part today, even though we were all tired, did you do your collateral duties, or were you the first one to go back to your rack and go to sleep? Everything’s watched from multiple angles, and it all gets laid on the table because we will do a picture of the whole man, the whole person to see what they’re like, and it’s not just what we see, it’s also what their fellow students see. 00:32:52:00 SW: All right, gentlemen, thanks for joining me. It was very informative. Any last parting shots? 00:33:02:00 K: Be hard when it’s hard. CLOSE: Find out more at, and join us again for the next NSW podcast.
Jun 26, 2018
#7 NSW: A Female Perspective
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Women have quietly served in Naval Special Warfare for years. Today, we spoke with two female warriors who deployed with the Teams. For more info go to 00:00:02 The only easy day was yesterday. (Intro) 00:00:22 (Angie Giovannini Intro) In two thousand fifteen, the Department of Defense announced that they were opening front-line combat roles to women for the first time in American history. In two thousand sixteen, they were given the opportunity to apply to the Navy SEALs and SWCC. But female sailors have deployed with SEAL teams and other special operations units for years in important, front-line roles. In this episode, I speak with two such women who have deployed multiple times with America’s elite special operations units, and still serve with them today. First you’ll hear from Jannelle, who is serving on active duty with the training staff at BUD/S. 00:01:00 AG: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today. I know you have a pretty unique perspective, and so let’s start out with you just telling us a little bit about what you do, how you got to where you are, a little background. 00:01:11 J: Sure. I’ve worked with NSW in the past. My last command was here in Coronado, so that’s a SWCC command, and I was approached from my Command Master Chief about the women in Special [Operations] Forces and if I wanted to support that initiative and come to the Center and kind of be in the role where you establish the transition from just a male pipeline to open it to females. So, obviously, I was totally, totally onboard with going over to the Center just cause I love the community and wanted to stay within it, and, yeah, support the whole full integration of women. 00:01:49 AG: And what attracted you to this community? What was it about it? 00:01:52 J: When I first joined the Navy, I just really wanted to do anything that was active and physically demanding. I played sports in college and pretty much my whole life, CrossFit, things like that, so I was drawn to the physicality and also, to be quite honest, I didn’t want to be on a ship. 00:02:10 AG: And when you are on deployment or in operation, in operational zones, what would you say life is like? What’s your everyday life that you can talk about? 00:02:20 J: It’s been mostly with SEAL teams deployment and then also EOD, and it’s, so a normal day really is a normal night. Most everything is done at night on deployment, and it’s, I think I have a unique deployment experience just because deploying with a SEAL team is just such a close-knit group. You become like almost a family, especially because it’s such a small, small group. But, yeah, the days are, days are long. You know, I spend a lot of time in the tactical operations center just cause I do Intelligence and really just supporting the troop as much as I can for their operations. 00:02:58 AG: Can you explain a little bit what “Intelligence” means? 00:03:01 J: Sure, so Intelligence in the Navy is just basically analyzing threats and, in a tactical sense, targeting essentially the enemy forces. 00:03:12 AG: You mentioned how important it is the camaraderie that happens when you’re on these missions. Can you talk about the importance of teamwork, especially from the perspective of someone that is being attached to different teams at different times? How does that work, the dynamic? 00:03:26 J: Yeah, I think teamwork is the reason this community is so successful. I think from a very beginning, you, you start doing everything together, you know, and you embrace, like I didn’t go through BUDS, obviously, but you do go through workups on deployment, and it kind of sucks. So, what I like to say is you embrace the suck together, and you, you certainly build a trust and camaraderie with one another, so, where you gain credibility, and people learn to trust you, you know, and see if you’re good at your job. I think that if you don’t have that, you know, you’re not going to be very successful in this type of community because everything is build off personal relationships and teamwork. 00:04:06 AG: How do you feel, what’s your method for establishing trust since it’s so important? 00:04:10 J: I think, for me, I just go in super humble in every, every experience and every opportunity. You know, if I don’t know something, I’ll be the first to say I don’t know it, but I’m super eager to learn, and this community I think is, if you do have like the urge to do something and want to learn something, then you’ll be super successful. You just have to have the motivation. I think that that’s what makes it stand out from other commands in the Navy. You’re super happy to come to work and be a part of the team. I think you just feel you’re contributing to something a lot bigger than yourself. 00:04:42 AG: Amazing. How do you prepare for that mentally and physically? 00:04:48 J: For deployments? Well, like I said, you know, you become close, and then it just becomes… 00:04:56 AG: Before you go, you mean? 00:04:58 J: Yeah, you get pretty close with your troops, spend a lot of time together, maybe too much time, but you just develop a sense of like unity and camaraderie. I hate to use that word over and over again, but it really has been something that I’ve really, really, really enjoyed at this command. 00:05:18 AG: Is there anything that stands out to you, you know, we’re talking to young people who might just be considering a career in this direction someday. Is there anything recently that you could, just makes you feel proud of, of doing what you do? 00:05:35 J: Being at the Center, 00:05:37 (AG) To clarify, when she says "Center" she is referring to the Naval Special Warfare Center, the SEAL and SWCC training headquarters. 00:05:43 I’m, you know, pretty proud every day. You see these students training every day, like giving everything they got. I would hate to be in their shoes, to be quite honest, but they, it’s something to be said, you know, you get to see them coming from boot camp and then, you know, training for 63 weeks, and then finally, they pin on a trident, and you, you’ve kind of gone through that whole procedure with them and provided support to them, you know, cause SEAL teams wouldn’t be able to do much of anything, and SWCC, without support. So, I think that that’s super important, and it’s just coming to work wanting to support the operators and then also having that good working relationship. 00:06:25 AG: And, so if someone, you know, who maybe doesn’t know a ton about this but has seen a few things on TV or in movies, and they’re just interested, what would you say to them? How would you start the conversation? 00:06:39 J: I think it’s super nerve-wracking to even want to get into this type of community, but the Scout Team, the website and the people involved in the recruiting and the instructors are really knowledgeable, so I just, you know, urge them to just take a chance and reach out and get some information, even if it’s kind of nerve-wracking and intimidating because it is for I think most people, you know, when they think of like the Navy in general, like the majority of the population isn’t even, can’t even, you know, pass the standards to get in, and those certain few who are to get in this community is even a little tighter, but just take a chance and give it a try. 00:07:21 AG: One thing that has come up a lot, and in particular with the SEALs and SWCC, is mentorship, and even though you didn’t go through BUDS, you have, you are following a very similar track. Do you, do you think mentorship is important in the way that you’ve gone about things? 00:07:40 J: Oh, yes, I think it’s absolutely pivotal on being successful in the Navy and especially for like this type of community. Those guys, the candidates get mentorship from pretty much the second they walk into a recruiting office. They have a really good Warrior Challenge program. There’s guys all over the country who provide mentorship from the second they sign up, and then for support side, me, you know, I’ve had a lot of mentors in this community throughout my entire career who I’ve kept in touch with, and you just see them checking in to be an instructor. You know, it’s like you cross paths again and just, yeah, it’s, I think mentorship is really invaluable in this community and in general. 00:08:26 AG: What are some of the ways that that has changed your experience? 00:08:30 J: I guess with me, I had a particular incident on deployment where I had to fly home really quickly, and they provided support that was unimaginable, and it’s something that I’ll certainly never forget and developed a sense of just really, a lot of pride, and, you know, comfortability, and they just support the members so, so incredibly, and I think that that’s what draws me to this community so much, and it just kind of transfers over. I guess your question was about mentorship, but I think the trust and mentorship kind of go hand in hand, so just having that trusting relationship where you respect somebody, I think they naturally become a mentor. 00:09:13 AG: And do you, if you look back at how you got to where you are, what would you do the same, what would you do differently? 00:09:20 J: For me, I don’t think I’d do anything differently. I just love the community, and it turns out, it worked out really well, you know, made Chief, got to do several deployments, so I don’t think I would change much, maybe deploy a couple more times. That’ll come hopefully soon, but we’ll see. 00:09:38 AG: Well, we wish you luck on that. What kind of advice would you give to people who are interested in the same career path? 00:09:44 J: I would certainly say to follow what interests you, and then I think good things will follow if you just have a good work ethic, you know, and, but a lot of people, they take jobs to promote. Well I take jobs for quality of life and experience, and that’s worked out for me, so I think more so instead of just trying to move up in ranks as quick as you can. Really go somewhere where you’ll have a good experience and learn a lot more than just raising your hand to do any opportunity to promote. 00:10:20 AG: If we could take it step, back a few steps. You have some great advice on following what you’re passionate about. What about before you ever get to that point, before you ever actually come into the military, if someone’s considering their career, what are some steps that you would say in the civilian world someone should take to prepare themselves properly and be ready for it? 00:10:41 J: Right, that’s a good question. So, I grew up in sports all my life, individual sports and team sports, and I think that helped a lot when I got to boot camp and then further in commands just because you have, you have an understanding of how a team works and what it takes to get a job done. Most everything in the military is not done individually. It is a team effort, so I think if you have that understanding of, of teamwork and what it means to be a good part of a team, an effective team member, I think you’ll really go far, and then also the mental toughness piece has become huge and pretty much a buzzword it seems like in this command. But I think it really, really helps to just understand that everything, for me, I just kind of tell myself, “It’s all going to end in a couple hours,” you know, like the day, whatever task you’re doing. I think it’s important just to be like mentally tough and try to increase your mental strength. 00:11:43 AG: If you were speaking specifically to the females who might want to follow in your footsteps, is it different? Do they have to look at things differently? Do you feel like they should just tackle it the same way? 00:11:55 J: I think just being, you know, female in the military, you’re still a minority, and although the numbers are increasing, there’s something to be said about minorities. You might have to work a little harder, feel like you have to work a little harder, but again, it’s kind of like mass in numbers. You know, you’re outnumbered a bit, so do your best to stand out, and do your job as best you can, and I think your credibility and, you know, how well you get the job done will speak for itself. 00:12:25 AG: Have you, have you run into any obstacles because of that, or have you dealt with that? 00:12:32 J: You know, I never have really had any instances where I felt there was an equality barrier. Again, I attribute that to this community I’ve been in throughout my whole career, you know, from when I was super young, coming out of boot camp, then going to IS [Intelligence Specialist] ‘A’ school. I checked into a command, and two weeks later, I deployed, and it was a little nerve-wracking, but, yeah, it was just acceptance into the team, and then I never, I never felt like I was behind the power curve for being a female. 00:13:04 AG: Didn’t have time to think about it. 00:13:06 J: Yeah, I felt like, you know, like I said, you establish yourself as a working professional and somebody who’s respectful, and then it kind of just follows easily. 00:13:18 AG: Do you think that that’s the case for most women? 00:13:21 J: I guess I can’t speak to their experience, but again, mine, mine has been exceptionally favorable. I don’t really have any negative things to say. For me, it’s, it’s been really good. 00:13:33 AG: So, something someone might not know… as a female attached to a Special Operations team, are you expected to be at the same physical level, are you expected to pass the same tests, or how does that work? 00:13:44 J: No, we’re not, like I said, the standards are a bit different, and we don’t have to take the PSTs or anything like that, but here, like PT is just really pushed, you know, and it’s at, you have every opportunity to get faster, to get stronger. You know, we have like running coaches and strength coaches and all, so, yeah, I think it’s a huge advantage than just a regular like Navy command, but they don’t look at you differently, or I’ve never been looked at differently just because I can’t bust out 25 pull-ups like with the BUDS instructor next to me working out. 00:14:22 AG: And that’s attributed to the nature of what you do versus what some of the other teammates are doing or? 00:14:26 J: Maybe, yeah, I think that everybody here’s just, I guess they don’t really lead with their physical strength. You know, it’s more of like a functional strength and functional like your job, whatever you need to do your job is how you’re I guess looked at. So, somebody who works in admin, I just guess there wouldn’t be an expectation of them to deadlift their body weight times two. 00:14:50 AG: No, it’s a helpful insight because just because you’re aligned with a SEAL team, it, obviously, you’re all being held to very high standards physically and mentally, but it’s good for people to understand that there are differences depending on what you’re doing on deployment. 00:15:07 J: Oh, absolutely, yeah. I wouldn’t, I would never try to compete against a SEAL beside me, but, you know, the workouts are together, and everybody kind of encourages everybody to be in the best shape you can, regardless of if you work in admin or supply or intel or ops. You know, everybody is physically pretty on par with supporting one another. 00:15:28 AG: Do you, are there different tests that you have along the way to, to keep you in a certain kind of shape? Like is there a certain minimum pull-ups and things like that that you have to stick to? 00:15:37 J: Nope, we just do the standard Navy test, and then other instructors, some females are in instructor roles at the center, and during the instructor qualification course, you take the TAP assessment, which is the Tactical Athlete [Program] assessment, and it’s basically a point scale, and from there, you just kind of get a workout program to increase yourself to be a better instructor if you will. 00:16:03 AG: So, what I’m hearing that I think is really important to reiterate for anyone who might be listening is that you, as a woman, you might be intimidated by this community because it’s, it is very male dominated, but there are a lot of different jobs associated with Special Operations, and so it’s not just being a SEAL or being SWCC. It’s a lot of different things, and so you have a wide variety to choose from. 00:16:33 J: Absolutely, and NSW has been integrated for such a long time that it’s really commonplace to see women everywhere, and like I said, you’re supported, you know, if you, if you do your job well, it’s a really like close-knit, supportive type community. 00:16:51 AG: That’s really great to hear. Do you think, that seems like something that’s changed pretty rapidly in the last, what would you say, five years or? 00:16:58 J: Yeah, I guess I’ve been in about 12 years, and now I see like much more women, you know, in like what seems like Naval Special Warfare, which is good, yeah. There’s no closed rates or anything. 00:17:14 AG: What would you say to a friend of yours, a female friend who said that they want to be a Navy SEAL? 00:17:18 J: I would say that’s awesome. Do it. I think that there are certainly quality, quality candidates, male and female, you know, who, who need to still join the ranks of SEALS and diversify it a little bit more and be an even stronger force than they already are with diversity. 00:17:35 AG: Nice. Well, so let’s go back to where we were. Do you have any just, what’s your favorite thing about doing what you do? What do you just love about it? What wakes you up in the morning? 00:17:51 J: Honestly, my favorite thing about this community is deploying. I love to deploy, and people look at me like I’m crazy, but I think it’s where you get to really do your job, and you really develop that closeness. For each day, it’s really interacting with the people I work with, like I like it. I think that some people, you know, I hear like nightmare stories like about coworkers and how they just don’t get along, and they dislike them, and I think that it’s pretty terrible, and I do love the fact that I can work out every day and have like an awesome facility and awesome coaches, you know, at my disposal pretty much. 00:18:36 AG: And you mentioned before just the quality of people that you’re around all the time. 00:18:40 J: Yeah, that would be the most part, and that’s why I hope that I can stay in this community until retirement. 00:18:45 AG: It seems like you’ve got a pretty good chance. What else would you like to say? This is, you know, I’d like to give you an opportunity to just speak about, you know, this community that you love so much and what you would say to someone, you know, say I’m 20 years old and just thinking about my options in life. What’s your advice? 00:19:05 J: I would say even though it just changed, you know, the doors just opened, and it is something new for females, don’t let that deter you. Like I said, my experience has been incredible, and I think that somebody who has a heart to do this and who’s motivated and dedicated really and has that teamwork aspect down, I think that it could be a really exciting career. And again, just like diversity makes any force to be reckoned with, and it’s what allows you to, to really just capitalize on all types of talents and all types of characteristics. So, I think that if, if it’s your dream, then just follow it, you know, and, yeah, I’m excited to be a part of this community, and I think that, you know, people that who are motivated and who do meet the standards, they should just, should just go for it. 00:20:03 AG: You said something that I think is really important that I want to just expand on a little bit, that diversity makes a better force. Can you just give me a little more detail about what that means, especially from your perspective? 00:20:18 J: Yeah, absolutely. I think that every person brings something different to the table, and, you know, for their, the future female operators can, can really do something that maybe male operators couldn’t in the past. I think people who have certain language skills, and we have students who have gone to like MIT and Harvard, you know. There’s just a lot of talent, and I think that the diversity of talent is, is what makes the Navy in general so, so amazing, you know, and really capable, a capable force and especially the quality of person that comes to screen for SEAL and SWCC and the support people here and civilian staff here. You know, everybody just has something to really offer, and it’s just like a pretty, pretty standout team. 00:21:15 AG: Wow, that’s so inspirational. It feels like a very welcoming environment here. 00:21:20 J: For me, I really don’t have anything negative to say. It’s been I would say the highlight of my career, but it’s been my whole career, so. 00:21:30 AG: Would you say there’s any barriers for females? 00:21:33 J: No, I think this has been a big learning opportunity for, you know, the staff and community as whole. There hasn’t been any barriers. It’s just been an opportunity to improve training overall, and that’s what Naval Special Warfare Center and everybody else has done. It’s just a more dignified training environment, but any specific barriers related to opening to females I don’t think so at all. Like I said, it’s been integrated for some time now, and it’s really just common to see female sailors and female support staff all over the place. 00:22:09 AG: What do you think the best pathway is to be accepted by this community? 00:22:14 J: I would say job competence and work ethic. It doesn’t really matter where you come from, what your gender is, anything, as long as you can do your job well and perform a part of the team, you’re going to be accepted and welcomed. 00:22:30 AG: So, essentially the acceptance is based on your ability to make the team better and to be successful in the mission. 00:22:39 J: Exactly. Most people, you know, who, who want to be involved in Naval Special Warfare are mission focused and excited to be a part of the mission, so I think that that goes a long way but also knowing your job well. 00:22:53 (AG Transition) Our next guest also works alongside a SEAL team, but her role is quite different: she provides direct, in the field support to ensure that our SEAL and SWCC teams’ missions are successful in the short-term and long-term. 00:23:08 AG: Well, first, I want to thank you so much for being here. I’m really excited about this particular podcast because you’re doing such interesting things all over the world. (N: Thank you!) So, could you start by telling us about, well, first of all, introduce yourself, and tell us what you do and the organization that you work for. 00:23:25 N: Great, sounds good. Thank you for having me and for taking the time to hear my story. So, my name is Nicolette, and I am a reservist with a SEAL Team here in Coronado, and in my civilian job, I’m a field operations project manager for a nonprofit. We do a lot of humanitarian aid and economic development, non-lethal assistance to deployed US military and troops basically wherever they’re deployed and they need help or assistance to make their mission like more successful in the field. 00:23:59 AG: It seems, this is a side of Special Operations I don’t think a lot of people know about, (N: right!) and so is this more common that people think, this kind of, the other side of things when you’re in country? 00:24:10 N: It’s hard to say depending on where Special Operations are deployed. A lot of them are working in really small areas that are very vulnerable, and their goal is to kind of build the rapport with the local population and foster that relationship with their partner forces that they’re training. So, you know, they’re deployed all around the world in some of the worst parts and the worst areas, and while they’re there, their goal is to, you know, help train their partner force and help, you know, build their capacity so that those countries know how to operate effectively and, you know, connect with their populations if that makes sense. 00:24:54 AG: Yeah, interesting that you’re a woman working with Special Forces but then also needing to be an expert in the cultures that you’re adapting to. Does that, is that like a lot of mental work for you as you’re going into these situations? 00:25:08 N: I think yes, yes. When I went to Iraq to support, obviously, there’s different religions, and so the cultural sensitivity of working with many different religions with the all-female unit, I mean you just have to think through those cultural sensitivities, you know. But I think a lot of that goes back to our training, when I was in the Navy, active duty, and when, when we went through that course, they gave us a lot of training on just cultural sensitivities and, you know, what to prepare for, so I think that helped a lot with the transition. 00:25:49 AG: And then, so, have you all, when you were active duty, we’re you also working with Special Forces, or was that a different? 00:25:55 N: No, no, so I did four years just driving small boats, and I deployed once to Africa for about a year just working like harbor security, small 26-foot boats, and then I went into the Navy Reserve, which is where there was a screening for the cultural support unit to come in as female enablers to Naval Special Warfare. 00:26:26 AG: If we could talk a little bit about like the unique perspective you have, you’re a female who’s been in the Navy, who is attached to SEAL and SWCC teams in country all over the place… does it feel like you’re a part of the team? Does it feel like you’re an outsider? How does it feel? 00:26:43 N: I think that’s a really good question actually. No matter what position I’m in, whether it be, you know, in uniform or out of uniform, you always have to prove yourself. That’s one thing I always notice across the board, which for me, I thrive on that. I, that’s just the way I grew up, you know, my mom was a police officer, so I just, I’ve always pushed myself, and I’ve always been in a position where I had to prove myself, so I like that. So, it’s, I would say it’s a position for someone who’s, would be aware that that’s what they’re getting into. You always have to prove yourself. 00:27:24 AG: Is that because, I mean why do you think that is? Let’s just unpack that a little bit. 00:27:29 N: That could be taken any way somebody wants to perceive that, but I would say many of the perceptions is that, you know, women don’t belong in this community, or they don’t maybe have the capability to be up to the same level as some of the operators, and so that’s probably where a lot of insecurities rise until you prove it. So, like for instance, when we were deployed, you know, we would go out to support a SEAL team, and we would come on base, or, you know, we would learn the operation, and there still wouldn’t be that confidence with our capabilities until we actually went on mission, and we were able to do our job and then, you know, find out the information that they wanted to find out, and when we were able to do it in so much quicker of a time than they would, I mean sometimes, we would be able to solve the problem in ten minutes versus them working on it for three months just because of the fact that we were women, and we were trying to, well, we were there working alongside other women or women of other religious preferences who because of the cultural sensitivity, women could only talk to women, so we were able to engage a specific population. And because of that, we were able to get ahead, and that was seen as something valued. 00:28:57 AG: It seems like it comes down to trust. 00:29:00 N: Partially I would say and proving that you can do the job, but once you did that, there was, you know, instant rapport, instant value add. 00:29:11 AG: It seems to me like what you’re saying is maybe it doesn’t matter if you’re a male or a female. You have to prove, you have to prove that you… 00:29:20 N: You just have to do the job. It doesn’t, yeah. I think that’s exactly what it comes down to. I think that’s the case for a lot of things and situations. It’s, you know, taking the gender aside, it’s just going out and doing your job and doing it good, and that’s what’s going to matter the most. 00:29:36 AG: Have you ever second-guessed yourself, or does your can-do attitude just get you through every one of these, you know? It seems like it would be a struggle over and over to feel like you have to prove yourself, you know, when you know you’re capable. 00:29:49 N: I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t, I don’t think I’ve ever second-guessed myself. I just, it’s a hard position mainly because I think being in the position that I was, women were never really offered this type of opportunity to work in this realm or this field, and so when we had that chance, we kind of like took the bull by the horns and like never looked back. We were like, “Are you kidding me?” We’re able to go to this school and this school and this school, which is only schools that were allotted for men to go to, and now that they were opening the door for women to go to it, it was like mind-blowing, and I can say that for all of the women that I worked with. We were just like, “Oh, my gosh, this is an opportunity that like has never happened before,” so I mean I didn’t think, I don’t think I would’ve looked at it like that. I would just say that we were confident, and we were like, you know, going to give every single ounce of our energy and time to this because this is something that no women before have been able to do. So, I don’t know. It was kind of an honor really. 00:31:03 AG: Yeah, it sounds incredible the work that you’re doing. What would you feel about the overall impact, like are there any, could you give an example of a story from one of the teams you’re attached to and what happened because of your, your joint work with the SEAL team? 00:31:20 N: So, I was partnered with another female who, she was the medic, and so we were kind of like a travel team. This was when I was in uniform. And we were attached to both Green Berets and the SEALs, and so we would basically get a call or a request to go and support a mission on a base somewhere in Afghanistan. So, we would get the call, we would fly in with our interpreter. We would fly in, we would sit down, we would learn all of their SOPs, their standard operating procedures, we would learn the mission, and then we would get on the birds, the helicopters, and we would fly out to that mission, and we would, we would execute the mission. So, one of the missions that we went on, it was an area that we needed to, the teams, the Special Forces we were working with, they needed to have a little bit more access into this area. It was known to have a large Taliban presence, and so basically we were going in to, you know, talk to the locals, talk to the women villagers, talk to anybody that kind of had any information on those people. So, we fly in. You know, we get on the ground. We’re going in patrol with the Special Forces in the stack. We come in to the village, and they separate women and children. Men obviously, men in this area, in this culture cannot talk to women because of the cultural sensitivities. That’s why they would separate the women. They would put them in a separate room. And we would go in, and, you know, we’d put our headscarves on, try to make the women feel a little bit more comfortable, and we would talk to them and just sometimes have tea, sometimes we’d have ten minutes to talk with them, so it was a little bit more aggressive, but basically we would try to find out as much as we could with a list of questions that they would give us to do it. And so, we would get that information, find out the issues, the problems, you know, where people are going at certain times, their mosques, etc., and then from there, we would leave, and then we would debrief, and we would say, “This is what we found.” And I think specifically one thing, one time and one place that we went to, it’s kind of hard to dance around this, you know, as I mentioned before, we laid out what we spoke to the ladies about, the women, and they said, “We’ve been working on this for three months, and you got that in ten minutes.” And so, you know, but while we were there, you know, they listed all these discrepancies of things that they didn’t have or that they needed, or they didn’t even have education. They were learning how to vote, and they didn’t know where to go or what places to go and vote. 00:34:13 AG: So, all the work that we’re doing on the military side could be for nothing if the population doesn’t understand what their rights are. (N: exactly) And that’s where you fill the gap. 00:34:23 N: Right, and so, so then that kind of gave us another reason to go back, and, you know, they didn’t have the education, or they didn’t know where these voting centers were, and this was like back in 2014 when the first time they allowed women to vote, and they didn’t even know that they were allowed to at that time. So, that gave us another reason to go back and sit down and talk with them and teach them, you know, “These are the centers. These are the polling sites. This is when you can go. These are the times you’re allowed and allotted to.” So, I mean it was like dual hatting. You’re impacting the US mission obviously because of what we were able to find out, and the second thing, it was helping the local people understand, “I can vote,” like it’s, “This is my government that I can contribute to,” and it was the first time women ever could do something like that. 00:35:11 AG: Wow, that is really cool. If you, I mean I want to do what you do, but like, how, if I want to do this, how do I get into it? I literally do cause it just sounds amazing, the kind of impact you’re making. How would someone go about that? How does someone, I mean you kind of had a unique path, but if someone is sort of starting from square one, where, what do they do? 00:35:35 N: I think when I first started, I had no idea like I would be working in this area. I mean I started driving a boat as an MA [Master-At-Arms]. You know, I joined with a college degree, and I was going to be an officer, and, you know, I grew up with my mom in law enforcement, and I just saw her, being tough and just getting out there and like serving. And so, that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to be operational. And so, I was driving boats, and then I was in a conventional unit, and then all of a sudden, there was an announcement to go and screen for Naval Special Warfare for this all-female unit that I just thought it sounded like something that was really challenging and could be really rewarding, and I just really liked working hard, and they just, this, it’s just a community that, I mean they were offering a lot of schools to women that haven’t been offered before, like I said before. So, I would urge women to think about, and men, you know, just to think about their career, and if they want a challenge, or if they want to do something that’s really impactful or important, you know, to try to push into those small pockets of communities that have special, special jobs, like you can go SEAL or SWCC or EOD or diver. 