Tactical Fitness: Is Firearms Training a Prerequisite for Military Service?

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Chief petty officer selectees practice drawing their weapons at a small arms gun range.
Chief petty officer selectees, assigned to Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach and Naval Recruiting District San Diego, practice drawing their weapons at the base small arms gun range at Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach, Aug. 13, 2012. (Petty Officer 1st Class Eli Medellin/Defense Imagery Management Operations Center)

While many Americans grow up with guns, some do not have that opportunity. Regardless, teaching military shooting is different from hunting and shooting targets in the backyard. Avid hunters sometimes are the best shots in the class, and they sometimes have to break bad shooting habits that a person new to guns does not have. 

Here is a question about preparing for the military.

Hello, Mr. Smith,

I am 14 with the aspiring dream of becoming a Navy SEAL.

I have very little experience with guns, having grown up in sheltered suburbs unlike the rural, outdoor environments that many SEALs grow up in. I have fired about four guns in my lifetime, and not at any real targets or with much knowledge on how guns work or anything else. I've shot some rifle rounds at a lake in my uncle’s backyard. That should tell you all about my knowledge of firearms.

Should I try to become familiar with firearms and perhaps hone my skills by going to the range when I turn 16?

– Hunter

Hunter, you have some great goals at your young age. My advice is to enjoy your teens and get the most out of school and athletics that you can. Play sports, join a team, keep doing well in school and learn to be a team player while gaining leadership experience.

Those are skills that will help you well in any branch of service. I did not start training for SEALs until I was 19 in college; however, I played three sports in high school, made good grades, became a team captain for clubs, etc. That helped more than anything you can do right now.

I would not worry about shooting. It is good to have some knowledge of weapons, but if you build up too many habits, it is likely you will have to unlearn the bad ones.  Relearning shooting the way the military teaches could be a more difficult learning curve. But there is nothing wrong with taking lessons and learning gun safety, nomenclature, maintenance and assembly of a variety of weapons the military uses.

You have many options to get to SEAL training. If you are considering going in as an officer, you need to get college accomplished at some time.  You might as well do it while you are young, and then you can have the option to enlist or go to Officer Candidate School and become an officer. If you get an ROTC or service academy slot, you will graduate into the officer pipeline. That’s something to consider when you go to BUD/S.  

Stew Smith CSCS

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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