Want to become a SEAL Officer? Our insider reveals this critical step on the path to BUD/S.

Episode #43 | 2/21/23


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Life is about constant evolution. Always better today than we were yesterday.

(Host) Scott: Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday. I’m your host Scott Williams and today I have with me Andrew Dow who is going to school us on the topic of, what we call around here, SOAS. What is SOAS, Andrew?

Andrew: Thanks Scott. So, thanks for having me. It is always great to come by and discuss with you all. Again, my name is Andrew Dow. I am a retired SEAL Officer. I have been the SOAS, which stands for SEAL Officer Assessment and Selection, I am the program manager for this program, and I've been doing it since 2016 and it's come a long way.

Scott: Yeah, tell me a little bit about when SOAS began and why it's required if you want to become a SEAL Officer?

Andrew: So SOAS was instilled I think in 2014 and in 2014 is when it started building itself into what it is today. So, 2014 to 2016 was candidates from the Naval Academy, Officer Candidate School, ROTC would get an invitation to come to SOAS and basically train for 2 to 3 weeks and from that they would get some kind of score that would follow them with their application which would later determine if they become selected for SEAL Officer and in turn go to BUD/S

Probably around 2017 is when we really started seeing a change in the SOAS format and inviting every accession source cause SOAS…. Well let’s just talk about SOAS first before I dive into the timeline where we are.

Scott: So, what is SOAS?

Andrew: The SEAL Officer Assessment Selection is designed to assess aspiring SEAL candidate officers who want to go to BUD/S and become SEAL Officers you get Naval Academy candidates. You get Naval Academy candidates. You get ROTC candidates. You get Officer Community OCS candidates. You get inter-service transfers which is your Marine Corps officers, your Army officers, to Air Force officers. You get inter-service academy transfers which is your WestPoints, your Air Force academies, Coast Guard academies. You also get lateral transfer, lateral transfers being an individual that's already active duty and is in the surface Navy. They could be... we mostly see lateral transfers being surface warfare officers that do their time in the fleet and decide hey I want to submit an application to become a SEAL officer.

Scott: That could be an Intel Officer. That could be Aviation Officer, Supply Officer.

Andrew: It can be. We do not see a lot of pilots or back seaters or Weapon Officers or Pilots. I haven't seen many Intel Officers come through. It’s mostly just surface warfare. Because Submariner Sub Officers, they have so much schooling they have to go through... unless they undesignated ... they won't apply. Because in order to apply for a lateral transfer you have to have your warfare insignia right, your Surface Warfare pin. If you are a pilot, you have to have your pin for you can even apply but that timeline is just so far that we only ever see SWOS. SWOS, lateral transfers and they we will also see OCS (Officer Candidate School), active-duty enlisted sailors who want to become SEAL Officers. That’s a very, and I tell a lot of candidates this, that is a very difficult course to go. And it’s one of the … the reason it’s most difficult is your competing against active-duty SEAL enlisted who want to become officers. These individuals don't have to go to SOAS, they don't have to go to BUD/S. So those individuals, it’s an uphill battle to even go to SOAS and then from there to even be selected to go to BUD/S.

Scott: Talk a little bit about who has to go to SOAS, why its required. Who doesn’t have to go to SOAS?

Andrew: So, guys and gals who don’t have to go to SOAS are those who are already trident wearers, those who are active duty or reserve who are SEALs already, don’t have to attend SOAS.

Scott: Enlisted?

Andrew: Enlisted, yes.

SOAS is strictly for candidates who want to become SEAL Officers. The enlisted SEALs that apply to become SEAL officers, they submit an application like everyone else to the SEAL Officer Community Manager and then their application will go right to the selection panel in September. That is run by the Admiral, two-star Admiral, who will determine who gets the selection to BUD/S. So, everyone who goes to SOAS, who makes it through SOAS, their application and SOAS score will go to the selection panel which happens after SOAS, as well as any others that don’t have to attend SOAS -- those SEALs, and it will be determined who will go to BUD/S from there.

Scott: The only enlisted applicants for SOAS are going to be trident wearers?

