Ever since SEAL Team 6 killed Osama bin Laden in 2011, Navy SEALs have become a household name and anything around them an object of fascination.
Navy SEAL selection, known as the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S), is one of the tougher special operations selection and assessment courses in the world. Approximately 90 percent of those who enter the recruiter’s office with a dream of becoming a frogman don’t make it.
But what about officers? How difficult is it to pass Navy SEAL selection as an officer?
Sandboxx News got access to some (unclassified) data that might help answer that question.
There are four different traditional paths to become a Navy SEAL officer – enlisted SEALs have an additional option. Graduate from the Naval Academy (midshipmen would have to also pass a week-long mini-BUD/s to qualify from this route). Graduate from an accredited university’s Naval Reserve Officer Training Program (NROTC). Graduate from the Navy’s Officer Candidate School (OCS). Lateral transfer from another service. All programs present a level of difficulty, both of getting to and of completing BUD/S. The numbers are quite interesting.
During a four-year period (2012-2016), 35 percent of the officers enrolling in BUD/S came from the Naval Academy; 25 percent from OCS; 23 percent from lateral transfer; and 17 percent from NROTC.
The statistics also show that the path to BUD/S for officers plays a significant role in their graduation chances. From the above cohort of officers, an astounding 89 percent coming from the Naval Academy graduated; with 63 percent for lateral transfers; 52 percent for OCS; and 42 percent for NROTC.
The main reason for failing Navy SEAL selection across the board is dropping on request (DOR). Performance comes second, with medical reasons a close third, and there are a few officers who fail for administrative reasons.
Sandboxx News’ own Frumentarius, who served as a SEAL officer and has four other close relatives who were or are SEALs, said that in his time there was a perception among Naval Academy officers that they were superior students when it came to physical evolutions.
“I think that was primarily because their selection process to get a BUD/S slot out of the Academy was more competitive than in the ROTC route. In other words, they felt that those of them who had made it into BUD/S from the Academy were in better shape and better prepared because they HAD to be to get the slots.”
Naval Academy midshipmen who wish to become SEAL officers have to pass a mini-BUD/S during one of their school summers. This week-long event is brutal and weeds out those who might have been second-guessing their choice. Consequently, the Naval Academy officers who do get selected to go to Navy SEAL selection have already shown their willingness to be there and complete the selection.
Similarly, lateral transfers and OCS officers are fewer than those who come from NROTC and have a tougher path to getting to BUD/S, meaning that those who do get there had to compete for few slots.
However, physical ability isn’t the sole indicator of a good officer or indeed of someone’s chances of making it through SEAL training.
“But really, that doesn’t determine who gets through BUD/S, nor is it the sole determining factor of ‘quality,’ especially for officers. You could be fast at running and swimming and still not make it through (as happened to officers in my class),” added Frumentarius.
It’s worth noting that although officers have varying chances of success depending on their commissioning route, as a whole, they have much better chances compared to enlisted students.
“All officers across the board had a much higher success rate than enlisted guys. For example, out of 100 people who started in my class, only 10 of us finished straight through, on time: 8 officers and 2 enlisted. And we started with like 15 officers and 85 enlisted,” added Frumentarius.
In the end, instructors don’t care which path an officer took to get to BUD/S. They punish both equally.
Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training is divided into three seven-week phases. First Phase, where most of the attrition takes place, is largely physical and mental. Students learn to work as a team and have to meet progressively tougher standards. The infamous Hell Week takes place during First Phase.
Second Phase, also known as Dive Phase, is where students learn the basics of what differentiates SEALs from other special operations units, that is their underwater special operations capabilities. During this phase there is a major hurdle called Pool Competency, where students have to remain calm underwater and display an expert knowledge of their scuba diving gear and diving procedures while being harassed by SEAL instructors. If a student passes Pool Comp, his chances of becoming a SEAL are very high.
Third Phase, also known as Land Warfare Phase, takes place in San Clemente Island, off the coast of Coronado. Students get a taste of marksmanship, demolitions, patrolling, and small unit tactics, which they all have to put together during a final exercise.
Graduating BUD/S doesn’t make someone a SEAL, however. The follow-on SEAL Qualification Training (SQT) course still claims candidates.