Medal of Honor recipients welcome America’s newest Navy SEALs

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A few weeks ago, 30 Sailors graduated from the SEAL Qualification Training course and became the newest members of the SEAL Teams.

Theirs was a special graduation as two retired SEALs and Medal of Honor recipients were physically or virtually present as guest speakers.

Master Chief (retired) Ed Byers, a former SEAL Team 6 operator, won the nation’s highest award for valor under fire during a hostage rescue operation in Afghanistan. Byers graduated from SQT Class 242, 100 classes before.

Byers in Afghanistan (WikiMedia Commons)

Former Senator Bob Kerrey earned the Medal of Honor in Vietnam during a daring raid in a Vietcong enclave. Kerrey graduated from Underwater Demolition Team Replacement Accession Class 42 (the then-equivalent of BUD/S and SQT), 200 before.

Kerry during Navy SEAL training.


“Your discipline is now warfare. It comes in many forms. It’s an art—it has subtleties. It will mimic an orchestra. It will be complex like chess. Study it. Practice it,” Master Chief Byers said.

“This job is as mentally demanding as it is physically. You are now part of a community that strives, seeks, and demands excellence. You’re going to make mistakes—to err is human. Own those failures, own the process that is required to learn from them and own the difficulty in changing the behavior.”

 Rear Adm. H. W. Howard III, commander, Naval Special Warfare Command, addresses SEAL Qualification Training Class 342 during the class’ graduation, April 30. Navy SEAL Graduation is a special moment for the candidates and their families(U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Anthony W. Walker/Released)

SQT is the follow on course after the initial selection process and teaches candidates a plethora of skill-sets, such as close quarters battle, advanced combat diving, arctic warfare operations, survival, escape, resistance, and evasion, that they develop more when they get to the Teams.


The entire SEAL pipeline, comprised of Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training and SQT, is one of the toughest special operations selections in the US military, with an approximately 90% attrition rate.

“May your choices in life continue to bring you success, may your heart never tire of loving our imperfect country, and may you always understand the importance of having teammates you trust with your life,” Kerrey said.

Medal of Honor recipient Sen. Robert Kerrey addresses SEAL Qualification Training Class 342 during the class’ graduation, April 30, 2020. Navy SEAL Graduation is a special moment for the candidates and their families (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Anthony W. Walker/Released).


“Congratulations to Class 342. You’ve met our standard and demonstrated the character, cognitive and leadership attributes that make our force timeless and authentic. You are now a member of an incredible community of warriors and leaders, a community that was built on the shoulders of those who came before us – past teammates whose courage, grit and integrity formed our standard. It is critical to reflect on who we are and who the nation needs us to be,” Rear Admiral H. W. Howard III, the commander of Naval Special Warfare Command and presiding officer in the graduation.

Navy SEAL Graduation is a special moment for the candidates and their families

BUD/S is broken into three phases, each lasting seven weeks.

First Phase, where most of the attrition takes place, is largely physical and mental. Candidates are put through a series of increasingly more difficult tasks in order to build their confidence but also teamwork. Hell Week, an almost six-day ordeal, takes place during this phase.

Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUDS) candidates cover themselves in sand during surf passage on Naval Amphibious Base Coronado. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael Russell/Released)

Second Phase, or Dive Phase, is where candidates learn the basics of combat diving. A lot of time is spent in the pool and the sea. Pool Competency, a test in which candidates have to perform a series of basic and emergency procedures underwater while the instructors are harassing them, is the hardest part of this phase and indeed one of the toughest of the entire pipeline. If a candidate manages to overcome this hurdle, his chances of graduating are very high.

Members assigned to Naval Special Warfare Group 2 conduct military dive operations in the Gulf of Mexico(U.S. Navy photo by Senior Chief Mass Communication Specialist Jayme Pastoric/Released)

Third Phase, or Land Warfare Phase, takes place in San Clemente Island, off the coast of Coronado. Candidates are introduced to the basics of being a SEAL, such as marksmanship, demolitions, patrolling, and small unit tactics. SQT takes all of the above skill-sets to a much higher level.

Stavros Atlamazoglou

Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations and national security. He is a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ). He holds a BA from the Johns Hopkins University, an MA from the Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), and is pursuing a J.D. at Boston College Law School.