Andrew: Yes, trident wearers. But it’s also other ratings in the Navy right. You can have your machinist’s mates, your ITs, your ETs, all of them. They do have to go to SOAS, but the SEALs do not. Another thing that may not be known is the SBs or Special (Warfare) Boat (Operator) crewman, or SWCCs, have to go to SOAS actually. Last year we had SBs that had the option to attend SOAS. We gave them the option because they have already been through BCT, they already have their warfare insignia for SWCC, but we said that it was in their best interest to go so they have a score because they are running against trident wearers who have already been through BUD/S, right. These individuals would still have to go to BUD/S. So SWCC also attended SOAS. So, any active duty enlisted from any branch right. So, in the past we’ve had Marine Corps enlisted attend SOAS. We’ve had Coast Guard enlisted attend SOAS but that’s another avenue and there is a lot more than, oh can I just apply. No, you have to get your brand of service approval before you can attend.

Scott: Right because there is no interservice transfer for enlisted into the Navy unless it's with the follow on going to OCS to become an officer.

Andrew: That is a very challenging core so listen to an example. You have a Marine Corps sergeant that did his or her time and wants to become a SEAL officer. They have to one get their chain of command approval from the Marines, from whatever community they are in the Marine Corps. The Marine community has to be willing to give up this individual to cross over to the Navy right. They will attend SOAS as a Marine Corps infantry man or supply corps, whatever rate (MOS) they have. They will attend SOAS as a Marine but when they graduate SOAS or when they finish SOAS and they go to selection panel, if they are chosen, they would then have to attend OCS Navy. They would then have to actually change services from Marine to Navy and then go to OCS. Then after they complete and graduate OCS they would attend BUD/S. But there are a lot of approvals that have to be done and it has to be willing of that service whether its Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Army, Air Force to allow them to go and change from their community to Navy.

Scott: Yeah, I would imagine you don’t see a lot of those other service member enlisted come through more interservice transfers for at the officer level the O-1s the O-2.

Andrew: No. So, in the past I’ve seen two enlisted and they were from the Marine Corps. Officers, you will get them from Army, Navy, mostly Marines Corps is the officers you see that go from their community and try to go SEALs. Army has been a little bit; I don’t think we’ve had an Army in the past.

Scott: What about Coast Guard?

Andrew: Coast Guard. I haven’t seen a Coast Guard Officer. There actually was one Coast Guard enlisted that came to SOAS. They weren't selected right so they would just go back to Coast Guard. But there hasn't been a Coast Guard enlisted, officer or enlisted, that's been selected to go to BUD/S through SOAS. From SOAS to the selection panel to BUD/S.

Scott: Now I’m about to go down a little bit of a rabbit hole but the question occurred to me, what if you had an interservice transfer officer from let’s say the Army. An Army second lieutenant or an Army first lieutenant that comes to SOAS, goes through all of SOAS and ultimately doesn't get selected by the board. Does that officer candidate then return to the Army in their former capacity or now do they have to go to the Navy as a general army officer?

Andrew: What happens if they aren’t selected, they will go back to their community. If they are selected that’s when the paperwork gets handled and then they would go from green to blue, or better term Army to Navy or Marine Corps to Navy. That happens after they're selected so if they're not selected, they will just go back to their unit and continue on with their career in that service they are currently in.

Scott: Ok. So, let’s talk a little bit about when and where SOAS is conducted. Is this an annual thing? Is it a season? What is it?

Andrew: So SOAS happens during the summer. SOAS is broken down into 3 blocks, each block is 2 weeks long. SOAS blocks are usually 2 weeks in June, 2 weeks in July and 2 weeks in August. We see candidates come from all over the U.S., from every accession source and they come and attend SOAS in Coronado, California at NAB, Naval Amphibious Base Coronado. And they’ll be doing SOAS where BUD/S is held. They’ll see BUD/S students running around, they will be doing evolutions very similar to BUD/S, but it happens in Coronado three times a year: 2 weeks during June, July, and August. They will attend. So, it happens annually.

Scott: Can you give me just a brief overview without getting too far into the details about the SOAS training schedule. Like what happens in that first week and what happens in that second week?

