Thoughts? This also to brings to mind what other US Sof units might be having trouble attracting new people. The USAF Combat Controllers and PJs ? USMC Force Recon?
SEALs Face Recruiting Woes
Virginian-Pilot | May 07, 2007
VIRGINIA BEACH -- The 14 young men gathered in a parking lot at Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base came in two basic shapes: thin and muscular, and thick and muscular. Huddled on a patch of grass, they stretched backs, legs and arms as they braced for a physical and mental onslaught intended to test their bodies and psyche.
The calm erupted when a chiseled special operations sailor dashed toward the group with the speed and malice of an NFL linebacker.
"You're going to fail!" he screamed.
He was right. Odds are these men will fail -- only 1 in 4 who make it to the SEALs' grueling basic training actually break into the elite force.
The rigorous weeding out is one reason the SEAL ranks face a shortage. They've also failed to recruit enough new SEALs and are having trouble keeping veterans from leaving.
New blood is needed more than ever as this commando force of 2,450 -- roughly half based here, the other half in Coronado, Calif. -- is being asked to do far more because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
SEALs are stretched so thin and strained by the most vigorous deployment schedule in their 45-year history that defense experts warn about their readiness and ability to contain hot spots around the world. These days, nearly 90 percent of Special Forces deployments are focused in the Middle East, leaving other volatile areas unchecked.
Special Forces are needed to train small foreign units to quell terrorist threats within their national borders, Vice Adm. Eric Olson, deputy commander of Special Operations Command, told senators during an April hearing.
It's perhaps the commandos' most crucial mission, he said: "We know that we cannot kill or talk our way to victory."
Pressures on the SEALs -- and throughout much of the military -- worry retired Army Brig. Gen. John H. Johns, a counter insurgency expert and Vietnam War veteran. "We just cannot continue this without breaking the military, including the SEALs," he said in a recent interview with The Virginian-Pilot.
Symptoms of a slowly breaking force are showing already throughout the ranks: troop exhaustion, the exodus of promising young officers and experienced non commissioned officers, worn-out equipment and overall readiness for the next conflict.
The Pentagon has ordered a 25 percent increase in SEAL forces by 2011. SEAL recruiters say they are making progress, but the Navy's top admiral, Mike Mullen, fears that there aren't enough men to reach the goal.
The Government Accountability Office found last year that the Navy has filled just 86 percent of the enlisted SEAL jobs allocated to the force. Between 2000 and 2005, SEALs failed to meet their authorized enlisted levels, much less increase their ranks.
Private security firms such as North Carolina-based Blackwater USA have lured active-duty military away from the service with high-paying security contracts, retired SEALs say. Former commandos can make more than $100,000 a year in the private army; a typical SEAL with 10 years of experience earns about $57,000 in salary and housing allowances. Combat pay and re-enlistment bonuses can push enlisted pay rates higher.
Don Shipley of Chesapeake spent two decades in the Navy as a SEAL, retiring in 2003 as a senior chief petty officer.
Shipley left because he doubted he would get a chance to lead a small unit in Iraq. He signed on with Blackwater, working as a soldier for hire.
"You wanted a piece of that war," he said. "That's why a lot of guys go."
Don Mann, a retired chief warrant officer from Williamsburg, spent more than two decades in the SEALs and now works for a defense contractor.
Mann has deployed to the Middle East several times, usually for a few weeks or months at a time, he said. He works for a security contractor he declined to identify, citing the employer's security rules.
"They're high-paying jobs and very exciting, too," said Mann, who added that contractors can triple a Navy salary.
For active-duty SEALs, their work is becoming harder and longer. Prior to the war, a regular rotation consisted of 18 months of training followed by a six-month deployment. During flash points of the war, SEALs trained just 12 months between deployments. They have recently moved back to 24-month cycles.
Still, the schedule keeps SEALs away from home for weeks at a time.
The teams have been running at a high tempo, said SEAL Cmdr. Bob Smith, commanding officer of SEAL Team 2 at Little Creek.
"It takes away from professional development time and it cuts into their family time," he said. "It's been somewhat of a stress."
SEALs have been criticized for washing out too many recruits with tough screening tactics.
Government investigators blamed weak recruiting and the difficulty of completing the basic SEALs school, known as Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training, or BUD/S. It's held at Coronado Naval Amphibious Base near San Diego.
SEALs turn a sailor into a warrior in six months. Recruits begin with eight weeks of basic conditioning, battered with constant running, swimming and hours spent in cold Pacific waters. After three weeks, recruits reach Hell Week, during which they endure a 5-1/2 -day crucible of constant physical and mental stress, with no more than four hours total sleep.
