"All instruction (as opposed to just physical training) takes place after Hell Week," said LTJG Joe Burns, First Phase officer-in-charge and former enlisted SEAL. "The majority of students who complete Hell Week are going to graduate," said Burns.
This schedule shift also means that drown-proofing and underwater knot tying will now be held after Hell Week. The techniques and skills that are taught in these areas are a crucial element in being both comfortable and proficient in underwater evolutions. This change is expected to be a confidence-booster, since it allows the students to practice their knot-tying skills before they are actually tested. Especially when the test is being able to tie a knot at a 50-foot depth.
Second Phase has undergone a few key changes. The number of training dives, both day and night, has significantly increased and the complexity of the dives is more challenging to the students with multiple legs and more realistic targets. This requires students to navigate and change directions underwater several times, rather than just once.
Furthermore, the pool competency evolution, perhaps the most difficult evolution at BUD/S, next to Hell Week, has been modified to better support those students who demonstrate basic skills underwater.
As CAPT Ed Bowen, commanding officer of the NSWC points out, "I am seeking the man who has the basic aptitude, attitude and motivation to be a SEAL. If a young man can remain calm while great stress is induced underwater, I will not drop him from training for a miniscule technical glitch."
More changes have been implemented as students move into the final phase of BUD/S training. Emphasis in Third Phase is placed on small unit tactics, patrolling, weapons training and demolition, giving students a feel for what to expect once they have earned their special warfare pin and been deemed a SEAL.
Attention is placed now, more then ever, on the basic SEAL combat skills required of effective SEAL platoon operators. One goal of the revisions is to qualify all students on the M-4 rifle as Marksman. Since the changes have been in effect, all students have qualified as Marksman and most (60 percent) as Expert.
Students also spend increased training hours on special reconnaissance, a key SEAL mission area. Less emphasis is now placed on the old Underwater Demolition Team reconnaissance and demolition techniques. Core SEAL mission profiles are now highlighted, including increased rehearsals with Immediate Action Drills (IADs), Over-The-Beach (OTB) scenarios and ambush techniques.
"Ultimately, we are seeking a candidate that we can entrust with the life of a fellow Frogman," said Peterson.
The final change in Third Phase is a new live-fire Field Training Exercise, which provides the most realistic scenario possible without entering a real-world combat situation.
The physical, emotional and mental challenges young men must endure to become a member of America's most elite maritime special operations force aren't getting any easier. But officials at the Naval Special Warfare Center hope that recent changes made at the basic schoolhouse will ultimately result in more skilled operators arriving at the SEAL teams.
Overall response from both the instructors and trainees has been extremely positive and only time will tell if the changes accomplish both goals: to improve the skills and abilities of a BUD/S graduate while graduating more trainees.