Everyone and their mother has heard of the Navy SEALs. Propelled to fame after Operation Neptune’s Spear, the daring SEAL Team 6 mission that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011, the Navy SEALs have become a household name.
What is most widely known about the SEALs is their extremely hard selection and assessment process. Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training is notoriously difficult, with an attrition rate hovering at between 70 percent and 85 percent for enlisted and over 90 percent for officers, thus making it one of the most selective special operations pipelines in the U.S. military.
In this highly selective process, one evolution stands out.
Hell Week and eternal sweating
Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training is a six-month selection process and the path to becoming a Navy SEAL.
It is divided into three phases (First Phase, Second Phase, Third Phase).
The First Phase is the basic conditioning part of BUD/S, where students learn to work as a team and the instructors put increasingly more mental and physical pressure on them. This is when Hell Week takes place.
Lasting from Sunday evening to Friday morning, Hell Week forces students to run more than 200 miles, often with heavy rubber boats on their heads, swim endless miles, and do hours of physical training, all the while being cold, wet, and sandy. During the almost six-day evolution, students get approximately four hours of broken sleep.
“Hell Week occurs in the 4th week of a 26-week three-phase training known as BUD/S. Each phase gets harder, and runs and swims must be performed faster to pass. Hill climbing, long distant swims, longer runs, demotion on land and at sea, advanced weapons use, scuba diving day and night with pure oxygen rebreathers and hours-long underwater events create opportunities for multiple injuries to multiple organs, bones, skin and brains,” Bob Adams, a retired Navy SEAL officer and doctor, told Sandboxx News.
Related: Two former Navy SEALs’ plan to map the ocean floor
One of the most interesting medical oddities that happen to students during Hell Week has to do with their core temperature.
“Our core body temperatures at times dropped below 90 degrees (98.6 is normal) and now many years later all of us have core body temperatures below normal. This matters because our brain (the hypothalamus) was permanently reset to a lower ‘normal’ and when exercising or even sleeping our sweating is greater than others as the body tries to cool itself to the new set point,” Adams said.
After a dozen years in the SEAL Teams as an officer, Adams went to medical school and became an Army doctor, ending up as the command surgeon of the Army’s elite Delta Force. Adams details the incredible pressures that Hell Week puts on the body in his 2017 book, “Six Days of Impossible: Navy SEAL Hell Week — A Doctor Looks Back.”
“Some wives complained that they had to put plastic sheets on their beds as their husbands soaked the sheets every night for 6-12 months! There are similar reports of excess sweating in the medical literature from the marine survivors of the Chosin Reservoir winter battle during the Korean war where so many froze to death,” Adams added.
“My book ‘Six Days of Impossible Navy SEAL Hell Week – A Doctor Looks Back’ tells the story of the men of Class 81 as we trudged on, shivered, and survived a winter Hell Week. Only 11 of 70 graduated,” Adams told Sandboxx News.
Related: How to get through Special Forces selection? Don’t be the ‘Grey Man’
The dangers of Hell Week
Naturally, Hell Week is a dangerous evolution, and there have been fatalities in the past.
When it comes to injuries during Hell Week and BUD/S in general, there are a few that tend to appear often across the board of candidates.
The most common injuries are tendonitis in most joints, plantar fasciitis of the foot, cuts and bruises, broken bones in hands, feet, arms, and legs, pneumonia, hypothermia, exhaustion to the point of hallucinations, and memory loss from the cold and calorie deprivation.
“Our bodies had never (and would never again) been pushed to the physical and mental limits that six days without sleep, icy cold, shivering constantly, and pushed to a level of exhaustion that resulted in hallucinations would offer us. What happened to everyone includes iron-deficient anemia preventing us from donating blood the week after Hell Week, trench foot (a condition from constant wet boots) that caused toenails to fall off and feet to throb with minimal efforts, leg and foot swelling that made taking off our boots dangerous as we would not be able to put them back on,” Adams told Sandboxx News.
Hypothermia is very closely monitored by the instructors as it can be very dangerous and kill a student pretty fast. The physical, mental, and emotional exertions that are required to pass Hell Week are so big that some students report no memory of the event at all — they just wake up after the final day to discover it was over.
To have the energy to complete the evolutions, students consume over 8,000 calories per day throughout Hell Week but they still manage to lose weight.
