Navy SEALs: A Day In The Life

SOFREP Navy SEAL Jump Training

“THE ONLY EASY DAY WAS YESTERDAY”

This is one of my favorite SEAL sayings and is true to the Frog Man heritage.  I have never been more fortunate to serve with a finer group of men. I wouldn’t trade my time in BUD/S and the SEAL Teams for anything.

In the unlikely event you make it through the seven months (counting one month of pre-training) of Basic Underwater Demolition SEAL training (aka BUD/S), you will start SEAL Qualification Training, and it is here you will earn your Trident.

As a new guy, you will go straight into SQT, and that’s where your real training begins.  This is also where you will be closely watched to make sure that you are a safe and competent trainee. Plenty of BUD/S graduates have washed out of this portion of training because they can’t handle the dynamic training environment or for getting a chip on their shoulder.

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After successfully graduating SQT, you’ll get your Trident and then get assigned to a SEAL or SDV Team.  Here the real work begins. I remember checking into SEAL Team 3 and getting my a** handed to me during my first Team PT!  Team life is very challenging and rewarding.  You can expect to go through a very arduous 12-18 month training cycle prior to deploying.  Graduating BUD/S is an accomplishment but it doesn’t make you a SEAL, not even close.

A Typical Day at the Team While Stateside

  • 0700-0900Team Physical Training (Grinder PT followed by a 6 mile run or 1-3 mile ocean swim).
  • 0900-1200 Team training: Air Operations, Close Quarter Battle, Over the Beach, Diving, Ship Boarding and Marksmanship training are examples of training blocks.
  • 1200-1300 Lunch (although working lunches are not uncommon)
  • 1300-1700 More Team Training.
  • 1700-1800 Clean up (Team gear, your gear, and then yourself…remember this, it will serve you well)
  • 1800-2000 Debrief over beers at the Team Room or local bar.
  • Rinse and repeat

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These are just a few of the schools available, just about any DoD school is available for SEALs.

  • Army Parachute Rigger
  • SEAL Sniper School
  • Dive Maintenance School
  • Armorers Course
  • Defense Driving/Race Car Driving School
  • Advanced Demolition Training
  • Language School
  • Breacher Training
  • Lock Picking School
  • Stinger Missile Gunner School
  • Diving Supervisor
  • Jump Master
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What’s The Training Like?

Below, I’ve comprised a few excerpts from my book the “Red Circle” (St. Martin’s Press 2012).  My hope is that this gives you an idea of what you guys can expect to experience if you take the “red pill” and successfully complete BUD/S.

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Nemesis Chapter Excerpt

On Friday morning, June 14, 1997, two days after my twenty-third birthday, I arrived in my dress whites on the main quarterdeck of the pre-training office in Coronado to check in for Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training. It had taken me more than four years to get this far, and I was aware that the odds of making it through the course were somewhere between 1 and 3 out of 10. I was nervous as hell.

The grunt on duty handed me a check-in sheet with a list of signatures to collect that would grant me admission, signatures for such items as Medical, Dental, Admin, and Physical Training Rest and Rehabilitation, or PTRR. As I scanned the page I heard a roar like the crash of a gigantic surf coming from outside. The sound practically shook the building.

“Forty-nine! Fifty! Fifty-one!”

It was a BUD/S class doing their PT on the grinder, the legendary concrete-and-asphalt courtyard just outside the quarterdeck doors where BUD/S calisthenics take place. I can still feel the shivers that ran up my spine as I stood there in the sweltering June heat hearing the thunder those guys produced.

Walking outside, I saw about thirty hard-looking guys in brown shirts and tan UDT shorts doing PT in the courtyard with a chiseled blond instructor leading them through the exercises. The students were lined up on the black concrete, their feet positioned atop staggered rows of small white frog-feet outlines painted onto the grinder’s surface. Just off the edge of the concrete there hung a shiny brass ship’s bell with a well-worn braided rope trailing down from the ringer. At the foot of the bell, more than a hundred green helmets lined the ground in a neat, mournful row, each helmet inscribed with the name and rank of one more would-be SEAL who would never go on to graduate training.

“Sixty-one! Sixty-two! Sixty-three!”

This was the infamous brass bell, one of the most dreaded symbols of SEAL lore. If you reached the point where you decided you just couldn’t take it, I’d heard, where the training was just too brutal to go on, you would signify that you were stepping out by leaving the grinder and ringing the brass bell three times. You would leave your class helmet behind. The brass bell was a one-way street out of BUD/S.

It was good to finally see that thing, sitting there silently suspended in the air as if it were taunting me. “Go on, sit there and wait,” I almost murmured out loud. “I’ll be damned if I’ll ever touch you.”

