Music Open Intro...
“You have to pay attention to detail and you have to give it your maximum effort”
Daniel Fletcher: Welcome to “The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday,” the official Navy SEAL podcast.
DF: Navy boot camp is the first place Special Warfare recruits will receive unique training. It starts early, with what they call “Dive Motivation.” This is where special warfare candidates perform their morning workout. I’m Daniel Fletcher, today I speak with Dive Motivator, SEAL Master Chief Steve Drum to get some personal advice about recruit fitness. From mental performance and focus to the physical standards test.
DF: Well, first of all, thank you for taking the time to sit down with us. I know you have a busy schedule. Your words of wisdom will be really appreciated and I think really nice insight for people that are going through this process.
SD: Sure, my pleasure.
DF: Tell us a little bit about what you do here on a regular basis. Your main priorities and responsibilities briefly, that would be a great start.
SD: Within our commodity, we have all of the Warrior Challenge programs, so SEAL, SWCC, Diver, EOD and Air Rescue. And so what we do here is we facilitate a progressive workout schedule to consist of roughly 26 workouts. About half of them are going to be progressive swim workouts, and the other half are going to be progressive run workouts. After you show up here at boot camp, and you pass the PST. Then you are going to be put into a schedule where you’re going to start off with a three-mile run some basic, fundamental swimming drills to get stroke development down and things like that, and it’s all just to get you further comfortable in the water. It’s all to get you some more mileage and time on your feet okay, but it’s important to note that we’re here to facilitate these workouts, but dive motivator training here is subordinate to the overall training that you receive at boot camp. You’re here to be a basically trained sailor. That’s front and foremost here. Official Naval Special Warfare and NSO programs officially start when you graduate boot camp. That said, we’re here to make sure that you’re as prepared as you can for the next phase in the pipeline. So, we’re here to give you not just the workouts but give you mentoring, turn the heat up on you a little bit to ensure that you’re able to collaborate with your shipmates to the left and right of you to be able to buy into something greater than self. That you’re able to get along, and you’re able to buy into the mission that we have here.
DF: You’re kind of a bridge in terms of the fitness piece between people taking their initial PST and then arriving at BUD/S if they make it that far? Is that fair, or is that not accurate?
SD: We’re going to make sure that when you show up, it’s a different animal than when you were probably taking the PST back with your mentors and your coordinators. This is why we always advise that you have a good cushion when you show up here at RTC.
DF: When you say cushion, you mean a baseline fitness level, or what do you mean by that?
SD: If you are leaving at your 15-day PST, and you’re just doing the bare minimums, it’s going to be hard here for the following reasons. A: you’re going from, unless you worked a really difficult job right before you shipped, you’re going to go from a minimal amount of stress, plenty of sleep, good nutrition, and maybe some of these guys, two workouts a day, and you’re going to come over here, and you’re not going to get the sleep, you’re not going to get the high quality food, you’re going to be stressed, we try to give you a minimum of three workouts a week, but sometimes the training schedule, again, the other mandatory testable events, your firefighting, your live fire training, all you other drill, that going to take front and center.
Your last week at training here at boot camp, you may get one or sometimes zero workouts, but we’ll do everything in our power to make sure that we’re bridging that gap as you asked, bridging that gap between showing up on the street and making sure you are getting time on your feet, that you’re going to be training outside on the track when the weather supports it, and you’re going to be getting into the large pool and getting longer swims. You’re going to get introduced with fins if you haven’t done that already. You will be in a good place when you show up to go across the street. It’s very critical that they understand boot camp is not just a speed bump. You are here to be a basically trained sailor, and that’s very important because as you learn how to take information from your recruit division commanders. You process that information, and you execute it to 100% adherence to the instruction. If you can’t do that, then we can’t really use you in the SEAL Teams or any of the other programs.
DF: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. First and foremost, you need to join the Navy, and to do that, there’s a lot of fundamentals. Your piece is more getting your feet wet so to speak, in terms of physical intensity, and kind of trying to maintain fitness level, but primarily people need to be aware that they’re here to become a sailor. They’re not here to come and just work out, right?