00:36:53 AG: Maybe you could speak to some of the various opportunities there are for women in this community. (N: yeah) I think that the common opinion is that there are very limited opportunities for women, but for females who might not understand that there are chances to work in Special Operations, not just being a SEAL or a SWCC. 00:37:10 N: Right, that there are other jobs that they can… 00:37:13 AG: Yeah, do you, could you, you know, maybe describe some of the things you’ve seen over the years? 00:37:18 N: Sure, I have some of my best friends are in the Navy, and I met them, you know, just from working in this community. So, there are so many jobs for women, and I think it’s, I think it’s definitely something that women should consider when they’re thinking of joining the military. You know, it’s, it’s so rewarding. You can, a woman can be part of, you know, the media, the public relations realm, they can be part of intelligence, they can learn, you know, IT if they’re good with computers. They can learn law enforcement capabilities, they can be dog handlers, they can be, they can work in investigative units, they can be corpsmen, you know, medical. There’s so many opportunities that are open for women, and now there’s opportunities for women to go into the Special Operations side and work to be an operator, like a SEAL, a boat driver. My best friend, she’s an EOD tech, so she’s one of ten women in the EOD community, and she just picked up for officer. She, you know, she, she’s the same, like she sees a challenge, and she goes for it, and she’s never been limited because she’s been a woman. If anything, it’s opened a lot of doors because I think women think that there’s like a lot of negative preconceived notions about them joining, or like maybe there’s just a lot of fear, or maybe not enough people are talking about what you can do in these jobs as a woman, so… 00:38:57 AG: That’s why we’re here. 00:38:59 N: Right, so I think it’s really important for women to know that there’s so many opportunities, and there’s so many resources and people that are happy about what they do and want to promote it, and I’m definitely one of them. Like I said, my other friend, she’s a diver. She’s one of the only female dive medical technicians in the Navy, so it’s, we need more women in these positions because, you know, we do great jobs, and we do really great work, and we’re just as capable to do these positions. 00:39:36 AG: And it seems like from your experience, you would say they, anyone male or female, that you’re going to be accepted if you’re, you know, working at your best and… 00:39:47 N: Right, you’re going to have pushback regardless. I think over time, it’s going to take time for women to be fully integrated the way, you know, this big great picture is, but I mean I think as long as you go in with the good mentality and just know that if you work hard enough, you know, you are going to prove yourself, and just have the confidence to know that there’s the support network to get you there. And yeah, I definitely think there’s going to be, no matter what you do and no matter what job you have, there’s going to be some type of, I don’t know, animosity, or, you know, there’s going to be challenges, but you can’t let that get in the way, and you just have to know that you just do your job, and you’ll be fine. 00:40:38 AG: Yeah, we’ve talked about mental toughness here before. What does that mean to you? 00:40:43 N: Mental toughness? 00:40:45 AG: Yeah, from your perspective. 00:40:46 N: I would say looking at, when you’re faced with an issue or a problem, I think the best way to attack it would be to start pieces at a time, like you can’t go into something and look at the overall picture because you’re going to be overwhelmed, and that’s kind of what defines your mental toughness, is how you attack something and how you can break it down and accomplish it, and if you can do it in pieces, by pieces and only focus on that one thing at a time, you know, eventually, you’ll be able to defeat it I suppose. So, I think that’s what kind of, I think it takes a little while for you to create that mental toughness. It doesn’t happen overnight, and you don’t just have it right away. You have to work on it just like anything. I mean when I first came into the program and started, I was overwhelmed, and it was so much going on, and, you know, I didn’t know how to channel it or overcome it, and I think by just taking pieces at a time and focusing on that at the moment and then, you know, accomplishing that and then moving forward and like only looking at it like that is kind of what helps you create that toughness. 00:41:57 AG: Yeah, that’s, I mean that’s a resounding theme here cause people coming in training for SEAL or SWCC, you know, they, they’re picturing being an operator, not necessarily passing the PST to get in, so it’s, it sounds like your mindset has, you know… 00:42:12 N: It’s shifted, definitely, and it was not like that before I started definitely. They teach you really good techniques in order to be successful in the community, and I think if you go into it with an open mind and just a positive mental attitude and knowing that, it’s going to completely suck, but you’re going to get through it, or, you know, just being open to challenges and [AG: Welcoming them?] welcoming them, yeah, thank you. 00:42:44 AG: Have you ever felt like you’ve been held back because you’re a female in this particular realm? 00:42:49 N: No. [AG: Awesome.] I don’t. That’s not the same for everybody. I personally, I don’t. I’ve never really, that’s, that’s hard. I grew up with my mom putting me in baseball with the boys, so I never really had a barrier myself. I never had that kind of preconceived, “I should be here on this women’s side or this alt,” with, you know. I was always integrated from a young age, so it never personally gave me those boundaries. And so, when I grew up, I just never, I went into everything thinking, “Oh, I can do this,” or when I wanted to join the military, nothing personally in my mind held me back either, so I think when I went forward into these programs, I never carried that with me. And then when I would go into these programs, I just stood up and said, “You know, is this possible for me to do?” and everybody kind of seemed to like open the doors because they saw the ambition maybe. I’m not sure. I never really felt that way at all. 00:43:55 AG: That’s great. 00:43:56 N: And, like I said, I felt like when I went into the unit, the all-female unit that I was part of, and we worked, we were the first women, the first group of women to really go into combat in these areas. I mean the job itself was very new, and even then, I mean there was definitely challenges, but I wouldn’t say that there was a lot of controversy in the fact that us not being allowed to do, if anything. It was opposite. It was like we were allowed to do it. I don’t know. Yeah, so, but that’s not the same for everybody. Everyone’s got a different story for that. 00:44:33 AG: You seem to love your job. 00:44:35 N: I do love my job. It’s, aside from what I did in uniform, this is the most rewarding thing. What we did in uniform to separate it, this was kind of my selfish drive, and it was a challenge for me to get into these positions and do the job. That was in my mind was kind of a selfish desire. What I’m doing… 00:44:57 AG: Selfish doesn’t seem like the right word. 00:45:00 N: Well, it was like, it was all centered around me, and what I’m doing now is so different and so impactful, like the fact that I can get on the ground in so many spots where these people have nothing, not even clean water, and we’re able to provide that to them, that impact is immeasurable, and it’s such a different kind of, a different kind of rewarding feeling. I, so, I just was able to go and support a project in Africa, and then before that, like I said, I was in Iraq, and the fact that I can bounce around to all these places and support all this work in so many different areas is like, I just, I love it. 00:45:43 AG: Yeah, it’s really nice to know from the outside looking in how much good is being done cause that’s not what gets promoted usually. I mean we, on the news, you just hear about the major things, and normally that involves fatalities or, you know, something negative, but, every day, you are doing things that are really positive 00:46:04 N: It is, and I think a lot of people don’t know that side of the military, like they don’t know a lot of people are military or deployed to say South America, or they don’t know that they’re deployed to certain parts of Africa or what they’re even doing. And I don’t know why we keep things so secret, so I think part of our job is to kind of inform the public of like the good work that these Special Operations teams are doing on the ground. 00:46:30 AG: Well, you’re my hero. (N: Oh gosh!) I think what you do is so cool and so important. I think that we are… come to the conclusion of our conversation even though I could talk to you all day, but we really appreciate you being here. 00:46:48 CLOSE: Find out more at, and join us again for the next NSW podcast.
Jun 26, 2018
6 How to Become a Navy SEAL
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You want to join Naval Special Warfare? Recruiting can be a confusing process. A Navy Recruiter, a SEAL and a SWCC break it down for you. For more info go to 00:00:15:27 DF: Welcome to “The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday,” the official Navy SEAL podcast. Whether you dreamed about becoming a Navy SEAL as a kid, or just found out that being a SWCC is something you want to learn more about, you probably have a lot of questions. I’m Daniel Fletcher, and today I’m speaking with three experts on the SEAL and SWCC recruiting process. We’ll hear personal experiences from an active duty SEAL and a SWCC operator, whose names have been changed for security. 00:00:39:26 DF: So, from the top here, let’s just have you guys introduce yourselves. I’ll start with you and then go across, and you guys can just give us a brief summary of what you guys do here. 00:00:08:48:25 S: Okay, awesome. My name is Sean. I’m a United States Navy SEAL, here stationed at the SEALs SWCC Scout Team with these other two gentlemen beside me, and just basically part of our job is to do outreach and reach out to the youth, high school kids, the college kids to give them ideas of what it takes to be a Navy Seal or a SWCC. 00:01:06:06 BM: My name is Chief Brian Murray. I coordinate the outreach efforts, plan the trips, help put the budgets together and act as kind of the liaison between the operators and the recruiting districts. 00:01:19:26 F: Hi, my name is Frank. I’m a SWCC operator, special warfare combatant craft crewman. I’ve been doing that for about ten years, and my role here at the SEAL SWCC Scout Team is essentially the same as Sean’s. We go out, we talk to high schools and colleges, narrow down to athletes and try to give a real-world perspective on what it takes to be a SEAL or a SWCC. 00:01:41:24 DF: Nice, well thank you guys for taking the time to talk with us again. Let’s go through this process from the beginning from your perspective, kind of first just steps for somebody that might be interested in it, in a career in naval special warfare. Yeah, if you could go ahead and just give a little brief… 00:01:56:15 BM: Okay, so for anybody that’s interested in this program, the first step that they need to take is to go down to the local recruiting station. What’s going to take place at that meeting first is they’re going to get mentally, morally and physically qualified. What that means is they’re going to take an ASVAB test or a practice ASVAB test to make sure they meet the minimum requirements academically. They’re also going to screen them, check and see if they’ve ever been in any kind of trouble. If so, what waivers are available for them, and then they’ll also set up a physical a MEPS to make sure that they don’t have any physical problems, surgeries, things that they need waivers for. So, they’ll, once they get prequalified, we’ll schedule a MEPS day, and MEPS will bring them in, check their heart, check their vision, their hearing. Once we determine that they are qualified for this program, they’ll start working out with local Navy recruiting district scouts similar to what these guys do but a little different. They’re just responsible for the local area, guys and girls, and they’ll take them out, they’ll do physical screening tests, different things on a local level and get them ready for the process until they are selected. 00:03:04:06 DF: Maybe we can go a little bit deeper into that from your perspective. These are, these are any Navy recruiting centers, or is it a specific Navy SEAL or Special Operations kind of track that these people have to go take? 00:03:16:04 BM: Well, first they’re going to need to go visit a traditional Navy recruiting station. The reason that is is because to join the Navy as a Special Warfare Operator, you first have to join the Navy. So, you have to get qualified to do those things. Now, they can go get prequalified without joining the Navy and still go work out with the Special Warfare Operators scouts. They’re there to get them physically ready, but they can’t actually take the step of joining until they’ve visited a real recruiting station, and those typically, if you go onto or our website,, they’ll have links to those recruiting stations, and they’ll be able to find, put in their zip code and figure out whatever is closest. 00:03:57:05 DF: Okay, can you tell us a little bit about the ASVAB test for people that might not be familiar with it? 00:04:01:21 BM: Okay, so the ASVAB test, it’s an aptitude test that’s broken down. I believe it’s eight different categories. It’ll be everything from mathematics, arithmetic, reasoning, spelling, word comprehension, mechanics. There’s a couple that I’m leaving out, but you probably get the gist of what it is. So, we’ll test them in several different categories. Each job field will require a score made up of a couple of those categories, maybe two to four, depending on which job it is, and they’ll take those scores to make sure that they’re eligible for these programs. 00:04:35:09 DF: Do people have a chance to retest, or is this something that’s kind of like a once and done thing, or how does that work? 00:04:39:23 BM: That’s a good question. You can take the ASVAB from the first time you take it, if you don’t do as well as you want, you can take it again 30 days later. If you still don’t get the best score that you want, you can do it 30 days after that, but after that third test, you have to wait six months until you take another ASVAB. So, the best advice I can give you is to go online. There’s a lot of practice ASVAB tests. So, to do those online as much as you can before you take the actual test. 00:05:04:26 DF: And what is MEPS? 00:05:06:10 BM: Military Entrance Processing station. That’s where they go into to take their physical, so that’s their entry into the Navy basically. 00:05:15:09 DF: Okay, so after the regular Navy recruiting process, how does the process differ for Naval Special Warfare? 00:05:25:01 BM: So, they, the process is only different as in they get additional training. Instead of just going to learn to be a sailor and about their specific job, they actually have physical requirements that they have to maintain throughout the process. So, what they’ll do with these scouts is typically a couple times a week, two to three, it just depends on the scout’s schedule, they’ll take them through and work them out. We actually just visited the recruiting district in Denver, and Sean actually helped monitor the physical screening test. So, they’ll do that a couple times a week, whereas somebody that joins in a traditional job rating, they would not have to do that. 00:06:03:25 DF: Okay, so, physical requirements, athletic requirements, we’ll say, are kind of the main difference at that stage, and then the steps that follow that, maybe you could just walk us through the next steps through I guess you call the selection process, or if there’s another term for that. 00:06:18:04 BM: So, it is. They call it a draft. It’s similar to I guess you could maybe compare it to a sports draft. They will perform the PST as many times as they can and get their scores as elevated as possible. Once they get done to the point to where they’re competitive nationwide, they’ll be put into the draft system. Naval Special Warfare will pick as many candidates as they need or they feel that they want to take on each month, and they’ll select from that group of individuals. 00:06:49:09 DF: So, other than the PST scores, what are the people in the, looking for in the draft? Maybe are they looking at the metrics of the person’s physical stature, or is it a collection of things? Could you maybe tell us a little bit about that? 00:07:02:04 BM: It is, it’s a big collection of things, and it can be complex at times. First, they’re going to look at their ASVAB score, their PST scores, they’re going to take a, kind of a psychological test. It’s called the CSORT. For those of you that don’t know what CSORT stands for, it’s Computerized Special Operations Resiliency Test. 00:07:23:21 DF: So, this is something that’s done on a computer I’m guessing. 00:07:25:21 BM: It is done on a computer in a recruiting station, and you will have a proctor that won’t be in while you’re taking the test, but they have to administer the test, and they will print out your score, and that will be sent in with your application package. 00:07:39:10 DF: How long does that take normally would you guess? 00:07:42:09 BM: From, are you referring to the draft in general, the test? It depends on the person. If the person is really spending a lot of time trying to answer the questions perfectly, it could take them a couple hours. But in reality, there is no perfect answers, so you should just take the test, answer whatever your first instinct is for the answer, and it typically would take an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes. 00:08:09:03 DF: I see. So, they’re looking to select people that will make it through the training process and become an active operator. 00:08:17:10 BM: The CSORT is almost a predictor mentally for who can make it. Obviously, physically, I mean there’s a lot of variables that could happen while they’re in training, but, and this isn’t a definite answer. I mean this is just something that they use to gauge. So, let’s say if somebody gets a low CSORT score, they’re going to have to have elevated physical standard scores. If they do really well on the CSORT, meaning mentally they’re prepared as much as, you know, this test says they need to be, then maybe they’re physical scores can be a little lower, but they’ll use a combination of those. 00:08:51:08 DF: Is there anything that you would recommend, in regards to this kind of psychological kind of the evaluation or the ASVAB test, kind of approach to this process, like kind of off the cuff advice you’d give to somebody, like just kind of things that you’ve seen people do wrong or right or kind of dress to success kind of behavior? 00:09:11:06 BM: So, assuming that somebody’s listening maybe their freshman year, 13, 14 year old and trying to figure out how to, how to navigate this to their senior year, the best advice I could give is to take the classes that are going to keep them at an academic standard they need to be. If, if they have the opportunity to take accelerated math and science classes, they should definitely do that. Those, those things are going to be on the ASVAB. The psychological test, there’s really no preparation. That’s by design. That’s something that we will want to know without any preparation what kind of answers they’re going to come up with, but the ASVAB test really just goes back to school. Instead of taking a semester where you take some random elective classes that you don’t need, you really need to focus in on taking math and science classes. And physically, those are things that they need to get on our website,, and we have workouts, and they need to start doing those really from their freshman year on to their senior year. I mean it’s never too late, but it’s never too early to start either. 00:10:15:01 DF: I think that’s some really good advice. Well, next, I’d like, I’d like to open up and talk to you guys about kind of your specific experience going through this recruitment process from the SWCC and SEAL perspective. So, Frank, if you could just talk to us a little bit about your journey through a recruit to being an operator if you could maybe walk us through your journey. 00:10:36:27 F: Sure, yeah, so I would dare to say that things have changed a bit since, since my go around. It’s been nearly ten years, so, but for the most part, I think that there’s so much more information out there nowadays, and it makes, I don’t want to say easier, but so much more accessible with…exactly. Well, so here’s a for instance. When I came in, most of the process that, that Chief Murray was talking about was mostly the same as far as the physical, screening test, you had to take that in order to be applicable for any of these programs. And so, for those who may not know, the physical screening test is, is comprised of five different evolutions, and the first one is a 500, 500-yard swim, sidestroke and or breast stroke. Then you have maximum push-ups in two minutes, maximum sit-ups in two minutes, maximum pull ups in two minutes and a mile and a half run. And so, the sidestroke was something that was extremely foreign to me when I went to go, you know, take on this challenge. I’d never done, I’d swam in high school. At my senior year, I was on the swim team, but all I did was the 50 free, which was essentially where they put slow people. 00:11:45:29 DF: Is it, you know, something that you pursued because you wanted a career in the Navy or specifically Special Warfare? 00:11:50:24 F: No, actually I was sent to military school my senior year of high school, and well, you had to play sports. It was mandatory. We didn’t have a football team, and the two sports that I, interested in the most were wrestling and swimming. Unfortunately, these two things were both in the same season. I ended up doing both of them, but I was exhausted all the time, but it did make me a lot stronger and more resilient, and I think that did add to my preparation for the training, no doubt. But by the time I actually got to the point where I knew that that was what I was going to do, I still had no clue what the sidestroke was, and when I went to approach it to learn how to do this, all I found was on was a two-page hand-drawn diagram of a person doing the sidestroke, and that’s how I learned how to do the sidestroke. So, nowadays, you go onto our website, for instance, and you can find videos or, you know, just going onto YouTube, you can find it. There’s people who train in so many more locations. There’s just, you know, information out there is infinite, so it’s really easy to find that type of stuff to help better prepare, and just like Chief Murray said talking about the, just the workouts alone we have on our website, not to mention any other training programs that are out there. 00:13:09:06 F: So, so that being said, when I came through, there was a lot less information, but it was something that I really knew I wanted to do starting about mid, midway through my senior year, and I just made the leap, went through the recruiter’s office, and I’d heard a lot of stories that I think a lot of people can sympathize with this if you have listeners that are already in the Navy or people who are thinking about it, maybe they’ve heard these stories before, where you hear these horror stories of dealing with military recruiters, right. So, that was my, that was my thought going in that I’m going to go in, they’re going to hassle me, they’re going to try to sell me on something, and I didn’t experience any of that. I went in, and I was confident about what I wanted to do, and I think they sensed that. I think they knew that I was a man on a mission, and so they just pretty much like, “Okay,” you know, and they made things happen the best they could. Once I went in, first I went to all the different recruiting offices, went Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines just to kind of narrow down my decision. I always tell people when we go do our presentations that’s exactly what I did, so I suggest that’s what you do, that way, you’re making the most informed decision. And then I decided finally on the SWCC pipeline. 00:14:19:02 DF: Let me just interject real quick. For people that don’t know, SWCC versus SEAL, to my knowledge, that’s a relatively new kind of distinction. Can you describe a little bit or guess explain for the laymen what a SWCC is? 00:14:34:06 F: Sure, yeah, absolutely. So, SWCC stands for Special Warfare Combatant Craft Crewman. Military loves acronyms, so it’s a lot easier to say that way, right. So, SWCC, our job is the Maritime Mobility Asset for Naval Special Warfare, and what that really means is we drive the fast boats for Naval Special Warfare. So, we have a range of missions. Primarily and what we’re most known for is insert extract of SEALS or other SOF forces, whether that’s at a beach landing site or visit board search and seizures, so like a pirated vessel, but we also have direct action missions, intelligence surveillance reconnaissance, there’s all different types of things that we provide. Another thing that we’re famous for is our ability to launch our boats out of the back of airplanes and jump in with them so that we have kind of like a quick assault, quick reaction type element, so that’s, that’s SWCC in a nutshell. 00:15:32:03 DF: So, where, where through the process did you realize, “Hey, this is for me?” 00:15:35:22 F: That was just kind of doing my research. From the beginning, I knew that I was going to do Special Operations. It was just my mentality on things is that I wanted to join the military, and once I really discovered that I wanted to join the military, I knew I had to do something that was just so much more of a challenge. I needed to do, to be the best, and I wanted to have the most effect on the war on terror, so I was like, “Special Operations is where I want to be.” So, I went to all the, you know, I talked to the recruiters, the Army recruiters about the Army SF and Rangers, and I talked to the Marines about Recon. I talked to the Navy about SEALs. I actually never heard of SWCC until I talked to the recruiters. 00:16:06:20 DF: So, at what point did, did the training kind of diverge into boat specific for you in the SWCC track? 00:16:13:24 F: Okay, yeah, everybody, regardless of Special Operations or not, goes to Navy boot camp. So, I went to Navy boot camp, and that’s in Great Lakes, Illinois, and then after that, I went to Coronado, out here in Coronado. Back then, they didn’t have the prep course, which is they have now, and it’s about an 8-week course in Great Lakes before you come out here, and that’s for SEAL and SWCC candidates, [DF: So even more tools now.] Exactly, yeah, it’s really, it’s really an added benefit that they have, and I wish that they had had it when I went through, but, you know, I was still successful, so. 00:16:50:04 DF: So, at BUDS somewhere, you start learning about boats, or is it after? 00:16:54:18 F: It’s a completely separate pipeline, so the way it works is when you come out here, Nowadays, after prep, you would come out here, and then you would, the BUDS and the SWCCs students go through orientation together, and then after that, they split up into first phase and the SWCC pipeline. Then after about three weeks of orientation, you start the actual training. And so, then it was basic crewman training. It’s the selection portion, so much like first phase for the SEAL pipeline, it’s all about making sure, narrowing down, whittling it down to the people that are right for the job. It’s not so much about getting rid of people. It’s just capturing the people that you want. And in the best way, I always say it is for an instructor, they’re looking for the person that they would either want to work with or they would want to replace them. So, and that’s, that’s the way that it’s looked at, and so, anyways, that’s the selection portion of it, basic crewman training, and then you go to crewman qualification training, and that’s where you really start to learn about your job. So, you’re learning about the boats, the weapons, the cons, the skillsets, the operating procedures, all that stuff so that when you actually get to your boat team that you are an asset to your team. Training doesn’t stop when you graduate from training at the center. That’s only where it begins. Once you graduate, go to your team, and then you have another year and a half of preparation before you actually deploy. 00:18:21:05 DF: Oh, wow, okay, I think that’s something a lot of people don’t realize. 00:18:23:07 F: Yeah, yeah, it’s, it is, it’s something that’s daunting to a lot of people when they, when they look ahead at that because they look at the, either graduating BUDS or BCT or, you know, just the whole pipeline as the, you know, the end of things, [DF: Like they’ve arrived when they graduate.] Yeah, and then the problem with that mindset is that when you graduate, now you’re going to a team where everybody has made this accomplishment, so you really haven’t accomplished anything. The bar’s just been set at a different, a little bit higher, but you’re still starting from the ground floor once you get there. 00:18:58:09 DF: And I guess if you could give us an example or, real-world example of maybe, as much as you can tell us, about an active operation, kind of paint a picture of what you do on the boat and maybe what one of your operations would look like from your perspective. 00:19:15:27 F: So, I’ll try not to get too, too in the weeds with it, but like so I’ll just say that you’re never going to have one specific job in either the SEAL or the SWCC teams. You know, you maybe do a specific position for a workup in a deployment. A workup is that year and a half that I was talking about earlier, where you’re preparing for your deployment, but you’re never going to have one specific job your entire career because some Special Operations branches, like SF, for instance, they’re very much specialists, but NSW, Naval Special Warfare, we’re more of a jack-of-all-trades type organization. We expect people to know all the other jobs, and that way, if someone, something happens, you always have someone to fill in, you always have someone who knows what’s going on, and it makes us, you know, that’s why our team environment is so important and so, so much a part of our training and our, you know, mentality. 00:20:11:11 DF: Okay, and if you could kind of walk through your day if you’re deployed on a mission. I know that’s always going to be kind of different, but if you could just give it an average example, not to say that your job is average, but I don’t know if it’s waking up at 3 in the morning and start getting your gear together, or, or you’re sleeping on the boat. 00:20:27:23 F: Sure, it varies, but I’ll give you a for instance on my last deployment. We had our own essentially apartments in the area of operations that we were in, and sometimes it was right by the base, and sometimes we would operate directly from the base, and then sometimes we would also go afloat on a ship. In that way, we have a better range of mobility, so Special Operations, standard rule is you’re always going to be working at night. You’re going to be working when your enemy is not. So, typically, we’re not waking up super early in the morning. More than likely, we’re getting ready throughout the day to operate throughout the night. And so, the main thing is preparation. We always want to be as prepared as possible. We want to stack everything in our favor, so making sure every little minutia of the mission and our gear and our boats and everything is prepared to the best way possible so that we’ve gone over everything and that, you know, if Murphy does visit the mission, then we, you know, we are at least as prepared as we possibly can be, and we can adapt and overcome in that scenario. And so, you know, the missions can range from, you know, going underway and doing a recy on a target, which is reconnaissance, or inserting a SEAL platoon over the beach in more of a stealthy manner, or it could be extracting them in a hot environment, which a hot environment being if they’re getting, you know, if they’re taking on fire, then we have the ability to go in and pull them out. 00:21:59:28 DF: Well, I think that paints a really good picture for a lot of people that don’t know the difference between SEAL SWCC track or that there’s even a difference or paints a more accurate picture for people that there’s even an option in Navy, Naval Special Warfare other than just becoming a SEAL. Sean, from your perspective as a SEAL, is there anything that you noticed different from your experience going through the recruitment process as you’re listening to Frank talk about his journey becoming a SWCC operator? 00:22:28:19 S: Yeah, I can. I didn’t know anything much about being in the Navy SEAL at the time. Me growing up, I grew up with my grandmother in DC, Washington DC on the east coast, and she was the one who pushed me into the military. I had no desire to join, didn’t care, never been in the ocean, never swam anywhere. That was my whole thing. I just went through the regular recruiting situation as going to a recruiting station like Brian talked about, and they kind of talked me into some things of what I could do and some more physical things, so I came in with a [?] contract as a rescue swimmer. So, I was already in the military doing something totally different. Then the SEALs came, kind of, I just kind of fell into the situation where I was working with the SEALs, and that’s when I realized, you know what, this is something I want to do. This is, this is it for me. So, I went through that whole growing pain of growing up to be a man and finding what my purpose really was and something that I really wanted to do. So, I went on deployment once, and I came back, put in a package for to go to BUDS and be a Navy Seal, and I went into the program. My class for me was about 300 strong almost, pretty close. 