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 www.SEALSWCC.com.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
DF: It doesn’t mean you’re getting anywhere faster.
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.
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.
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?
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.
DF: Now, when you say swimming uphill, can you give me a kind of what that means to you?
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.
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?
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.
DF: Or get back into position.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
DF: So, you’re not fighting yourself essentially.
DK: Don’t push yourself backwards at all during your strokes.
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?
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.
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.
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.
DF: So, in the hips or the shoulder area?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
DF: When you’re tested here, what apparatus is used in terms on person?
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.
DF: So, you’re talking basically like swim trunks, spandex, kind of set up?
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.
DF: And that’s mask as well there?
DK: With your mask on.
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.
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.
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?
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.
DF: Great, Dan. Thank you so much for your time and all the great information.
DK: Any time.
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 www.SEALSWCC.com.
The only easy day was yesterday. (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.
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.
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.
AG: And so what drew you to Naval Special Warfare? How does that all fit in here?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
AG: Is there like a metric or...?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
AG: Well, let’s just dive in then, supplements.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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?”
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
AG: How often do you find that people are surprised once they do start tracking? I’d imagine it’s a very high percentage.
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.
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?
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.
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…
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.
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?
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.
AG: Should anyone be worried about over-hydration?
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.
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?
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.
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.
JR: Well, I know where, the SEALSWCC.com 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.
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.
JR: Absolutely, I appreciate your time, and best of luck to everyone out there for, with their training.
DF: Find out more at SEALSWCC.com, and join us again for the next NSW podcast
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 www.SEALSWCC.com
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.
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.
B: Oh, you’re welcome.
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.
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.
AG: So, what does it mean to be an instructor here?
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.
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?
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.
AG: What does that mean?
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.
AG: Okay. How did you decide to go SWCC? Where did that come from, the motivation?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
AG: So, to get to that stage, what, what is the course like that people have to go through?
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.
AG: Okay, and can you describe that it’s a 7-week course?
B: BCS is a 7-week course.
AG: Okay, so could you walk us through that course?
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.
AG: Is that, before we move on to the next phase, personal grit, that’s an interesting phrase.
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.
AG: Okay, and then the next?
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…
AG: And you bring up a point, which is that they haven’t even touched a boat yet at this point.
B: Not yet, not yet.
AG: Even though the boats are the main objective, but you got to get through this before you can, (B: Correct) okay.
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…
AG: Why’s it called that?
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.
AG: Talk about grit, geez.
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…
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?
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.
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.
AG: Wow. And of all these stages, would you say there are one or two where you lose the most amount of people?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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…
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.
AG: And it also sounds like you don’t necessarily have to know how to drive a boat to…
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.
AG: Do you think your job is pretty cool?
B: Yeah, I do.
AG: It looks cool from the outside in.
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.
AG: What about when you’re actually on a mission of some sort?
B: What do you mean by that?
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…
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.
AG: That’s interesting, not just boats.
B: So, that’s the primary piece, it’s the boats, but we are flexible to adjust to whatever is currently needed.
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?
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…
AG: But it’s probably important to pause and say that you’re teaching them everything.
B: We are teaching them.
AG: So, so it shouldn’t be intimidating. It’s more like when you get here, pay attention.
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.
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?
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?
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…
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.
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.
AG: I called this a job earlier. It seems like that’s the wrong word for it.
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.
AG: What’s your favorite part of what you do?
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.
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...
AG: A lot of people pay to do the things…
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.
AG: All about the journey?
AG: What else do you want to talk about? What do you think is important for people to know?
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…
AG: You can’t train for that is what you’re saying.
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.
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?
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.
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…
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.
AG: Since you became a SWCC, has that affected your personal life?
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.
AG: So, you’ve gotten through the 7-week course, you’ve been successful, you’ve been selected. What’s next?
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.
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?
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.
AG: And do you start working up right away or?
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.
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.
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.
AG: And what’s the first mission feel like?
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.
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.
AG: And what motivates you?
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.
AG: Incredible, a life about more than just yourself.
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?
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.
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?
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.
AG: Awesome. Thank you again.
B: You’re welcome.
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 www.SEALSWCC.com.
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.
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?
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.
DF: How does the training that you do now specialize from the typical sports medicine that you’ve seen earlier in your career?
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.
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?
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%.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
DF: You’ve mentioned the term BO a couple times. Can you tell us about that, what that is, what that means?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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…
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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…
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?”
DF: Yeah, just cause you learned how to run when you were a kid didn’t mean you learned the best way to run.
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.
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?
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.
DF: Are there any resources available to these potential candidates to prevent this type of injury?
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.