SD: Right, when you get here you’re going to learn how to march, you’re going to learn how to fold your clothes and make your bed, and we’re not just doing that. You’re not folding your clothes and making your bed just to do it. You’re doing it because even in the SEAL Teams, when we start talking about free-fall jumping on oxygen and building rigs to throw out of the plane and all these type of things are very sequence oriented, and they’re very detailed, and they have to be done 100% correct all the time. And so, you wouldn’t want to skip the boot camp training if you could. You want to go through it because it’s only going to help you be better at making it through to your ultimate job, your ultimate goal.
DF: Right, I think that we made that clear with some of the other people that we’ve spoken with and that’s been hit home a lot. It seems like that’s a common thing for people to think they’re just going to breeze through this process and try to get to BUD/S and that this really isn’t that important, and I think it’s important to reiterate that even coming from your side in the fitness area that’s a top priority of yours to make clear. (SD: yes) So, we’ve heard from people to aim for a competitive PST score. Does that line up with your thinking?
SD: We are strict here with the PST standards. We’re not trying to fail people, but when I say that you need to do 50 perfect pushups, that means 50 perfect pushups. Go and research what exactly the standard is. It’s breaking 90 all the way up, locking the elbows out all the way down, breaking 90, and so that’s what you’re going to be held accountable for and if not, you’re going to get stood up, and you’re going to fail the PST for that day, and you’ll be given a couple more opportunities, but, again, your life is going to be a lot easier if you just pass the first time out the gates. I’m not interested in seeing 100 of your crappy pushups. I need to see 50 perfect ones.
DF: So, I’ll read between the lines here, and you can correct me or tell me if I’m wrong, but would it be a good idea if you’re a recruit, you’re at a boat team or with a mentor, to even maybe ask, “Be strict on me with these standards because I want them to be right, I want them to be perfect.” Because who knows who’ll be judging them when they’re at home before they get here, is that do you think that’s a good idea?
SD: Correct. Absolutely, 100%. Again for whatever reason, people think, “I’m going to try to get as many as I can” at the cost of perfect form, and that’s not going to work out for you well. That’s not what we’re looking for here, so, again, when I say perfect pull-ups, that’s dead arm hang, chin all the way over the bar, not up at the bar looking up at the sky. It’s chin over the bar. Your sit-ups, arms crossed thumbs on your clavicles, all the way up to elbows right below the bottom of the knees and then all the way down, upper back touching the deck. So, we’re strict about it.
DF: Yeah, and as you should be, right. (SD: Right.) I think that kind of makes sense that people might be struggling a little bit more when they get here than they might anticipate, because they had previously had X score, and now maybe they’re struggling like you said, they’re not doing this at 5 in the morning in their hometown. They might not be doing this on, you know, lack of protein shakes and lack of pre-workout supplements, fill in the blanks, so I think it’s important if you recognize that things are going to be more intense.
SD: You better drop the No Explode. If you think you’re going to have that kind of stuff to help you here. You’re sadly mistaken.
DF: Yeah, yeah, I think that’s important that people realize that it’s going to be a different environment that they’re in. The numbers aren’t just going to be passed on. What should a potential SEAL or SWCC or fill in the blank NSW candidate know about the dive motivator process and the stuff that you do here that they might not be aware of?
SD: So, first off, you’re going into an NSW program, either SEAL or SWCC. You are going to be segregated into that division whereas we’ll typically pair up the NSO programs. Now, they’ll be some, maybe some overlap between the two, but the best we can, we try to keep NSW with NSW and NSO with NSO. NSO being Air Rescue, EOD and Diver.
DF: And then SWCC/SEAL. Their training will be the same here?
SD: You’re going to get whatever specifics you need once you get to your respective preparation course or A school you’re going to get dialed in. When you leave here to go to prep for SEAL and SWCC training, they’re going to start teaching the knot tying, the lifesaving, things like that that are going to help you, but right now, we’re all about the general purpose fitness and water comfortability, stroke development and time on your feet.