00:23:29:05 DF: You mean the graduating class or just starting out? 00:23:31:00 S: Starting out, starting out. It was about 300 strong my class, and I see what I want, and this is what I’m going to do. I have to go after this. And I went to the program. We got into the ocean and started doing 2-mile ocean swims, again, something that I was never familiar with growing up from where I come from, and it was just, it was hard. It was really hard for me. I barely passed almost every physical test. Now, I was always a physical guy, though, so I could, I could gut through it, but 2-mile ocean swims, never even thought something about that, 4-mile timed runs, 4 in the morning, wasn’t into that either, you know. Swimming in the pool with your hands and feet tied up behind your back, that was something totally different for me also, so I had a lot of growing pains through all those situations. Not only did I just make it through the program, I graduated top of my class throughout the program, so that was a big accomplishment from my side of it, especially from someone who hasn’t had any experience in this kind of stuff, you know. 00:24:23:19 DF: Yeah, I think you bring up a good point. You talk about some trials, personally getting, going into the military and even while you were, while you were enlisted, and, but you’re still able to graduate the top of your class and become a Navy SEAL even though you’re doing things that, in your mind, you haven’t been preparing for since you were 14 years old. I think a lot of people might be averse to thinking that this is something that they could even do. Or let’s say that someone’s got a colored past. You know, they, you know, whatever, it’s like, “Well, there’s no way I could do that,” you know, I think that your life experience says otherwise, and I think that’s, that’s something a lot of people should think about if they might have, you know, gotten into a little trouble in their lives, or, heck, I’ve never even been to the ocean. That’s not going to stop you from doing this. I think that’s important for people to realize. 00:25:12:14 S: No, not at all. Physically, I was always a strong guy. You know, I played sports in high school. I was a football star, I ran track, so I did those things, but, again, that was all on the ground, and that was more of a sprinting type thing for me, but everything I did when becoming a Navy SEAL, joining the military was totally opposite for me, and it was never a thought. So, no, you’re right. Everything I went through and where I am right now and being the first to graduate my class, top of my class, I mean we had almost 300 guys, and we graduated only 15 originally out of that, and to be the top of that, that was huge for me and all the challenges in between, losing my grandmother, she was the one who took care of me, raised me and did everything for me, but she wasn’t there to see me succeed in this. And, you know, I had a lot of difficulties going through. I mean I got poured out during Hell Week. My kidneys were shutting down, so they had to send me to the hospital. I never quit, but they had to yank me out of the program cause I wasn’t leaving, one, because I had a fear, I didn’t want to do it all over again, but that was the main thing, but I just didn’t want to leave. You know, I had my team, my classmates, who were all moving hard. You know, we got like a day left, and for me, it was like I need to finish this with my team, and it’s just a reflection of what other people can do People just don’t understand they can be more than whatever situation they’ve grown up in. You don’t have to live that lifestyle and believe that’s going to be your life. If you really want something, you can just do it. You just got to focus on it. 00:26:34:17 DF: What do you say to those people that might think that like, you know, maybe I could do this, but, you know, I can’t do that. There’s no way I could do that or… 00:26:40:25 S: I would say is inspiration is what it is. Inspiration is what’s going to take you to get through anything that’s going to have challenges to it. For me, I would say to anyone like that, you know, find out what the inspiration it could be. It doesn’t, if you’re a foster kid, adopted, you know, whatever your lifestyle you grew up in, you got to look for someone or a place that puts you in a position where you want to like impress cause it’s all up here, right. It’s all in your mind, and if you can control your thoughts and control your mind, you can tell your body to do whatever, but you just need to find what the inspiration is for you, and then you just focus on that, and then it’ll help you get through any challenge that you ever face, and that’s what I believe. So, for any kid, just find inspiration that you have in your life growing up. And if you feel like you don’t have one, there is one out there. You just got to find it. You just got to find out what it is that you really want and who it is that you want to be a part of your success, and you just, you just follow them. Luckily for me, I graduated both portions cause we have BUDS, which you know about, Basic Underwater Demolition, then we have SQT, which is SEAL Qualification Training, after you get done with BUDS, and I also graduated that portion of the training top of my class at the same time. So, that rarely happens, and so for me, being as I was one of the first things that ever happened in this pipeline period, That’s why when we do this here at the outreach, I try to give these kids the idea of pursuit of, you know, happiness I guess you would say, what you could do to be that. You know, did I ever thought for an instant that I was going to be that guy? Not one time, but because of my drive and my inspiration, I decided I was going to be the guy who was going to grind hard, and I was going to make this no matter what. Nobody was going to get in my way, and it didn’t matter the instructor, didn’t matter the other kids in the class. I wanted this, and I was going to grind hard, and I was going to crush this whole program, and I had to study a little harder than most because in high school I didn’t, I didn’t do what I needed to do to, you know, prepare myself mentally to comprehend dive physics and all these different things. I never even thought about all the math we talked about for ASMAV. I kind of just blew that stuff off in high school, so I had, when I got to this portion of training, I had to really study a little more than everyone else, so I was up late nights, long, long tiring, and then, but it helped me. I graduated, I passed those tests, those written academic tests, and I passed the physical tests, and I was a leader, and I wanted everybody to follow me, follow behind me at the time, so and that’s what puts me right here right now, and I enjoy giving back to these kids, and when we’re done talking to these kids, they always come up and talk to us about certain things that they took out of our presentation that they can relate to, that they want to use and probably show me something, and I’m happy to be an inspiration to some of those kids at the same time. 00:29:16:20 DF: Sean, so if you could tell us a little bit about what SEAL life is like from a professional standpoint. 00:29:23:02 S: Okay, no problem. So, we’re going to go right into right when you graduate SEAL Qualification training, right, that’s when you get your pin, and from there, you get assigned to your SEAL team, whether east coast, west coast or the one out in Hawaii, STB team. For me, I got orders out to SEAL team 1I in San Diego, so what happens is each SEAL team is on a rotation. You normally deploy, deploy every two years, but depending on when you arrive at that SEAL team, you may be just getting in before they deploy, while they’re on deployment or a few months prior to deployment, where they’re getting ready to start working up. So, we’ll break it down into you’re getting to your SEAL team right when you’re getting ready to start working up to prepare for deployment. So, they call it a 6-month time period of work. We call it workup, where you start to train again, you get back into it, you’re training nonstop, you’re flying here, flying there, staying in hotels, you’re out in the desert, California desert, and you’re doing so many variations of training to kind of put you in position to understand your job. For me, I was a breacher, and some of us also get school, so I was, when I first joined my first SEAL team, they sent me to Virginia, where I had to go to breacher school. Breachers are what most people understand as the people that plant C4 on doors to get us in, what you see in the movies or other variation things, so I had to learn about demolition, C4, how to calculate demo charges. So, I went out to that school. That was primarily my main job as I was the lead breacher for my team, so whenever we came to an obstacle, I was the guy who, you know, figured out the obstacle, I figured out a way to get in and find a charge, and we’d blow it, and we’d get in. So, that school is about two months. It was amazing. I enjoyed it, very difficult. While I went there, other guys go to sniper school, some goes to com school. It just depends on whatever school or whatever specific job you really want to be in. 00:31:09:09 DF: Does that kind of dependent on what the team needs at the time, or is that dependent more on your ability, skills, your size, anything like that? 00:31:16:05 S: Kind of all of that in the mix. What the team needs, each platoon in a SEAL team, there’s about nine platoons. Each nine platoon has about 16 to 20 SEALS in each one, and depending on which platoon, you may need so many snipers, so many breachers, so many coms guys, and they’ll send a certain amount of numbers out to these schools to get these qualifications so when we deploy, we’re set because you’re never deploying, an entire SEAL team never deploys together. Each platoon will go somewhere else. I’ve always been to Iraq when some platoon is in Guam, some platoon is in Africa, all over the world, you know, so, and so you need to be self-sufficient because once you have what you have, and that’s it, and you don’t have a short amount of men. So, yeah, with that, so I got breacher. It was great, and you come back together, everybody come back together, and we start doing our workups, and then we’re in California desert for a few months, and we’re working on our tactics, you know, calls. Everybody’s getting a training, from our lieutenants to our senior enlisted advisor guys. We’re all getting training, we’re all just learning what it’s like, so that is like rigorous training for six months hard, nonstop. If you’re married, kids, it’s hard on them because you’re in, you may come back home to reorg, you’re in for like a week, a week and a half, and then you’re gone again. You’re gone again for like three weeks, to a month, and you come back again, you’re gone, you’re only home for a week, so it just constantly goes on for six, seven months. After that, you have about a month and a half, two months before of just, just sitting around, just kind of like getting used to your family, seeing your family, spending time with them. Deployments last about seven, seven to nine months on average, depending on what’s going on, depending on the area of the country you’re going to, so you’re gone again, again, you may not have much abilities to reach out and talk to your family through email, phone services and all that stuff because we really operate, you know, isolated from a lot of different things. 00:33:03:17 S: When you come back from a deployment, NSW, Naval Special Warfare, I want to say they’re really good with giving you the time to relax with your family when you come back from deployment. So, go home and spend time with your family, your kids, get back to them, and even while you’re gone, they have a lot of, we call them ombudsmens, and they have a lot of things they try to like include your wives, kids, family members, girlfriends or whatever into what’s going on possibly overseas while you’re gone. So, they try to bring them in to kind of make them feel at ease at the same time, but it’s still a pain. It’s still a struggle. When it’s time to work, we work, and it’s nonstop. You’ll be up all day, all night. We train harder than our deployments are meant to be because they want to put us in a position where if you face any, any kind of hardship or crazy, you know, chaos, chaotic situation on deployment, you’ve already seen it during training, so you already know you can defeat it, you know. So, we train harder than we deploy, and that’s the main gist of it. We train to fail because you know if you ever see anything crazy as this, then you know you can overcome it. That’s why our trainings are meant to beat you down. You’re tired, you’re exhausted, and, you know, that’s where, that’s what you want to be if you want to be a Navy SEAL, you want to be a part of Naval Special Warfare period. That’s what you have to have if you want to be successful at it. That’s what we, we’re really good at what we do. That’s why the president calls us up when he needs a real mission to go down. 00:34:18:13 DF: Well, real quick before we finish, I’d like to touch back with you guys real quick after hearing everyone talk, if you guys could give us each a nugget of information to a potential recruit, a piece of advice or maybe something that you did wrong that you would say, “Don’t do this.” Go ahead and start with you, Frank. 00:34:34:07 F: My main piece of advice is just be, have a willingness to struggle and suffer. And it might not be as, as eloquent as some people would like, but that’s what it really boils down to, is you’re in this line of work, or you’re trying to get in this line of work for a purpose, and it takes a lot to get to that. So, just be willing to put up with all of the, the struggle and the hardship that it takes in order to get on the other side, and it’ll all be worth it. 00:35:02:27 DF: And know that it’s coming down the pipe for you, yeah. I got you. Chief Murray? 00:35:07:12 BM: Best advice I can give is to use our website. We have workouts. We have links to everything you need, and we can offer a lot of information, whether it be on the phone or in person, but that website is there, and we have people that are standing by ready to help, and we can’t answer questions that we’re not asked, and all you have to do is log on that website, get interactive with the moderators that are on there, and we’ll get whatever information that you need to you. 00:35:33:06 DF: And if you want to plug that website real quick, go ahead. 00:35:36:00 BM: It’s 00:35:38:15 DF: Can you spell that out for us. 00:35:39:20 BM: [SPELLS WEBSITE] 00:35:21:21 DF: Nice, and Sean, any last bits of advice you could give for us? 00:35:48:22 S: I will say just get comfortable being uncomfortable. This job is, it comes with a huge, you know, you get a lot of significance from it, you know, a lot of, you enjoy it, but you’re going to do a lot of stuff you’re not comfortable with, and you got to get used to being uncomfortable with that, being comfortable with that, doing stuff like that, and just, just do it. You know, don’t overthink it. If you want to be a SEAL, if you want to be a SWCC, don’t try to, you know, try to think you need to understand every single thing about what it needs, what it takes to be us, to be in our shoes, to do the job. I don’t think you need to be the most tiptop shape guy in the world. Let it come to you. When you sign up for the programs, go into it. It’s all about your mind. It’s all about your mindset. If you want it bad enough, you’ll finish it. Definitely be in shape, some kind of shape, but don’t think you need to be, you know, the baddest person in the world. Just do it. 00:36:24 Find out more at, and join us again for the next NSW Podcast.
May 30, 2018
#5 Earning a SEAL Contract
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Wanna be a SEAL or SWCC? You gotta go through HIM. We asked a Master Chief SEAL how he selects candidates for contracts. For more information visit 00:00:02:05 The only easy day was yesterday. (Intro) 00:00:21 DF Intro: In the Naval Special Warfare selection process only the best and most qualified are offered an opportunity to compete for a SEAL or SWCC contract. Selection hinges on the performance and metrics of applicants, which are tracked and analyzed extensively. I’m Daniel Fletcher and today I speak with the Master Chief responsible for who makes the cut. You’ll want to pay very close attention to what he has to say. 00:00:45 DF: Well, thank you Master Chief for taking the time to talk with us today. Your perspective and what you do in the organization is really critical, even though it may not be out in the forefront most people seeing what you do. Obviously, it’s a very important part of the process people moving through NSW program. If you could take a couple minutes and explain your path to where you came with NSW organization real quick. 00:01:09 WC: Yeah, yeah, thank you. Thanks for having me, so just my background. I’ve been with the SEAL teams for 19½ years, west coast primarily, SEAL Team 1, SEAL Team 3 and SEAL Team 5 with instructor tours kind of in between there. I also taught all the leadership development courses for the SEALs on the west coast and east coast prior to doing the position that I’m currently doing. 00:01:33 DF: So, the audience that’s going to be listening, people that want to become Navy SEALs and SWCC operators, usually I’ll ask if you could talk to the people going through the selection process or even before the selection process begins, kind of from an outside perspective, is there any big overarching things you feel that would be really worthwhile to implement or at least be made aware of if you were a recruit in that process from your perspective? Is there anything that you see is missing? Obviously, they’re going to be aware of the PST scores that they want to try to hit, but outside of that, are there kind of any intangibles that you feel should be communicated to the people that are going into this process that maybe they might not be aware of? 00:02:13 WC: Yeah, that’s a great question. There’s probably a lot that could be said on that. I think one thing I’ll kind of start off with for the audience is my position is, is the SEAL program manager, which program manager probably doesn’t mean anything to anybody, but more or less what I do at the recruiting command is I am selecting the best and most qualified applicants that I receive for the SEAL and SWCC community. So, the process itself can be convoluted because each, each individual as you make the determination to go and speak to a recruiter might kind of get a different story, but to break it down more or less, once you decide that SEAL and SWCC is something that you’re interested in doing or just doing any other job within the Navy, you go to a recruiter, and that recruiter will ask you a series of questions to get a little bit of background about you, kind of start the initial processing piece. From there, they’ll schedule you to go to, to MEPS and take your ASVAB exam. Your ASVAB exam, if you’re unaware of that is just a, an exam that allows the Navy to see where your strengths are. And then MEPS is the location where they actually do a physical on you so the Navy has an idea of what your physical and medical capabilities are, any issues that might arise. It’s kind of full disclosure for the Navy. At that point, the applicant can go and talk to a Warrior Challenge mentor or coordinator, and that Warrior Challenge mentor or coordinator will help the applicant prepare for the PST, will teach the strokes and the run clinics that the applicant needs, come up with workout programs, diet programs for the applicant so that they can best perform the PST, and they will also be the ones that administer the PST. So, roundabout I’ve answered your question, but an applicant ultimately should be looking to be in contact with that mentor or coordinator. There are scouts out there, which are recruiters, that are labeled scout because they’re more involved with the Warrior Challenge program. So, I know everybody here probably knows what Warrior Challenge is, but I’ll just kind of define it. Warrior Challenge is SEAL/SWCC. It’s also Navy Diver, EOD and Air Rescue communities. That’s an umbrella term that recruiting puts on, on that. So, the scouts will be more involved with Warrior Challenge, and they can also be a good point of contact for you guys as applicants. But ultimately, you want to get that relationship with a mentor and coordinator. They will be the ones that, that help you get your application to me. 00:04:58 DF: What ways can you think of that an applicant can help enhance their capability or, likelihood of selection? Is there anything that you can think of off the top of your head that, that quickly sets people apart that maybe not be something easily measurable that is predefined that you guys look for? 00:05:13 WC: Yeah, that’s a great question. Honestly, we’re looking for individuals that excel both intellectually and physically. I recommend getting involved with sports if you’re not involved with sports, sports like wrestling, water polo, things like that. By no means am I saying these are the only sports to get into, but there is a, there’s character building that happens along the way. And so, we’re not just looking for intellect and physical capability. We’re looking for character as well. You can imagine with the risks that are out in the world and our operators being at the forefront of those risks, we’re looking for individuals that are mature, that have character, they’re good decision makers in times of great challenge. So, I’ll go back to the, the sports teams. Those are great opportunities to work with other individuals similar or different from yourself, challenge you in ways that you wouldn’t otherwise be challenged. 00:06:12 DF: So, I think a big part of the reason why we’re talking to you and all the other people that we speak with specifically is to kind of go and read between the lines of what maybe the, the numbers, the goals, the individual measurable things that, that you look at specifically to say, “Yes, no, yes, no,” or find out more here or there, I’m kind of hearing that it would be good for people that are younger to step up, take leadership positions, like you’re saying on a sports team, take on responsibility, challenge yourself and that way, not necessarily just physically, to develop and, and challenge yourself to see what you can do. I think that’s kind of reading between the lines with what you’re saying. It’s something that maybe not, you know, measurable, you know. 00:06:54 WC: That’s a great assessment. You know, we, we’re looking for individuals that are self-motivated, like to take on challenges, like to push themselves, so things like, college degree, for example. You don’t have to have a college degree to join the Navy or come into one of these programs, but that shows us that you’re continuing to push yourself, that you have a vision for your life, you have goals that you’ve set, you just haven’t graduated from high school and…sat around, exactly. So, any opportunity you have to show the mentor or coordinator that you’re willing to take on challenges is a great thing. The mentor or coordinator ultimately will give you a recommendation, and that recommendation we define as character and consistency, consistency that you show up when you say you’re going to show up. You also, in the character piece, you show up on time, you take on leadership positions, you’re willing to think outside of yourself. 00:07:52 DF: I think that’s a big point, right? 00:07:54 WC: Yeah, if you focus completely on yourself and you getting through the program, then most likely it’s not going to happen. If you’re focused on your teammates and the whole group getting through the program and constantly pushing yourself to, to be there for each one of the guys that you’re with, then you’re thinking more outside of yourself, and that’s the kind of guy that we’re ultimately looking for because when you think of the SEAL teams, you know, team is a big part of that…we don’t want individuals. There’s individuals that are highly capable, highly intelligent, but put in a team, they’re, they’re useless to us, and we’re really looking for the teammate. 00:08:31 DF: I think that’s a really good highlight because a lot of people I think have that kind of champion mentality or assume that that’s what it takes, and, and I don’t think that is what it takes. Can we talk a little bit about waivers for a second? It seems like that may be an area of concern for some people. Maybe you could address your kind of perspective on that. 00:08:49 WC: Yeah, so there’s a couple different waivers out there. There’s ASVAB waivers, and there’s also legal waivers out there. Now, for the SEAL program and SWCC program, we’re not taking a lot of waivers. To kind of put things in perspective, the program managers are allowed to do up to a certain amount of waivers, but depending on the community need, we will, you know, we will either do those waivers or not. So, ASVAB waivers from time to time, very seldomly, we will look at an ASVAB waiver. Generally, if we are going to look at it, we’re going to want to see a guy that has pushed himself, i.e., college, before we even consider something like that. 00:09:30 DF: So, in line with that, obviously, me personally, kind of on the cusp of not being applicable for Naval Special Warfare contract, how do age limitations and maybe medical limitations kind of play into that same kind of concept? 00:09:46 WC: I guess simply put, we don’t do exceptions to policy. So, if you are outside of the age limit, then, you know, thanks for coming out and giving it a try, but we’re, we’re not looking at exceptions to policy. 00:10:00 DF: Are the requirements for candidates the same, including with females? I know that that’s kind of a new topic in terms of how far females have gotten through the, the training process so far. Is that something that you hold to a different standard, or can you maybe expound upon that a little bit? 00:10:16 WC: That’s a great question. So, so we, we look at everything back to the first thing that I said, I’m selecting based on best and most qualified. I’m not subdividing that into best and most qualified men, best and most qualified women, best and most qualified race, best and most qualified religion. There’s no separation there. It’s just straight best and most qualified. 00:10:40 DF: So, you’re looking at numbers, very black and white in that area. 00:10:42 WC: Very black and white, yep, so gender-neutral. If you have what it takes, then we’ll definitely take a look at you. 00:10:48 DF: Through this process, what types of applicants are you screening? 00:10:52 WC: Okay, so, yeah, I’m looking for what we call new accessions. So, new accessions, you could, kids that are coming off the streets, never had any military experience before, that are just showing interest in the Navy. 00:11:07 DF: I see, as opposed to transitioning from the Big Navy to Special Warfare. 00:11:09 WC: Exactly. So, that is, that is one category. That is the biggest category of actually, the individuals that I’m screening. The next category that I’m looking at are Navy veterans and other service veterans, so other services being Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, individuals that have gotten out of those branches and now are interested in trying out for our community, so I will look at those as well. So, I screen other service veterans, and then I also look at the Navy veteran packages as well. So, it’s a different process. So, if you are a other service veteran or a Navy veteran, it requires a different application that is submitted up, so realize that there’s a little bit more time and effort that will go into it, but your recruiters and your mentors and coordinators will help you out with that. 00:12:00 DF: I’d like to talk a little bit about the mentorship program. It seems like you’re obviously a fan of the idea of people being close in relationship with the mentor, making sure that they are on the right path. Maybe you can expound upon that a little bit about the importance of the mentorship program 00:12:13 WC: So, I’ll start off with your mentor and your coordinator, are both individuals that are part of these communities. So, your coordinator is an active duty member, usually first class, Chief, Senior Chief, that is part of SEAL/SWCC, Navy Diver, EOD, Air Rescue. Your mentor is someone that’s retired or separated at some point from one of those communities. So, both of those individuals are tied to those communities and can speak to those communities. They’re the subject matter experts at that level who can communicate to you what you need to know about the program. So, the mentor, mentor program is important because, you know, who better to mentor you other than somebody that is actually a part of that community? And the mentor and coordinator, we want to see you succeed. So, we want to try to get guys and gals to their highest level, their peak performance, both their performance, both their, and their character. So, we utilize exercises in which we have kind of a mental toughness program where the mentors and coordinators will actually sit down with applicants, and they’ll talk about things like character and dedication. You may be asked to write an essay on the community that you want to join and why you want to join it. A lot of times, we see something in a movie or in a book that seems interesting, but we don’t truly know what we’re getting ourselves into. So, that developed research into those programs could be what it takes to solidify our decision to join that program or maybe consider a different program within Warrior Challenge or in the Navy in general, so. 00:13:57 DF: Within the current structure of the recruitment process and the training process, what do you think is the key to getting more people graduated and, and turned into active duty operators? 00:14:10 WC: Well, that’s a good question. I mean for the last 50 years; the attrition rates of BUD/S have been the same. You know, we tweak this, we tweak that, and at the end of the day, it kind of stays the same. But ultimately, what we’ve succeeded in over the last 15 years is making sure that our candidates are showing up to the first day of the pipeline training. So, for those who want to be SEAL, you have, you have boot camp, then after boot camp, you have prep, NSW prep, and then you go into BO, and then you’ll start first phase of BUD/S. So, our idea is to try to get you to the front door prep so that the guys at prep can prepare you for the next thing. So, it’s a very, it’s a stepladder approach that’s being taken where each group of individuals is preparing you for the next step. We’re not preparing you necessarily to graduate from SQT. We’re preparing you to succeed in the next step that you’re going to be faced with. So, the mentors and coordinators, you can look at them as preparing you to make it through boot camp and continue to excel at your PST scores, whereas the guys at boot camp, they’re preparing you to take on the stressors that you will face in prep and so on and so forth, so. 00:15:28 DF: So, what’s the best advice you can give to a candidate? 00:15:31 WC: I’d say the best advice is, is really take some time to think about what makes you tick, why are you the way you are, why do you want the programs that you want and pick a piece that what, what is important to you. Is it service, is it patriotic duty, is it brotherhood, is it sacrifice? What, what is it about these communities that drives you to that? Take some time to really focus on that because if you understand your purpose, and things get difficult, you can always fall back on your purpose to push you through those difficult situations. So, you know, we all need a purpose, and that purpose helps us set goals, to get to the places that we want to be in life, and so if you can really sit down and tease that purpose out and really focus on that, that will be the big thing that pushes you through it when times get tough. 00:16:30 DF: Yeah, that’s, that’s been a pretty consistent message, whether it’s a mental toughness, goal setting or throughout this whole process, checking off the boxes, the why portion, and it seems like when you boil everything down, that’s what’s really most important. 00:16:45 WC: Absolutely. 00:16:46 DF: If you could maybe just for a minute talk to us about why you became a SEAL. 00:16:49 WC: Yeah, absolutely, that’s, all right, I always love that. So, without getting too deep into the weeds, I, I always wanted to, to challenge myself, but not just challenge myself, but challenge myself in a way that it would benefit, you know, this great country that we live in. I recognized from a young age just all the opportunities that were presented to me as a child, and I was always driven, I think it was born into me. I think maybe it’s genetics, but I was always driven towards service. And so, I remember even from a young age sitting in church drawing battleships and Army men, so it was just, it was always something that was part of me. And so, as I, I grew up, and I found out about the SEAL teams I felt like it was the right fit because I always translated my ability to serve my country and have the greatest effect is being part of the most dangerous units. I like the SEAL team idea because not too many people knew about them when I was interested in them. They were, they were doing exclusive type jobs, and it was, it was a very challenging group of individuals to get into, and it was a very tight knit organization. So, that was really my purpose. It was driven by service, patriotic duty and the challenge of the, of the organization that the SEAL teams are. 00:18:16 DF: Well, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today, really appreciate it. 00:18:22 DF: Find out more at, and join us again for the next NSW podcast
May 04, 2018
#4 Mental Toughness
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Navy SEALs and SWCC possess a high degree of mental toughness. You can too. Find out how from a Navy SEAL Force Master Chief. For more on this visit

