FROM FLEET TO NAVAL SPECIAL WARFARE
Naval Special Warfare is always looking for hard-charging, motivated applicants, including Sailors already serving in the Fleet. We talked with a SEAL Officer whose job is to pick the best applicants from the "Big Navy" for a career in NSW.
Episode #16 | 10/24/18
Music Open Intro...
The only easy day was yesterday...
DF: Welcome to, “The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday,” the official Navy SEAL podcast.
DF: Naval Special Warfare is always looking for hard-charging, motivated applicants from all communities. However, specific attention is paid to existing Navy sailors wanting to convert from a career-path in the “Big Navy” to one in Naval Special Warfare. I’m Daniel Fletcher. Today I speak with the Special Operations Enlisted Community Manager, a SEAL Officer, to find out more about the conversion process.
DF: First, thank you for taking the time to sit down with us. I know you’re a busy person. You have an important job; you have a lot of stuff going on. I think the information that you’ll be able to give us will be really valuable to people coming through the pipeline, so thank you first and foremost. Tell us a little bit about your roles and responsibilities, kind of your baseline areas of focus.
ECM: I’m a Lieutenant Commander in the US Navy. I’m an 1130 Designator, that’s a SEAL Special Warfare Officer. I’m currently the NSW Enlisted Community Manager. This is typically like on O4, O5 SEAL assigned to the Bureau of Personnel. We advise the Commander at NPC and staff on SEAL enlisted personnel matters, so anything from policies to planning, to trying to develop incentives to keep people in the Navy or join the Navy.
DF: Correct me if I’m wrong here, you’re kind of a strategic piece in keeping the right numbers and types of personnel coming into the pipeline to keep mission capabilities where they need to be?
ECM: Numbers is certainly a big part of it. We also focus on the quality and putting everything together, whether it’s the recruiting mission, the training at the Naval Special Warfare Center. We don’t necessarily oversee that, but we’re definitely influential (DF: A big part of it) in all the decisions.
DF: One of the main reasons why we’re here is to talk about the specific selection and the draft process. Just to give people an idea of some of the stuff that might be a little intangible that kind of contributes to whether they make it through or not, maybe if you could speak to that a little bit and give us a little bit of your insight of some of the things that might be a little bit overlooked in terms of what you’re looking for in these candidates.
ECM: We use what we call the whole person approach, so we look at the candidate completely. Everything that we know about the candidate, everything that’s put into the package, we assess, and no one single factor is going to disqualify that person. We take what we’re seeing of the candidate, and we compare it to what our needs are. We have certain needs with year groups to correct inventory shortfalls… (DF: When you say inventory, sorry to cut you off, you’re talking about personnel?) Right, absolutely. So, when we’re short on year, whether that’s not enough people made it through BUD/S or the SWCC schoolhouse, we’ll look to make up those shortfalls by bringing people that are already in the Navy, fleet sailors.
DF: Are there any areas of the process that you think candidates might overlook as being more important than they might realize in terms of this whole person approach?
ECM: No, I think a lot of stuff that make people a good sailor out of the Navy is the same things we’re looking for them to make good SEALs, and that’s things like being a good team player, being a leader within their organization and sustained superior performance. And we use the standard Navy assessments to, to evaluate that, so things like their evaluation reports that they get from their commands and the people they’re working for out in the Navy. We value what they do to make themselves a better team player at that command, so any qualifications that they can earn out in the Navy, that all contributes to the way we evaluate them.
DF: Is there a certain ratio that you see that is kind of consistent in terms of people you’re pulling in from Big Navy versus people off the street?
ECM: No, I’d say the success rate, or attrition rate, is pretty consistent, whether they’re coming off the street, a street session, or somebody that we’ve brought in that’s already in the Navy.
DF: Do one or the other in particular have an advantage do you think? It seems like maybe the people coming from the Navy side might have a bit more of a paper trail that you guys could reference and weed out a little bit more. Is that the case?
ECM: I wouldn’t say anyone has an advantage. That’s going to come down to what that person has on the inside; the personal commitment that they’ve made to complete training. That’s unique for everyone, so those attrition rates are pretty consistent.
DF: Our core audience is the recruit. I would love to find out a lot of details about your individual job in terms of responsibilities... and day-to-day stuff that you do. I think it’s really fascinating. From your perspective, what can a SEAL/SWCC candidate do to best prepare themself for this selection process in your mind?