Andrew: Ok. SOAS is 2 weeks long. First week is assessment week. Second week is interview week. Candidates will show up on a Saturday, get their gear issues, check in and fill out any paperwork that is needed for them to attend SOAS. They will go to bed and wake up. The first evolution that they are going to see is a PST.

Scott: So, they are really testing right out of the gate?

Andrew: Yeah, and in the past, we did the PST as the first evolution but something that we are now going forward with is, and we did it last year is, that PST (physical screening test) that all SEAL applicants have to take is pass or fail. If you fail it, you're going to go home right there; that is the first test day. So, if you pass it, you will move on to Monday, which actually starts all the evolutions of SOAS. But to give you what the physical screening test, the PST is you have your 450-meter/500-yard combat side stroke swim, then you will go into 2-minute max pushups, 2 minutes max sit ups and then your maximum pull up get a little bit of a break and then you’ll do a mile and a half run. Most of what we see, candidates when they submit an application, some of the stronger scores for a PST are 800 and below. The lower the score the better score. Most of the candidates are in the 700-800 range.

Scott: Now I’d like to point out that if candidates that want to go to SOAS want to test themselves they can just go to sealswcc.com and use our PST calculator for officers and it will give them that composite score, that 800 or more or less that you were just talking about. So, you can find out where you’re at do a self-assessment and if you’re cranking over 1000 you know maybe the higher the score the worse it is for us you know so if you are hitting 1040 on the PST calculator your composite score you may have some training to do.

Andrew: You have some work to do. Right and honestly, we are open to anyone attending but you’re not gonna get an invitation to SOAS if your score is that high. You have to have a competitive and just like you said the SEAL SWCC has those optimal scores just like those targets for candidates to work towards, but it is you’re not going to do well if you can’t get under an 800. You're just physically not ready.

Scott: And SOAS, the process for accession for officers, is actually hyper competitive and you would probably say it’s harder to get a seat here at the schoolhouse as an officer than it is going through an enlisted contract process

Andrew: Without a doubt. The SEAL officer pipeline, I mean since SOAS in its creation, if you look at the officers who go to BUD/S the success rate has been so much higher than prior to SOAS. The SOAS program has refined the candidates that go to SOAS and then on to BUD/S and their success rate has been off the charts.

Scott: And would you say that is because of the prevailing belief in the command that the officers serving as SEALs should always be setting an example for their men?

Andrew: Right if we want to look at the roles of an officer and an enlisted, everyone is a leader in the community. Everyone is a leader in the team. The officers have to be the responsible parties willing to make the tough decisions and potentially put their team in harm’s way. So, we are looking for those officers, those individuals, that are willing to step up and be that leader for these men and women that are willing to serve their country. SOAS really assesses and looks at every different type of quality. I mean there is a leadership selection measurement model that we utilize where we are looking at their cognitive ability, their character, their competence in different fields like physical fitness, their water competence. These are all being tested while they are at SOAS, during that first week, the assessment week.

Big things they’re looking at: team ability, attitude, their communication being able to talk to individuals who you’ve never met before. I mean, a lot of these candidates never meet each other and they’re shipped to SOAS and they come to SOAS and it’s, OK here it’s time to work together. Which ones are able to do that? Which ones are able to work with people who they’ve never met before and be proactive and get things done? That’s what’s pretty cool about SOAS is you have these individuals who are able to you know pull up next to someone and, you know, be like, hey, we need to do this, and the other guy understands right away.

Scott: Cognitive abilities. Let’s go back to that for just a second. Tell me what we are thinking in terms of cognitive ability, what we are looking for.

Andrew: Yeah, cognitive ability is one of the key components we're looking at when we’re assessing candidates. You know I think that the admiral put it, don’t quote me on this, but the admiral was saying we are looking for individuals with character, competency and the other one is that cognitive ability. Looking at future leaders who can do that critical thinking, that can think outside the box. Instead of going from point A to point B, they are able to find another route; maybe it’s an easier route or maybe it is a harder route but it’s less risk in that route. They are able to think outside the box and figure out different ways to solve an equation, for lack of better terms. The critical thinking of the individual is key because at SOAS your gonna be tested with all these critical thinking evolutions, teamwork evolutions, a lot of problem solving. Everyone thinks BUD/S is how many push-ups can you do, how long can you stay in the cold water … yeah those are important elements that we are looking for in individuals but at SOAS we are diving deeper into how individuals think, how individuals work as a team. Are they able to play nice with others and are they able to motivate and get these people they’ve never met before to work together onto a common goal to achieve success?