DF: So the NSW candidates you see coming in here, are there any low points in their skills or techniques that you see as a consistent issue that you could maybe point out?
SD: One of the things that kind of is a pet peeve of mine that we see here is, we’ll still see people who will show up routinely who have never swam without a mask or goggles. And so, you’ll see them, and they’ll get in here to do this PST in the pool, and they can’t even stick their faces in the water, and to me I’m baffled because so much of first phase in BUD/S is without your mask, is with you trying to see underwater without a mask, so you’d better be doing, I’m not saying to swim all the time without a mask, but do both. Learn how to swim with a mask on, without a mask.
Another thing that I want to highlight, if we don’t get to it later, I’ll talk about it now is, don’t cram for the test when you get here, okay. By the time you get to BUD/S or SWCC training or any of the other programs, I want you to be fresh, injury free. So, start your training far out enough in advance. If you’re going through the SEAL/SWCC website, then you’ll know. Find out who you can rely on in that forum to give you the sound advice. If not, you can reach out to the actual professionals on there, and they’ll tell you.
Ultimately, all you have to do, is do well on the PST. If you want anything above that, that’s a bonus, but I wouldn’t get too carried away. Definitely don’t be working on breath holds, don’t be doing all this crazy stuff trying to tread with, with scuba tanks on. I just, be very comfortable in the water, maybe you can work on some treading with and without fins, but don’t show up hurt. Don’t be trying to, (DF: I see, over-train.) don’t be slacking and then figure you’re going to start ramping up all this running and swimming, and then you’re going to be prone to overuse injuries. You’re going to show up, and you’re going to be hurt, and you could lose your contract, get dropped from the program.
DF: So don’t over-train.
SD: Don’t over-train or under-recover. Make sure that you’re ramping up, you’re hitting it hard, and then as you get closer and closer, you’re fine-tuning it, you’re at a good place where, yeah, you’re still getting the reps in, you’re still getting some volume in, but you’re training intelligently, and there’s really in today’s day and age no excuse whatsoever to not have the information you need to train smartly. Don’t get carried away with a lot of these programs that tell you that you need to go and do a mini Hell Week or go to these really expensive rigorous courses, where what you really need to do is make sure that you’re doing this program for the right reasons. Understand that you really want it because you’re going to be tested, and when, even in boot camp, you may have your doubts, where you’re like, “Ah, I don’t know if this is really what I want to do,” but remember, it was a good idea when you thought about it. It’s not any less of a good idea now that you’re eight weeks in, six months in, okay. It’s still a good idea, and you’ll still be glad that you’ve completed the program successfully.
DF: Are you guys doing your workouts on kind of a consistent time of the day? You guys always here in the morning? You guys kind of surprising people? How does that work?
SD: Good question, good question. Yes, you’re going to do everything that a basic recruit does here at boot camp. The exact same things, only you get to start your day a couple hours earlier. You’re going to REV typically about 4:30, and then you’re going to show up over here at the dive motivator at the combat training pool, and we’re going to start kicking the workouts off at about 5:15 and you’re going to be wrapping and on the road to breakfast, at about no later than 7:15. Your initial PST’s going to look like this. You’re going to show up, and you’re going to do your third-class swim test, which is pretty easy for those who’ve been training well to get here to do these programs. You’re going to jump off a tower, you’re going to work on float, basic swim stroke, flotation with your coveralls, things like that. At some point, you’ll practice an abandoned ship rescue at sea type thing with an inflatable raft, but as soon as you’re done you’re going to roll right into your PST. We’re going to hit you with the swim, followed by your push, sit, pull, and then we’re going to take you out to the track outside during the warmer months. When it’s cold, we’ll take a bus, and you’ll go across a street to an indoor track, and you’ll do your run there.
