People well beyond their teens seek military service. There are age limits in the military for a reason, but even for the SEAL training program, the window to attend Basic Underwater Demolition / SEAL Training (BUD/S) is from 17-28 years. I’ve been asked this question frequently; from people in the age bracket as well as many beyond the age limit who would need age waivers in order to join the Navy and enter the SEAL Training program.
Does Age Really Matter?
In my opinion, age does matter but not necessarily in the way many people think. Typically, the reason why people do not finish SEAL training is they were underprepared – that has nothing to do with age. If you look at reasons why people quit or fail the course there is a laundry list of reasons: too cold, too uncomfortable (wet and sandy), too much running, too much swimming / pool confidence, too much PT / load bearing events (boats / logs / rucks), too much negative feedback, too much everything. BUD/S will expose a weakness quickly and if you are not prepared for that, it can be overwhelming. If someone says they did not make it because they were “too old” then the entire recruiting system is wrong and the Navy should change the age limits. People in their late twenties and early thirties (and even older) have made it to and through BUD/S before. The age limits are fine.
In my opinion, the 17-18 year old candidates have a harder time than the older candidates. (see Perfect Storm for Failure) Maturity goes a long way with this type of training and a few years of preparation will help tremendously in your ability to handle the daily work load and physical standards of each phase. Even some candidates on the younger side of the age bracket are still growing and susceptible to many running overuse injuries at a higher rate than others.
What Should the Older Candidate Do Before and During BUD/S?
RECOVERY - It is a small difference, but the 18 year old body will naturally recover faster than a body a decade or older, so recovery has to be the number one goal every day for the older BUD/S student. But to be honest, recovery is critical for ALL BUD/S students. Actively pursuing recovery from a tough day / week of training needs to be accomplished by all students in order to be successful no matter what the age. This means good food, hydration, healthy snacks, rest on weekends, good sleep nightly (when available), stretching, foam rolling, compression garments, massage tools and wound / joint care will all help the active student attending any selection program.
PERFORMANCE – No matter what your age is, there is a fitness standard, tactical skills standard, and a military standard you have to meet. Well, “exceeding the standard should be the standard” and mindset of any BUD/S student in preparing and attending SEAL Training – young or old. There is no age performance drop at BUD/S, just one standard for all students to meet.
INJURIES - Another thing to consider is that injuries happen at BUD/S to all students – all ages. Knowing how to play with pain is part of the game for all successful students. But being able to discern aches / pains from real injuries requires some maturity. Seeking medical advice before it gets so bad that you fail events is something you need to understand and be open to.
MISCONCEPTION – I think many people who are not in their teens feel they “missed the boat” on joining the military. The human body is far more capable at getting into better physical conditioning (all areas) 10-15 years passed 20 years old or less. There is not a doubt in my mind that someone in their late 20’s and early 30’s can attend BUD/S and crush it – as many people have and still do today. It just requires thorough preparation, focused mindset on goal accomplishment, and getting it done. Remembering how many hurdles you had to jump through just to get the opportunity to serve in the military, qualify for Special Ops training, and years of preparation should be a constant in your head. There will be days that make you question your abilities, but you have to keep pushing yourself forward IF you really want it.
A Quick Word About Age Waivers (over 28 years old)
Age waivers are available on a case by case basis. An applicant has to stand out in many areas in order to even get the process of age waivers to move up the chain of command from the recruiter’s office. Here is a short list of ways to stand out among the crowd.
1 – Physical Test Scores - PST scores have to be above average in order to be taken seriously: 8 Minute 500yd. swim, 100 pushups, 100 situps, 20 pullups, 9-minute 1.5 mile run. Scores in this area and a recruiter will likely take you seriously and take the time to move the waiver up the chain of command.
2 – Work History – What have you been doing for the last decade? What skillset / trade do you bring to the table? Are you a leader / entrepreneur? Have extensive travel history? Speak foreign languages?
3 – Collegiate History – It may have been a while since college or you may have advanced degrees that will help you stand out amongst other enlisted candidates. Most SEAL enlisted have college degrees, many played sports, and some have advanced degrees.
4 – Who you know – Sometimes a letter of recommendation from current Navy SEALs or higher ranking officials can go a long way to helping people decide if you are worth the chance of giving the age waiver.