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NAVSPECWARCOM Concentrates on NSW’s Human Element

Within the mandate to man, train, and equip the elements of Naval Special Warfare (NSW) forces, NSW planners have been implementing a range of dynamic changes focused on the human element of naval special operations. Examples of these changes span recruiting, training, and the holistic support provided to SEALs, Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewmen (SWCC), enablers, and their families.

Recruiting Directorate

The NSW Recruiting Directorate was established in December 2005 with a mission to identify high-potential candidates for NSW training programs from both civilian and in-service populations; increase NSW awareness among those candidates about careers available in NSW and how to prepare/train for them; and assist them in navigating the application process.

“It was necessary for us to provide an optic into the pool of potential SEALs, showing not just BUD/S training, but what it is like to serve as a SEAL. We needed to market to young men who wanted to serve as Naval Special Warfare operators, not to young men who simply wanted to complete BUD/S training. They are two different things.”

The Year in Special Operations received a glimpse into some of the recent changes in outreach and recruitment efforts of the Navy SEAL and SWCC Scout Team during a recent discussion with Capt. Duncan Smith, head of NSW’s Recruiting Directorate in Coronado, Calif.

“We’re not responsible for who gets through BUD/S [Basic Underwater Demolition/Seal training],” Smith began. “But certainly we feel a real ‘ownership’ in making sure that we provide high-quality candidates.”

Navy Special Warfare physical screening test

Naval Special Warfare candidates perform jumping jacks during a Navy Recruiting District San Diego weekly Navy Special Warfare Physical Screening Test, June 24, 2013. The Navy Recruiting Command conducts monthly boards throughout 26 districts to nominate the top candidates to fill Navy Special Warfare billets, which include SEAL, explosive ordnance disposal, special warfare boat operator, Navy diver, and naval air crewman. U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Anastasia Puscian

Placing some of the directorate’s recent efforts into a historical context, Smith pointed to the pressures applied across all of U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) in the 2006-2007 time frame to increase force size. The heightened challenge for all special operations forces (SOF) elements was in addressing those expanded force structure requirements without reducing force standards.

“If you look at it in context, yes, we had never completely filled a class in our history,” he explained. “But in 2005, 2006, and 2007, when we were first working with the Quadrennial Defense Review’s direction to grow by 500 enlisted SEALs – a 15 percent across-the-SOF-force growth – the first year of that plan included our ability to produce 136 who got their Tridents. Unfortunately, 135 left service in the same period. So we were only up by one new SEAL at the end of the first year of a five-year plan to grow by 500.”

The 2005 scenario was reflected by a notional personnel triangle that attempted to balance a community desire “to stay in the shadows” against maintaining combat efficiency and still grow the force by 500 operators.

“Our options were really to select two of those three triangle points,” Smith observed. “And for us, to remain in the shadows was something that was just not possible, given that we had only grown by one man when we tried the balanced triangle approach.

In March 2005, 72 percent of the young men who were recruited to join the Navy to become SEALs failed the initial Physical Screening Test (PST) when they first arrived at boot camp. At the time, the test involved six pull-ups and unremarkable run and swim times. “We recognized that we had to have recruiters test civilian candidates pursuing SEAL contracts on a full physical screening test, which includes the 500-yard swim.”

“It was necessary for us to provide an optic into the pool of potential SEALs, showing not just BUD/S training, but what it is like to serve as a SEAL. We needed to market to young men who wanted to serve as Naval Special Warfare operators, not to young men who simply wanted to complete BUD/S training. They are two different things.”

Smith said that the expanded recruiting efforts were supported by a cross-functional team that included: Rear Adm. Joseph Maguire, then commander, Naval Special Warfare Command; Vice Adm. Mark Ferguson, then chief of naval personnel; and Rear Adm. Joseph Kilkenny, then commander of Navy Recruiting Command (NRC).

Changes that emerged from that process included better education of the recruiting force, establishing recruiting “goals” for SEAL, SWCC, explosive ordnance disposal (EOD), and diver specialties, and establishing a support network to help educate young NSW candidates. Elements of that network ranged from the assignment of an E-9 SEAL as a senior adviser to NRC and senior enlisted SEAL/SWCC representatives in many of the 26 Navy recruiting districts across the country to the installation of contracted NSW enlisted and commissioned retirees to serve as coaches and mentors in those districts.

Another effort evolving about this time was the creation of a “BUD/S Prep” course at Great Lakes Naval Station. After completing eight to 10 weeks at Recruit Training Command (RTC), SEAL and SWCC candidates received an additional six- to eight-week opportunity to get solely focused on their NSW training pipeline. In-fleet candidates also began to attend the training, facilitating the bonding between future NSW team members.

As an example of other changes in that time frame, Smith pointed to the in-water testing of NSW candidates as “an early victory for the entire Navy Enterprise.”

“At that time, Navy Recruiting was not authorized to put young men competing for a SEAL contract in the water to test them for the swim component,” he said. “It was considered to be too high-risk.”

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Scott Gourley is a former U.S. Army officer and the author of more than 1,500...