I walked to the PTRR check-in office to get my processing started. The door was closed and I had to knock quite loudly to be heard over the roar of the class as they counted out their push-ups.

“Eighty-five! Eighty-six! Eighty-seven!”

“Have a seat,” said a guy about my age, sitting on a bench outside the door. “They’ll be right with us.” I sat down next to him and asked him what duty station he was from. He told me he’d come here right out of boot camp. He nodded at the guys we were both watching.

“They just finished Hell Week,” he said. “That’s why they look so hard and fired up.” We both sat and watched the thirty guys pounding out their PTs. “That’s why they’re wearing those brown shirts,” he added. “They give you those when you survive Hell Week. If you survive Hell Week.”

Everyone in the Navy knew about Hell Week, which comes near the end of Phase One, typically starting on a Sunday evening and ending the following Friday. Hell Week is where you are pushed hard for five and a half days straight, with scarcely more than an hour’s sleep per day, right up to the limits of physical and especially mental fortitude.

I sat there gazing at these guys who were in a place I envied, chatting with my new buddy, swapping bits and pieces we’d heard about Hell Week, when I was suddenly snapped to attention by a voice that sliced the air like a steel blade.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?!” The blond instructor had focused his attention on the two of us. “What are you looking at?!” Clearly this was a rhetorical question and I didn’t even try to answer.

“You are not fit to breathe the same air as this class!” he yelled at us. “If you know what’s best, you will turn the fuck around and shut the fuck up, or I will personally ensure that you are on the first boat leaving San Diego Bay for the western Pacific ocean this week!”

Jesus. I hadn’t even started checking in, and here I was already being faced with the threat of going back to the fleet. I quickly turned the fuck around and shut the fuck up and my bench mate followed suit. A few minutes later we were let into the PTRR office and given our room assignments. We would be starting the following week.

BUD/S Class 215 consisted of 220 men, at least at the outset. That number wouldn’t hold for long. BUD/S training is broken into three phases, preceded by a five-week indoctrination phase, called indoc. The six weeks of First Phase focused on physical conditioning and included the infamous Hell Week. Second Phase consists of eight weeks of diving and water skills, and Third Phase, nine weeks of land warfare. The whole thing adds up to more than seven months, the whole purpose of which really boils down to one of two things: to prepare you for the real training, which comes after you graduate—or to spit you out.

It started spitting us out right away.

That first week of indoc we all did the initial BUD/S PT test over again, and not all of us passed. Just during indoc, we lost twenty guys. Boom. Ten percent of the class, gone, and we hadn’t even started First Phase yet.

There were two guys in my BUD/S class whom I already knew from that pre-BUD/S course we’d taken in Great Lakes a year earlier: Rob Stella and Lars the blond überdude with the tree-trunk thighs. Stella was quite the comedian and became a good friend. Lars I never had the chance to know well: in our first week of First Phase, he quit.

Our first week. This completely flipped me out. Seeing guys like Lars quit, especially so early on, was a revelation. This was not about who could do the most push-ups or the shortest run times. This was about persevering, about not quitting. These guys might be able to knock out twice as many pull-ups as I could, but that didn’t necessarily mean they could handle the mental stress—being constantly yelled at, ripped apart, and put down, at the same time that we were being put through physically punishing environments.

Over the coming months, I saw guys who looked like Conan the Barbarian, accomplished athletes who had been at the top of their game in professional sports, who had qualified for Olympic trials, seriously tough, mean-looking dudes, cry like babies as they walked across the grinder to go ring that brass bell. And I saw guys who weighed barely over a hundred pounds take the most brutal physical and psychological punishment and keep on trucking without complaint.

However, there was little time or cause to feel smug about any of this. Frankly, I was relieved to have made the first cut. I knew that the first six weeks was a weeding out process—and that I was already a pretty good candidate for being one of the early weeds. As I had feared would happen, my long months on the USS Kitty Hawk had made me soft. Before checking in to BUD/S I had taken a thirty-day leave, and I spent a lot of those thirty days trying like hell to get back into some kind of condition. By the time I got to BUD/S, I thought I was in pretty decent shape. I quickly learned that I was wrong.

In fact, I learned it on the first Monday morning of First Phase.

Our PTRR instructor in charge said a few words and turned us over to the First Phase instructor staff. Everyone in the class knew that we were about to enter a world of hurt, and the moment we were handed over to the First Phase staff on that warm mid-July morning, we did. All two hundred of us had lined up on those staggered white frog feet painted on the black grinder, and we now faced someone we would quickly recognize as our worst enemy.

