He's exhausted. His muscles ache beyond belief and his body is chilled to the bone. His heart is pumping a mile a minute after having just maneuvered through an obstacle course that would challenge the most agile men.
He knew it wouldn't be easy, having read articles about "the quiet professionals," and listened to stories about "the toughest military training in the world" from guys who had gone through the training before him. He tells himself he can make it, over and over again. This Sailor wants to be a U.S. Navy SEAL.
He and a select group of Sailors are going through this arduous training at the Naval Special Warfare Center (NSWC), Coronado, Calif. Currently, requirements are being revamped and instructions revised so that the graduates of Basic Underwater Demolition School/SEAL (BUD/S) are even more prepared to take on the ever-changing responsibilities of a SEAL operation. Changes include incorporating more operationally specific evolutions earlier in the learning process. And while some Sailors "can" and some Sailors "can't," NSWC is making efforts to keep the number of the "can dos" to a maximum.
Recent changes (April 2001) at BUD/S are aimed at producing graduates who have an enhanced repertoire of SEAL skills, ready for use upon arrival at an operational SEAL team. The centerpiece of all the changes is an intense effort to "operationalize" BUD/S training. In essence, the training center has done away with some outdated methods and introduced more basic training found currently at the SEAL team level.
"You have to want the program. And mentally, never give yourself the option to quit," said Master Chief Information Systems Technician Dennis Wilbanks, head SEAL recruiter who, with more than 25 years in the SPECWAR community, has seen hundreds of Sailors come and go through BUD/S. The 25-week curriculum at BUD/S is divided into three phases that test the Sailors' spirit and stamina. The first eight-week phase is known as the physical conditioning phase, and places a strong emphasis on running, swimming, navigating the obstacle course and basic water and lifesaving skills.
This phase pushes the body to its physical and mental limits. Trained medical technicians and instructors are with the students at every step.
Having endured the complexity of First Phase, trainees move onto their next big obstacle - diving. Second Phase is seven weeks in length and emphasizes the skills required to be a Naval Special Warfare combat swimmer.
"While it is imperative the student meets the standards set before him," said Intelligence Specialist 2nd Class Matthew Peterson, second phase instructor. "We look for the individual who possesses the ability to perform safely and effectively under stressful conditions.
Finally, the 10-week long Third Phase is the last hurdle these Sailors face before graduation. This land warfare phase turns Sailors into hard core, cutting edge naval commandos.
"Third Phase is comparable to First Phase in that you are often cold, miserable and tired," said Aircrew Survival Equipmentman 2nd Class Louis G. Fernbough, Third Phase instructor. "The difference is, we now expect you to think and perform mentally under the same conditions. Mistakes made when working with explosives only happen once."
While all three phases have their individual objectives, they all share common physical evolutions including running, swimming and the obstacle courses. Required passing times become more challenging as the training progresses, though.
First Phase includes some of the most significant training revisions, where the most dreaded week of BUD/S, Hell Week (featuring 120 hours of continuous training on less than four hours of sleep), has been moved from the fifth week of First Phase to the third week. The shift allowed the addition of a maritime operations course, as well as basic patrolling and weapons handling courses.