Ask Stew: Officer or Enlisted SEAL Option


There are many options to becoming a Navy SEAL, but each route will lead you to the Naval Special Warfare Center where Basic Underwater Demolition / SEAL (BUD/S) Training, which takes place in Coronado, California. A student can attend as an enlisted or officer. In fact, both officers and enlisted attend the same training together, where your Special Warfare reputation begins to form.

Though there are several routes to get to BUD/S, there is only one way to become a SEAL, and that is through BUD/S. Here is a common question from a young man who has finished college and is curious as to his route to BUD/S.

Hey Stew,

Firstly, I appreciate all of the training content and tips that you put out on a regular basis. I have been using your workouts for over 5 years now and I now have a degree and am in the dilemma whether I should go officer or enlisted in Naval Special Warfare. I've read that enlisting is a less tedious process, which is why a majority of candidates choose that route. On the other hand, I know that an officer will be put into a leadership position right away and also get higher pay. Having been an officer in the SEAL Teams, I'd appreciate any input you can offer on this subject. Thank you. Brian

Brian, you are not wrong with what you have read, but here are some things to consider about your options ahead of you.

1. Yes the enlisted route is a much less tedious process, but that is not necessarily the reason why most candidates are enlisted. The reason why most candidates are enlisted and the officer route is so competitive is that the Navy needs more enlisted SEALs than officer SEALs on about a 10:1 ratio.

2. To enlist as a civilian, you simply go to the local Navy enlisted recruiter and request the Navy SEAL program. From there, you will take the ASVAB, the CSORT, and go through medical screening (MEPS). Once cleared medically, you will take Physical Screening Tests (PST) with your SEAL Mentor. As you progress into competitive scores, you will be selected and get a date to attend Boot Camp, Pre-BUD/S at Great Lakes then finally arrive at BUD/S in California. This process can take several months.

3. To join the Navy as an officer as a civilian after college, you will request to attend Officer Candidate School followed by BUD/S. The officer screening is different. In fact, if you get selected to attend the selection program, you will attend SEAL Officer Assessment and Selection (SOAS) during the summer after your application was submitted in January / February of that year. You will be attending SOAS with ROTC, USNA, and other service academies' Cadets / Midshipmen seeking one of the few officer slots they offer each year (usually 50-70 slots). This process can take a year or more from application submission to OCS date.

The biggest questions people ask are:

What is the difference between the Navy SEAL enlisted and officer jobs? The simple answers are the leadership roles and more base pay, but also a straight forward officer career path that is consistent, to a degree. There will be more administrative responsibilities as an officer. In wartime, that career path can change depending upon the needs of the SEAL Teams and your operational capabilities. The enlisted career path allows you to train in different areas of expertise from communications, weapons and explosives, medical, snipers, and other skills the operational platoon requires in order to be forward deployed. The enlisted members also receive more specialty pays and reenlistment bonuses, which help bridge the gap between junior officers and enlisted. Therefore, more money should not be the reason why you select SEAL officer route. Your reasoning for going that route must be that you want to lead, have greater responsibility, and be held accountable for the actions of yourself and your men.

The best comparison I have heard about the role of the officer in the SEAL platoons is that of a quarterback on a football team. That quarterback may be a rookie but, by position, is in-charge of getting the team down the field. They make decisions based on personal ability, advice from his veteran linemen, and coaches. The young platoon commander is similar, and with more experience can advance into bigger leadership combat roles well into his career at different SEAL Teams.   How long can an officer stay operational compared to the enlisted SEAL? This depends on how your body handles years of deploying and training. Typically, after 10-12 years, the officer will be less operationally involved in the platoon setting. He might be part of a task unit / element as a Lieutenant Commander or at DEVGRU as a squadron commander. If you are able and capable, this is how you would extend your operational life into your mid to late 30's.

Remember, this is a young man's job and later in their careers the veterans with the experience become the teachers (senior enlisted and warrant officers). I think both jobs are a calling and are for a special kind of person -- a teammate first. In my opinion, you cannot go wrong with either option. However, if you select the enlisted route, you have until age 36 until you can attend OCS and go back to the Teams as an officer with incredible experience and knowledge of what a good officer should be.

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