The men who gravitate to become First Phase instructors are among the most physically fit people on the planet. They see themselves as guardians of the gate, and they are there to punish and bring the pain. They are the most feared, the meanest, ugliest, most physically conditioned guys you’ll ever meet. We had eight instructors for First Phase, but four of them comprised the A list, the ones who would be a constant abrasive presence in our lives until we either made it on to Second Phase or rang that damned brass bell……..

Getting Dirty Excerpt

The training continued. We spent the next eighteen months in a lengthy workup, a seemingly endless procession of training blocks that took me all over the country and through some of the finest programs in the world. We would spend three or four weeks with the platoon, stationed in Coronado, then go off to a specialized school somewhere in the country for a training block, then rotate back home and repeat the cycle.

The truth is, SEALs never stop training. When we aren’t actually deployed we’re always learning new skills, continuing to hone our existing skills, and keeping ourselves in peak physical condition.

Parachute Rigger School

Four weeks of parachute training at an Army school in Fort Lee, Virginia, learning to pack, repair, and jump with different kinds of chutes. We learned how to jump with a stacked duck: you take two Zodiacs, wrap them up with their engines and equipment, stick on two chutes, toss the whole thing out the back of a C-130 and jump with it. We were mixed in with Army guys right of out boot camp, to their instructors’ great distress, because we were a totally corrupting influence. We drank hard and chased women every night, then showed up barely sober for class every morning. It was pretty rowdy.

Marine Operations (MAROPS)

We would take fully loaded Zodiacs fifty to a hundred miles out onto the open ocean. Nothing like navigating on the choppy Pacific surface in a fifteen-foot rubber boat a hundred miles from shore.

Over the Beach Training

About a month, part at Coronado Beach and part on San Clemente Island. We went through drills where we had to get our team extracted off a hot beach (that is, while being fired at), and others where we had to get our team onto a hot beach—all with live fire.

Land Nav

A few weeks at Team 3 base in Coronado, followed by four weeks in the Laguna Mountains, much like we’d done in Third Phase of BUD/S but a good deal more intense.

Desert Warfare

Niland again for four weeks. This was one of the most important training blocks, and I’ll say more about it in a moment.

Dive Phase

Four weeks off the San Diego docks—will say more about this one, too.

Close Quarters Battle (CQB)

At John Shaw’s famous shooting range in Mississippi; also more on this shortly.

Gas and Oil Platforms Training (GOPLATS)

In the event that terrorists ever took over an oil platform out on the ocean, we needed to be ready on a moment’s notice to go out there and take it back. This involved nighttime dives fifty to a hundred miles off the coast of Los Angeles. We would swim underwater for miles using a Dräger rebreather, then come up out of nowhere, hook a titanium caving ladder up onto the rig, snake up the ladder and ambush whoever was up there. Sometimes there were bands of terrorists (simulated) we would have to capture and subdue. Because of my diving experience, they often made me point man on these ops, which meant the whole platoon relied on me to put them on the target. (It was quite an honor, especially being a new guy.)

Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure (VBSS)

This is a critical part of training, essentially the Navy SEAL’s version of piracy on the high seas; similar in a way to GOPLATS, only in this case we were going out on fast boats and taking over ships on the open ocean. Less than two years later, in my capacity as a sniper, I would be point man on an operation just like this with a genuine terrorist ship in the Persian Gulf—and in that one we definitely would be loaded with live fire.

Air Support

Working with an A-10 squadron outside Las Vegas, calling in live fire at night. The A-10 Thunderbolt (Warthog) was the first U.S. Air Force plane designed specifically for close-quarters support and saw its first serious combat use during the Gulf War. It’s amazing how much ordnance those A-10s can deliver. Those Air Force guys are excellent pilots, and I loved working with them. It was my first experience getting on the radio and calling in ordnance—something that would save my life, and lives of quite a few other guys, a few years later in the mountains of Afghanistan.

Inter-Operations (INTEROPS) Training

A week in Northern Virginia with some intelligence people from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Department of Defense’s version of the CIA. We did things like inserting a guy on the beach and then linking up with another agent and transporting him to a safe house. It was fascinating to be exposed to that world and see how intelligence agents work in hostile territory. It was also something I would learn a great deal more about many years later on the mean streets of Iraq.

One of our biggest and most important training blocks was the land warfare training, which took place, once again, out at Niland. A lot of the combat training we’d had up to that point, even in STT, consisted of basic contact drills, and a lot of the tactics taught there had been developed in the first years of the SEALs’ existence, which happened to be the Vietnam years of the sixties and early seventies. As a result, the entire approach to direct engagement was primarily oriented around the conditions of jungle warfare: you come into enemy contact, lay down a ton of fire, and quickly disappear into the jungle canopy. The whole point of guerilla warfare is to avoid open, direct contact. When U.S. troops first encountered that style of warfare in the jungles of southeast Asia it completely threw them, but that was the style of combat SEALs cut their teeth on.

