Many here on SOFREP—including this author—have expressed emphatic lamentations over the level of suck inflicted on those foolhardy and courageous enough to attend Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training. It is nothing new to say that the training program is a kick in the proverbial bangers.

BUD/S is, of course, the U.S. Navy’s basic training course for men desiring to become Navy SEALs. It is a well-documented fact that the training taxes men physically, mentally, emotionally, and in all other ways one’s body and mind can be taxed. The instructors take a substantial levy out of the hides of all those who enter their hallowed training facility in Coronado, California.

They relish their duty as Naval Special Warfare’s gatekeepers. They are the sentinels barring entry into of one of the military’s most elite forces. Theirs is to protect the integrity of the standards, to guard against the encroachment of mediocrity. Theirs is to beat back the forces of convention and degradation. BUD/S instructors cherish this duty, and work tirelessly to guard the integrity and intensity of BUD/S.

One of the evolutions that is most responsible for making BUD/S such a calamitous beat-down of one’s physical being is the five and one-half nautical mile swim along the Pacific coastline of Coronado during Second Phase. This brutal undertaking has a maximum time limit, and falls a short time after the end of Hell Week. To put it in perspective, a “healthy” time frame, post-Hell Week, to accomplish this swim would probably be three or four months, minimum. No such luck.

So, why does it suck so much? In absolute terms, a 5.5-mile swim does not sound terrible, does it? It is manageable, right? Yes. Yes, it is. In a scenario where one does not have 12-14 weeks of BUD/S preceding the swim, it would probably be none-too-gruesome. If only that were the case.

The swim is inflicted upon men broken down and battered by the rigors of not only months of BUD/S training, but by the particularly punishing period of Hell Week, which can take some trainees many weeks from which to fully recover. In other words, BUD/S students are not exactly starting the swim fresh, rested, and ready.

In addition to the fact that they kick off the swim already physically degraded, there are ten other factors that can, and do, make the swim a Rousey-level smack down for those going through BUD/S.

  1. Cold water. That water is chilly, y’all. The temperature can range from some 50 degrees in winter to 70 degrees in summer. It ain’t never warm. It is sometimes “not as cold.” The swim took this author about four hours to complete. That is a long time to spend in the cold water. But, hey, we got to wear wet suits, right? Yes, that did help some, but also created…
  2. Chafing. Chafing is one of the most dastardly and insidious evils of BUD/S. Men chafe in spots they never thought capable of irritating. One favorite friction spot is under the arms, near the armpit, when wearing a wet suit. The thought even now makes me shiver. Imagine the friction occurring over the course of four hours, in the same spot. But hey, at least it takes your mind off the…
  3. Boredom. There are not many activities that are fun to do for four straight hours. Swimming sure as hell ain’t one of them. Find your happy place, friends, and set up camp there. It’s gonna be a while. Although, one way to prevent boredom is…
  4. Sharks. Yep, as if swimming 5.5 miles did not suck enough already, there is the possibility, however slight, that you might be eaten by one of the numerous great white sharks known to frequent the coast of California. Four hours is plenty of time for a giant, finned hunter to find you, sniff you out, and decide to take a bite. Nor does it help when you are chumming for the sharks because you are suffering from…
  5. Seasickness. Seriously? Yes, seriously. As if it is not enough to be cold, chafed, tired, and dreading having your leg removed from your body by a large man-eater, some also have to deal with vomiting and nausea caused by the rolling swells of the Pacific Ocean. This author was one who suffered from said seasickness. At the time, all I could do was think to myself, “I am chumming for sharks, and if one eats me, at least my swim will be over.” Of course, I had the hope that the vomit would be swept away quickly by the…
  6. Current. You guessed it, the Pacific Ocean does not remain placid most of the time. The water flows north and south, depending on the time of day and other factors (I am no oceanographer), and you had better hope to God you have the benefit of a friendly current for the majority of your swim. Otherwise you will be struggling to make the time, and relying much more heavily on…
  7. Finning. Fins make it easy, right? On balance, yes they do. I would definitely rather have them than not. However, anyone who has ever had to swim that far in fins can attest that, over time, it taxes the leg muscles. It is a workout: a four-hour long flutter-kick workout. It can also lead to…
  8. Cramping. No matter how much water you try to ingest before the swim, some cramping is inevitable. One must simply hope that he does not suffer debilitating cramps during the swim. Minor cramps are unavoidable. If you have bad ones, then you might be relying on a tow from your…
  9. Swim buddy. Again, on balance, this author would rather have a swim buddy than lack one. At a minimum, he is one other person who might get eaten before you, right? However, if your swim buddy slows down, gets cramps, or otherwise prevents you from making the maximum time, you fail. That blows, and you have to push each other to make it. Fortunately, driving you onwards is the knowledge that, at the end, you can eat. Because, my friends, you are suffering from a mighty…
  10. Hunger. I do not know how many calories one burns on a 5.5-mile swim, but it has to be in the multiple thousands. By the end, you will be ravenous. Thankfully, as you crawl out of the surf zone at the end of the swim, you will be met by an instructor who, for once, is not torturing you. He will offer you two 2,000-calorie (each) Meals Ready-to-Eat, and you will wolf down every bite. They will never taste so good again.

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