As reported across multiple news outlets earlier this month, for the first time a woman has successfully completed a Naval Special Warfare (NSW) selection and training program, earning her designation pin as a member of the NSW community. Understandably, there was some initial confusion as to whether this was the long-awaited arrival of the first “female Navy SEAL,” as the SEALs are the most well-known component of NSW. She is not that, but that fact in no way diminishes her achievement.
The not-yet-identified Sailor instead completed Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewman (SWCC) training, and is NSW’s first female Special Warfare Boat Operator. The 37-week training program, while similar in some respects to Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training, is nonetheless a distinct and separate training pipeline dedicated to producing the Sailors who will crew NSW’s combatant-craft.
According to the Navy Times, the sailor was the first of 18 women to date to have tried out for either BUD/S or SWCC and to have successfully completed the selection and training (three of those are still in the pipeline: one in SWCC and two in BUD/S). The Sailor graduated with 16 other SWCC trainees and was awarded her Boat Operator warfare pin on July 15th.
There are currently around 800 sailors who make up the ranks of the SWCC and who belong to one of three Special Boat Teams (SBTs) within NSW’s Group Four command. Each of the SBTs are commanded by a SEAL officer (O-5, Commander), and certain other subordinate boat detachments within the SBTs might also be commanded by a SEAL officer (O-3, Lieutenant). SBT-12 is based on the West Coast, SBT-20 is based on the East Coast, and SBT-22 is based in the South, and focuses on riverine warfare, or projecting the Navy’s sea power into inland waters.
The SWCC sailors operate one of three types of NSW vessels: the Mark V Special Operations Craft (SOC; picture an 80-foot speedboat with guns), the Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat (RHIB; picture a 35-foot inflatable gunboat with a rigid hull), and the Special Operations Craft – Riverine (SOC-R; a 35-foot river boat decked out with big engines and big guns). As noted above, the SWCC sailors’ Navy rating (job title, or MOS, as it is known in other services) is Special Warfare Boat Operator (SB).
Anyone who wants to be is by now familiar with the BUD/S pipeline and phases, and what each entails. However, the SWCC pipeline is lesser-known and as far as this author is aware, has never been the subject of a movie or book describing it. So, we shall delve into it here.
The pipeline begins at Naval Special Warfare Preparatory School (NSW Prep) in Great Lakes, Illinois, which seeks to prepare prospective enlisted BUD/S and SWCC trainees over the course of two months for the rigors of the training programs. The Prep course includes a pass/fail evaluation at its conclusion, consisting of a one-kilometer swim, push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, and a 3-mile run.
Assuming that they make it out of NSW Prep, and graduate boot camp, the prospective trainees then head to the Naval Special Warfare Center (NSWC) in Coronado, CA. At the Center, they complete the three-week Naval Special Warfare Orientation (NSWO) training. This is basically what used to be called “Indoc,” short for Indoctrination Phase. It is a pre-first phase program where you learn the ropes of the Center, how to run the obstacle course, get your gear, and generally settle in to the training life. Instructors begin evaluating students during this phase.
Once the short indoctrination NSWO course is complete, SWCC trainees move on to begin the first stage of their training — Basic Crewman Selection (BCS) — while BUD/S trainees class-up for First Phase.
Basic Crewman Selection (BCS) is a seven-week conditioning phase similar to BUD/S First Phase. It entails lots and lots of physical conditioning, pool work, running, obstacle courses, swimming, and other conditioning meant to build and test mental tenacity. Week five of BCS, again, similar to BUD/S Hell Week, is a mental and physical crucible known as “The Tour.” I don’t know much of anything about The Tour other than that it tests teamwork, resilience, mental fortitude, and that trainees do not get to sleep a lot.
If SWCC trainees make it through BCS and The Tour, they continue to the next phase of training, called Basic Crewman Training (BCT). This seven-week phase teaches special operations maritime skills, navigation, gunnery, combat medicine (presumably Tactical Combat Casualty Care – TCCC), communications, engineering, and small boat handling skills. This is where the trainees move from a focus on physical conditioning to learning the actual skills needed to do their jobs (they still do PT, though).
If trainees successfully complete the BCT phase, they advance to the Crewman Qualification Training (CQT) phase of training. This is the final seven-week phase, held at the SWCC Training Center. Here, the trainees put all of their training to the test on NSW combatant-craft. They are taught advanced navigation, weapons, and mission planning skills. Multiple training evolutions, in all kinds of weather and during both day and night conditions, culminate in a joint final training exercise with the BUD/S trainees in the SEAL pipeline.
Should the trainees make it through this final phase of SWCC training, they move on to Survival, Evasion, Escape, and Resistance (SERE) training and the Cross-cultural Competence course. Finish all of that, and a trainee graduates, receives their SB rating and SWCC warfare pin, and they are then assigned to a Special Boat Team.
And that is where you will find NSW’s first female Boat Operator, as of next month.