In the desert, though, it’s a completely different scenario. You’re in the open, and there are not a whole lot of areas you can disappear into. How do you successfully survive an enemy contact out in the open desert? It’s a context that’s going to last way longer than the five or ten minutes of the typical enemy contact in a jungle-warfare scenario.

This was Team 3’s specialty: as a team we were responsible for southwest Asia and the Middle East. Back then, Team 3 owned the training philosophy around open desert contact with the enemy. Just a year or two before, a SEAL named Forrest Walker had taken a few guys from his training cell all over the world to visit with various special ops units to learn from their experiences with desert warfare, especially the British and Australian SAS, and they had built a solid desert warfare program. Team 3 was fortunate to be the beneficiaries of Forrest’s excellent work. (I would later serve in Afghanistan in the same platoon with Forrest.) We practiced in contact drills that would last up to an hour: sixteen guys moving constantly, using the desert terrain, conserving our ammunition, and at the same time putting down a continued rate of firepower for over an hour. It takes some skill to conserve ammo so that nobody runs out, at the same time maintaining a steady rate of return fire, and all the while staying in constant motion and using the difficult desert terrain to your advantage.

It also takes a massive amount of coordination. We would suddenly have contact, which always brought with it an element of surprise; even though we were expecting it, we never knew exactly when it would come or from what direction. And the lane graders (instructors) who had set this whole scenario up ahead of time would constantly shift the elements of the scenario, challenging us throughout the process. To simulate incoming fire, they would throw grenade simulators into our midst. Often these exercises took place at night, and they would have rigged chem lights on the targets that they could trigger, simulating muzzle flashes. They also had remote detonation devices so that, depending on how our response was unfolding, they could instantly change up the scenario by blowing up something off to our left, or our right, or behind us, big fireballs going on all around us through the course of the hour. We would instantly have to figure out which direction that initial contact was coming from, respond immediately with a blistering volley of overwhelming fire, and at the same time identify an out—exactly which direction do we go to extract ourselves from this contact unscathed? Whoever found out first had to communicate it instantly and effectively to the rest of the squad.

In a firefight, you can’t afford the luxury of coming up with a great plan. You don’t have five minutes to think about it. A decent plan executed right now is a lot better than a great plan executed five minutes from now—when you’re dead.

Typically the squad would split up into two elements. One guy would peel off and say, “Hey, I’ve got an out over here!” and while half the squad was laying down fire the other half would stop firing, get up, run back, get down, and start laying down fire—at which point the first half, hearing the lull in fire when that group shifted back and then the renewed fire when they picked it up again, would start shifting in turn. It had to be a beautifully choreographed machine, all unfolding on the fly, taking into account the terrain and conditions as well as the fact that the source of enemy contact might be on the move, too.

And all of this was happening with live rounds. This is something that sets SEAL training apart from most of the other military trainings: everything we do, we do with high-speed live fire, real bullets—hundreds of thousands of rounds. You have to be incredibly careful. We were.

We also had four heavy M60 machine guns in the platoon. An M60 is gas-operated, air-cooled, belt-fed, and weighs twenty-three pounds. It can deal out a sustained rate of about 100 rounds per minute, or in bursts of 200 rounds per minute (nine rounds per second), with a muzzle velocity of 2,750 feet per second. We’d typically fire it off in bursts of three, four or five rounds—three is ideal because that gets the job done but also conserves ammo. I was one of the M60 gunners and carried a thousand of those 7.62 mm caliber rounds on me. My roommate Franny had one of the other big guns, and we would sig off each other: I’d go dat-dat-dat, dat-dat-dat, dat-dat-dat, then I’d pause and move as I heard Franny pick it up: dat-dat-dat, dat-dat-dat, dat-dat-dat—and we’d keep switching back and forth, conserving each other’s ammo, playing off each other, keeping that fire going. This would last for an hour or more.

We did one big final exercise where they combined together everything we’d learned and ran us through a few hours of contact. They went out of their way to make it realistic and threw everything in there—bombs going off, live helicopters coming in to extract some of us, jets dropping ordnance, everything. Most people in the military never see training like this. The realism was remarkable.

Still Interested?

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Preparing For BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL) Training

There are a few BUD/S preparation book but the eBook below is an excellent one that two of our Navy SEAL writers put together (one a former BUD/S instructor).

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