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SEAL Training Hell Week

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US Navy SEAL maritime operations qualification training exercise
U.S. Navy / Handout / Getty Images News / Getty Images
Of all the battles a SEAL (Sea, Air, Land) must fight, none is more important than their first– the battle of mind over body.

The voice was back. That small, self-doubting messenger returned to pitch its familiar monologue, “This is BS! Why are you putting yourself through this? You are never gonna make it all the way, so quit now and call it a day!”

Basic Underwater Demolitions and SEAL (BUD/S) instructors know the human machine is capable of amazing endurance even in the harshest of conditions and environments, but they also know the mind must be made to ignore the pleading of the body.

As their name suggests, SEALs are trained to conduct operations in any arena, and successful candidates spend 18 to 24 months in training before being assigned to teams. Every step is a challenge, and each test is progressively more difficult. On average, 70 percent of candidates never make it past Phase One.

For most, the greatest challenge lies in Week 4 of Phase One. A grueling 5.5 days, the continuous training ultimately determines who has the ability and mindset to endure.

“Welcome to Hell Week.”

Trainees are constantly in motion; constantly cold, hungry and wet. Mud is everywhere–it covers uniforms, hands and faces. Sand burns eyes and chafes raw skin. Medical personnel stand by for emergencies and then monitor the exhausted trainees. Sleep is fleeting–a mere three to four hours granted near the conclusion of the week. The trainees consume up to 7,000 calories a day and still lose weight.

The inner voice mimics the BUD/S instructor pacing the line of waterlogged men with his bullhorn. “If you quit now you could go get a room at one of those luxury hotels down the beach and do nothing but sleep for an entire day!

Throughout Hell Week, BUD/S instructors continually remind candidates that they can “Drop-On-Request” (DOR) any time they feel they can’t go on by simply ringing a shiny brass bell that hangs prominently within the camp for all to see.

“The belief that BUD/S is about physical strength is a common misconception. Actually, it’s 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical,” said a BUD/S instructor at the San Diego facility. “(Students) just decide that they are too cold, too sandy, too sore or too wet to go on. It’s their minds that give up on them, not their bodies.”

“Whaddaya think? All you have to do is get up and go smack the hell out of that shiny, brass bell. You KNOW you want to. …”

It is not the physical trials of Hell Week that are difficult so much as its duration: a continual 132 hours of physical labor.

Through the long days and nights of Hell Week, candidates learn to rely on one another to keep awake and stay motivated. They tap one another on the shoulder or thigh periodically and wait for a reassuring pat in response that says, “I’m still hangin’ in there, how ‘bout you?” They cheer loudly when they notice a mate struggling to complete his mission and use the same as fuel when they themselves feel drained. They learn to silence that inner voice urging them to give in and ring that hideous, beautiful bell.

Sleep. He would do anything for it. He couldn’t remember what day it was, or when he had last had sleep. But, he knew it felt good, and NOTHING about “Hell Week” felt good. He had been cold and wet for days. There were open sores along his inner thigh now from being constantly soaked. And every time he moved, the coarse, wet camouflage raked over the wounds, sending lightening bolts of pain through his body. Maybe the voice was right. Maybe he should just get up, walk over, and ring that bell.

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