The only easy day was yesterday. (Intro)
DF Intro: In the Naval Special Warfare selection process only the best and most qualified are offered an opportunity to compete for a SEAL or SWCC contract. Selection hinges on the performance and metrics of applicants, which are tracked and analyzed extensively. I’m Daniel Fletcher and today I speak with the Master Chief responsible for who makes the cut. You’ll want to pay very close attention to what he has to say.
DF: Well, thank you Master Chief for taking the time to talk with us today. Your perspective and what you do in the organization is really critical, even though it may not be out in the forefront most people seeing what you do. Obviously, it’s a very important part of the process people moving through NSW program. If you could take a couple minutes and explain your path to where you came with NSW organization real quick.
WC: Yeah, yeah, thank you. Thanks for having me, so just my background. I’ve been with the SEAL teams for 19½ years, west coast primarily, SEAL Team 1, SEAL Team 3 and SEAL Team 5 with instructor tours kind of in between there. I also taught all the leadership development courses for the SEALs on the west coast and east coast prior to doing the position that I’m currently doing.
DF: So, the audience that’s going to be listening, people that want to become Navy SEALs and SWCC operators, usually I’ll ask if you could talk to the people going through the selection process or even before the selection process begins, kind of from an outside perspective, is there any big overarching things you feel that would be really worthwhile to implement or at least be made aware of if you were a recruit in that process from your perspective? Is there anything that you see is missing? Obviously, they’re going to be aware of the PST scores that they want to try to hit, but outside of that, are there kind of any intangibles that you feel should be communicated to the people that are going into this process that maybe they might not be aware of?
WC: Yeah, that’s a great question. There’s probably a lot that could be said on that. I think one thing I’ll kind of start off with for the audience is my position is, is the SEAL program manager, which program manager probably doesn’t mean anything to anybody, but more or less what I do at the recruiting command is I am selecting the best and most qualified applicants that I receive for the SEAL and SWCC community. So, the process itself can be convoluted because each, each individual as you make the determination to go and speak to a recruiter might kind of get a different story, but to break it down more or less, once you decide that SEAL and SWCC is something that you’re interested in doing or just doing any other job within the Navy, you go to a recruiter, and that recruiter will ask you a series of questions to get a little bit of background about you, kind of start the initial processing piece. From there, they’ll schedule you to go to, to MEPS and take your ASVAB exam. Your ASVAB exam, if you’re unaware of that is just a, an exam that allows the Navy to see where your strengths are. And then MEPS is the location where they actually do a physical on you so the Navy has an idea of what your physical and medical capabilities are, any issues that might arise. It’s kind of full disclosure for the Navy. At that point, the applicant can go and talk to a Warrior Challenge mentor or coordinator, and that Warrior Challenge mentor or coordinator will help the applicant prepare for the PST, will teach the strokes and the run clinics that the applicant needs, come up with workout programs, diet programs for the applicant so that they can best perform the PST, and they will also be the ones that administer the PST. So, roundabout I’ve answered your question, but an applicant ultimately should be looking to be in contact with that mentor or coordinator. There are scouts out there, which are recruiters, that are labeled scout because they’re more involved with the Warrior Challenge program. So, I know everybody here probably knows what Warrior Challenge is, but I’ll just kind of define it. Warrior Challenge is SEAL/SWCC. It’s also Navy Diver, EOD and Air Rescue communities. That’s an umbrella term that recruiting puts on, on that. So, the scouts will be more involved with Warrior Challenge, and they can also be a good point of contact for you guys as applicants. But ultimately, you want to get that relationship with a mentor and coordinator. They will be the ones that, that help you get your application to me.
DF: What ways can you think of that an applicant can help enhance their capability or, likelihood of selection? Is there anything that you can think of off the top of your head that, that quickly sets people apart that maybe not be something easily measurable that is predefined that you guys look for?
WC: Yeah, that’s a great question. Honestly, we’re looking for individuals that excel both intellectually and physically. I recommend getting involved with sports if you’re not involved with sports, sports like wrestling, water polo, things like that. By no means am I saying these are the only sports to get into, but there is a, there’s character building that happens along the way. And so, we’re not just looking for intellect and physical capability. We’re looking for character as well. You can imagine with the risks that are out in the world and our operators being at the forefront of those risks, we’re looking for individuals that are mature, that have character, they’re good decision makers in times of great challenge. So, I’ll go back to the, the sports teams. Those are great opportunities to work with other individuals similar or different from yourself, challenge you in ways that you wouldn’t otherwise be challenged.