Read more from Sandboxx News
- How do Navy SEAL trainees recover after the brutality of ‘Hell Week?’
- Mission of Navy SEALs, US SOF to shift focus for future conflicts
- Height-waiver Green Beret: Captain James Flaherty was a Special Forces legend
- The special operations that paved the way for D-Day
- What it means to be a Navy SEAL, according to 5 SEALs
Cold, water and no sleep are the great equalizers and the best way to test everyone equally in Hell Week. I was 6′ tall and weighed 150 lbs in Hell Week class 136 and the first guys who quit were 6’2″ 200 lb college football atheletes. Every man I saw quit in Hell Week did so during or after a water evolution and after having been wet for hours with zero sleep.
I mean, it’s all pretty simple–the recipe works, and has from the beginning. The attrition rate is what it is because most don’t have what it takes. This is from a former Army guy who went through ranger school 30 years ago. By the way, ranger school isn’t even close to the suffering that happens at Coronado. If you want the best, be it MARSOC, NSW, CAG or PJs, you have to demand absolute commitment from all comers. Don’t change a thing.
In France the French Marine Commando based in Brittany look a lot like your Seals. The training is really hard and just the best of them go through it.
Priscilla Villanueva says
I understand that training has to be hard. But really does it have to be to the point of death??? I think they need to take care of their students better and make the physical and mental test a bit safer I would say.
Typical woman response. Very few people die, but you want to make it easier?
What’s the outcome of that? Weaker military, nation, and men.
The reason the West is in collapse is because women and liberals keep making everything softer and easier.
I hope you feel “mAn” enough and got your daily dose of “mAnLiNeSs” by acting “tUfF” on the internet. After all, your furious typing on the keyboard shows how capable your battle hardened fingers are.. Capable of making all those loud click clack noises on the keyboard which scares even the fiercest of the rats and mice away from the basement in which you’re busy typing.. It was nice to meet such a “vALiAnT wArRiOr” here. Good luck “tuff guy”.. Lol
Deborah Davis says
That’s an unfair comment about women! Women give birth to our men! Not an easy feat!! Something most men would die doing! I truly believe women are the stronger of the species. Without their nurturing care of infants, the babies would die!
I agree with Jon 100%. I am a woman, and I want strong, masculine men running things. That is the order of the Divine Light. Men rule first and protect the women (I’m referring to the real feminine gazelles, not the dikes and blue-haired woke trash cans). “Hard times create strong men, strong men create good times, good times create weak men, and weak men create hard times.” If we support weakness, the result is this poisonous woke movement that has infested every good part of society. I respect the men who make it through hell week. They’ve earned it!
Leon Jackson says
No training needs to be to the point of death, but the types of missions that they will be sent to conduct requires people cable of completing the training as it is. Also, the more realistic the training for any high risk job, the better the end product. This is true in Flight school and other high risk training areas as well. No one wants to loose any student, that is just a waste of time and resources, but the future missions necessitate a certain minimal standard (mental & physical) that must be met. This training has a 70 year record of successfully filtering for the right candidates for the job which is pretty hard to argue against. It would be different if the training had not produced the very best, proven in combat, over those many years.
As a 6 year navy Corpsman on a submarine and with marines , then 31 as a firefighter in La
Don’t change anything , but monitor better .
When god saw how men dealt with common colds , he made women give birth
Of course it has to be to that point. They have an extremely dangerous job in all kinds of climates and territories. The whole point of a SEAL is to complete a mission no matter the weather, topography, lack of food, water or injury and then get yourself home, ALIVE. How do you train for that….?!
Steven Barrows says
Yes, death is the enemy. You must train against death.
Richard Bejtlich says
The obvious (I hope) question is — is it worth it? Is there another way to test the candidates that does not physically degrade them for the remainder of their lives? What do SEALs think?
Richard Bejtlich says
I forgot to mention — one of my USAFA 1994 classmates cross-commissioned into the USMC and became a SEAL.
John Chalus says
SEALs are Navy. They are not Marines. Marines have MARSOC and Force Recon.
Who said the remainder of their lives? They aren’t losing limbs.
No, there is no better way. They specifically choose cold and sleep dep because it’s very unlikely to kill you, but it makes most people quit. They know EXACTLY what they’re doing.