Full Transcript


The only easy day was yesterday. (Intro)


I’m Daniel Fletcher, and today I’m speaking with a retired Navy SEAL Force Master Chief about the mental aspects of Naval Special Warfare. Let’s get started…


DF: We’ve carved out a little time to talk mental toughness with a decorated Navy SEAL, ...We all know that physical exertion is a big part of the training process, but we hear a lot about the mental aspects of the challenges, whether it’s in training or after graduation, even through deployments, whether it’s separation from family or just facing general adversities, stressors, all this kind of stuff...if you could tell us, from your perspective, after having a career as a SEAL, what aspects of the, we’ll call it a job, in your mind required the most mental toughness.


M: Absolutely, Daniel. Thank you for the time here, and I’m very interested in setting our future generation of SOF operators up for success, so I’m glad to be here today talking to you. I would say anecdotally, any SOF selection course is roughly 80% mental, 20% physical. In fact, I just came from talking to 20 students that DOR’d today, and nine out of ten students that dis-enroll from this program are for lack of mental fortitude. So, what we’re attempting to do today is to take things that most of our operators have utilized unwittingly their entire careers and present these mental tools as a process up front to our students coming in the pipeline now so that they can start to cultivate these mental skills early on in their training in the hopes that they will be more mentally resilient than we were and stick around and do 30 years in SOF with their families intact, living purposeful, meaningful lives and able to handle, readily handle stress and crisis.


DF: So, where do you think that kind of starts? Is this something you think, ideally, starts before recruitment process How do you see this process starting from a blank slate if you had the opportunity to kind of sculpt a 13-year-old to come into NSW kind of program? Where do you think that kind of starts in, in early adulthood or late childhood?


M: Absolutely, Daniel, fantastic question. So, I would say in reference to developing mental toughness in adversity in your life, the key is to constantly challenge yourself, do things that you’re uncomfortable doing every day. It could be something as simple as taking a cold shower in the morning, where you’re subjecting yourself to being uncomfortable and getting comfortable being uncomfortable. And the more adversity you face prior to showing up for the pipeline, the stronger your mental toughness baseline will be.


DF: What are the ways you think that young people can kind of start incorporate some mental training into their lifestyle?


M: Yeah, sports is a big part of it definitely. You know, when you’re out there playing football in the summertime, and you’re doing double sessions where you’re working out all morning and over lunch, you’re so sore you can’t even move, and you have a whole afternoon session, that’s probably the closest experience I could equate that, that could crossover to BUD/S, is working yourself to that degree and at a minimum. You know, I know our wrestlers and our football players and water polo players have a higher probability of success in the training because they, they’ve had some upstream stress inoculation from playing competitive sports


DF: I’ve heard mentioned a few times endurance athletes tend to do very well, and I think that does kind of tie into the mental aspects involved, and you kind of see that a lot with professional endurance athletes...they develop a lot of mental fortitude through their life, and they’re able to push themselves, what do you think about the idea of pursuing endurance sports specifically for mental fortitude?


M: No, absolutely, Daniel, and ironically enough, I think it’s, it has less to do with motivation and more to do with willpower and determination and discipline, I think the challenge is accelerating the discipline of a young man that doesn’t have a whole lot of time on Earth...


DF: Do you have any, ideas on how that process can be accelerated for a civilian?


M: I think, I think the best thing that a young man can do is constantly stay uncomfortable, stretch the limitations of what you think is possible, do things that you think that you can’t succeed at. As an example, go out and run a half marathon with no preparation and pull that out on nothing but sheer will and determination, and your conditioned confidence will grow with each new challenge that you conquer, especially with things that you didn’t think were possible of doing…If that makes sense 


DF: Right, right…Yeah, no, that does make sense, kind of, my sister actually, her specialty is mental performance training in high level athletes, and so I hear a lot of similarities between the kind of high performing NSW candidates and career people and some of the things I’ve heard her echo. What are some of the specific tools or techniques that, that you’ve developed or that you recommend people try to do to kind of increase their mental fortitude?


M: Absolutely, we’ve been doing these things all along. Our folks never would be at this stature of their lives now operating the teams nonstop for the last 16 years and sustained combat. We’re trying to take these tools now, and they’re all based in a foundational principle of never letting a negative thought complete itself in your head The concept is foundational in everything that we teach, and I had a young officer lieutenant in charge of SQT that follows the same line of thinking that we’re instructing, and he’s like, “Well, that sounds great. The concept sounds fantastic. How do you operationalize that concept?” And I said, “Sir, it’s nothing more than this. When you wake up every morning, and the negative thoughts start to flood your head about the day’s coming events, first thing I do, I roll over, and I look at my beautiful wife, and I crush out those negative thoughts, first thought about my family, grateful for the family that has stayed with me through 33 years in this community. Next thing I do is I lean down the hallway, and I look at the bay, the 40-foot sailboat sitting out back on the pier. That replaces another negative thought, and I start to think about all the things my sons have accomplished, and they’re happy, healthy and strong in their lives and all the things that I’m grateful for. So, the premise, the point to the, the foundational concept of never letting a negative thought complete itself in your head is if you go through this gratitude routine every morning and appreciate that everything you’re here for, for the student, you’re out here in sunny Coronado getting paid to train on the beach. People pay thousands of dollars for adversity. You’re getting it for free at the expense of the Navy, and enjoy your time out here, enjoy the evolutions. Use these evolutions to cultivate and grow your mental skills. So, that’s the foundational concept. The actual skills, what we found in the research is that you need three core skills in order to develop your mental toughness program. One, the messenger of the skills has to be trusted by the students. They have to trust that the messenger’s not going to put them in harm’s way. They can’t be in fear mode when you’re trying to instruct them on mental skills. They have to be receptive to inculcate them in the right way.


Two, you need to give them skills, and the actual skills that we teach here are called the Big Four. The Big Four are goal setting, which is nothing more than segmentation. Visualization, which is nothing more than mental rehearsal. Self-talk, which is internal dialog, mind control, controlling your response to the unknown. And arousal control, which is a stress technique that we term as pause, breathe, think, act. You’re pausing to allow your danger receptors that go to the primitive part of your brain to end up in your frontal cortex where all the reasoning and logic and training and experience resides so that you’re making a decision based on your training and not on a fear response. You’re breathing to get good oxygenated blood to your head so that you can make an intelligent decision. Then you’re thinking, and then you’re acting. So, we program the students to pause, breathe, think, act. We program them in class, we challenge them. They program themselves every night before they go to bed. So, this arousal control technique becomes inherent, and it’s embedded in their autonomic immune system, just like all the other things we do in this community where we have an emergency response to a situation. We want them ingrained so when that stressor hits, we’re not thinking about it. It’s happening automatically.


DF: You mentioned a couple key areas there, starting with goal setting. Can you do a little bit of a deep dive on each one of those and give us a little bit more detail on some of those individual areas?


M: Absolutely, Daniel. So, goal setting is nothing more than segmentation, and what I mean by that is breaking down colossal tasks into small, manageable bits where you remain in control. You’re tapping into that frontal cortex that we referred to earlier, the reasoning experience part of your brain, and you’re never letting the situation get beyond your control because you’re breaking that situation down into small, manageable chunks, like eating an elephant one bite at a time, and the way this applies to training and to the battlefield is you can very easily overwhelm your circuits when you think of the entirety of an operation, where you get recalled to work, and then you have to fly halfway around the world, in most cases, 12 hours. Then you have to skydive into your platform where you roll into a   24 to 48-hour planning cycle, and that’s all just to get to the area to conduct the operation, and then there’s getting into the area to conduct the op, the actions on the objective, and then you’re reversing that whole process. When you think of that operation in its entirety, you can very quickly get overwhelmed. What we’re trying to teach the young men today is to break down each phase of that operation into small, manageable segments so that your entire focus, you’re in the moment for that specific mission set, and you’re doing well in that phase because you’re giving it your full concentration and thought, and you’re not getting overwhelmed by thinking the whole thing in its entirety. Very, very powerful technique, and each one of these techniques has different threads that spin off into other things. Every successful elite military organization, the elite sporting world, the Fortune 500, they’re all goal orientated people that constantly are setting up goals and knocking them down and creating new goals, so this is a, a good mindset to have in SOF, is to be goal oriented in everything you do.


DF: And then a couple other of those that you talked about, visualization and self-talk, I know those are huge keys if you could talk about how those come into play in maybe specific areas.


M: So, visualization, ironically enough, we do a student class teach back, where the student leadership themselves have to teach these techniques back to the class, and it’s an officer-enlisted pairs that come out and give these class teach backs. Well, the officer had his master’s degree, he’s from South Africa, had his master’s degree in psychology, and he went seven layers deep into visualization and how the elite sporting realm utilizes this technique. And then his enlisted counterpart, as luck would have it, was an Olympic Gold Medalist and swam with Michael Phelps. He took visualization to another level, and he basically validated for us the techniques we’re teaching. But visualization we use in everything we do in SOF. Once again, I mentioned there’s different threads to each one of these techniques. Visualization is building a mock-up of a target so that you can walk through that objective. I’ve been on sensitive operations where we’ve built mock ups out of Conex boxes that replicated a ship or a target objective, and you run through that objective over and over again until you’ve mastered that compound. Sand tables, we manipulate models to replicate the battlefield. Visualization is used in all of our emergency reaction procedures, whether it’s diving, whether it’s jumping. We have malfunction procedures where you have to perform while under duress and be able to do a certain sequence of lifesaving events. So, visualization, whether you want to learn it or not, is a daily part of everything you do in SOF. We’re just trying to present this as a process so young men can start to cultivate these techniques early in their careers.


M: Self-talk is nothing more than that internal narrator. I think a good example I can give to the battlefield, there was a situation overseas where we were going into a very hazardous area, and we had 65 structures to clear. I’ll always remember this particular objective because I was out there with Pat Tillman, an American hero to me. And for those of you who don’t know Pat Tillman, he was an accomplished NFL football player that gave up all the fame and glory to come in and serve his country, and he later died on the battlefield. But embedded with Pat Tillman, we had to clear these 65 structures, and there were cluster munitions all around the ground, where if you took a wrong step, you could end up with a casualty, so you had to keep your wits about you. And I had a little narrator, a little shooting buddy in my head, and I wanted to give objective number 65 the same due diligence as I gave objective number 1. So, I would go through a little mental jog in my mind upon entering every structure. I would go through that little mental arithmetic with every objective once again so that the last objective got the same due diligence as the first.


DF: Maybe if you could highlight certain aspects of these kind of Big Four that would be most beneficial to focus on as someone going through the training process trying to enter NSW.


M: Absolutely, Daniel. We try to talk about real-life examples. We try to talk about training examples and then battlefield examples to paint the complete scope of how these techniques can be utilized. Each one of these techniques has multiple threads. Self-talk can be used as daily mantras to gather strength when you’re performing a physical task or a challenging task. Some of my own personal internal mantras are, “Warrior mode, strength attraction, surprise speed, violence of action.” I have others, “I am the captain of my ship and master of my fate.” I learned one from one of our students here last week, who took a Marcus Aurelius comment, quote on mental toughness and pared it down to, “The closer I am to calm mind, the closer I am to strength,” and you can repeat these mantras in times of duress or when you need a boost or a mental charge to get you over that or through that difficult challenge


DF: I think it’s really helpful to hear from someone who is training active operators or involved in the community and that this is a key point. This is not just a, a trick. Mike, if you could just give us a real-life example of how this kind of stuff can be applied to a candidate or potential recruit.


M: Absolutely, Daniel. Well, specifically speaking to the goal-setting, I think for a young man interested in this program, before he even sets a goal, he has to understand why he’s pursuing this line of work. That’s another common theme I find with the young men that do not make it through the program. They don’t know why they’re there. They saw a movie, they read a book, and some of that is superficial, and it’s not enough to carry them through tough times, so I would challenge all future young men that are interested in this program to really sit down and think about that deep-seated reason why he wants to be in SOF. What are some examples? My dad was a SEAL. Those students that have a dad that’s a SEAL have a 4-times higher probability of making it through the program, as an example. I want to make the world a safer place for future generations. Superficial reasons will very quickly be stripped away as soon as times get tough, so understanding the why, the deep-seated reason, that is number one in goal setting, is to understand why you want to go down this road, and it has to mean something. It has to mean something deeply to you and your family and the country in order for you to be successful. Once again, I find that the young men that don’t make it through the program have never sat down and really, truly, honestly explored the why.