DF: Well, we’re out of time. Thank you so much for joining us. It’s been really, really helpful.
DF: Find out more at SEALSWCC.com, and join us again for the next NSW podcast
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 www.SEALSWCC.com.
The only easy day was yesterday. (Intro)
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.
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].
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.
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?
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.
SW: Thanks, Ken. Steven, your perspective?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
SW: Some of these outside sources have recommended taking things like caffeine pills or other chemical training aids. What do you say about that?
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.
SW: Did you say glucose issues?
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.
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.
SW: Now, they get plenty of food when they’re in BUD/S, don’t they?
K: Oh, yeah, probably too much food.
SW: I mean it’s not like during Hell Week, you starve them, right?
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.
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?
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.”
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.
SW: Along those same lines, some have characterized the instructors at BUD/S as sadistic and violent. Would you say that’s the case?
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.
SW: No beatings behind the dunes and behavior like that?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
K: Can you give a specific?
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.”
K: I’ve seen that before, yeah.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
SW: All right, gentlemen, thanks for joining me. It was very informative. Any last parting shots?
K: Be hard when it’s hard.
CLOSE: Find out more at SEALSWCC.com, and join us again for the next NSW podcast.
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 www.sealswcc.com.
The only easy day was yesterday. (Intro)
(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.
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.
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.
AG: And what attracted you to this community? What was it about it?
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.
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?
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.
AG: Can you explain a little bit what “Intelligence” means?
J: Sure, so Intelligence in the Navy is just basically analyzing threats and, in a tactical sense, targeting essentially the enemy forces.
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?
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.
AG: How do you feel, what’s your method for establishing trust since it’s so important?
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.
AG: Amazing. How do you prepare for that mentally and physically?
J: For deployments? Well, like I said, you know, you become close, and then it just becomes…
AG: Before you go, you mean?
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.
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?
J: Being at the Center,
(AG) To clarify, when she says "Center" she is referring to the Naval Special Warfare Center, the SEAL and SWCC training headquarters.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
AG: What are some of the ways that that has changed your experience?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
AG: Have you, have you run into any obstacles because of that, or have you dealt with that?
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.
AG: Didn’t have time to think about it.
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.
AG: Do you think that that’s the case for most women?
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.
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?
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.
AG: And that’s attributed to the nature of what you do versus what some of the other teammates are doing or?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
AG: What would you say to a friend of yours, a female friend who said that they want to be a Navy SEAL?
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.
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?
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.
AG: And you mentioned before just the quality of people that you’re around all the time.
J: Yeah, that would be the most part, and that’s why I hope that I can stay in this community until retirement.
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?
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.
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?
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.
AG: Wow, that’s so inspirational. It feels like a very welcoming environment here.
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.
AG: Would you say there’s any barriers for females?
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.
AG: What do you think the best pathway is to be accepted by this community?
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.
AG: So, essentially the acceptance is based on your ability to make the team better and to be successful in the mission.
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
AG: Is that because, I mean why do you think that is? Let’s just unpack that a little bit.
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.
AG: It seems like it comes down to trust.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
N: Right, that there are other jobs that they can…
AG: Yeah, do you, could you, you know, maybe describe some of the things you’ve seen over the years?
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…
AG: That’s why we’re here.
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.
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…
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.
AG: Yeah, we’ve talked about mental toughness here before. What does that mean to you?
N: Mental toughness?
AG: Yeah, from your perspective.
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.
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…
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.
AG: Have you ever felt like you’ve been held back because you’re a female in this particular realm?
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.
AG: That’s great.
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.
AG: You seem to love your job.
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…
AG: Selfish doesn’t seem like the right word.
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.
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
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.
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.
CLOSE: Find out more at SEALSWCC.com, and join us again for the next NSW podcast.
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 www.SEALSWCC.com
The only easy day was yesterday. (Intro)
00:00:15:27 - TRT: 00:00:14
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 - TRT: 00:00:39
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.
00:00:48:25 - TRT: 00:00:48
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 - TRT: 00:01:06
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 - TRT: 00:01:19
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 - TRT: 00:01:41
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 - TRT: 00:01:56
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 at 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 - TRT: 00:03:03
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 - TRT: 00:03:15
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 Navy.com or our website, SEALSWCC.com, 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 - TRT: 00:03:56
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 - TRT: 00:04:01
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 - TRT: 00:04:34
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 - TRT: 00:04:39
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 - TRT: 00:05:04
DF: And what is MEPS?
00:05:06:10 - TRT: 00:05:06
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 - TRT: 00:05:15
DF: Okay, so after the regular Navy recruiting process, how does the process differ for Naval Special Warfare?