Scott: I mean SEALs work typically in small units, far fun places and having that element leader be able to think quickly on their feet to react to situations and it's not necessarily always combat. It’s about what happens when you run across some locals, how do you handle that situation. These are the things that a SEAL officer should be expected to adapt quickly and think quickly on his feet to handle it properly, right?

Andrew: Right

Scott: When we also talk about character, that is a big thing, we don’t want just any schmo putting on a trident and getting out there and doing things, right? Explain to us a little bit about what kind of character that the assessment team is looking for when they get SOAS candidates here.

Andrew: One of the big things the assessor -- by the way, the assessors are SEAL and SWCC instructors that we utilize from BUD/S and BCT that come and work with us so they can assess. There not instructing, I mean they instruct on evolutions that need some guidance, but they’re not actually being BUD/S instructors. They are assessing, so they are watching everything you do and one of the big things they are looking at is character. An assessor is looking at these individuals to see, would I follow this guy or gal into combat? Is this someone I can look up to and be able to put my life on the line because they told me what to do? So, when we are looking at character, the assessors are looking at does this person have integrity? Are they doing the right thing when no one is looking? Are they willing to do the right thing all the time or do they look to cut corners? They look at humility. Are they willing to sacrifice themselves for their boat crew or their swim buddy? When the assessors are looking at the character, there looking at their integrity, humility. What are they doing when faced with adversity, and as simple as adversity is we’re about to attack this evolution, it’s log PT, it’s gonna be a very challenging evolution? Am I going to put myself on the hard position on the log which is the end spots on the log, to help my team my perform better? Am I going to sacrifice myself and basically the pain, the pain of the log is at the end? So, the assessors are looking at these character traits of each individual. Are they a good person? Are they willing to do the hard job? Cause the assessors are watching you even after hours. Are you one of the individuals who are just running to the showers to go clean up and not do your after-hours work, or are you the one staying behind to make sure everything gets done at the end of the day so you can go take your shower or get cleaned up or go have your chow for the day? It's really the character is looked at and assessed even though it might not be documented structurally during evolutions, but it is being looked at throughout because at the end of the day, these assessors could potentially be your platoon mates and they want to be working with individuals that this guy or gal is doing the right thing all the time.

Scott: Ok let me wrap this up a little bit. So SOAS is a necessary step for virtually all applicants who want to become SEAL officers?

Andrew: Yes.

Scott: Ok to summarize for our audience the key topic here is what is SOAS? So, give us a couple of key important things that they need to know about SOAS when they are considering an application to be a SEAL officer.

Andrew: SOAS is a key component for potential aspiring SEAL officers. They need to attend this. They are going to get assessed by current SEAL operators and officers and SWCC enlisted, and this is the future of Naval Special Warfare for them to earn a right to go to BUD/S. SOAS was designed so we are sending the best officer candidates to BUD/S so BUD/S doesn’t have to worry about filtering the good or the bad officers, they are already getting a good product and that is what SOAS is designed to do. Find those good individuals that Naval Special Warfare is looking for to send to BUD/S with the intent that these individuals are going to get through BUD/S and they later on are going to become the assistant officer in charge or the platoon commanders or the troop commanders or future executive and commanding officers. So SOAS is designed to assess a bunch of different components of individuals and create a score that our senior leadership is going to determine who goes to BUD/S.

Scott: Andrew that sounds great and thanks for joining us today. What we are going to do is, we are going to continue this topic in some more episodes cause we are going to talk about the application process and we’re gonna go check out a SOAS and see what happens and then we will also talk about what happens after all of that is done and what the candidates can expect. But until we do, I appreciate your time today and we will talk again soon.

Andrew: Thanks for having me!