In reference to goal setting, it could be something as simple as jumping in a cold shower in the morning. And at first, it’s going to be very, very uncomfortable. Turn that knob all the way over on cold, and gut it out. Control your breathing, relax, be calm, shoot for 20 seconds for you first time, and then try that for a week or two until you get comfortable, and it’s no longer challenging you, and then roll into 30 seconds, and then roll into a minute, and then roll into two minutes, and then after that, every couple weeks, stay in there for 15 minutes to really surpass your mark and to build that conditioned confidence. Use goals with everything you do. Your goals have to be specific, they have to be measurable, they have to be attainable, they have to be realistic, and they have to be timely. That’s a format we use when setting goals. We call it SMART goals, and you can do that with running, with your run times. Make sure, as an example, let’s say you’re running a 32-minute four-mile timed run. That’s specific. You want to improve that. You want to knock two minutes off that time. So, make sure it’s measurable. You’re going to go from 32 to 30 minutes. That’s going from an 8-minute mile to a 7.30 mile. Is that attainable? Yes. You’re not biting off more than you can chew. Is that realistic? Absolutely, and timely. Put a goal on it. You want to be able to do this, you know, three months into your training. So, there’s an example of how to use SMART goals.


DF: A lot of these people’s goals is obviously to graduate, but there’s a lot of little tasks between them and graduation. How, how do people navigate these daily challenges almost as if it’s their own Hell Week getting through this process?


M: I would say, you know, Hell Week, let me talk a moment about Hell Week. So, I think Hell Week is the gold standard in our community. I believe it’s what separates us from the other services and the other SOF forces around the world in that Hell Week is our primary filter to truly test the resiliency, will, determination for a young man to become a SEAL. During Hell Week, the students will go through seemingly impossible tasks for five days, day and night with as little as four hours of sleep for the entire week. What will successfully get a young man through Hell Week and successfully get a person through life is never quitting, never giving up, especially when the chips are down. And never giving up has much more to do with being disciplined than it does with motivation. We hear a lot of talk and a lot of discussion about being motivated to do this or that. There are going to be many times during Hell Week and in life where you’re not motivated. You’re going to wake up and simply not be motivated, and what’s going to get you through that task or that day or Hell Week is maintaining the task and staying on task through discipline, sheer will and determination to accomplish that goal and discipline. Discipline equals success.


DF: Well, thank you for all the information you shared. It’s been super helpful.  If you could just leave us with a few words of wisdom, a few words of wisdom for the people listening, maybe to get them through this training process or maybe some inspirational words.


M: Motivation is like the weather. It comes, and it goes. Some days it’s good, some days it’s bad. The sun equates to discipline. The sun is going to rise every day, and it’s going to set every day, irregardless of the weather, irregardless of where you are in the world, the sun is going to rise, and it’s going to set. That’s the mindset you need, to be well disciplined. You want to be like the sun. You want to show up every day to train, whether you’re motivated or not, and you’ll feel better when you do. The only easy day was yesterday. What this means is that life is about constant evolution, every day failing and crushing through failure and becoming better and becoming stronger and becoming faster. Always better today than we were yesterday 


DF: Find out more at, and join us again for the next NSW podcast.

Apr 25, 2018
#3 How to Train for Naval Special Warfare
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Ever wondered how to train yourself for a career as a SEAL or SWCC? Meet the man who literally wrote the official book on physical training for Naval Special Warfare. For more information visit Full Transcript 00:00:02:05 The only easy day was yesterday. (Intro) 00:00:15:27 DF: Welcome to “The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday,” the official Navy SEAL podcast. We all know it’s not easy to become a Navy Seal or a SWCC, but if there were ways to mentally and physically prepare yourself that could set you up for success? I’m Daniel Fletcher, and today I’m speaking with the director of fitness, SEAL and SWCC training, Mike Caviston to find out more 00:00:37:16 DF: We’re sitting here in the birthplace of SEAL and SWCC trainees, the Naval Special Warfare Training Center. Today, we’re in Mike Caviston’s office, director of fitness for SEAL and SWCC training to get some expert advice. Welcome, Mike. Thanks for joining us. 00:00:49:01 MC: Thank you for having me. 00:00:50:00 DF: So, can you tell us a little bit about what you do here? 00:00:52:03 MC: Well, my title is director of fitness. It’s actually a pretty broad job. A big part of it is education. My background is education. My background is kinesiology, and so I tried to educate people at all levels, and certainly a big target audience are anybody interested in entering the program from the very beginning. And I try to coordinate the advice that I give with statistics that I’ve gathered based on the success of people that have actually entered the program. So, I spend a lot of time looking at the different training requirements, what people are physically doing and making my recommendations for how to prepare for that. 00:01:29:14 DF: It seems like a lot of people that are in the Special Forces have a physical fitness or a sporting background. I think that maybe you could comment on that, that the kinesiology of the athlete, it seems obviously that the Navy SEALs are looking for athletes that are capable of even more. Do you think that there’s a specific sport that lends itself specifically to success the Navy SEALs? 00:01:48:06 MC: I don’t think there’s a particular sport. I don’t claim to have the final answer on that. I know that there have been a wide variety of SEALs that have come from different sports, in other words, just about any sport you can think of is represented in the community. I would say based on my observations and experience and what is required in the program that anybody with a good endurance background is going to have a leg up. So, somebody that’s been, you know, competitive runner, swimmer would probably be a good candidate. 00:02:17:19 DF: There’s definitely going to be some younger folks listening to this. I think that kids’ lifestyles or teenagers’ lifestyles are largely dependent on their upbringing and their parents and, you know, what kind of physical activity and environment they’re raised in, but for those kids that might have the option to maybe pursue a specific sport or change their lifestyle, seeing as you grew up in a really active environment, and you continue to live in that currently, what recommendations do you make to either parents or kids, you know, about lifestyle as a young person? 00:02:49:28 MC: Just general physical activity. You know, it’s, I don’t think there’s any magic formula, any one particular sport. I am asked questions or see online those types of questions all the time, younger people interested in what sports they should play in high school or even before. Doing something is the biggest component. Again, I always come back to I think being involved in an endurance sport is a good thing, and if you can become comfortable in the water, that’s a good thing, so swimming or water polo or something that involves being in the water, something that involves running, maybe not automatically track or cross country, although those are probably good options, but something that features running as part of the conditioning process would be good sports to choose. But just being active in general is a good concept, so, you know, spending less time in front of the computer, in front of the television or whatever and more time outdoors doing anything is going to be a good start. 00:03:45:09 DF: So, kind of promoting an active lifestyle in general…So, you mentioned endurance sports or endurance practice a couple times. Other than running, can you maybe list off a few other types of endurance sports that you recommend? 00:03:58:14 MC: Yeah, absolutely. I talk about running and swimming because those are measured. I mean before you can get into the program, you have to pass a test that proves you’re a competent runner and swimmer. In the NSW pipeline is the SEAL and SWCC training programs, selection programs. There’s a lot of running and swimming, so you do have to be good at that, but what I find to be the, the biggest factor is just overall endurance, and that can be developed in a number of different ways. And so, if you come from a cycling background, my background is rowing, and I’ve talked to a lot of athletes that rowed before they got into the program that have done quite well. Anything that has a strong cardiovascular fitness component is going to be a good activity, and one of the things I encourage people that are preparing, “Oh, I hear you have to be a good runner,” and I provide statistics that show better runners perform better, so, okay, you want to become a good runner. Some people will take that maybe too much to heart and over-train, and so I want people to become a better runner, but I don’t want them to set themselves on the road to over-training and injury too early. And so, do other things. Do plenty of other things. And so, I mentioned, yes, cycling and rowing are good activities. If you get into a gym and get on some of the different cardio machines once in a while, that would be fine. I mean your heart really doesn’t know or care what you’re doing, you know, as long as you’re doing something that gets it to beat a while. 00:05:19:15 DF: So, it seems like we have a lot of real specific parameters, guidelines, goals, metrics that are in the, the training philosophy for just getting initially prepared for your first test. At what age do you think people should maybe start training to those specific metrics? Is this something that changes frequently or? 00:05:57:13 MC: Well, it would depend on when they actually plan to get into the program, and so somebody wants to graduate high school at about 18, and they want to enlist in the Navy and do it then. You know, you want to be thinking maybe two years out would be a good time, definitely by a year out, you want to be specifically preparing. You don’t have to I think prepare five years out, especially at that early age, or if somebody’s plan is to college and graduate, so they’re going to be about 22 by the time they enter the Navy and try to enter the program. Then, again, a couple years out is time to be specific. 00:06:11:01 DF: Do you think that the environment and climate, altitude of training has a big impact on when people show up to take their first test? Do people, do they need to be training at a specific environment to be able to excel and do well in this program? 00:06:29:04 MC: I wouldn’t make that recommendation. I don’t have enough evidence to, you know, to make an informed recommendation, but my instinctive response to that question is no, I wouldn’t overthink that…People definitely come from all over the country and all walks of life and are successful. I’m not even current on what the, on what the latest information shows, which parts of the country, and, you know, why that is, is it because of climate, is it because of socioeconomic background, is it because of a variety of different things, so if I’m asked a question like that, my short answer is no, I wouldn’t worry about it. 00:07:03:07 DF: So, I’ve looked over pretty extensively the, the Navy Special Warfare physical training guide, and it seems like a really good foundation for people building up a program for themselves and readying themselves. I come from a CrossFit background, and it seems like there’s a tremendous amount of overlap here. I mean it is that style of training something that you recommend in a baseline preparation for this test? 00:07:27:06 MC: No, ss a matter of fact, I’d probably say more the opposite. I would advocate people having a very structured approach, have a very determined end state. For the physical training guide, first thing is to think about their score on the physical screening test, the PST. And again, that references the swim and run components as well as doing some pull ups and push ups and sit ups, and there are certain standards that they have to achieve to even be selected into the program, and certain components, especially the run and swim portions are more strongly correlated with actually getting through the program. So, it’s one thing to be admitted into BUDS or the SWCC program. It’s another thing to, you know, complete the selection process. So, my thinking in terms of designing the physical training guide was to have a very structured approach with a very determined end state. 00:08:19:18 DF: Okay, that makes a little bit more sense cause you’re really shooting these for very specific numbers for people. And if people are listening and they want to get this training guide, [SPELLS] is the website where you can find this PDF download and print it out and start training for yourself. How often do you guys make adjustments, variations or changes to this guide, or is it something that’s kind of a Bible now? 00:08:46:06 MC: I wouldn’t, I’d be a little bit arrogant to use it as, you know, to say the word Bible, but it’s been pretty, the format has been consistent for as long as I’ve been in the program, about ten years. I mean that was pretty much the first project when I was hired, was to develop the physical training guide, and I actually modeled it on my coaching background in rowing and working with the premise that the PST features of run and swim portion, where, you know, the timeframe is pretty consistent with how long it takes to complete a rowing event. And so, I just plugged in running and swimming numbers, and, of course, I’ve been fine-tuning and adjusting and trying to figure out, you know, what is usable by, by our audience, but the basic structure has been pretty similar for years. We’ve tweaked the actual guide a little bit, and I’ve added a few things. One of the things I’ve gone back and forth with over the years, my original guidance in terms of putting the PTG together was keep it simple. You know, you want to be just, you know, one recommendation is like one page, and I just put up a 26-weeks schedule. It’s something that people could put up on their refrigerator and follow, and, okay, simplicity is good, but then in practice, people have a lot of questions, and you mentioned, where they can download the PTG. I’d also encourage anybody interested to look at the other supplemental information that’s on the website. We’ve got additional information, some training videos that illustrate some of the exercises that are mentioned in there, and so other resources, but over the years, I’ve received many, many questions related to the PTG, and so over the years, we tried to cut off some of those questions or answer some of those questions, or, you know, make it even more clear in terms of what the intent is and how to go about achieving the goals. 00:10:34:18 DF: What type of questions do you, can you maybe give a couple examples there or maybe some questions that maybe continually still get to this day that are, there’s not covered anywhere? 00:10:42:28 MC: Yeah, there are some that are hard to answer definitively, but one of the things I always recognize is that every person’s schedule changes or is different, and so things come up, and so if I say, “On Monday, you do this, and this is the distance, and this is the pace, and on Tuesday, you do this, and this is the distance, and this is the pace, and Wednesday, you do this,” and somebody will come along and say, “Well, I’ve got a problem on Wednesday where I can’t do that. What if I double up on Tuesday, or what if I wait until Thursday, or, you know, what if I think I’m in good shape, and I want to run faster than you say I should run, or what if I’m not getting better, and, you know, what should I do about that?” So, all those sorts of things, I try to make it a little bit more flexible and say, “Look, this is a guideline. It’s not carved in stone,” and I try to educate people on the principles behind the program so that they can make informed decisions in terms of how to, how to modify their program. Now, people still have lots of individual questions, just as I said, and so, I’ll try to answer some of those, and hopefully people will be able to look at that and understand, you know, what the, what the basic intent is so that they can answer those questions on their own. 00:11:47:09 DF: So, it seems like most of the questions revolve around the programming, specifically in scheduling. 00:11:52:14 MC: Scheduling is a big thing. Programming, understanding, you know, I try to make the instructions pretty simple. I understand I’ve been doing this for years. What is second nature to me isn’t second nature to, you know, especially maybe a 16, 17-year-old kid. I’ve, I’ve dealt with that my whole career, and so I have to step back and say, “Okay, explain it to a beginner, and, but there will still be some questions, and one of the things in terms of some of the different formats, I give them different options in terms of what type of workout to do, and, you know, they sort of want to know, “Well, what if I did A, B or C? Would that be okay?” Sometimes it is, sometimes it’s a whole different thing, and I try to make them see what the differences are. 00:12:30:13 DF: That seems to kind of transition into the crawl, walk, run philosophy that’s kind of the foundation for this specific manual, is just getting people to crawl phase really. Is that a correct correlation you think? 00:12:43:27 MC: Well, that is a correct correlation, and it was designed and intended for people that are interested in the program, maybe don’t have a very strong fitness background, they don’t feel like they’re in great shape. There are a lot of programs I’ve seen out there, you know, 8-weeks to BUDS, or, you know, whatever. No, that’s not enough time, so this is a 26-week program, and I would say take at least 26 weeks, but you need to start somewhere and build progressively. 00:13:10:13 DF: Yeah, that’s, that sounds about right. I was talking to my sister. She’s a CrossFit coach and a mental performance expert, and her assessment was, you know, six months at the bare minimum or around there, and that seems like that’s pretty consistent with what you’re saying. What would you, if you had to guess, what percentage of people that come through the program are using this document? 00:13:31:20 MC: I shouldn’t have to guess although I don’t have the numbers off the top of my head. It’s something that our recruiting directorate looks at, and we’ve got a program that exists in Great Lakes, Illinois, so between finishing boot camp and coming out to Coronado and starting either the SEAL or the SWCC pipeline, candidates go through a preconditioning program called NSW Prep. And at that point, they’re interviewed and answering questions like that, and so all I can say is a pretty high percentage. 00:14:03:26 MC: I mean I would say virtually everybody’s aware of this. I can’t definitively say who actually follows it. Again, we can poll them, they’ll tell us, will they tell us the truth, I don’t know, will they tell us what we want to hear, I don’t know. I talk to candidates in the program all the time, and, again, you know, they tend to tell me, “Oh, yeah, it’s been great,” but they might just be telling me what I want to hear. 00:14:26:08 DF: I guess my takeaway there is from the person that might be a collegiate athlete, who maybe is studying kinesiology or exercise science, who might think they, they heard something from their professor, and they have the golden key, it seems, I would urge people just based on listening to you speak here, and I think you would the same, is don’t get ahead of yourself. This has been structured and created for very specific use case, and it seems to be very successful, so if it’s more simple than maybe someone who’s more advanced in the fitness community, I would say don’t shy away from it just from speaking to you. You think that’s correct? 00:15:04:19 MC: It is correct, and I had one point I was going to make before, though, is that it was set up to be an introductory program, people with minimal experience, not much fitness, but it’s actually designed or structured in such a way that you can maintain it for an extended period of time. And I, you know, it’s based on my training. I’ve been following it for more than 40 years now, you know, so it’s not something that you only do for 26 weeks and then stop, or say, “Okay, now I’ve got to move onto some other program.” It’s like if you follow the basic program, the principles in the program, you can use it to, you to fine-tune the program or to increase the level of difficulty or to increase the volume of training. 00:15:42:21 DF: Yeah, it seems to be scalable, right… 00:15:44:13 MC: Absolutely, but sustainable is the other point I’m trying to make. I mean not just for, not just for a year but for, for many years. 00:15:52:12 DF: It seems like the concept of endurance athletes and endurance practice is important to a successful career as a SEAL or SWCC… do you see injury as a kind of a hot spot, a common issue for candidates going through your training program, or is there specific body weaknesses that you see? It seems to me that it would likely be a specific area of the body that people neglect and then also the mental aspect, which would, those are kind of my guesses. 00:16:22:01 MC: I will come back, or we can talk about the mental aspect a little bit more, but in terms of injury, I’ve got a ton of information. I mean it’s just something not only became, before I came to this program, it’s just something that, part of my discipline, part of my education, part of my training is to look at any sport and say, “Okay, what are the common injuries?” You know, any coach wants his athlete to be on the floor, not on the bench or not in the training room, so if we can avoid injuries and get that good athlete in the game more, that’s what we want, and we want the athlete to be able to play for several seasons, not just, you know, one or two seasons, and that’s absolutely true in the Special Warfare community. We want not only to get candidates through the tough selection process, but we want them to be operators for many years, and so we want to try to establish a good physiological profile that will allow them to perform well with minimal injuries. And I’ve spent a lot of time working with our medical staff and looking and talking with the doctors and the physical therapists and the athletic trainers that have dealt with these injuries for years, and, what do they say, and, well, “Okay, here are the common injuries that we see, and here are the things that might help prevent them.” There’s no way to completely eliminate injury. It’s going to happen, especially in a very tough training program, and I think that’s true not only in NSW, but in any sport. If you’re serious about your sport, you can train hard, you’re competitive, you put yourself at risk for injuries, so it’s going to happen, but we want to have fewer injuries, and we want to have less severe injuries. And so, we can reduce the risk of injury by adopting a training program that specifically looks at, well, what, what is the nature of the training that you’re going to be doing and what are the common injuries that we see, and so let’s try to get ahead of the game and try to prevent the injuries before they occur. Anybody who goes into a rehab clinic, and they work with a therapist, they’ll give them, “Okay, you injured that body part. Here’s what you do to rehab.” It’s like, well, that’s kind of a little too late. Let’s do that before you get injured so you probably aren’t going to have to go into the training room. 00:18:25:26 DF: Are there good resources or any recommendations that you have to people, I’m sure you’ve seen my guess is a fair bit of shin splints just based on the amount of running that’s in the programming. People’s hands probably torn up from the number of pull ups they’re doing. Are those pretty accurate guesses of common injuries that of people that are preparing at this stage of entry into the program? 00:18:45:18 MC: Well, to enter into the program, yeah, common training injuries would probably involve things like shin splints, probably involve knee pain, so a lot of probably running related pain. Again, part of the problem is that people might be doing too many miles too soon, and so I try to walk the line between saying, “Yep, you’d better be a good runner. If you’re not a good runner, you haven’t much of a chance here,” but at the same time saying, “Well, you’re not going to become a good runner overnight.” You got to invest some time, you’ve got to train smartly, you’ve got to build your mileage gradually. There are common running related injuries that you might be able to, you know, eliminate or at least reduce the risk of getting if you add these strength training exercises to your routine along with your running. And we want people to show up day one of training here in Coronado feeling fresh and fit and not having an injury because if somebody has an injury, and many people do, they have, well, maybe they’ve had an injury, and it’s healed somewhat, but it’s not 100% gone, it’s going to come out in the wash. I mean, you know, it’s just going to, it’s just going to be aggravated, so. 00:19:50:26 DF: I think that that’s a good point, saying people are very ambitious, especially the people that are candidates here and want to train and want to train a lot. The takeaway there is to take your time and not try to race to the finish line, and there’s a measured approach, which seems to be really well documented by you guys that’s a recommended approach, and included in that is the amount of time that’s taken to kind of ramp up the mileage that you might need to be at. 00:20:16:29 DF: Are there any weight or body mass index numbers that are clear markers, either for success or failure? Obviously, there’s outliers like if you’re really overweight, but can you speak to that a little bit? 00:20:28:21 MC: A little bit. I look at the height and the weight of all the classes that come through, and it turns out that the average is almost always like 5’10” and 180 pounds, you know, so the average candidate is 5’10”, 180, they’re definitely, you know, it’s more like a bell curve. There are shorter, lighter guys, taller, heavier guys. Both extremes make it through training. I don’t know that I really have the data to look at, you know, the frequency, so I wouldn’t discourage anybody from coming through if they were a little shorter or a little taller than the average. Those guys make it through, but the statistics are pretty clear that the typical candidate or operator is about 5’10” and starts out about 180, might put on a little bit more weight once he’s been in the teams for a little while, but it gets a little, adds a little more muscle, but getting through the selection, the SEAL or the SWCC selection programs, there’s a variety of different things, and so I think, you know, the middle or the average is probably suited for more of those things. 00:21:30:29 DF: That’s interesting, especially for a group of people that is considered to be so “unaverage,” you know. Let’s talk a little bit about nutrition and sleep and kind of the care our bodies require for recovery. I’d imagine like, I mentioned earlier, a lot of these guys that are training our pushing themselves really hard. Do you find that lack of sleep or lack of good nutrition is an issue with a lot of people that come through the selection program? 00:21:58:05 MC: I think we’re doing better in terms of educating them more and earlier, so I think in terms of especially nutrition that we’re farther ahead than we were ten years ago, always room for improvement. In terms of sleep, I’m not sure the best way to address that either by my expertise in that field or by recording what is actually happening, so I think one of the, I think misconceptions a lot of people have about preparing for the program that comes out in a number of different ways, whether it’s nutrition or sleep or how to handle the environment or how to train, is that, they have ideas about what the selection process is going to be, which may or may not be accurate, but they have those perceptions, and so they want to try to replicate them in advance of coming here. So, one of those things might be, “I’m going to deprive myself of sleep, and I’m going spend a lot of time in cold water so I get used to that. I’m going to, you know, practice bad habits just because I want to get used to them because I know that’s what it’s going to be in selection,” and I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t encourage that. Hopefully, people that are serious about coming into the program are trying to arrange their schedule so that not only are they working hard, but they can actually recover and get plenty of rest because that’s necessary to be able to adapt properly. 00:23:16:12 DF: So, do not try to deprive yourself of sleep and put yourself, I just want to reiterate that. Don’t try to mimic training that you don’t know what it is… 00:23:22:00 MC: Well, that’s, that’s a theme of mine I come back to many, many times because it’s, it’s a strategy of so many candidates. It’s like, “Oh, that’s what the program is. I’d better do that first,” and I’ve tried to come up with a number of analogies over the years to try to convey the error in thinking there. You know, you want to run a marathon, the way to prepare is not to run a marathon every day for a year until you do your race. Football teams don’t scrimmage all the time. You know, boxers don’t get in the ring and box all the time. They do plenty of other things and then just a little bit of high intensity every now and then to get ready for the fight or the game, or in this case, BUDS or SWCC training, so, yeah, I say that often. Don’t try to recreate what you’re going to come cause it’s not designed, it’s not a conditioning program. It’s a program that’s designed to break you down, and so if you do it before you get here, you’re going to be broken down before you start, and that’s not a good strategy. 00:24:14:15 DF: Not the right time for that, for sure. You mentioned at the, in the end of the training guide here keeping a record of your training, and that’s something, my father’s an endurance athlete, I come from a military background, and he’s always kept a catalog or journal of his exercise. To me, this seems like a really valuable thing to do. At what point in the process do you recommend people starting to journal their experience here, whether it’s just fitness or what? You think it’s something they should start right away? 00:24:45:11 MC: Well, as soon as they make a decision that they want to do the program, if they haven’t already, they should start recording their training. You can record more or less information. I’m not fully up to date on all the different technological advances people have and the way people record their training, different apps and electronic aids and so forth. I still do it with a notebook, and I actually take that and put it into Excel, but, you know, that’s about as technical as I get. But you do want to keep track of what you’re doing, and you can get really anal and keep track of absolutely every single detail. Sometimes it takes more time to record what you’re doing than it does to actually do it, so there’s got to be, there’s got to be a balance there somewhere, but to answer the question you asked is that if somebody is interested in coming to the program, they should right away start recording what they’re doing, and then the key there is not just to write it down but to actually go back and look at it from time to time to see if you’re training the way you think you’re training. I mean that’s certainly something that almost anybody, even experienced athletes are guilty of. I know I’m guilty of it myself. I have a program, I have experience, I have knowledge, I think I know how to train, I think I know how I am training, but then I go back and look at my journal, and I say, “Oh, I did something a little different than I thought,” and, you know, maybe it was, again, I was out of town, and I did something different, or something changed, and I couldn’t do what I wanted to do. Anyway, you’ve got to go back and verify that you’re actually training the way you think you’re training and getting the results that you think you’re getting if you want to be able to improve. 00:26:11:27 DF: How often do you think it’s advisable to go back and look back at your workouts and kind of take an assessment? Is it something that you do on a regular basis?’ 00:26:19:03 MC: On a regular basis, certainly on a weekly basis, if not on a daily basis, and, you know, it could just be, again, a quick check to verify, but if you’re more inclined to pursue it further, you know, there are different ways to analyze, like I say, I like to use Excel, and I like to go back and look at different things, or I like to look at, okay, my performance in a recent race, is it what I expected and look at my successful races versus my less successful races, and, oh, okay, what are the common elements, you know. This is what I did right, this is what I didn’t do right. I want to do the right thing more often so that I have more good performances, and anybody that is trying to prepare for the program, and maybe they’ve got a PST, physical screening test, coming up, and they’re trying to reach certain numbers. They’ve got to verify that their training is going in the direction that they want it to. 00:27:07:02 DF: So, let’s touch on that a little bit real quick. I know that something that can be, that screening test could be fairly, fairly easily assess on yourself or a self-assessed PST. How many times do you see most candidates self-assessing themselves to hit this benchmark, or can you talk a little bit about the process? 00:27:23:17 MC: Yeah, probably just to get used to the format, you can do the basic format, you know, weekly. I mean if you don’t, if you don’t pursue it as an actual test where you’re trying to maximize your performance, and you’re structuring your whole week around it, and you’re trying to peak for that event. You know, if you, if you just, “I want to get used to the format. I want to get used to running and swimming in the same workout. I want to get used to having to do some pull-ups before or after I’ve swam. My arms are tired, and now I got to do some push-ups and pull-ups. I want to get used to that.” You can incorporate that into training, but you got to be a little bit more patient and cautious about really trying to nail it, and so about once a month, you know, if you want to self-assess, and that can be a great way to see how you’re doing. You know, about once a month say, “Okay, I’ve had a month of training now. I should be better than I was last month. Let’s test that out,” and they can verify that. 00:28:13:10 DF: Yeah, obviously that’s something you want to put in the log, for sure. You talk a little bit about recording some things that maybe some people might not think about in the journal, and it’s something that I thought was interesting when I saw my father’s journal for his runs, his mood, state of mind, and I think that that’s something that’s a lot more powerful than people are really able to quantify easily because there’s so many exterior, or life stressors that can kind of inhibit your, your exercise program, fill in the blank. Talk a little bit about how you recommend people deal with the psychological state of mind aspect of this training process. 00:28:45:25 MC: Well, I’ll definitely talk a little bit about it. It’s part of my background. I’ve got a lot of experience in that area, but I don’t want to talk too much because we actually have many dedicated subject matter experts in that area that I don’t want to, you know, sort of step on their toes or go into their, into their backyard so to speak. But, clearly, psychological and mental performance is a big factor, and I think that the way I’ve structured the training program allows people to practice some of the basic things we’ve been teaching here for a number of years. And so, whether it’s goal setting, you know, we have what we call the big four, one of them is goal setting, set long-term, medium and short-term goals. And so, the way you can go through a weekly training session or a monthly or a, you know, six months of training, you can break it up into smaller segments and have smaller range, medium range, long-term goals, and that feeds right into that. Self-talk, you know, just how you talk to yourself during a workout or during training can influence and so just trying to be a little bit more positive and, you know, emphasize the good aspects, get used to being upbeat a little bit more about your training. You can practice that as well. Imagery or visualization, I, you know, would encourage people that throughout the day at some point when they’re in a, in a down state maybe and sort of sitting quietly to think about what they’ve done and what they’re going to do next, and so just to go run through it in your mind. It might be just the procedures of doing a PST, “Okay, I’m going to swim first, and I’m going to get out of the water, and then what am I going to do next?” and practice it in your head several times so that when you do it for real, it’s just more natural, what other situations that might come up that you might have to deal with, you know, think about that mentally. 00:30:28:17 MC: And so, another of the big four is arousal control, and for many athletes in, you know, a big game situation, they don’t want to choke. The pressure is, is overwhelming, and you have to learn to deal with the pressure, and the same thing is true in our selection pipelines. The candidates going through face pressure, you know, many times, and so learning to control arousal and taking deep breaths and calming down in certain situations, and then in other situations, trying to get psyched up. I need to, I got to go down and get the adrenaline flowing, and so being able to regulate your arousal in the direction that you want is certainly something that you can practice in training. 00:31:09:07 DF: The other huge aspect of training for the PST is your strength. Obviously, endurance is very important, and that definitely builds a lot of the foundation for its success. Can you talk a little bit about specifically training for the PST in terms of strength training? 00:31:25:21 MC: Absolutely. I emphasize the importance of endurance all the time because statistics show that people that run better and swim better will be more successful, but strength is obviously an important part of fitness. The problem is that different people define strength differently. And so, when I talk about training, and I encourage people that are interested to read not only the PTG but the other resources we have on our website to talk about this in a little bit more detail what strength means, and what I’m trying to get people that are interested in the program to recognize is that you’ve got to be able to maintain a high tempo of activity for several hours a day for several weeks on end, and so you’re going to have to have the strength to maintain certain body positions, and you want to have the strength of a lot of, I guess I’d call them more supplemental muscle groups that most people aren’t thinking about when they’re in the gym lifting weights. And so, if you look at our videos, and if you look at our recommendations, there’s a lot of information about training the shoulder with things like external rotation and something called the Y exercise, training the legs, not just doing squats and lunges, which people want to do hours and hours a day, and I would say do some squats and lunges, but don’t do them for hours and hours a day. Do a few of them, and then do a bunch of other things that will also give you an overall strength profile that will make you more successful. So, the lateral hips are weak in a lot of people, and that leads to a lot of problems that may cause problem down in the knees, for example or just core fitness, and there’s a lot of different opinions or definitions or interpretations of what that really means, but the sort of things that I’m recommending is some basic, simple exercises like the front plank and the side plank and the bridge exercises that will get the smaller muscles that provide integrity to the spinal column, active, and give them not only the strength but the endurance that they need to keep the body in the proper position to undergo some of the challenges that they’re going to be facing here. Many people want to lift heavy weights. That can be part of training. It’s just not something I emphasize. And probably I go to the extreme of underemphasizing it just because so many people are so enamored with heavy lifting. 00:33:45:13 DF: Yeah, I guess a lot of people think that strength equals muscle and size, and that’s not necessarily the case if you can’t hold your body up right. 00:33:52:17 MC: Well, you need to have the endurance to do some of the basic things like pass the push up and the pull up portion of the PST. When you’re in the pipeline, you need to be able to maneuver your body through a lot of different environments, and so, just having simple body weight strength is important. There are a lot of different activities in BUDS, you know, the log PT or the boat PT people are aware of, and they want to prepare for, so they think that the secret is to lift heavy weights, and there’s no absolute way to verify one way or another. There’s just no way to gather the data, but my opinion, my subject matter expert opinion is that people spend a little too much time lifting the heavy weights and not as much time doing the, again, the supplementary exercises and the core strength exercises that I think really make the difference. 00:34:38:12 DF: It’s reoccurring to me, and it seems like my big takeaway is training for the PST, not for BUDS training, not for being underwater and wet and cold and all these other things that are going to happen in the training. The structured process has been well researched by subject matter experts, and I think a key takeaway that I’m hearing is don’t try to outthink this process because it’s laid out right there, step one, step two, step three. 00:35:03:16 MC: Well, I think it’s an excellent way to phrase it, don’t try to outthink the process. We see so many candidates here, from so many candidates, talk to so many people that try to prepare by doing things that really aren’t going to help in the long run. And so, again, they see, you know, on the Internet, or they’ve watched the special on the Discovery Channel, they’ve talked to somebody, or they’ve read a book or whatever it is, and they think, “Okay, I’ve got to be out there running in soft sand wearing boots. I got to be carrying logs over my head or trying to, you know, carry a cinderblock overhead to simulate I’ve got try to do, all kinds of extreme things all the time so I’ll be ready,” and that’s probably not going to help them. It’s probably only going to hurt them, and so get ready for the PST. You won’t get into the program unless you get a good PST score, so, you know, preparing for BUDS before you get a good score on the PST is not a productive way to advance your career. But underlying it all is something else that it sounds a little bit counterintuitive, but I think it’s true if you actually follow the program, the physical training guide, prepare for the PST, you will, in fact, be doing a good job of preparing for BUDS or the SWCC training as well, so getting a good base in endurance, doing some targeted strength exercises, some very specific injury prevention exercises, doing that in a progressive fashion for a long period of time and getting you ready to take the PST and do well on that, when you’ve finished that, you’ll actually have a good foundation to continue preparing for the program that you’re entering. 00:36:29:06 DF: Mike, if you could just give us a summation, kind of wrap up here, main takeaways that you’d like people that are just entering this thought process or training process to take away from, give us your top bullet points that you think most people maybe overlook or takeaways you think you’d recommend. 00:36:44:21 MC: Well, looking at the success rates, you know, again, for many years, and looking at what candidates tend to make it through the program and what candidates don’t, you want to be an endurance type athlete, and so you want to, you want to develop your running and swimming ability. There are some very common injuries that we see, and I won’t go into them a great detail here. People can, can look up the information and see what injuries we’re talking about, but have a definite conditioning program that will address that so you minimize your risk of getting injured before you even start the program or when you go through the program. And then third is probably to say, again, don’t try to recreate the program before you get into it. Don’t try to do what you think you’re going to be doing during the selection process. Just getting good general physical shape, don’t get injured, be smart and progressive about your training, and let the process work its course before you get here. 00:37:37:28 DF: Mike, thank you for all the great information. Where can people find out more about this process and get some more materials? 00:37:42:18 MC: Well, our website,, has not only the physical training guide, but it has a lot of other supplemental information that includes answering common questions that people have asked over the years in areas related to strength training, related to swim training, related to running training. There are sections on nutrition, injury prevention. We’ve got a video library that gives people visual representations of the various exercises that we describe, so the website has got not only the physical training guide but a lot of other information that can be helpful. 00:38:12:29 DF: Find out more at, and join us again for the next NSW podcast.
Apr 25, 2018
#2 How a Mentor Helps you Train for NSW
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What is a Naval Special Warfare Mentor, and how can he help you train for the world's toughest special operations program? We found out from one of the best in the business. For more info visit