DF: What is the flexibility like for people that might not be hitting the right number for PST and need to retake? How many chances do they get, or if they’re really close, or if you feel like there’s maybe some sort of excusable reason why maybe they didn’t hit the right number of laps, they miscounted, or maybe they have a slight injury or something like that. Where you know that the candidate should be capable of hitting a better number?
SD: You definitely want to pass the first time, your life will be a lot easier. However, we’re definitely going to take into consideration things like injury, things like, “Hey, I had to get some teeth pulled.” If you fail your initial PST, full transparency here, you will have ‘til your fifth week of training to pass your PST. And if you don’t pass it by then, then you’ll be reclassified.
DF: So, there’s plenty of opportunity for the right people to hit the right numbers?
SD: Correct. (DF: Okay, that’s good to know.) And it’s also it’s important to know that when you quit the program, you still are obligated to stay in the Navy. You’re obligated to go reclassify, okay. If you are medically dropped or medically disqualified, you have the option to, to try to, to stay in the Navy for a different program that you may qualify for, or you can elect to separate at that point because that’s the contract you came in at. But if you quit, then you are going to go reclassify, and it’s not going to be the same rate that you joined at. It’s going to be what’s available at the time. But, again the overarching theme here is that you’re coming here to be a basically trained sailor, and you’re going to learn the tools that you need at boot camp while you’re learning to be a basically trained sailor. That’s absolutely going to help you to be a better SEAL, SWCC or NSO candidate. We provide three points for mentoring typically with the recruits. The first piece is kind of like, “Hey, the welcome aboard. Here’s what’s expected of you when you show up to dive motivator for PT.” The second one is usually I’ll give the introductory brief, and what I get into there is the big four sports psychology, and I get into what I call the Operational Mindset. And the operational mindset is purpose, “Why am I here?” and commitment,” yes, I made the right decision to come here. I absolutely am ready to start buying in and then collaborate with the people around me, collaborate and be a part of the Navy, be a part of the team.”
The second piece is preparation, and not just the preparation like the physical piece of training, the pushups and the swim, but also the preparation to make sure that no matter what happens, we’re as ready as we can be. To include making sure that all of our stuff, our backpacks are packed the night before, inspecting my bunkmate’s, he’s inspecting mine, to make sure that all of our gear is ready.
In terms of, the mental piece, BUD/S training is all about testing your mental fortitude, it’s about testing your ability to stay calm and perform under pressure, and it’s about your ability to collaborate and be a team player. That’s what all this is about, and the cold water and all the physical conditioning, that’s all the medium in which we, test that. So, it’s getting into your mind and understanding that you are going to suffer. You are going to have moments of doubt, but you have to revisit why you’re there. And I tell people to write about it, “Dear Diary, no kidding. This is what happened to me today, and this is how I can be better tomorrow,” really sit there and reflect and figure out how you can increase your performance. We talk about the big four, we talk about the goal-setting, so when I’m doing things where I’m extremely stressed, and I want to elect to quit or to panic, I can keep focused on my goal of that particular evolution, and I do that by going through mental rehearsal or visualization techniques to think about it. “All right, this is what’s going to happen to me. Let me walk through,” and I use that in the SEAL Teams. When I was doing the more stressful things like close quarter combat, clearing rooms, I would sit outside the door before training, and I would go through it in my head. And I would also do performance based self-talk, “Okay, if he goes left, I’m going to go right,” and I’m going to think about what’s going to happen to me beforehand because your body absolutely processes that as a little bit of experience beforehand. And we even get into mindfulness a little bit, slowing your breathing down, taking deep and long breaths to make sure that you’re kind of dumping a little bit of stress and getting into that habit of being able to focus back on what our goal is. So, we choose what the goal is, and performing that goal rather than choosing panic, rather than choosing fear and quitting and things like that.
