This is Part II of a three-part series on Navy SEAL sniper Matt Axelson. You can read Part I here.
The transformation of the SEAL sniper course was not just about techniques and technology. It was also a shift in how we related to our students and brought out the best they had to offer. Among the many changes we made in the course, one of the most significant had to do with the power of mentoring. Starting in 2004, we made it a regular practice to assign a specific instructor as a personal mentor to each pair of students. At a ratio of about six instructors to 24 students per class, that meant every instructor typically had just two pairs of students to focus on.
Nothing trains a skill like an apprenticeship model and this new system meant that every student was essentially apprenticed to his own master. For us instructors, it also added a new competitive dimension to the course. Suddenly we each had a significant added motivation to ensure that our students excelled: We wanted them to succeed not only for their sakes but also because we wanted to kick one another’s asses. SEAL instructors are every bit as competitive as their students.
Beyond all that, the mentoring program made the course personal. When you are assigned to teach a class of two dozen, that’s one thing. But when you are responsible for individual students, you cannot help getting emotionally invested in these men. Their success becomes your success and their frustrations and challenges, whether or not they ever fully realize this fact, become your frustrations and challenges.