First there were 19 who were whittled down to 12. Then only five were left standing.
Now, after one of the world's most crushing selection programs, only two remain - well, three, if you count the one who was rolled back into the initial phase of the school.
For the first time in its storied history, the Coast Guard is on track to have two of its own earn the coveted trident badge of a Navy SEAL. The two officers have reached the third phase of initial SEAL selection after joining Basic Underwater Demolition School class 276 in March, enduring the grueling mental and physical travails that weed out all but the hardiest warriors.
"I'm very proud of these guys," said Master Chief Petty Officer Darrick DeWitt, the senior enlisted advisor for the Coast Guard's Deployable Operations Group, which ran the selection process for the service.
"We wanted to make sure we sent people with good character and good values. I think we did that," he added in a telephone interview with Military.com. "These guys not only represented the Coast Guard well, but represented their country well."
After a two-year effort to leverage the expertise of Naval Special Warfare and the Coast Guard's new role in homeland security and maritime special operations, the service selected its first group of Coastguardsmen to become commandos late last summer.
Coast Guard officials say they hope the SEAL-trained Coasties will seed the rest of the force with valuable skills learned in special operations training and operations and bring back to their sea service a bit of the esprit de corps found in the commando ranks.
For Naval Special Warfare, the pressure to grow its force makes an injection of well-vetted candidates to their ranks a boon, cutting out the hassle of dealing with recruits who don't have what it takes to become a SEAL.
"We're just glad to get good candidates," said Lt. Commander Shane Reilly, the executive officer at the Naval Special Warfare Basic Training Command in Coronado, Calif. "With the war going on, we're under a lot of pressure to increase [special operations forces] and we walk a fine line without bending standards."
After reviewing 19 applications back in August 2008, evaluators tapped 12 Coastguardsmen to run through a week-long selection process in Panama City, Fla., that included physical tests, mental evaluations and exercises that gave the wannabe frogmen a taste of what the legendary Basic Underwater Demolition School, or BUDS, is all about.
The Coast Guard declined to provide any further details on the SEAL candidates' identities for security reasons.
In the end, five made the cut, including four officers - a civil engineer, two cutter officers and one assigned to the district staff - and an enlisted man who serves as a boarding officer at a station in California.
The enlisted Coastie washed out during the early part of the Navy's selection process when he came up just short on a physical qualification.
"It surprised me," DeWitt said of the Coastie, and Reilly added that the man missed the standard by a "very small margin."
"But, you know, they have tough standards," DeWitt said. "We'll see if he wants to come back for a second round."
That left four officers who made it into what many believe is the most physically and mentally difficult assessment program in the world. Early morning beach runs, cold water sit ups, sand in every crevice for days, no food, no sleep you get the picture. And all the while SEAL instructors are goading you to quit.
And one did.
During the toughest phase of BUDS, one of the four remaining Coasties rang the infamous bell that signaled his voluntary exit from the program, leaving three to complete the course.
Later, another of the officers was injured during the assessment - a frequent cause of SEAL candidate drop outs - and was rolled back into a new class to start from the beginning of BUDS.