DF: So, I think a big part of the reason why we’re talking to you and all the other people that we speak with specifically is to kind of go and read between the lines of what maybe the, the numbers, the goals, the individual measurable things that, that you look at specifically to say, “Yes, no, yes, no,” or find out more here or there, I’m kind of hearing that it would be good for people that are younger to step up, take leadership positions, like you’re saying on a sports team, take on responsibility, challenge yourself and that way, not necessarily just physically, to develop and, and challenge yourself to see what you can do. I think that’s kind of reading between the lines with what you’re saying. It’s something that maybe not, you know, measurable, you know.
WC: That’s a great assessment. You know, we, we’re looking for individuals that are self-motivated, like to take on challenges, like to push themselves, so things like, college degree, for example. You don’t have to have a college degree to join the Navy or come into one of these programs, but that shows us that you’re continuing to push yourself, that you have a vision for your life, you have goals that you’ve set, you just haven’t graduated from high school and…sat around, exactly. So, any opportunity you have to show the mentor or coordinator that you’re willing to take on challenges is a great thing. The mentor or coordinator ultimately will give you a recommendation, and that recommendation we define as character and consistency, consistency that you show up when you say you’re going to show up. You also, in the character piece, you show up on time, you take on leadership positions, you’re willing to think outside of yourself.
DF: I think that’s a big point, right?
WC: Yeah, if you focus completely on yourself and you getting through the program, then most likely it’s not going to happen. If you’re focused on your teammates and the whole group getting through the program and constantly pushing yourself to, to be there for each one of the guys that you’re with, then you’re thinking more outside of yourself, and that’s the kind of guy that we’re ultimately looking for because when you think of the SEAL teams, you know, team is a big part of that…we don’t want individuals. There’s individuals that are highly capable, highly intelligent, but put in a team, they’re, they’re useless to us, and we’re really looking for the teammate.
DF: I think that’s a really good highlight because a lot of people I think have that kind of champion mentality or assume that that’s what it takes, and, and I don’t think that is what it takes. Can we talk a little bit about waivers for a second? It seems like that may be an area of concern for some people. Maybe you could address your kind of perspective on that.
WC: Yeah, so there’s a couple different waivers out there. There’s ASVAB waivers, and there’s also legal waivers out there. Now, for the SEAL program and SWCC program, we’re not taking a lot of waivers. To kind of put things in perspective, the program managers are allowed to do up to a certain amount of waivers, but depending on the community need, we will, you know, we will either do those waivers or not. So, ASVAB waivers from time to time, very seldomly, we will look at an ASVAB waiver. Generally, if we are going to look at it, we’re going to want to see a guy that has pushed himself, i.e., college, before we even consider something like that.
DF: So, in line with that, obviously, me personally, kind of on the cusp of not being applicable for Naval Special Warfare contract, how do age limitations and maybe medical limitations kind of play into that same kind of concept?
WC: I guess simply put, we don’t do exceptions to policy. So, if you are outside of the age limit, then, you know, thanks for coming out and giving it a try, but we’re, we’re not looking at exceptions to policy.
DF: Are the requirements for candidates the same, including with females? I know that that’s kind of a new topic in terms of how far females have gotten through the, the training process so far. Is that something that you hold to a different standard, or can you maybe expound upon that a little bit?
WC: That’s a great question. So, so we, we look at everything back to the first thing that I said, I’m selecting based on best and most qualified. I’m not subdividing that into best and most qualified men, best and most qualified women, best and most qualified race, best and most qualified religion. There’s no separation there. It’s just straight best and most qualified.
DF: So, you’re looking at numbers, very black and white in that area.
WC: Very black and white, yep, so gender-neutral. If you have what it takes, then we’ll definitely take a look at you.
DF: Through this process, what types of applicants are you screening?
WC: Okay, so, yeah, I’m looking for what we call new accessions. So, new accessions, you could, kids that are coming off the streets, never had any military experience before, that are just showing interest in the Navy.
DF: I see, as opposed to transitioning from the Big Navy to Special Warfare.
WC: Exactly. So, that is, that is one category. That is the biggest category of actually, the individuals that I’m screening. The next category that I’m looking at are Navy veterans and other service veterans, so other services being Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, individuals that have gotten out of those branches and now are interested in trying out for our community, so I will look at those as well. So, I screen other service veterans, and then I also look at the Navy veteran packages as well. So, it’s a different process. So, if you are a other service veteran or a Navy veteran, it requires a different application that is submitted up, so realize that there’s a little bit more time and effort that will go into it, but your recruiters and your mentors and coordinators will help you out with that.