ECM: Number one is be a sailor in good standing, right, so excel where you’re at in the fleet, in the job that’s assigned to you and all the tasks that are given to you by whoever you’re working for in the Navy. That’s first and foremost. We don’t want folks who’ve been in trouble or problematic. We need to have trust that they’re going to, you know, be able to succeed in environments where a lot’s expected out of them.
DF: Are there areas where you feel like candidates are over-focusing on certain aspects of the process or certain numbers they’re trying to hit or any of that? You find that to be the case at all? People maybe have the wrong impression of the selection process?
ECM: So, another big part of what we’re looking for candidates is physical fitness, and we measure that through the PST. I think there’s probably a lot of people that narrow their focus down to the PST and the numbers they’re generating and their PST score, and while that’s very important, like I said earlier, we use the whole person approach. Strong character, strong mindset is very valuable to a candidate. I used to tell people that it was about making it through BUD/S is about 80% mental and about 30% physical. I know that math doesn’t initially add up, but it basically means it’s going to take more than what you got. You got to find a place somewhere inside you to find that extra 10% and then give it, right. I’m a firm believer that BUD/S is mostly mental. It’s going to come down to having that mental strength and that mental discipline to get up every day and go to work and go train in austere conditions, in an environment that is pretty hostile to you, every single day, and you got to find that motivation to get up and go do that.
DF: We’ve talked on that basically with everyone we’ve spoken with, about the importance of the mental aspect here, so I think it’s great to hear that again. I think another thing that I’ll try to highlight, you can correct me if I’m wrong, is that you’re looking for people that are leaders and that are also great teammates, and that’s not something that’s really measured in a really clinical sense. There’s no PST for teamwork that I’m aware of. Is that something that’s done with relations to their superior officers?
ECM: Sure, so I think you’re right in saying that’s a little difficult to measure. A couple ways we measure that is through letters of recommendation from immediate supervisors. So you think most of the people that we’re targeting for our fleet conversion to SO and SB have less than six years of service and are an E5 or below.
DF: Is there any particular reason, just ‘cause their age, or is it a lot of reasons?
ECM: We target those guys because we don’t want to bring them into the community too senior. Right? So we don’t want a guy who’s kind of new to the teams and may have some Navy experience but not a lot of experience in the teams in a position where they’re leading troops, leading SEALs in a position where they don’t necessarily have the experience base to support that leadership role.
DF: I gotcha. So, is that something that you encourage actively to seek out letters of recommendation, or is that kind of a more organic process you kind of wait for that to happen?
ECM: It’s something that’s encouraged to be included in their application for fleet conversion, so we’re looking for letter of rec from LPOs, Chief Petty Officers, Senior Chief Petty Officers that are in that sailor’s chain of command that can kind of speak to what that person is doing on a daily basis for that command and where they’ve seen that sailor demonstrate leadership, initiative, all those characteristics that we’re looking for.
DF: Do you guys have a face-to-face interview process to validate any of that stuff, or are you guys going off paper for most of that?
ECM: An option available to the sailors is engaging with the SEAL/SWCC scout team, and part of that process of putting their application together involves an interview with the scout team.
DF: That makes sense.
DF: How often are you doing this process, and maybe give us a little bit of an overview of what that looks like for you?
ECM: Quarterly, I hold a fleet conversion panel, and we take applications from fleet sailors looking to convert from whatever rate they are in or status they’re in if they’re undesignated to SO or SB, right. So, we have a need, specific year groups, to assess sailors in those year groups into SO and SB into the pipeline. We apply historical attrition rates to those numbers. General rule of thumb, it’s about five sailors to make one SEAL. So, this quarterly panel that occurs is, the voting members are SEAL and SWCC E7 and above who review the packages, applications, all the documents within, brief that sailor’s record to the group, and then we vote on that sailor whether or not we’re going to give them a shot going to BUD/S or SWCC.
DF: How many of you guys are sitting down to do this?
ECM: It’s anywhere between five and ten folks.
DF: Okay, and what are some of the first things that you look for that you’re kind of just, “This person’s in,” in terms of weeding out those application packages?