Full Transcript


The only easy day was yesterday. (Intro)

When looking to take on a new challenge in life, mentors can make the difference between success and failure. I’m Daniel Fletcher, today we get some wisdom from an NSW Mentor, check it out


DF: Joe, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. I appreciate it

JF: You’re welcome.


DF: It’s not too often we get to sit down with someone with your experience and learn a little bit about what you do. Hopefully, we can, we can dig in deep and find out all the things that most people would be asking at home. For starters, what is a mentor in the SEAL school or the SEAL/SWCC or NSW environment?


JF: A mentor’s someone that they can go to and find out what they need to do to get through their proper pipeline of training, and it’s good to have one, especially these days, because there’s so much stuff out on the Internet, kind of want to keep it simple, but at the same time, give them the information they need and show them kind of in a way if they come to training what’s going to be expected of them.


DF: So, at what point in the recruiting process do you normally kind of interject or become involved in the recruits’ kind of actions?


JF: It’s a good question. You know, what happens normally is if they don’t know they need to go to the recruiter, they’ll call us, or they’ll call a friend of ours or someone that’s, you know, in the teams or in one of the Spec Op programs, and then they’ll be directed to myself, which happens quite often. And of course, I have to turn around and direct them to their Naval recruiting station. So, they go to their Naval recruiting station in their area, and they have to have a physical before they can work with us. Once they have the physical, they are, you know, more than welcome to come down and work out with our what we call boat crews, and we run boat crews in different areas depending on the size and location of the specific Naval recruiting district that they’re working with.


DF: So, it’s really kind of step one into Naval Special Warfare.


JF: Exactly. Step one is to make sure that they are physically capable and don’t have, you know, some sort of anomaly where it’s going to hold them back or get them hurt when they’re training with us.


DF: So, what types of, I guess you kind of touched on it, people thinking that they can kind of fast-track into the Naval Special Warfare program by, by knowing somebody or, you know, what’s the fast way to do this? It seems like that’s first, the first thing you kind of bring them down to ground zero and say, “Hey, we start from the beginning here.” What other types of maybe anticipations you think people have that aren’t accurate to the program?


JF: Well, a lot of times, if they don’t have a brother, uncle or father in the teams, and they don’t know the proper method, they get on the Internet, and they see what they want to do, and they go from point A to point C without going through point B, and point B is going through that Naval Recruiter because regardless of how they want to handle it, they’re going to go in the Navy first, and they’re going to go through boot camp first, and then they’re going to get their pipeline if they keep their scores, and they keep doing the PST, and they get stronger.


DF: So, would it be fair to say your responsibility is to kind of to guide recruits through the process?


JF: Right, and what I have to tell them, and I end up saying this quite a bit is go get a recruiter and get a physical through the United States Navy. They’ll go to their local MEPS, and once they do that, and they get approved by the doctor, then they can come and work out with the boat crew.


DF: Can you describe a little bit about what you mean when you say boat crew?


JF: Yeah, well, you know, maybe a little bit different in the different NRDs, but basically the way that we do it here, and we find it works pretty well is they’ll have a boat crew leader, and they’ll have a boat crew assistant. So, just like you would have in a platoon or, you know, in the military, you’re going to have a guy in charge, a person in charge, guy, girl, whatever, and then you’re going to have his assistant, and between those two guys, they kind of have the responsibility to line the guys up and run the boat crew. And that way, we have control, and we know who’s going to be there, and we know that the person there has already been checked out by the boat crew leader. He knows that, okay, is this guy, is he working with a recruiter, does he have a, you know, does he have a physical, and then they get to meet and greet, and then we try to get him in, you know, incorporated into that boat crew, and from there, and you got to get teamwork right off the deck.


DF: So, there’s boat crews all over the United States.


JF: Well, yeah, there is. The main thing with the boat crew that I find is it puts people, it makes those guys, gals responsible within that boat crew to take care of that boat crew and to get the word out that, “Hey, we’re going to train zero, whatever time it is, you know, be there, be square, whatever, and get the job done,” and it makes them responsible.


DF: So, is the goal of the boat crews to prep these people for boot camp?


JF: Yeah, basically the boat crew, you know, we do workouts on a daily basis depending on where you are and how many people show up. The bottom line is what it does is it makes them responsible to be someplace at the right time and then, of course, the workout, the workout is the meat of the thing, the running, the swimming. And in this area, fortunately, we have quite a few pools to work with. But a boat crew, it adds the military side to it. It makes people responsible, and, you know, my guys, usually the guys that are working out of here, they usually know who’s going to be there, they can tell me a day ahead of time. For instance, they’ll send me, you know, a quick text in the morning and say, “We got five guys or three guys,” today we had five standing by to get on the base, and, of course, they can’t get on the base cause they’re civilians, so we make arrangement to pick them up, usually myself, and then first thing we do is swim, and then we do a run, and what it does is it organizes these guys and gals so that they have a way to get in better shape once the gate is opened, and the gate is getting a military physical and being approved by, you know, their recruiter, the recruiting station in the district.


DF: Can you take a little bit of time and explain to potential candidates to become SEAL or SWCC operators who are these boat crew managers. I don’t know the right word is, manager, but the people that are kind of running these teams or these exercise kind of outfits so to speak?


JF: Yeah, the mentors and the coordinators run the boat crews, and what we like to do is have the boat crews basically run themselves. It’s going to be a little bit different in the different districts, depending again on geographical and the size. You know, we’ve got, last time I knew, we had 12 million people in this, in this district, but you may have districts that have several states, and they’ll still only have one coordinator and one mentor. The bottom line on that is that right now the mentor and the coordinator control the boat crews, and they’re the only ones that can guide the trainees, instruct them in swimming and swimming technique and so on. Based on geographics, again, it’s going to be different, and one of the things about this whole job is that every district is cut into several different states or through different states, and so the bottom line is they’ve all got different places to go and things to do. For instance, in Las Vegas, we have a boat crew in Las Vegas, and we have, we are fortunate to have a person up there in charge of the boat crew that was an Air Crewman, tried to get through BUDS, and now he’s a reservist, and he runs the boat crew up there, and he has a real good idea of what needs to be done, and so, he’s a plus, and he runs a good boat crew, but it’s always going to be different, you know, and once, in one particular area, you might just have one or two guys, and they kind of have to run their own boat crew. So, what’s important is they fill out a log every time they work out, and they ship that log to us, usually scanned or whatever. That way we know that they’re doing the workout 


DF: Okay, so after, after this step of meeting a recruiter, getting involved with the boat crew, how long are they kind of in this, this stage before they’re then off to boot camp or the next step, and how are you involved in that process?


JF: That’s a good point, good question. What happens is they work with the boat crew until they get good enough to be a good enough swimmer, you know, do enough push-ups and pick up a contract, and the contracts aren’t that easy to get because the contracts we’ll put our guys in with the other 25 districts, and they all go back to headquarters, and headquarters puts them up on the wall and starts looking at their scores, so they’ll work with us until their scores get good enough, and they pick up a contract. So, they may be with us a month, or they may be with us six months. We’ve got guys that have been around nine months or a year.


DF: So, you talked a little bit about testing, testing these people, these applicants or potential recruits. Walk us through a little bit about what that testing is like?


JF: Well, yeah, they got to do a what’s called a PST, physical screening test, and a physical screening test consists of a swim and with a 10-minute rest, and then after the 10-minute rest, they do push-ups, and they have a 2-minute rest, and then they do sit-ups, they have a 2-minute rest, and then they do pull-ups, and they get a 10-minute rest, they got to do a run. And we try to hold the line on that and keep the times as exact as we can because when they go to boot camp, and we explain this to them every time, when they go to boot camp, they have that amount of time between each one of those because there may be 35, 40 guys on deck, I’ve had that many before, right now about 25 or 30, and there’s myself and a coordinator and maybe a couple of other scouts helping, but it’s hard for us to hold that line because we have to travel between the pool, and, you know, where we do the push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups and then to the track. And so, what we try to impress on the trainees, the prospective Spec Ops folks is that we’re going to try and hold them to the time exact as we can because when they get to boot camp, there’s enough manpower there to make them do it in that amount of time, and they will do it in that amount of time, and so time is of the essence in this PST, and usually they do pretty well. We, you know, you guys got seven minutes to get from here to there, and then you’re going to get a 3-minute demo, and then, boom, that’s 10 minutes we’re doing the next evolution. It’s important that they stay the timeline.


DF: The PST, is that something that’s been around for a while? Is this kind of a newer development?


JF: Well, I took it in ’73, 1973, so it’s, I understand it’s always been the same with maybe a little bit of deviation as far as which evolution comes first.


DF: But the same basic movements…


JF: Same basic, yeah, same basic test.


DF: Where can folks find out more about those specific requirements that are in this test?


JF: On the SEAL/SWCC website, and that’s the one that I would use. I advise to use that because there’s a lot of stuff out there, and I say stuff. A lot of it’s good, don’t get me wrong, but the SEAL/SWCC website will give you the information you need to pass that test, to know what the perimeters are to pass that test. They’ll have to pass the test.


DF: Can you describe a little bit of your training kind of philosophy in getting these boat crews kind of up and running, maybe how that might differ than some of the other philosophies out there for training?


JF: Well, we start right from the beginning, and the beginning is usually I want to see them groomed well. If they’re not groomed well, they’ll do push-ups. Amazingly, I ran into that this morning, and I’ll run into it tomorrow. I think hygiene is a big deal with us, with our boat crews, and they understand that. On time, on target, don’t be late. I do it almost every morning, and the only times I don’t do it is when I say I’m not going to do it, and I’m at that gate at 6:15 when here in San Diego, and if they’re not there, they don’t, they don’t get to swim. On time, on target is a big deal. It’s just the basics. Philosophy here is crawl, walk, run, and you’re going to crawl a long time, and just to put that in perspective, they’re going to go to boot camp, then they’re going to go to their pipeline. They’re still crawling. And each one of these phases they crawl, and then they walk a little bit, and then they run. You know, you get out of BUDS, they go through Hell Week, they, they, then they start walking a little bit, and then they go to advanced training. They start all over again. They crawl, they walk, they run. They learn weapons and all that stuff. And then they get through there, and guess what, they go to the teams, and they’re all excited, and then they’re junior man again. They’re crawling again, and they’re going to crawl, walk and run until they get in that platoon, and they become the leading petty officer or the chief or, you know, lieutenant in charge. So, we’re talking three, four years here. This is nothing that’s going to happen for these trainees overnight, and they need to realize that. They need to realize that they’re going to put some real time and real effort into what they’re going to get, but it’s worth it.

DF: For an extended period of time.

JF: That’s right, that’s right.


DF: So, that being said, what other kind of advice or words of wisdom would you dole out to these guys and gals that want to enter the program?


JF: Patience, patience, know what you want, do, look into what you want. We have, we still today, we have trainees that come, and they go down and they get their examination, and they go through MEPS, and they take their, take an ASVAB, and they do all that, and then they get up on deck and, “Why are you here?” “Well, I’m afraid of the water. I want to face my fears.” “Well, we can do that for you, but, you know, let’s make sure that what you want to do is get out the other side, and you want to operate. You want to be a Navy diver, or you want to be a SEAL, or you want to be, you know, you want to rescue people out of a helicopter. 


DF: You think that there’s a lot of kind of difference there in expectations people what maybe joining for the wrong reasons or thinking things are a certain way, but they’re not? Is that something you face a lot?


JF: I have a good example of that. I had a, I just came back from Las Vegas, we have a boat crew up there, too, a good boat crew, and there was a fellow up there who was, he was 23 years old, and he was in the back of the group, and I, “What’s your name?” you know, my introduction, the whole thing, a little harsh maybe but, “What do you want to do?” “Well, I want to be a diver. I want to be a Navy diver.” “Why do you want to be a diver?” “I want to face my fear. I’m afraid of the water.” I told him, I said, “You face your fear by getting a facemask staying in the shower. I said you want to be a diver, you’re going to learn how to run, gear and everything else.” Well, he stayed there during the, you know, during the PT session, and he didn’t come back the next day, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to write him off. You know, he, I just want to give him, being a diver, you don’t go be a Navy diver to face your fear. You can. That can be part of it, but remember, you got to learn how to be a diver to save your own life and save other people, a lot more to it. So, it’s a good motivation. It’s up to him.