DF: I’d like to talk a little bit about the mentorship program. It seems like you’re obviously a fan of the idea of people being close in relationship with the mentor, making sure that they are on the right path. Maybe you can expound upon that a little bit about the importance of the mentorship program
WC: So, I’ll start off with your mentor and your coordinator, are both individuals that are part of these communities. So, your coordinator is an active duty member, usually first class, Chief, Senior Chief, that is part of SEAL/SWCC, Navy Diver, EOD, Air Rescue. Your mentor is someone that’s retired or separated at some point from one of those communities. So, both of those individuals are tied to those communities and can speak to those communities. They’re the subject matter experts at that level who can communicate to you what you need to know about the program. So, the mentor, mentor program is important because, you know, who better to mentor you other than somebody that is actually a part of that community? And the mentor and coordinator, we want to see you succeed. So, we want to try to get guys and gals to their highest level, their peak performance, both their performance, both their, and their character. So, we utilize exercises in which we have kind of a mental toughness program where the mentors and coordinators will actually sit down with applicants, and they’ll talk about things like character and dedication. You may be asked to write an essay on the community that you want to join and why you want to join it. A lot of times, we see something in a movie or in a book that seems interesting, but we don’t truly know what we’re getting ourselves into. So, that developed research into those programs could be what it takes to solidify our decision to join that program or maybe consider a different program within Warrior Challenge or in the Navy in general, so.
DF: Within the current structure of the recruitment process and the training process, what do you think is the key to getting more people graduated and, and turned into active duty operators?
WC: Well, that’s a good question. I mean for the last 50 years; the attrition rates of BUD/S have been the same. You know, we tweak this, we tweak that, and at the end of the day, it kind of stays the same. But ultimately, what we’ve succeeded in over the last 15 years is making sure that our candidates are showing up to the first day of the pipeline training. So, for those who want to be SEAL, you have, you have boot camp, then after boot camp, you have prep, NSW prep, and then you go into BO, and then you’ll start first phase of BUD/S. So, our idea is to try to get you to the front door prep so that the guys at prep can prepare you for the next thing. So, it’s a very, it’s a stepladder approach that’s being taken where each group of individuals is preparing you for the next step. We’re not preparing you necessarily to graduate from SQT. We’re preparing you to succeed in the next step that you’re going to be faced with. So, the mentors and coordinators, you can look at them as preparing you to make it through boot camp and continue to excel at your PST scores, whereas the guys at boot camp, they’re preparing you to take on the stressors that you will face in prep and so on and so forth, so.
DF: So, what’s the best advice you can give to a candidate?
WC: I’d say the best advice is, is really take some time to think about what makes you tick, why are you the way you are, why do you want the programs that you want and pick a piece that what, what is important to you. Is it service, is it patriotic duty, is it brotherhood, is it sacrifice? What, what is it about these communities that drives you to that? Take some time to really focus on that because if you understand your purpose, and things get difficult, you can always fall back on your purpose to push you through those difficult situations. So, you know, we all need a purpose, and that purpose helps us set goals, to get to the places that we want to be in life, and so if you can really sit down and tease that purpose out and really focus on that, that will be the big thing that pushes you through it when times get tough.
DF: Yeah, that’s, that’s been a pretty consistent message, whether it’s a mental toughness, goal setting or throughout this whole process, checking off the boxes, the why portion, and it seems like when you boil everything down, that’s what’s really most important.
DF: If you could maybe just for a minute talk to us about why you became a SEAL.
WC: Yeah, absolutely, that’s, all right, I always love that. So, without getting too deep into the weeds, I, I always wanted to, to challenge myself, but not just challenge myself, but challenge myself in a way that it would benefit, you know, this great country that we live in. I recognized from a young age just all the opportunities that were presented to me as a child, and I was always driven, I think it was born into me. I think maybe it’s genetics, but I was always driven towards service. And so, I remember even from a young age sitting in church drawing battleships and Army men, so it was just, it was always something that was part of me. And so, as I, I grew up, and I found out about the SEAL teams I felt like it was the right fit because I always translated my ability to serve my country and have the greatest effect is being part of the most dangerous units. I like the SEAL team idea because not too many people knew about them when I was interested in them. They were, they were doing exclusive type jobs, and it was, it was a very challenging group of individuals to get into, and it was a very tight knit organization. So, that was really my purpose. It was driven by service, patriotic duty and the challenge of the, of the organization that the SEAL teams are.
DF: Well, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today, really appreciate it.
DF: Find out more at SEALSWCC.com, and join us again for the next NSW podcast