ECM: So, first and foremost, we’re looking at what the community’s need is. We advertise that need via the NPC, Naval Personnel Command website. We have a spot on there, and we’ll open up year groups to conversion based on our need. So, if we have a year group where a lot of qualified personnel, qualified SEALs or SWCC get out of the Navy unexpectedly, we may open that year group for conversion. So, that’s first and foremost. We’re looking at “What do we need as a community?” to bring folks in. Second, we’re looking at “Does this candidate meet all the minimum requirements?” Is this a complete package, right? So, are they within age limits? Are they within time and service limits? What’s their current pay grade? And as long as all the prescribed requirements as outlined in the MILPERSMAN 1220 tack 300 for SEAL, tack 400 for SWCC, are met, we consider that a valid application, right.
DF: So, you’re pushing people aside that are just, outright, they’re not able to be there for rules.
ECM: Right, if you can’t follow instructions, and you can’t, if you can’t go down a checklist and put an application together…I don’t want you to check my parachute, and I don’t want you to check my dive rig. You got to figure it out. So, that’s step one. Don’t let your career counselor do it for you. If they want to help, absolutely. That’s an asset to tap into, but it’s your responsibility. It’s your application; it’s your package. So, that’s step one, and those are the ones that go to the panel to be looked at, and then, you know, it’s a competitive process, and we want the best and the brightest that the Navy has to offer, so it’s not a free for all. We don’t take everybody within our need, and we start to look for red flags, and then we look for the quality of the candidate, right, so we’re looking at the PST score, not only the raw numbers of that PST, but we’re looking at how that PST compares to all the candidates we’ve selected in the last 12 months.
DF: And that’s in terms of trying to make sure you have a balanced force? Can you explain why you’re looking at those numbers compared to the stuff that’s kind of historically recent?
ECM: We look back at the last four quarterly panels, and we look at all the candidates that we selected, and we create essentially a distribution, a bell curve distribution, and we look at where this new applicant falls as far as standard deviations above or standard deviations below the mean PST score. Now, if you’re below, we all know a lower PST score is better, so if you’re below that means you’re a pretty good athlete, right. You’re running faster, you’re swimming faster, stronger. If you’re way above, you’re going to be a little bit weaker in that pack, and we know that the weaker you are physically, the more challenging it is for you to complete the course at BUD/S. So, if you have a high PST, meaning a bad PST score, your likelihood of success is probably lower than somebody who has…
DF: And you want people to make it through the process. This isn’t just for fun. When you talked briefly about kind of red flags, can you maybe give us some examples of those?
ECM: In dealing with the fleet sailors, we have a lot of folks who have been to BUD/S before, or have been in training before, so we ask that if you have been to BUD/S before, and you are now looking for a second chance at BUD/S that you have served your minimum 24 months in the fleet.
DF: You mean after your first BUD/S excursion?
ECM: Correct, right, right, so regardless of why you stopped training, whether it was your own choice, drop on request or an injury, removed from training, you go out into the fleet for a minimum of 24 months. We get a lot of folks who apply at the sixth month mark, twelve month mark looking to come right back. That’s not really our deal that we’re offering. We can’t say we made a good evaluation on your ability to correct whatever deficiency you had, whether you were immature, whether you were not physically fit enough or just didn’t have the mental game. Two years is the period of time we’re looking to make that assessment. We’re also requiring those students or those applicants to write a personal statement saying why they did not complete training the first time, and this is pretty important. We want to hear in your words, why they didn’t complete training. We’re not looking for a novel. We’re not looking for a chapter book on that; we’re just looking for one page, concise, to the point, but also pretty descriptive of why you didn’t complete training the first time and why you need a second shot. So, that’s one of those red flags we’re looking for, and anybody out there that’s not an author, an English major, we’re not grading your punctuation, we’re not grading your grammar; we’re looking for content, absolutely. Another thing we’re looking at is the evaluations that a sailor has. So whether they have never been to BUD/S before or had been to BUD/S before, we’re looking at the evaluations, and we’re looking at how well they’ve done. We’re looking for people to break out amongst their peer groups on a ship, so the way the Navy evaluation system works is there’s EPs, early promote, MP, must promote…
DF: When you say break out, you mean kind of people that are accelerated in their promotion process, or maybe you can explain.
ECM: Not necessarily promotion but doing well, doing everything that they’re asked and exceeding those expectations wherever they are out in the fleet. So, if they’re working on a ship, and they’re a group of 30 other E4s on the ship, you know, we want to see someone in the top seven of those 30. Not necessarily, you know, a disqualifying thing, right, so if you’re not an EP sailor, if you’re an MP sailor, we’ll still take a look at you cause we’re looking at the whole person approach, and there’s no one thing that’s going to disqualify anyone, but that certainly would help.
