How to Join Naval Special Operations

Naval Special Warfare Operators prepare for a training exercise.
U.S. Naval Special Warfare Operators and U.S. Navy Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewmen assigned to Naval Special Warfare prepare for a visit, board, search and seizure exercise during a training mission at the NATO Maritime Interdiction Operational Training Center, Greece, July 31, 2020. (Sgt. Aven Santiago/U.S. Army photo)

Do you think you have what it takes to become a member of Naval Special Warfare or Special Operations? You have several choices now.

As of October 2006, the Navy changed the way SEAL teams, SEAL recruits and all branches of Naval Special Warfare/Operations do business. Now, SEAL enlisted personnel no longer have to select source ratings (i.e., BM, RM, GM, etc.) and learn a job that they will not practice as SEAL operators.

Now, the Special Warfare and Special Operations communities have their own rating source codes. To be a member of the Naval Special Warfare/Operations community, you have four choices:

  • Navy Special Warfare 
  • SEAL -- Sea Air Land (SEAL Recruiter)
  • SWCC -- Special Warfare Combatant Crewman
  • Naval Special Operations -- EOD (Navy Diving and Explosive Ordnance Disposal), Navy diver (deep-sea diving and salvage operations)

This change in structure not only affects the way SEALs operate, but also Navy divers, EOD and SWCC. In many instances, if a member gets injured at SEAL training or decides SEALs is not for them, they can be transferred into one of the other special warfare or special operations professions.

If the student has the desire and meets the standards of the other communities in SpecWar/SpecOps, he can attend one of those schools. All the SpecWar/SpecOps communities are seeking to expand their size by up to 20% by 2010. A student also can choose another career path within the Navy. Below are the four steps required to become a member of the Navy Special Warfare/Operations communities:

Step 1: Choose a Spec Ops/Spec War source rating.

Competition for rank advancement now occurs within the Special Warfare community, as opposed to competing Navy-wide for advancement to the next pay grade. All Naval Special Warfare/Naval Special Operations careers have individual source ratings. A recruit will attend boot camp with one of these designations, and as long as he can pass the physical screening test (PST) at boot camp, he can attend the next phase of training.

  • SEAL (SO)
  • SWCC (SB)
  • EOD (EOD)
  • Diver (ND)

Step 2: Training (for SEAL candidates only, as an example)

No longer do boot-camp graduates have to go to a variety of A-schools. Now, all of the above members of the Special Warfare/Operations communities use their own training as their A-school. For instance, a SEAL recruit will go straight to BUD/S -- Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training -- after boot camp, and a SWCC recruit will go to SWCC training to learn their job/rating.

Here is the SEAL recruit's training pipeline:

  • BUD/S indoctrination: (five weeks -- Coronado, California)
  • BUD/S Phase I: Physical conditioning (two months -- Coronado)
  • BUD/S Phase II: Diving (two months -- Coronado)
  • BUD/S Phase III: Weapons, demolitions and small unit tactics (two months -- Coronado)
  • Parachute Jump School (one month -- Fort Benning, Georgia)
  • Advanced Sea, Air and Land training (five months -- Coronado)

Step 3: Advanced training/placement (SEAL community)

Upon graduation, the new SEAL will receive a Naval Special Warfare classification and further opportunities for advanced training. The new recruit will report to a SEAL team or SEAL delivery vehicle (SDV) team in Virginia Beach, Virginia; Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; or Coronado, Calif.

For the first few months or more, the new SEAL will have an opportunity to continue individual specialty training (up to six months) or join a SEAL platoon/SDV task unit and continue work-up training to prepare for future deployments.

Step 4: Deployment and combat operations

After an intense work-up with your SEAL/SDV platoons, you will be deployable for international operations. Typically, SEALs will deploy with their team to an area of operations around the world and then conduct a variety of small-unit missions.

How to prepare for Naval Special Warfare/Operations training:

Because of the Naval Special Warfare mission of increasing the size of the Naval Special Warfare/Operations up to 20% by 2010, the Navy has hired former Navy SEAL, divers and EOD members to help recruiters prepare young recruits mentally and physically for the various SpecWar/SpecOps schools.

Ask your local recruiter about the Navy Special Warfare/Special Operations mentor in your area. The mentor's duties are to help you prepare for training by giving regularly scheduled physical screening tests and other workouts that consist of:

  • Swim 500 yards, using the sidestroke, breaststroke or combat swimmer stroke (CSS)
  • Push-ups: Max reps in 2:00
  • Sit-ups: Max reps in 2:00
  • Pull-ups: Max reps in 2:00
  • 1.5-mile timed run: PT gear/running shoes (SEALs wear boots/cammies)

There are basic minimum scoring standards for this physical "entrance exam," but if you strive for the minimums, you have a 6% chance of graduating. Strive for above-average scores and be in top shape before reporting. This will require months -- maybe even a year or two -- to get into "SpecWar/SpecOps shape."

Some say that SEAL training is 10% physical and 90% mental. What does that mean? It does not mean that you will be studying more than PT, running and swimming. It does mean that you will be pushed physically past your point of exhaustion, then you have to dig deep within yourself and let your body perform even though you have nothing left.

This is where the 90% mental comes into play. You have to will yourself past this point of exhaustion so you finish the mission at hand. It truly is a test of mind over matter.

To prepare properly for BUD/S, you do not need to lift heavy weights in the gym, do martial arts for hours a day, soak your body in freezing water or sleep in the backyard during the winter. All you need to do to prepare for the rigors of high-repetition PT, miles of running, swimming with fins and navigating obstacles courses is to climb rope, run, swim, PT and take your showers or baths in water that is 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit. No need to soak in ice. Water in Southern California ranges from about 50-70 degrees year-round. 

Becoming SCUBA qualified before BUD/S/EOD/diver is not a bad idea. Using a regulator for the first time during the diving phase can be intimidating. You will have to learn dive physics and dive medicine, so an understanding of math and the science of diving will be beneficial to any SpecWar/SpecOps recruit. See a PADI or NAUI Scuba School near you, though it is not a necessity.

If you think you have what it takes, see a local recruiter, and they will link you up to a SpecWar/SpecOps mentor to prepare you for a very challenging career.

Find Available Special Operations Opportunities

Navy Special Operations fitness articles:

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

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