DF: I want to highlight one part of what you just said and that was the journaling portion. We spoke with Mike Caviston and that’s a part of his recommendations as well, journaling your workouts. Something that’s consistent that I’ve heard through almost everyone that I’ve interviewed, is the “why” part, “Why am I doing this?” and the goal-setting part, and I think that incorporating that “why” part into the journaling of your fitness, I think that’s a really good piece of advice for candidates because when the dust settles or, you know, you boil everything down, that’s what you’re left with, the “Why am I doing this?” and like you’re saying, remind yourself of, why it was a good choice to begin with or whoever is your inspiration or whatever your inspiration is, keeping that forefront is, I think that’s important.
SD: Absolutely, and you write things in your journal like, “This is why I want to be a SEAL or SWCC, and this is why this is a good decision,” and write down, “I know that I’m going to face challenges. I know that there are days when I’m not going to perform well, that I’m going to fail things potentially.” Things are going to test your confidence, and so when that happens to you, you go back to that journal that you wrote in, you know, months ago, and you’re like, “Yeah, I’m prepared for this,” because when you’re cold, when you’re tired, when you’re stressed, you’re more prone to an emotional hijacking. It’s just like when you’re under the water, and you’re doing pool competency, and your body starts going without air, you forget your goal, and you elect to want to bolt to the surface, and then you’ll regret it. You’ll fail. Same thing here. When you are tired and when you’re stressed, you’re prone to let emotions negatively impact your decision-making, whereas you make it a routine to actually revisit when you wrote that stuff in a clear, well-rested, unstressed mind state, and you revisit that, and you say, “Yes, that’s right. I know this is what I want. I made the right decision to come here. I knew this was going to be hard. I’m going to have hard weeks, but I can do this. This is very, very doable,” and that’s absolutely the truth. You pass the screening test, you have what it takes to get through BUD/S. People go through, and they’ll get only more further refined. You’ll be even more confident in your knot tying, your lifesaving and drown proofing and things like that. You’re given the practice test at that point, but at the end of the day, it still comes down to being able to push the negative thoughts out of your brain, deal with what’s happening, deal with the fear, deal with the stress, the uncertainty and drive through it.
DF: I was expecting to sit here and talk to you about, you know, the details and minutia of the training process, the gear you use and stuff like that, and it’s interesting to hear that’s really not what’s most important. The physical part is just what’s going to push you through. But your mind, it can’t break, and that needs to stay focused.
SD: You know, it goes without saying you need to have a very highly elevated level of physical fitness and swimming ability, of course. I was never really particularly good at anything. I could do PT okay. I could make my timed runs. I was a complete disaster in the soft sand, got gooned on just about every single run, but then I’d say, “Hey, maybe that made me a little bit tougher when Hell Week comes along,” and I wasn’t a strong swimmer. I was comfortable in the water, I had that going for me cause I spent a lot of time in the pool as a kid, but I was not a fast swimmer. I was not a fast runner. I was not a PT stud, but yet six months later, I’m sitting there on the grinder graduating with the class that I started with.
DF: So, I’ll just kind of highlight the things I think that I’ve heard from you that are really important. Obviously making sure you’re paying attention to detail and doing the basic things at boot camp. You can’t brush over that. (SD: no, you don’t want to) You can’t just slide through because I think that a lot of people are just thinking, “This is BS work that I need to do to get to BUD/S.” But it’s been reiterated multiple times that these are things that will be checked on at BUD/S. This is not just busy work. This is not just BS to kind of give you a hard time.
SD: Look at it like this. Hell Week is the first major hurdle. After that comes the second major hurdle, which is in Dive Phase, and it’s known as the Pool Competency. Up to that point, you’ve never been scuba diving, it’s all still in the pool, and you’re learning how to put the gear on, how to take it off in a very precise sequence okay. So, you’ve got to know that reflexively all of those things are now added to what’s known as the Pool Comp Test, where you’re given all the different problems related to cutting off inhalation, exhalation, hoses on your breathing apparatus, and you have to work through that problem, and when you sort it out, it has to be in those exact procedures, only you’re stressed, and all you want to do is get a breath of air, and you’re doing the Funky Chicken. If you are thinking of that process instead of just head down like a pack mule, when you’re folding your clothes and when you’re making your bed, if you’re trying to figure out, “Okay, I’m in the moment. I’m thinking about why this is important,” if you’re kind of thinking about that early on, you are really setting yourself up for success when you are hopefully making it through Hell Week and finding yourself stressing out about Pool Comp. You will have effectively set the table if you’re able to be in the moment, understand why all the things that you’re doing are important.