DF: My impression is that you follow the steps, there’s not much you can do to change who you are at a core. You’re looking for a specific type of person that’s capable, not necessarily someone who’s able to check these boxes.
ECM: Certainly, we look at letters of recommendation pretty equally, no matter who they’re from, whether it’s a Commander of a ship or the Senior Chief in a division on a ship or a Troop Chief from a SEAL team, or a CO from a SEAL team. We weight those equally.
DF: That makes a lot of sense. So, we have people that are applying to this process that are not rated, and they have a rating. Can you talk a little bit more about that? We briefly touched that earlier.
ECM: There’s probably some misconception from guys who do not pass at one of the training pipelines we have the first time, and they end up going to the fleet, by picking one rate over another or maybe remaining undesignated, they’re going to have an opportunity to return to training faster than someone else, right. So, to dispel some of those myths, 24 months is the minimum period of time that you need to spend in the fleet. You’re not getting around that. The second part of that is, is we want you to become valuable to the Navy in that 24 months. Whatever you see the best way for you to contribute to the Navy, we want to see you maximize that. For some people, that may be being undesignated and contributing to the Navy effort in that sense. In other people, it might be going out and finding a rate and completing an A school and contributing in a more qualified or technical sense. Whatever is right for the individual is going to work. Our goal is to really look at what have you done in the two years that you were in the Navy before you reapplied…and how you’ve done it and how successful you’ve been at it. ‘Cause, really, getting a rate is not for everyone, being undesignated is not for everyone. Everyone’s got their own unique skills and attributes, and we really want to see you maximize that for the Navy. We want to see you maximize those skills you have to become valuable for the Navy, and then we’re going to assess that and say, “This guy is a team player. This guy is making the most of assets he has,” and we like that.
DF: Yeah, I think that definitely rings as a smarter choice than trying to predict what would be a more successful choice for them. You have a lot of responsibility; a lot falls on your shoulders in terms of making the right choices. What’s the most difficult part of your job?
ECM: A big part of what we do in community management is planning for the future, planning for growth, planning for unexpected losses, planning for how individuals will interpret our policies or incentives. This is challenging because there are so many moving parts. We build session plans based on factors such as current requirements, what we have on hand as far as SEAL and SWCC qualified personnel and historical success rates. All these numbers change independent of each other, and sometimes in difficult to predict patterns. The human factor can sometimes be unpredictable.
DF: Yeah, exactly. Trying to predict where things are going to go is a unique challenge.
ECM: Yeah, all these different variables kind of contribute to what we set as a session in production targets. And honestly, there’s a lot of numbers that go behind it, but there’s a lot of variables that are hard to account for, and trying to predict how many guys are going to graduate each year, it can be pretty problematic.
DF: Yeah, I think that’s a really good point to bring home. What kind of advice can you give to someone who is putting an application for this process?
ECM: Sure, I’d say if you’re thinking about applying for a Special Warfare special program like SO or SB, the best thing you can do is put a complete package together with your best foot forward and get it submitted. So, there’s some misconceptions out there that there’s a lot of people that can stand in your way from putting in an application. I think that’s incorrect.
DF: What do you mean by stand in your way?
ECM: If you’re not getting a lot of support from your command that you’re at, certainly they can voice that opinion, but they can’t prevent you from applying for one of these programs. That goes the same for the community managers that I work with at BUPERS. All the communities have a need to fill sailors into jobs. Our need is pretty strong in the Navy’s opinion, and there’s very few cases where another community’s need outweighs our need. It does happen sometimes, and it’s always on a case-by-case basis. So, best thing you can do, as a sailor, is put your application together, make it the strongest application you can possibly make, whether that’s your letters of recommendation, your PST score, your evaluations, the qualifications you’re earning on the ship, and make sure it’s submitted. It will get to us. We will look at it. Based on our need and that sailor’s qualification, we’ll make our selections, and we’ll go to bat for you if we really want you, so put your best foot forward, get your application in, and we’ll take care of it with community managers and commands if we need to.
DF: Well, I think you dropped a lot of wisdom on us. It’s been super helpful to talk to you. I think your words go a lot of way to help people kind of make this transition and hopefully get more successful people through the BUD/S process. Thank you so much for your time.
ECM: You got it.
DF: Find out more at SEALSWC.com, and join us again for the next NSW Podcast.