As noted recently by Brandon Webb here on SOFREP, the Navy SEALs are preparing in the near future to accept their first female Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training candidates. Packages are no doubt being prepared by some enterprising, hard-charging young women, and the command is undoubtedly in the planning stages of just how to handle these trailblazers. Teeth are probably being gnashed in some quarters, “I told you so’s” are being locked and loaded for the inevitable female candidates who fail, and all eyes will be intently fixed on the candidates as they enter one of the world’s most challenging military training programs.
What exactly can these women expect to face when they step across the quarterdeck of the Naval Special Warfare Center to start BUD/S? What will be in store for them as they embark on their journey of discovery and start hammering away at the heretofore ballistic glass ceiling that sits in place over top the military’s special operations community? Here are just a few hurdles, challenges, factors, and realities that these women can surely look forward to encountering.
1. Media scrutiny
The first female to enter BUD/S training can be assured of facing media scrutiny the likes of which few could imagine. Every single U.S. media outlet, from the Navy Times to Stripes to USA Today to the New York Times will want to interview, photograph, and chronicle the progress of this woman trailblazer. The Naval Special Warfare Center will no doubt seek to run interference for most of those requests, but this author assumes that at least some journalists will be granted access, in an effort by the Navy to ensure that all is aboveboard in the integration of BUD/S training. The country, if not the world, will be watching.
2. Unchanged standards
Of one thing this author is absolutely certain: The SEALs who run BUD/S training, from the commanding officer on down, will fight tooth and nail to maintain the rigorous standards that have always defined the training. BUD/S is the crucible through which must pass all prospective SEALs. It is simply too important to the SEALs who serve as the gatekeepers of the community to ensure those standards are not altered for any candidate. They have never done it in the past, and this author does not see it happening in the future. The BUD/S standards are sacrosanct, and should change for no man or woman.
There will surely be those, and some have already made their voice heard, who harbor no doubts whatsoever that a woman cannot make it through BUD/S without it being watered down to allow her to pass. They will never be convinced. Some will be instructors, some will be fellow students, some will be salty retirees, and some will be active-duty SEALs. The first women in the training should just expect such skepticism, and learn to deal with it. If it were me, I would harness it to make me more motivated to succeed and prove them wrong.
Just as there will be those who are skeptical, there will also be those—probably numbering many more—who will be fascinated to observe the women determined and courageous enough to attempt to make it through the training. All eyes present will be watching, judging, and evaluating these women. It will not just be the instructors, either, whose job it is to make those assessments. Each SEAL and SEAL trainee who observes these women as they progress through the training will make up his (or her!) own mind as to the quality of the women—both as BUD/S students and future SEALs.
One can also likely expect some of the above skepticism to transform itself into outright hostility towards these women. Although the hostility might not be manifest in an outward way, it might be suppressed and saved for the sanctity of the team room or instructor spaces during off hours. This author assumes the command itself will go to great efforts to make sure the hostility, if and when it does exist, is kept stifled. No one will want it assessed that the women who begin the training were not provided a fair chance to make it through.
6. (Possibly unspoken) encouragement
Just as surely as some will be hostile, still others will be silently (or vocally) rooting for the first female candidates to succeed. Yes, even some of the instructors, active-duty SEALs, and fellow BUD/S trainees will be cheering on the first women. SEALs, by nature, are driven deep down by a desire to succeed, against any and all odds. This drive will no doubt inspire some—if not many—to cheer on someone seen as going up against incredible odds. Many SEALs’ innate love of competition will inspire them to root for the underdog. They might not verbalize this support, but it will be there in many cases.
All BUD/S trainees (successful ones, at least) feel a tremendous amount of pressure to make it through the training. It drives them every day, and through every shitty evolution, timed run, obstacle course, and surf torture session. In addition to this self-imposed pressure, the first female trainees will no doubt also feel the pressure of the eyes of the world watching them. They will feel the pressure to prove it can be done. They will feel the weight of responsibility. It will be crushing if not managed well, and overcome through sheer force of will.
Piggybacking on number 7 above, there will be a world’s worth of expectations placed on the shoulders of the first female BUD/S candidates. Many women will want them to succeed to notch up a victory for feminism. Many men will want them to fail to preserve what they see as the necessity of male-only special operations units. Many will be on the sidelines, reserving judgement, waiting to see if they can do it, before making a decision as to whether it is a good idea. The expectations will be varied and legion, and will serve as a heavy load if the first women are not sufficiently able to manage and ignore them.
9. Lots and lots of BUD/S pain
As noted here on many occasions—see this article, and this one, and this one—BUD/S is a series of swift, merciless, and unending kicks in the groin. It will beat you down, rob you of your will to live, and push you toward the limits of human endurance. It is designed to do that. Just as the men will, the first female BUD/S trainees can expect to face physical and mental exhaustion and discomfort the likes of which they have probably never faced. That is just part of the experience, and in fact, an integral part of it, to ensure that successful BUD/S trainees can be successful SEALs. The goal is to push you until you break, to make sure you will not quit. That will be no different for the women who go to BUD/S, nor should they want it to be.
10. Ultimately, success
Finally, it is this author’s belief that there are women out there who have what it takes to make it through BUD/S. Making no judgement yet as to how the integration will play out in the SEAL teams themselves, we can all surely expect a successful female BUD/S candidate to stand on that grinder at graduation, sometime in the not-too-distant future. As you can see above, it will have been a long road they traveled to get there, and they will deserve the feeling of respect and accomplishment they will surely feel.