00:05:25:01 - TRT: 00:05:24
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 - TRT: 00:06:03
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 - TRT: 00:06:17
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 - TRT: 00:06:48
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 - TRT: 00:07:01
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 - TRT: 00:07:23
DF: So, this is something that’s done on a computer I’m guessing.
00:07:25:21 - TRT: 00:07:25
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 - TRT: 00:07:38
DF: How long does that take normally would you guess?
00:07:42:09 - TRT: 00:07:41
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 - TRT: 00:08:09
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 - TRT: 00:08:17
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 - TRT: 00:08:51
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 - TRT: 00:09:11
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, SEALSWCC.com, 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 - TRT: 00:10:15
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 - TRT: 00:10:36
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….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 - TRT: 00:11:44
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 - TRT: 00:11:49
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 Navy.com 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 - TRT: 00:13:08
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 - TRT: 00:14:17
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 - TRT: 00:14:33
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 - TRT: 00:15:30
DF: So, where, where through the process did you realize, “Hey, this is for me?”
00:15:35:22 - TRT: 00:15:34
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 - TRT: 00:16:05
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 - TRT: 00:16:12
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 - TRT: 00:16:49
DF: So, at BUDS somewhere, you start learning about boats, or is it after?
00:16:54:18 - TRT: 00:16:53
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 - TRT: 00:18:19
DF: Oh, wow, okay, I think that’s something a lot of people don’t realize.
00:18:23:07 - TRT: 00:18:22
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 - TRT: 00:18:56
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.
F: 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 recce 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 - TRT: 00:20:23
DF: Well, I think that paints a really good picture for a lot of people that don’t know the difference between SEAL and 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 - TRT: 00:20:52
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 AR 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 - TRT: 00:21:52
DF: You mean the graduating class or just starting out?
00:23:31:00 - TRT: 00:21:54
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.
00:24:23:19 - TRT: 00:22:35
DF: Yeah, I think you bring up a good point….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 - TRT: 00:23:05
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. ….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 - TRT: 00:23:37
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.
00:26:40:25 - TRT: 00:23:42
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’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….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 ASVAB. 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 - TRT: 00:25:34
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 - TRT: 00:25:40
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, SDV team. For me, I got orders out to SEAL Team 1 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 - TRT: 00:27:27
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 - TRT: 00:27:34
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 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 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 - TRT: 00:29:21
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 - TRT: 00:30:36
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 - TRT: 00:30:52
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 - TRT: 00:31:21
DF: And know that it’s coming down the pipe for you, yeah. I got you. Chief Murray?
00:35:07:12 - TRT: 00:31:25
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 - TRT: 00:31:50
DF: And if you want to plug that website real quick, go ahead.
00:35:36:00 - TRT: 00:31:53
BM: It’s SEALSWCC.com.
00:35:38:15 - TRT: 00:31:56
DF: Can you spell that out for us.
00:35:39:20 - TRT: 00:31:58
BM: [SPELLS WEBSITE]
00:35:21:21 - TRT: 00:32:02
DF: Nice, and Sean, any last bits of advice you could give for us?
00:35:48:22 - TRT: 00:32:07
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 - TRT: 00:32:55
Find out more at SEALSWCC.com, and join us again for the next NSW Podcast.
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 www.SEALSWCC.com.
The only easy day was yesterday. (Intro)
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
DF: I think that’s a big point, right?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
DF: So, you’re looking at numbers, very black and white in that area.
WC: Very black and white, yep, so gender-neutral. If you have what it takes, then we’ll definitely take a look at you.
DF: Through this process, what types of applicants are you screening?
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.
DF: I see, as opposed to transitioning from the Big Navy to Special Warfare.
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
DF: So, what’s the best advice you can give to a candidate?
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.
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.
DF: If you could maybe just for a minute talk to us about why you became a SEAL.
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.
DF: Well, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today, really appreciate it.
DF: Find out more at SEALSWCC.com, and join us again for the next NSW podcast
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 www.SEALSWCC.com
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 SEALSWCC.com, and join us again for the next NSW podcast.
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 www.sealswcc.com.
The only easy day was yesterday. (Intro)
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
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.
MC: Thank you for having me.
DF: So, can you tell us a little bit about what you do here?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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, SEALSWCC.com [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?
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.
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?
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.
DF: So, it seems like most of the questions revolve around the programming, specifically in scheduling.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
DF: Yeah, it seems to be scalable, right…
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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…
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.
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?
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.
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?’
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
DF: Mike, thank you for all the great information. Where can people find out more about this process and get some more materials?
MC: Well, our website, SEALSWCC.com, 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.
DF: Find out more at SEALSWCC.com, and join us again for the next NSW podcast.