DF: Right, right. Is a large part of your job finding better, talented people or more talented people and getting them through the pipeline successfully?


JF: You know, it’s an interesting question because I don’t really, I really don’t put a stamp on someone. It doesn’t matter who they are. I like to see them in action a little while, and there’s a lot that come, and they stay a day and then come stay a week, but once they get with the boat crew, it’s pretty easy to tell that, “Hey, they like what they’re doing here. Maybe there’s, you know,” you can see it, you can see it registering, “Maybe there’s something I want to do here. Maybe I can really put up with this.” And then we got guys that come in, and I don’t have to worry about this guy, know what he wants to do. Will he make it? That’s up to him, but this guy’s in for, he’s in for the long run, you know.


DF: What are the types of things you see in those people that are unique?


JF: There’s a little bit more maturity, you know, and, but then I can contrast that with the fellow who wanted to be a diver. He’s 23 years old, and the maturity there, he’s married, and he wants to face his fears, but he wants to be a diver. I had a person who came here, we shipped them off to boot camp a couple of months ago, and he wanted to be a SEAL, and he couldn’t swim, could not swim, and so we taught him how to swim, and I mean he took, the guy learned how to swim in a week and a half, and that’s tough. Sidestroke, sidestroke is a tough stroke. If you don’t know how to do it, it’s tough, and he learned how to do it in a week and a half, and he became a very good swimmer. He got it down, down to nine, which is good.


DF: And how long are they swimming? What’s the distance?


JF: 500 yards.


DF: So, 500 yards in nine, under nine minutes is good?


JF: Under nine’s real good, yeah, under ten’s good, yeah.


DF: Kind of put a bookmark on them kind of 


JF: Right, right. They’re just a little bit higher, you know, it’s a little bit higher scores.


DF: So, let’s say I’m showing up at a boat crew, and maybe I know about the PST already, maybe I’ve administered a test myself, and I’m ready to go, you know, I’m confident, and, hell, maybe you even like me, how long will I be in this boat crew before I’m able to kind of move on to the next step? What’s the minimum there?


JF: Well, it’s going to depend on your score, okay. SO scores that are obviously a little bit tougher than the other scores, but what we’re looking at is you need to have, your swim needs to be 11 or less, okay, and your push-ups need to be 50 or more, and those are minimum scores, and your sit-ups need to be 50 or more, and your pull-ups need to be 10 or more or SO, and six or more for EOD, it varies, and, of course, your run needs to be, your run’s got to be 10:30 or less for SO.


DF: So, is it really just, is it really just that simple, hit the numbers, move to the next step, is that true?


JF: Yeah, you got to hit the numbers, but then you got your ASVAB in there, you know, your test that you take when you come in the Navy, and you’ve also got, got your ASVAB, we still have what’s called a C-SORT, a personality score, and it’s, you get a one, two, three or four. I haven’t seen any fours. I’ve seen a couple threes, twos are a little more prevalent; usually most people get ones. There’s several things that you are weighted on. So, you know, you may get just passing scores for your PST, but if you got a good C-SORT, let’s say you got two or three, this is all taken into consideration as any board is in the United States Navy when you’re put up there with a bunch of other folks. So, it depends, but you’re better off to do the best you can on all these because that’s going to make a lot of difference.


DF: Maybe we could paint a little bit closer of an accurate picture in terms of time. Is it something that people can expect to be doing for a month, six months, a year?


JF: It depends on your scores and how far you got to go. It’s just a scoring process like anything else, and you get a hard look. Take a hard look at them, put them in the draft, your draft picks them up or don’t, and they have no idea because they’re going in the draft with 25 other districts, so it’s best for them to do the best they can.


DF: Is there anything that someone can do to prepare themselves other than the PST and the physical aspects to do better in that draft process?


JF: Yeah, make sure that what they want to get into is what they want to do. The more that they can find out about the program, the better off they are. You know, you may take a guy, say comes in, he wants to be EOD, and all of a sudden, you know, he gets into training and everything, and then he suddenly realizes that EOD is 50 plus weeks of working, you know, in a classroom, you know, figuring out gases, and, you know, all kinds of bombs and everything, so, yeah, they want to think about that 


DF: Well, hopefully this podcast can serve as one of those levels of additional information to help people cause it seems that is reoccurring. More information is key. Know where you’re at and self-reflection, knowing what you want and having goals and such and such.


JF: I’m always impressed with someone that comes in, and they know about what the program, they talked to their dads, their whatever, and they know things about that program.


DF: Right, so after this, this boat crew process, whenever people ship off to boot camp, how are you connected to them all through that process if at all?


JF: I have to tell you the truth. What I find out about the people that are in, going through boot camp and on to their pipeline, I hear it through the guys. And what that tells me is that boat crew is watching each other, and they’re telling each other how they’re doing.


DF: So, it’s word of mouth.


JF: Word of mouth, yeah. I don’t specifically watch for my people to get through. I like to see them get through, but if they prepared themselves correctly, and they have the right attitude and mindset, they’ll get through.


DF: It’s hands off at that point.


JF: It’s hands off, yeah.


DF: So, with that being said, what types of tips or tricks do you think you could interject into this process that, from the insider’s perspective, you think would be really beneficial to hear?


JF: I think proper preparation, you know. If a prospective Spec Ops trainee is interested in a program, I would highly recommend that they take a hard look at the program. They can find a lot of information at the SEAL/SWCC. Go in there and take a look at it, and for them to realize that, you know, they’re going to have a job. If they’ve got a wife or girlfriend, this and that, that if they really want to get through training, all five of those programs are going to take a lot of concentration. So, they’re going to need to dedicate themselves to it. It’s total dedication and especially when they get in their pipeline and…


DF: When you say pipeline, what do you mean by that?


JF: Once they go through boot camp, they’ll be slotted out into one of the five programs that we have, so they’ll either go to SEAL, EOD, SWCC, Navy Diver Air Crew, and they need to take a hard look at that because that’s, that’s the crux of what they’re going to be doing, and they’re going to be doing it for a long time. You know, they’re going to give up their home, and, you know, they’re going to go away from their family. I mean they need to take a hard look and say, “I really want to do this.” I know I did. You know, I wanted, I really wanted to do that, but I had to leave things behind. So, they need to realize that that’s what they’re going to have to do. It’s total dedication, especially SO and especially SWCC and EOD, the diver, too.


DF: Is that because of the workload involved in that training or the criteria that needs to be met or both?


JF: Yeah, correct, correct, well, it’s total concentration. You know, you don’t go on an op without total concentration, and then everything goes to, pardon my language, hell without total concentration, you know, you’re lost, and these trainees will be put in position where they need total concentration they need to be dedicated to what they want to do. They want to be totally dedicated, you know, they want to be in this game. That’s the high of it.


DF: So, I guess you’re kind of more so looking at people that maybe already have that. It’s not so much that you can turn anybody into a Naval Special Warfare operator. You kind of can develop some aspects of it, but a lot of this seems to be kind of born with focus or born with intent or drive.


JF: Yeah, it’s interesting because I listen to the stories. I always ask them why they want to do it. That’s the first thing you ask, why they want to do it. And so, you’ve got a guy, “Well, you know, I was walking down the street, and I seen a poster,” and da, da, da. Then you got the other guy, “Well, I’ve been looking at being a SEAL since I was in 8th grade,” you know.


DF: So, taking a long look at that why seems to be pretty important?


JF: Right, and, you know, you don’t make a judgment there, but if you watch what happens, you know, as this thing unfolds, if you watch what happens with the person that trainee that’s been thinking about this, you know, since grade school, or he, you know, had an uncle or his dad, I mean it doesn’t always work well for the son, but a lot of times, 75% of the time, he knows what he’s doing, he knows what he’s getting into, and he wants to have the pride of getting through that, but he knows what he’s getting into, too, cause his father is going to tell him, his uncle is going to tell him, and his friends are going to tell him.


DF: So, is that a big part of, of your job, is kind of informing people, “Hey, this is, this is what it’s going to be like. This is the type of responsibility you need. This is how you’re going to have to act. It’s not getting easier from here.” Is that a lot of it?


JF: I take a little bit different, yeah, I tell them that for sure, but I take a little, I show them. I show them, yeah. Pay attention to detail, crawl, walk, run, you know, it’s one team, one fight. Everybody drops down, and they push them out. That’s the basic premise, you know. Got to learn how to work as a team, got to be a team man.


DF: That seems a huge part of it and especially since it’s coming into the process so early.


JF: It’s interesting to watch them get that. They finally get that, you know. I know they got that when I show up, and there’s 20 guys standing there.


DF: Cause they’re holding each other accountable, right?


JF: They just, yeah, yeah, they just, they just want to do this thing, and they know when I step out of the car, most of the time somebody’s messed up, they drop down. I mean that’s, they want discipline. You can tell when a guy or a gal wants discipline. They stay. They get it done. We’ve got a female up in Las Vegas, and she has brought her run from 16 minutes down to 12. Will she get there? I don’t know, but I’ll tell you what, she’s in the game.


DF: That’s important, yeah.


JF: She’s in the game, and anybody like that’s going to get a lot of help, you know. We’re going to assist them…


DF: Because they want it.


JF: We’re going to assist them. That’s right, yeah, we’re going to help them…Recruiter, myself, we’re going to, you know, boat crew leader.


DF: When recruits show up to a boat team, what can they expect to see and do?


JF: Well, what usually happens, and I’ll, I’ll just take a day without the pool. Guys will start out, we’re really fortunate here because we have the beach, so our guys start out with a 45-minute soft sand run. Now, they can run down the beach in the soft sand and come back to hard pack, or they can run down the beach in the hard pack out by the water and come back up soft sand, but they’re going to do that way. They’re going to half in the soft sand and half on the beach. Number one, it’s good running, and it takes some effort, and number two, it’s a lot better on your joints, and I just expect that the guys would do that. If they come in for the swim in the morning, these are just examples. It’s different where you don’t have ocean everywhere, we don’t have pool everywhere. If they come in early for the, in the morning, to do the pool work, they still will be standing tall to do the run afterwards in the sand. And these are the, this, once they get that going, they feel better. They know they feel better, and they know they’re on their way, and that makes a lot of difference. And then after that, they’ll bust the gate, usually about ten minutes to 11, and they’ll meet up with me again, and we’ll either do some more swimming, or we’ll do some calisthenics. And when we do calisthenics, we do just the basic top to bottom workout of the body. I introduced the boat crew up in Las Vegas to turnover boat crews, so the person in charge knows what’s going on. I introduced them to BUDS type PT, and it’s the same PT I’ve been doing for 45 years, and I can do this PT in 30 to 35 minutes. I did it this morning before they got here. And I introduced it to the guys in Las Vegas, that boat crew up there. It took me an hour and a half to get halfway through it one day, and then the next day, they came back at 0:400 in the morning. We start at 4:30. It took me another 45 minutes to get through the rest of it, and I still wasn’t totally done. So, what I try to introduce is I would rather see you do one push-up right than to do 100 the wrong way. And so, it’s important to pay attention to detail, and, you know, the best, the only thing you really have to go to war with until we give you all your equipment is this. You know, you just have your body, that’s it, so you have to be in good shape, and all five of those programs, you got to be in good shape. People’s lives depend on you being in good shape and knowing how to use your, your gear, and who’s going to give somebody a million dollars worth of gear if they don’t know what the heck they’re doing, and they can’t handle it?



DF: Or know how to take care of themselves.


JF: Exactly, exactly.



DF: So, is being a part of this boat crew a requirement to go through the pipeline?



JF: Everybody wants to be part of something. And so, you know, the guy that’s the boat crew leader, he went through the same thing maybe four months prior or maybe, you know, six months prior or maybe a month prior. It just depends on where we’re at. I’ll take the senior guy, the guy that’s been doing it, the guy that’s doing good, or let’s say the guy is doing good, and then all of sudden he ends up not doing good. Maybe he’s got some sort of problem or something. Well, he’ll be fired, and I’ll move the assistant up, just like the military. It’s got to be handled like the military. It doesn’t got to be, but it works better that way.



DF: So, this is a big resource, a huge resource, and I would say a big advantage to being a part of one of these crews. As a mentor, what other aspects are you really largely involved in?


JF: Well, I’ve got the paperwork end of it. Today, I’ll go back and put the guys in what’s called the tracker. They do the PST tomorrow, and all those scores go in there, official scores, and they’ll go into the tracker. And the people back east, the headquarters can read the tracker, so we can follow these trainees from day one all the way through. The people that are looking at these guys when their name’s on the wall, they get drafted, and they go back there, they can look in the tracker and see what this guy’s been doing. So, it’s very important that what they do and how they react and what their scores and just if they’ve got an anomaly or something, you know, they’re really good, or, well, this guy here he’s a little weak in a couple of words, put that in the tracker, and we can follow these guys, which is something very, very good to have.


DF: I would imagine it would be comforting to know and also good advice to know that the days you show up and what you do, your performance, your attitude, it’s tracked. It’s not just one guy looking or nobody looking when you’re taking a break. This is something that’s from the step one measured, so take a good look at yourself.


JF: They show up, they sign in, they sign their name. Everybody that worked out today has signed their name, their evolution, the location, the evolution, what they did. Some guys swam, so they got an extra hour and a half, so they probably got five and a half, six hours. Some guys just did the run and the workout. They got four hours. Today, they got three and a half, but they’ll make up for it.


DF: But just knowing that what you’re doing there is going to affect the draft.


JF: Sure, it sure will, yeah. And we, you know, we’re looking for the good, we’re looking for the guys that are going to get it done, and it’s competitive. It needs to be competitive. But, you know, they’re all, they show up, and they work out, and they keep coming back every day and hitting the wall, they’re good people. They’re good people, but we’re looking for the best of the best. That’s what we try to do. I think, you know, it’s follow through.


DF: Can you set that up a little bit? What do you mean by that?


JF: Well, it’s from day one, learning your general orders. Okay, this is the Navy. You got to know your general orders. You got to know your Sailor’s Creed, right. A guy shows up and he knows them, it’s the first time I’ve ever seen him, I’m impressed. I’m impressed. Crawl, walk, run. Spec Ops is part of the Navy, you know. Without the Navy, we have no Spec Ops, so, again, it’s…


DF: So, yeah, don’t put the carriage before the horse.


JF: Exactly, keep your priorities right. Go through the boot camp, do a really good job, know your general Sailor’s Creed, and then go to your pipeline and get it done. Make sure that what you want to do is what you really want to do. Look ahead, and look into the background of the program you want, whether, whether it be Air Crew or SO. Do a little bit of research. Don’t just walk up and say, “I want to face my fears.” The bottom line is do some research, and, of course, the younger you are, the less research they tend to do, and they come here 17, 19, and I get someone at 23, usually they got pretty solid idea of what they want to do. It’s all about maturity, but we get, you know, we get guys, gals that are 18. You know, the girl up in, I think she’s 19, and she’s, I’ve asked her a couple times, “You sure you want to do this?” she’s working so hard, she said, “Yeah,” and she’s dropping her time down, so I have a lot of, I have a lot of belief that she just might get it done, you know.


DF: Aside from the physical attributes or I guess physical capabilities of these people that are, that are trying to become Naval Special Warfare operators, what other aspects other than physical fitness are you looking for in, in Special Operations candidates?


JF: Teamwork, teamwork, teamwork. You got to work as a team, and, of course, character, character is everything. You know, we don’t want to run into someone that, “Well, I was late today because my dog ate my homework,” you know what I’m talking about. We want people with character to start with, and basically most of the kids that show up on deck have good character. We find out right away if they, if they realize, you know, if they didn’t realize what they were trying to get into, we find that out right away, and if they come back, and they keep hitting the wall, then that’s the kind of person we’re looking for, and it kind of works itself out.


DF: I think it’s great words of wisdom there. Thank you for taking the time to sit with us and give some knowledge to the recruits. Appreciate it.


JF: It’s my pleasure.


DF: Find out more at, and join us again for the next NSW podcast.



Apr 25, 2018
#1 What is a Navy SEAL or Navy SWCC?
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We talk with two senior operators about what it means to be a SEAL or SWCC, what they do, and how they became leaders among America's elite special warfare warriors. For more info visit


(Series Intro):

Welcome to “The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday,” the official Navy SEAL podcast, a new series brought to you right from the origin of the Navy SEALs in Coronado, California.

We created this as an official source of information for anyone who’d like to learn more about Naval Special Warfare. Throughout the series we’ll give you suggestions for on getting into mental and physical condition, navigate the recruitment process, and dive into important aspects of the Special Warfare Ethos.

I’m Daniel Fletcher. Today we start at square one by sitting down with a SWCC Master Chief and a Navy SEAL Senior Chief, to learn the fundamentals of Naval Special Warfare. Today, and throughout this series, active duty operators’ names may be changed for security reasons.


DF: First of all, I’d like to thank you guys for both taking the time to join us. I know you guys are very busy. If you could just start off and introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what you do, kind of your title, and then we’ll dig in and find out a little bit more about what you’re doing in terms of the details and stuff like that. So, Jack, I’ll let you go ahead and start.


J: How you doing, my name’s Master Chief Jack, and I’m a Special Warfare Combat Craft Crewman, also pronounced SWCC [SPELLS]. I’ve been in the Navy for about 25 years now. I actually started off in the fleet. I was assigned to the USS Nimitz for my first five years of my career, where later, I went through SWCC training with Class 33.


DF: Okay, go ahead, Chad.


C: Yeah, I’m Senior Chief Chad. I came in the Navy in ’96, went through BUDS in ’97 and have been serving just over 21 years now at Team 3, Team 7, have been in overseas tours.


DF: If you could maybe real quickly tell me a little bit about yourself and what brought you to make the decision to become a Special Forces operator, maybe a little bit about your background, that would be great. If you could start, Chad, from the SEAL perspective, that would be great.


C: So, I was, I was in college. It was near completion of my degree, which I did complete before I joined the Navy, but I just had an epiphany on a backpacking trip. And you know, I was studying criminal justice getting my bachelor’s degree, realizing that the, the avenues to actually have a career in criminal justice would probably be with the prison system, which means, you know, as you graduate into the prison system and look at the infrastructure of how you promote there, you’re going to be in an office behind a desk. And any selection of career that I chose within my degree was going to get me behind a desk in an office somewhere. So, I just had an epiphany on a backpacking trip and decided that my career needed to change. My mindset needed to change, and I needed to do something that was going to get me out from behind a desk, ultimately speaking. So, I literally came back off that backpacking trip and went into a recruiting office and told the recruiter I’d like to join the Navy. I thought about being a pilot and went into the room where they show you the videos of all the different things you can, the cool things you can do in the Navy, and the first thing he popped in was the SEAL recruiting video. And so, four hours and 23 seconds later, I walked out of his office, and said, “That’s what I want to do.” I grew up kind of in an elite soccer environment. I was pretty good at soccer, played with the best of the best soccer players in Texas, and what was kind of troubling for me is, you know, even guys with some really great talent that could have been world-renowned soccer players just didn’t have the drive. They didn’t have that mindset, that goal to do the best that they could do. They kind of took their talents for granted. So, that drove me. I wasn’t extremely talented soccer player, but I had endurance, and I wanted to be part of an organization where everybody was like-minded.


DF: Nice. Jack, if you could maybe give us a little bit about your background, that would be great.


J: when I first came in the Navy, I was 17 years old, and I was assigned, I did a 2-year program in the Navy, was going to do a quick two years and get out. I was assigned to the USS Nimitz, and I really took to being a boatswain’s mate. It’s a job in the Navy, you guys are driving the ships, painting the ships, you know, doing all the, all the stuff around there to keep the boat looking good and driving in the right direction, on top of that, operating small boats. Eventually, I decided to give it another couple years there on the ship, and I gained a couple ranks there, got promoted, and I was actually assigned to be Lifeboat Coxswain, eventually a Captain’s Gig Coxswain. Each ship usually has a boat that’s called a Captain’s gig, and you would be responsible for driving the Captain around whenever he hit a foreign port. So, I had a little introduction, had some good mentors. Top of that, I had a Chief who was assigned to Special Boat Unit 12 back in the ‘80s, and he used to always talk about the SWCC thing. You know, I thought, “Wow, if I like driving boats, why not, you know, maybe look at that,” but I wasn’t totally sold yet. 1996, we actually pulled into San Diego, the carrier, and we were told that we were going to do this force protection drill, and I was actually the Duty Lifeboat Coxswain that day. We had an oil boom around us, and we had a gunners mate with a M-14 on the bow, no actual live weapons here or live rounds because it was a drill, but we actually, we had some SBU-12 guys come in, and they came in harassing us …


DF: What is SBU-12?


J: SB, Special Boat Unit, okay, so precursors to Special Boat teams. In 2002, prior to that, we were known as Special Boat Units versus Special Boat teams.


DF: Right, so this is your first exposure to the SWCC.


J: Yes, so it was Special Boat Unit 12 at the time, and the operators on some craft came in, they were shooting at us, and they were doing all these drills to kind of harass us to see how the ship security force would react to it. We were helpless as a crew because, you know, they’re coming in with their M-60s, with their 50-cal blanks, just laying us down, and we’ve got one guy who’s hunkered down with M-14, not doing anything other than just sitting there, you know. But I really saw exactly what Chief at the time was talking about, the SB 12. So, later on, as I got off the ship, I decided to put in a package and, and to go through SWCC training and I came in. The SWCC community is actually unique in the fact that all enlisted guys run it. That also interested me, and I wanted to be a part of that. So, I actually, I went through training in 2000 right here, and sure enough, my first command was Special Boat Unit 12.


DF: Nice, well, the reason we’re talking to you today is to paint a more accurate picture for the lay person what the SWCC and the SEAL job entails and what it even is. Not everybody is completely familiar with the responsibilities and roles that you guys do. So, Jack, I’ll start with you because the term SWCC is new to a lot of people. If you could just take a minute and kind of describe what your job is and what your responsibilities are, kind of in an overarching way.


J: SWCC is also known as a Special Boat operator. Going through SWCC training, you are selected, trained and qualified to run all maritime craft for NSW, Naval Special Warfare, and Special Operations forces. So, each operator is trained with a unique shoot, move, communicate skills all, on craft. SWCC are not limited to conventional maritime craft. They can also operate on, on other civilian vessels if, if need be.


DF: I think that’s a good starting point. Chad, if you could go ahead and tell the audience what a SEAL is.


C: Okay, so through the spectrum of Spec Operations, you have foreign internal defense, counterterrorism, our primacy, within the SOCOM umbrella is the maritime domain, our main focus for the primacy of the spectrum of Spec Operations is counterterrorism, so that’s basically the focus of our community.


DF: So, is it fair to say you guys are, are doing things that are, require maybe more specialized training, or maybe it might be more classified, or is there any really simple distinction between the Special Forces and let’s say the Big Navy?


J: In all conventional forces, whether it be Navy, whether it be Army, Air Force, they are streamlined specialized jobs, rates, all kinds of different occupations within those services, whereas Special Operations are limited to specific, direct action, foreign internal defense, Security Force assistance, a few mission sets that all Special Forces under the umbrella of Special Operations command operate within.


C: The thing that sets Special Operations apart, other than the missions, is the fact that we have selection. We have a very stringent selection process, so we take regular Navy folks or people off the streets that join the Navy to come into this program, and they go through a very intense selection process…So, for like general Navy terms, you sign up, you pass the ASVAB, you come to the Navy, go to boot camp, get assigned a job, go to that job selection and then go do that job. For us, it’s trained to be equipped to do Special Operations, and it starts with the selection.


