In an effort to attract more qualified candidates from minority communities, the Naval Special Warfare Command (NSWC) has enlisted the first African-American to become a Navy SEAL to serve as an unofficial recruiter.
Master Chief Bill Goines was part of the first wave of Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) operators who established the SEAL teams back in 1962. Sailors who served in the UDTs are considered SEALs and can wear the illustrious SEAL trident. Goines served in Vietnam and numerous other undisclosed locations. He retired in 1987 after having made 640 free-fall and 194 static-line jumps.
“I was one of 40 selected to become the nucleus of future Navy SEALs,” said Goines. “I remember asking this lieutenant, ‘What was our mission gonna be?’ And he said, ‘It’s too secret to talk about.’”
Goines is now one of the main drivers of the NSWC’s strategy to recruit more African-Americans into the SEAL teams. According to the Navy, of the almost 3,000 active duty frogmen, only 1.3 percent are black. Latinos fare better with 8.8 percent representation. Goines attributes the extremely low number of black SEALs to systemic socioeconomic divisions in American society. More specifically, he cites the lack of swimming facilities in African American communities as one of the primary reasons. Confidence in and under the water is paramount in Navy SEAL operations.
“In my travels around, I found that a lot of predominantly black schools don’t have swimming pools,” said Goines. “There are public swimming pools, but with very little instruction.”
Alongside other former and active-duty frogmen, Goines scours the country in search of young Americans who are willing to give it their all and try their luck at the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) Training. The combined SEAL pipeline, which is comprised of BUD/S and the SEAL Qualification Training Course, has a 73 percent attrition rate.
Another more subtle attempt by NSWC to recruit more African Americans and bridge the racial gap in the SEAL teams involves Chief Petty Officer David Goggins. Often called the fittest man alive, Goggins is a retired African-American SEAL who now spends his time completing absurdly difficult physical challenges, including ultra-marathon races and setting the world’s pull-up record. During his time in the SEAL teams, Chief Goggins was one of the few SEALs who got the chance to attend the Army’s Ranger School, a 61-day physical and mental suckfest that develops leadership qualities under the most adverse conditions. Chief Goggins not only graduated, but he did so as the honors graduate. Recently, the Navy featured Chief Goggins on their website, highlighting the extreme adversities he had to overcome in order to become a SEAL.
This article was originally published in December 2019. It has been edited for republication.