DF: That can’t be overemphasized because there’s so much in the media about the physical portion, about the toughness, about the logs, the sand, the cold water. But there’s procedure, there’s attention to detail, there’s order that is equally a part of this training process. That’s not tough guy stuff, it’s focus, and that’s connected to this process, which goes back to the crawl, walk, run. You know, you start with T-shirts, and then it ends up being dive apparatus and jump gear or weapons systems. It’s all procedural, and that’s often just really glossed over. That these guys are just tough guys, you know what I mean?
SD: It is, and the other piece that’s worth mentioning that’s absolutely the linchpin for the whole community, for the whole program is that based on that motto you’ll hear in the SEAL teams, “Long live the brotherhood,”. You’ve got to start putting the people to the left and right of you needs above your own. Me as an example, I wanted to be a SEAL because I figured, “Hey, it would be cool to crawl around and paint my face green and get challenged by a very difficult selection process.” but that was not enough to keep me there. Once I got there, and I realized that I was surrounded by the best people that I would ever work with and I would ever be surrounded by, I knew that I had found a home, and I knew that that’s why I wanted to stay there. And when you show up at boot camp, it starts there. You start building, and a lot of those guys are going to go away statistically, that’s just inevitable, but you’ll be left with a core bunch of guys that you’ll start identifying as great Americans, and this is who I want to spend you know, a career with in many cases. You’ll be expected to start thinking in that mindset as soon as you get here.
We don’t do this training alone. We can’t get through this training by ourselves. We’ve got to start leaning on each other, and you’ll find guys that, that have trouble with swimming. They’ll go over at night when they come back. They’ll have a couple kids that are probably water polo players in college, and you’ll be like, “Hey, can we talk about that eggbeater?” or whatever, whatever it is. You know, that’s what it takes for a class to be successful, for individuals to be successful. I mean, I know great Team guys that could barely pass the timed run in third phase, but they’re phenomenal, phenomenal guys, and they were really good at other things, So we try to say, hey, these minimum standards are low because you may suffer in one area but be really good in all the other areas. If you have trouble with the run, but you’re crushing the other areas, you know, there’s room for you here. We’ll find a way for you to fit.
DF: If you had the ear of a candidate and you had just a couple minutes to give them some of your solid rocks of advice for this aspect, and the whole process, what else would you say to them?
SD: Invest in the mental process. Again, figure out why you really want to be here. Spend a lot of time thinking about it understanding it, and write about it. Get in the habit of reflecting on your experiences. In life, we’re only as good as our ability to draw the right conclusions from what’s happened to us and how those inform our decisions tomorrow. Spend as much time being deliberate, thinking about your successes and how to repeat them and how to further improve them. Make sure that you are spending enough time investing in your training, way in advance to you showing up at boot camp. Make sure that before you ship, you are nice and healthy. If you’re worried about breath holds and things like that do freestyle sprints. That’s going to get your wind up. That’s going to help your, your capacity. Just spend time in the water and just be comfortable. Make sure you’re swimming with a mask on and a mask off. Make sure your PST performance is 100% and in accordance with the instruction. Get somebody to film you doing your pull, push, sit. Make sure you’re cranking out solid, perfect reps. And, you know, if you do all that, you show up, and you’re ready to be part of a team. You have everything you need to be successful and make it through this program.
DF: I think that’s some really great, powerful advice. Thank you for taking the time to join us.
SD: Thank you, my pleasure.
DF: Find out more at SEALSWC.com, and join us again for the next NSW Podcast.
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