DF: So, how is the selection process, I guess I’ll ask this to you, Jack, how is the selection process unique in terms compared to the Big Navy?


J: To start off, the Navy I would say does not really have a selection process when actually going to each internal occupation, or as we call ratings, within the Navy. So, the, from the very get go, we have preparatory courses, and we have what we call orientation courses to even begin a selection course within Naval Special Warfare specifically. The, the object there is to actually select mentally and physically. We’re looking for individuals that have physical and mental traits that are associated with a Special Operator. And the difference I think between the Navy and Special Forces is the fact that we are actually putting guys under pressure. We are testing the limits of everybody, and we’re going above and beyond to ensure that our Special Forces are ready to go.


DF: All right, I think that’s a pretty good distinction. Do you have anything to add to that?


C: Within the Naval Special Warfare community, we pick the cream of the crop out of the Navy based off the minimum criteria, you know, the PT standards. For us, it’s the physical standards test. And the other one is the ASVAB.

DF: What is the ASVAB?


J: It’s the basic test that everybody takes through all services in order to get into the military in general. You have to meet certain requirement of knowledge to be able to even get into the military.


C: It’s basic, basic vocabulary, skills, battery kind of test. We have some math in it, our minimum on the ASVAB is 50 to come in. So, that gives us a more quality person screen just to join the pipeline and then come through the selection process, so I think that’s a key aspect to the program.


DF: Okay, so after you guys have been selected and brought to the team, maybe if you could, if you could start, Jack, by telling us a little bit about the, the boat life, the SWCC lifestyle or the rating in general or the job, that would be great.


J: To begin with, when SWCC operators graduate the basic pipeline of SWCC training, they become SWCC basics. A SWCC basic is your operator that can get on a boat, essentially be a crewman. He can shoot, he can use communications, and he can navigate, and he can maneuver his way around the boat. When he gets assigned to the boat team, he will be embedded or actually attached to a detachment. Once he gets into a detachment, what he’ll be doing is he’ll be assigned for either weapons, communications, navigations. He’ll get assigned a certain cell. That cell becomes a part of a bigger mission if you will or a bigger responsibility within the detachment. So, whenever the detachments get assigned to go conduct a mission, he is responsible for ensuring that his portion of the cell is completed to be a part of the, of the bigger picture if you will.

As SWCCs progress within a couple of deployments, they will also look to get further qualifications such as boat captain, also called SWCC Senior. The boat captain is responsible for running his craft and his crew. So, now, not only is he looking for just himself and what he has to do as part of the mission, he’s making sure that his guys in the crew understand and are doing what they need to do as a part of the larger mission. Further on down the road within a few more deployments, possibly three, four, maybe even five deployments, SWCCs will actually attain another qualification called Patrol Officer. And a Patrol Officer qualification is also a SWCC Master, usually a Chief or above, and that Chief is responsible for essentially the overall patrol when going out in the mission. A detachment is usually two boats plus about 8 to 10, 8 to 12 individuals that will go out and conduct missions, and the SWCC Master essentially is assigned to actually work with say his SEAL counterpart, a SEAL Lieutenant (or) Chief that actually runs a SEAL platoon, and normally that makes the larger picture or the larger portion of the mission.


DF: Can you just describe a little bit about some of the daily responsibilities, whether it’s leading up to a mission or when you’re on mission. Could you maybe talk a little bit about some of the individual responsibilities, the things you’re doing with your hands when you’re on these boats


J: Yeah, definitely. If he’s a weapons cell representative, for example, he’s essentially getting all the detachment’s weapons. That includes pistols, rifles, 50-calibre machine guns, 240 machine guns, Mark 19 grenade launchers, and he’s responsible for actually making sure that they are all in safe working condition and getting them ready to mount all over the boat to make sure that they can go out. If you are a navigator, you will actually be doing chart work, pulling out a chart and doing what we call writing out, plotting courses, doing calculations for navigation on the water to get to certain areas of operation. If you’re a communicator, you will be prepping your radios, getting your radios ready and making sure that they’re tested in the boat prior to going out. The unique thing about SWCC operators, too, is that there’s a big maintenance piece behind the platforms.

DF: What do you mean by platforms?


J: We call our craft platforms.


J: Everybody’s responsible for making sure their portions of the, of the boat systems actually work, are up and running in order to get there. At the end of the day, the people are what make the mission happen, but without the boats, we’re not going to get from point A to point B, so everybody has to make sure their systems on that boat itself are ready to go.


DF: Nice, I think that paints a pretty accurate picture. So, maybe I’ll just summarize real briefly. You’re part of the team that will put the SEALs where they need to be and maintain the equipment that gets them there. Chad, maybe you could spend a little bit of time in describing what a SEAL is and what they do in a little bit more detail like Jack did.


C: Okay, So, upon graduation from SEAL qualification training, the guys check into a SEAL team. The cycle of the SEAL team is in four six-month blocks, so it’s a two-year cycle. The first six months at a SEAL team, you’ll go through individual PRODEV, professional development. When a member comes to a SEAL team, he gets assigned to a platoon, and within that platoon, the platoon Chief, will assign that guy a role, whether he’s the air rep, he’s the dive rep, he’s the engineering rep. We’re talking parachutes, we’re talking, you know, the Mark 5 dive rigs. So, he’ll get assigned a department within the platoon, but then along with the qualifications that are necessary for a SEAL platoon to deploy and go overseas and be ready to go overseas, they’ll be specific skillsets that we’ll need. We’ll need breachers, we’ll need snipers, we’ll need, free-fall [parachuting] specialists. So, we’ll have these skillsets that are all necessary, and during that professional development cycle, that new SEAL will get assigned a job, and his skills will be laid out to him based on the requirements of the platoon. The platoon construct is also important because you have different aspects of experience and qualifications already, and the new guys coming in will have a mentor in some capacity, whether it’s, joint tactical air controller or the sniper, they’ll have a senior guy that’ll become the mentor for, for those skillsets. So, that’s the pro dev cycle, which leads us into unit level training. So, within a platoon construct, you have about two to three platoons underneath a troop, and there’s about three troops at a team.


DF: Could you maybe walk through just the numbers of people in those areas?


C: Sure, so we’re roughly talking18 guys per platoon, you know, 50 to 55 guys per troop, and then three troops at a team. Along with that, you also have some support staff at the team, you know. We can’t function without support staff. You have our ITs, we have our engineering reps that, that are the experts for fixing boats and motors. So, every construct of a team has the support staff to essentially everything that the platoon needs to get them overseas and continue operating overseas. That’s the backside support or combat service support as we call it. So, that’s kind of the basic construct of a SEAL team. Like I said, our core focus is typically counterterrorism, so within that we have three basic blocks of training. You have maritime operations, which encompasses over the beach, we have diving, then you have close quarters combat, then we have land warfare training.

DF: What was that part?


C: Land warfare training, so land warfare is our basic open terrain, shoot, move, communicate block of training, probably the most rigorous, hardest block of training from the physical standpoint. So they really push the limits out there on everything we need to be able to go conduct a mission in open terrain to take down a complex or a building. We’ll have role players that provide a lot of positive and negative feedback for us to train to the hardest level possible to get us ready to go overseas. So, that’s the basic three building blocks of training that we go through during unit level training. So, once we get through unit level training, we start task group integration training, which now we get all of our EOD components, and we have more work with our SWCC counterparts, and we’re getting ready for deployment.


DF: So, you’re talking about interfacing with other parts of the Navy?


C: So, our team becomes a task group once we get through our unit level training. We have all the counterparts that we’re going to be deploying with overseas starting to work together and integrate up to battle staff training, running a full mission profile from, from tasking from a higher authority, and the team is tasked with a series of mission sets, and we divide and conquer this through, it’s called a final battle problem basically. That’s kind of our final test that we’re ready to deploy as a team.


DF: Well, that’s a lot of training. It seems like it doesn’t really stop for you guys, which is a good thing. So, as SEALs are kind of progressing through this training pathway, the SWCC group is also doing the same thing. At what point do you start co-training or training together? Maybe you could answer that, Jack.


J: Yes, once we finish our, our work up, and I’ll have to say that the professional development phase, the unit level training phase, and until we get to the, building that task group level is usually the same. Once we finish what we call our final battle problem as well for the SWCC side of the house, we then will chop over if you will to the SEAL team or the Naval Special Warfare Task group. We may be preparing to go to one area of the world, so what we’ll concentrate on is focusing on those mission set that applies to there. So, if it is jumping into a boat or craft in the water all the team, then that’s exactly what we’ll do.


DF: So, whenever you guys are preparing for a deployment physically, how close are, are the SEAL teams and the SWCC boat crews? Are you housed together, are you guys kind of, what’s the camaraderie like, or are you guys separated and then kind of brought together just for training? Can you maybe talk to that a little bit, Chad?


C: Well, I think it’s come a long way, that’s for sure. So, we, you know, in the history of SEAL and SWCC, we’re now merged pretty closely. That wasn’t the case when I first came in, so I think from a camaraderie standpoint, there’s, there’s mutual respect there, but, so, yeah, typically, it depends on where we’re deployed and what kind of space we have. Like I can just allude to my first deployment. We were on a Naval ship deployed as a contingency package, like if something happened in the world, and we’re at sea with the ship, then…we have a package there that can action it and where we’re co-located and co-berthed with our SWCC buddies, you know, we all share the same berthing. So, we have a lot of cross-pollination, and it’s actually really healthy because like our, our guys work, they, our boat guys work not just for the 8-hour, 12-hour mission that we’re on. They work for about four to six hours before, they get their boats ready to put in the water, and for about four to six hours afterwards, so any way we can help with that workload gets them to bed sooner, and we’re all better for it.


DF: So, maybe you guys could both answer this. What percentage of time is spent on mission as a, as a SEAL and a SWCC operator versus prep, training, continued education and stuff like that? Jack, maybe you can start.


J: I would say dependent on what mission we’re talking about. But, when we were doing the maritime intervention operations, we were boarding Iraqi ships for, you know, smugglers for oil, for different types of contraband. That was a nightly thing that was happening every night. I would say the mission there was happening six, seven days a week of constant work and trying to figure out how to rotate both SEAL platoons and the boat detachments so that you can have blue and gold if you will or like an A and B crew. So, I guess it depends where you’re at.


C: It depends on whether or not you have the golden deployment. The golden deployment is you’re operating every night. That’s what we want.


DF: That’s funny cause the first thing I think is the golden deployment, you guys are just hanging out on lawn chairs.


C: No, the golden deployment is where we’re working every day. You know, work is what we want to do that’s why we train hard…


J: And I will concur with that. That’s really what we’re looking for. We’re looking for constant work all the time, whether it happens or doesn’t happen, it’s just a matter of where you’re deployed to.


C: Yeah, it’s, the golden deployment would be working every night, five, six nights a week at a minimum, or you go two weeks of every night and then get a 72-hour period off, but ideally, we want a 50/50 ratio on the deployment of work and, and not missions. You know, we’re still doing work. We’re doing prep work, we’re doing all that stuff, but when it comes to a mission, we want to be on mission, so it depends, it depends on perspective and deployment location as well. So, yeah, I would say 10 to 15% on, on average would be probably accurate.


DF: Nice, so, Jack, if you can for a moment. Can you spend a little bit of time describing the primary vessel, the primary boat that, that you guys are working on? Maybe not everyone has seen pictures or knows the capacity or what this thing can do. Maybe from an elementary standpoint, that would be a great place to get a little bit more information.


J: So, within the Naval Special Warfare inventory of all our craft, there are different types of craft. You got a combatant craft assault, about 40, 40-foot long, primary mission, ship takedowns or boarding vessels, but you can also do insert-extract of all Special Operations Forces, and for us, primarily, our brothers, the SEALS. I think anything you can think of when it comes to direct action, when it comes to…


DF: What do you mean by direct action?


J: Going out and assaulting the target, going out and specifically going after a specific target with those craft, that’s essentially taking an assault element with a boat crew, going and taking down a vessel. That means putting climbers on board, that could mean helicopters coming in, guys fast roping at the same time, all for one mission, and that’s to take down that vessel itself, right. The SWCC side of it, what we’d be doing is essentially, initially, you know, send security, and then once all we have all assaulters on board, they’re just standing by and protecting the area surrounding the target that we’ve just secured or respond in any contingencies that may have happened on board. That’s our primary mission, and that’s what the combatant craft assault would look like. You also have the combatant craft medium. It’s a 62-foot long boat roughly, and its mission is to basically penetrate areas, go a little farther than the combat craft assault. It has longer legs on it. What I mean by longer legs is it can travel longer distances, which means that you can take an assault force, you can take different boats that will fit on the craft itself in order to insert guys, get them off the boat so they can extend their legs, and they will go in and conduct the missions. The idea isn’t to really go out under the cover of darkness necessarily all the time to, to go look for those targets that I mentioned, but it’s also to conduct clandestine operations so where we do things undetected if you will, and that’s a primary thing. We do have what we call the combat craft heavy as well, or Sea Lion, and the Sea Lion is designed to do the same thing. It’s about 70 to 70-foot long, and it’s designed to do just that, remain undetected and remain just kind of low key. We do have the Special Operations craft Riverine located down in Special Boat Team 22. Now, that one is probably one of the mostly wide-known boats that we have in inventory because you may have seen them in movies such as Act of Valor

DF: And this kind of what the “Fast Boat” is you’re talking about?


J: Fast boat yeah, it’s about 30, 36-feet long, and it actually operates in the rivers. And these are heavily gunned or heavily armed boats that can operate in the rivers and include the GAU or the Mini-Gun, and that Mini-Gun can just spit up thousands of rounds on a target if, if it needs to, you know, to protect itself or to protect any units that it’s extracting or inserting.


DF: So, there’s a variety of different craft. Are your teams or you guys responsible for maintaining these motors on all these boats? I’m sure that this kind of probably a bigger part of the job than people might realize.


J: Absolutely, so each of these, each of these craft to include the combatant craft assault, I’d say they are using high-performance engines and to maintain them, you know, you’re looking at precise maintenance that has to be conducted on each one. They, they are a part of a larger craft, obviously, which has different various systems on it. Some of these systems on the boat itself, whether it be the electrical, whether it be any communications, they become part of the more technical package, and, you know, we’re looking for those guys that can actually be mechanically inclined to fix these high-performance engines on top of being able to operate electrical and communications and electronic type of equipment as well. It’s important that SWCC operators have the ability to do that.


DF: Chad, maybe you could talk a little bit about some of the, I guess tools and techniques that SEALs use on a day-to-day basis. Now, obviously, you guys are capable of doing a wide range of tasks or missions, but maybe to be the kind of counter voice to Jack’s environment as a boat operator, maybe you can paint a picture of the typical SEAL operation and kind of gear or outfit so to speak.


C: So every SEAL operator is issued gear to be able to do that job, and it ranges from, you know, socks to uniforms to belts to the heavy equipment that we need to use, body armor, helmet, everything else. So, within, within our clothing if you will, we’re outfitted up to probably about $11,000 worth of gear, you know, to include all environments from hot and dry to cold and wet. It’s full spectrum operations, so we’re outfitted pretty well in that department. When it comes to equipment, weapons, communications, everything else, each platoon will have its own inventory of weapons. And within the weapons inventory, you’ll have specific weapons for the snipers, you’ll have the general weapon for all SEALs, which is the M-4, and then, then you have automatic weapons, gunners that’ll carry the bigger guns like the Mark 48 on a, you know, automatic or assault rifle. You know, we have a very specific radio, handheld, and it’s generally about the bulk of how we are loaded out. We have our own, our own little boat, CRRC, combat rubber rating craft. You’ll see them on a lot of movies as well, just a, you know, a little rubber boat with about a 55-horse power engine on it, which we can also rig up, double stacked to jump out of an airplane with


DF: So, is there any gear so to speak specifically that you’re personally responsible for, or is there someone’s sole responsibility to maintain weaponry, or does that change when you’re deployed.


C: No, it’s pretty standard. We’ll have our armory, which contains all of our guns, and all of the weapons are stored in there so that the, the ordinance rep can do monthly inventories and have accountability for all, it’s all very sensitive equipment, along with our communications. So, it’s not like I’m assigned my M-4, and I keep it my whole career. It’s assigned to me while I’m at that team so to speak, and you can kind of tweak it out according to whether or not, you know, whether you want a specific set on there, whether it’s, an aim point site or a site that’s actually got magnification on it. So, yeah, you can tweak it according to what’s in the inventory for the platoon, but it’s, when you leave that platoon, that gun stays with the platoon, so it’s only your gun for that time period. As far as individual equipment we’re issued, you know, body armor, helmet and everything that kind of falls under our person, but when it comes to the bigger equipment like the boats, the motors, coms and all that stuff, that falls within a department and stays within that department of the team.


C: I just want to make a quick note about how we train, right, before we deploy, I think a key note of how we train is we train to failure, right. So, we constantly in training push ourselves to the limits of failure, right, cause we learn best when we make mistakes. And so, that aspect of how we train is what makes us really good because when we have, once we get on deployment, and we have a mission, and it actually seems very easy in a lot of ways cause, cause we’re trained to that failure point, and it just makes us sharper. It hones those edges to be exact

DF: Cause you’re training so hard.


C: Cause not only are we training to failure, but we’re doing it night after night in training. So, if we do get overseas, and we get tasked with a mission that’s 12 hours away, we’ve already trained to that, and the framework for that mission, it’s just like we’ve trained, so I think that’s an important aspect of the mission itself. It makes it a lot easier.


C: But from a day-to-day, you know, we’re always mission ready on deployment, we’re ready. The reality is we get a mission tasking, the first thing I identify is what assets we need. You know, we need boats, we need, and that brings everybody into play that we need to do this mission. So, we identify from Big Navy across the board what we need to complete this mission.


DF: So, you guys could be coming in on the water, you could be jumping out of the plane across the land, hit the target, and then it could be any number of ways to get back out.


C: So, our insertion could be, you know, the boats jump out, get them ready, we jump, jump into the water, the boats pick us up, and then that’s our insert, and that’s an airplane, that’s hours of rigging the boats up, you know, to be able to put parachutes on them. I mean that’s a lot of work before we even get to, to jumping out of the airplane. There’s, that’s hours and hours and hours of work. And then, you know, kind of the easy part is the fall out of the air. I mean falling to the ground with something to slow you down a little bit so you don’t splat. That’s kind of the easy part although there’s a lot of planning and safety considerations. And then, and then these guys, you know, they rock it on the navigation. We’re passengers at this point, and they’re taking care of our security, they’re taking care of getting us there, the SWCC side of the house, our brothers there, and then they get us through the objective, whether it’s now we’re getting out of the boats and into the water to swim and touch land, or maybe we’re, you know, you know, throwing something up the side of a ship to climb up and take over the vessel.


DF: What responsibilities do you guys have maybe to protect members of the other, the other parts of this machine if you will?


C: Like I said, it’s about how you work as a team, you know. I think when it boils down to, when you’re that mission focused, we’re talking all the way back from the guy that’s typing up an email to send out a notification, and everybody is synchronized. Everybody’s working together because the most important thing is that we get this mission complete. When you’re working at that level, everybody’s pitching in. Every single person is helping in one way or another, pick up slack where it needs to be done, and that’s the environment that we actually all strive to get to. We call it getting to the X. We’re all, we all have input and energy…to get to the mission complete, mission success. You know, mission failure is not an option. You hear all these terms, but that’s the mentality. That’s the mentality of all the training from day one all the way through our careers. That’s what we’re focused on, and it’s both, in both our, our ethos, you know, the SEAL and SWCC ethos. It’s all, that’s, that’s what all that means, is we’re all working together for mission success.


J: I would say to, to kind of piggyback on that cause they do have, I think there are situations where they’re definitely looking out for us, and they’re definitely taking care of us. I think the ship takedown or the maritime interdiction operations is a great example. You know, we get them there safely, get them on the boat so they can take down the ship or craft or whatever it is, and, you know, I’ve been in a couple scenarios to where, hey, you’re getting a call from the helicopter. We have SEAL snipers in the helicopter. “Hey, look in this direction. You have some vessels coming your way right now. You may want, you know, take a look at that.” And something we may not see based on our look angle from we’re sitting a little lower, they’re a little higher, absolutely covering our six if you will and letting us go respond to it. I think there are parts of the mission where it’s just by nature, it’s what we do is we look out for each other.


DF: If you were to have the ear of a kid who wants to maybe become a Special Forces operator, what would you tell them in terms of what they should expect, or what pieces of advice maybe would you give them?


J: I would say that you would have to, for one, I think what you imagine your friend as a brother, you kind of, the good qualities that comes with that with knowing, I mean if you actually have a brother, right, if you actually have a best friend, knowing what qualities are good in that and surrounding yourself with nothing but those types of guys that you know will have your back, that you know will, will go through the hard times with you, the good times with you, they’ll do everything with you. I think that’s an important aspect of who you’re getting involved with. I think the community itself, from what I’ve seen, it is exactly that. The individuals that you go through training with, the individuals that you end up being assigned with in a boat detachment, or in his part, I’m sure a SEAL platoon, right, are those guys that you can go through bad times and good times with. There’s many times where I found myself cold, wet like we all do, cold, wet and hurting on the boats per say. They can actually, the boats can be unforgiving at times. You know, I’ve been in 12-foot seas, and it doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but when you’re traveling, you know, 30 knots over 12-foot seas at night with night vision on, body armor on, the hits you take, the pain you take sometimes could be a little overwhelming. But at the end of the day, when you come down, and you take a hit, you come off that wave, being able to look at the guy next to you and just smile and laugh about it, knowing that you’re all together, you’re all doing the same thing together is what it’s about. By the way, that’s even before you get to the mission, you know, you run into that type of stuff, knowing that you still have hours and hours of time ahead of you. Those are the kinds of guys that, that make this job worth it. 


DF: And Chad, how about from you from the SEAL perspective, what kinds of words of wisdom would you, would you give to a person who’s looking to have a career like this?


C: Well, I just want to kind of talk to the, and you can edit this if you want to, but the whole podcast thing. You know, when we came in back in, I joined the Navy in ’96, and the Internet didn’t hit until like 2003, and there was nothing. I mean we went through training, and there was zero other than word of mouth from, from here to there. So, there’s a lot of information out there on the, you know, Naval Special Warfare pipeline, and I think in a lot of ways, it kind of sets people up for failure cause you come in with false expectations, so that would be my biggest piece of advice, is don’t come in with expectations. Expect it to be hard, expect it to push you beyond what you ever thought you would ever expect, and I think you’ll do a lot better in that aspect, but if you try and game the system, the system will crush you. I’m just talking about the normal training pipeline. And then there’s the guys that you want to be mentored by. And you want to find that guy, and you’ll find him very quickly in the platoon. He’s probably going to be your LPO, like your leading, your leading enlisted guy below the Chief, right, or your fire team leader. But make sure that’s the guy that you want to be, become, and you’ll have good examples of that through training, through, you know, first phase, second phase and third phase and then the SQT, Qualification Training. So, pick the guy that you want to be, and become that guy, and make sure it’s the guy that’s going to take you to the top and not to the bottom, so that would be my biggest piece of advice, and there’s plenty of, of the right guys to choose from in that community.


DF: Well, thank you guys for giving us a lot of great words of wisdom, a lot of knowledge, a lot of information, and thanks again for taking the time to do that for us.


DF: Find out more at and join us again for the next NSW podcast.

Apr 25, 2018