The second and third phases of training teach recruits diving and land warfare techniques. The few survivors -- historically 25 percent of the class -- receive 18 more months of training before they can join a team and deploy.
SEALs have begun to make adjustments to the training regimen but insist that they're not softening standards.
"You've got to prove to us that you're ready for the challenge," said Master Chief Petty Officer Victor LiCause, a SEAL at Navy Recruiting Command in Tennessee.
In 2005, the Navy temporarily eliminated the winter session of training, traditionally the hardest to survive, to lower attrition rates.
Since April 2006, the Navy has hired 28 former members of the special warfare community in recruiting districts across the country to mentor candidates. These mentors, or "motivators," help young men set up training schedules and prepare for the rigors of BUD/S and life in special warfare.
LiCause said the force hasn't reached out to potential candidates. For example, if a young man wanted to talk to a SEAL, he usually had to live near San Diego or Virginia Beach, LiCause said.
The mentoring program is starting to pay dividends, he said. Shortly before entering the program, every candidate must pass the physical screening test. Motivators provide training tips, administer practice screening tests, and stay in steady contact with recruits.
The pass rate for the pre-BUD/S physical screening test has jumped from 34 to 77 percent since the mentor program began last year, LiCause said. For the first time in several years, the SEALs' Coronado school is filled up.
In February, the SEALs had a higher-than-normal success rate during Hell Week, LiCause said.
The Navy has backed the effort with bonuses.
A recruit collects $40,000 for completing basic training. Retention bonuses also have increased to compete with private-sector salaries. A mid-career SEAL can earn $75,000 for a five-year contract and $150,000 for a six-year contract.
The Navy always assumed that ambitious young men would find the SEALs, said Dick Couch, a SEAL officer during the war in Vietnam and author of several books about Special Forces. But that passive approach has not been working, he said.
"The Navy took their eye off the recruiting ball," he said.
The Navy recruiting command last year named special warfare its top priority. The force once known as "the silent service" has begun a vigorous public relations campaign. Television commercials tout their stealthiness.
SEALs are traveling the country in a tractor-trailer, bringing the world of special warfare to high school sports tournaments and NASCAR races.
The work of the elite force is high-risk and demanding -- which is why the SEALs bristle at lowering their standards.
The ongoing wars have repeatedly tested their skills.
In June 2005, SEALs suffered the largest one-day loss in their history during a rescue mission in Afghanistan. Commandos flew to save a small reconnaissance team under attack by an overwhelming enemy force in a mountainous region.
The helicopter carrying eight Special Operations soldiers and eight SEALs was shot down by insurgents, killing all aboard. Three of the four SEALs on the reconnaissance mission were slain. Six men came from SEAL teams based at Little Creek.
Despite the dangers, the test of combat draws men to the SEALs.
Ben Smith, a young fleet sailor, completed the screening test last spring at Little Creek despite the prediction of failure by the screaming commando.
Smith's scores indicated he was a strong candidate to reach basic SEAL training.
At the end of the timed physical screening test -- a 500-yard swim, 1.5-mile run, sit-ups, push-ups and pull-ups -- he graded at the top of the group.
Smith, 24, finished first in the 500-yard swim. He easily bested the minimum standards in other events and exceeded the higher levels the Navy calls competitive. When a recruit hits the higher, competitive levels, their chances of surviving basic training increase substantially.
As a varsity swimmer at his Washington high school, Smith wondered if he could make it as a SEAL. He spent a couple of years in college, then landed a technology job with the government. He left his $60,000-a-year salary two years ago to enlist.
After finishing his screening test, Smith beamed about his scores and offered swim tips to fellow recruits.
"This is really what I want," he said.
He was determined to get off his ship, the frigate Hawes, where he was a hull technician. He worked out six days a week and had taken the physical screening test "20 or 30 times."
Smith already had taken one trip to BUD/S, but he fell ill and had to leave. "I just wasn't ready," he said. He had wanted a second chance with the SEALs before his two-year Navy contract expired.
"I loved it. It's the only thing I'd want to do in the Navy," he said.
During the next several months, Smith pushed for another chance with the SEALs. The Navy finally told him he would have to deploy with his ship before he could join a new BUD/S class.
On Jan. 27, the Hawes left Norfolk for a six-month deployment -- without Smith. One day earlier, a disappointed Smith celebrated his two-year anniversary in the Navy by filling out his separation papers. He couldn't wait for a second chance with the SEALs.
His Navy career was over with just two weeks of SEAL training.