Navy SEAL Gives the Top 5 Reasons You Get Kicked Out of Spec Ops Training (or Don’t Reach Any Goals You Have)
Your chances of making it through a top-level Special Ops training course are pretty low—Less than 20% survive to graduate. Thousands try out, but the failure rate is very high…over 80% fail. You have a better chance of getting accepted and graduating from Harvard Law School.
In my BUD/S Class 132, we had 140 trainees line up at the start and only 16 men finished.
THIS IS NOT COUNTING THE MANY THOUSANDS WHO TRY TO TAKE THE INITIAL TEST JUST TO GET ACCEPTED AND STAND IN THAT TRAINING COMPOUND.
In that initial testing at the on-base pool, we had over 25 tryouts and only 2 sailors made it. That is just to get a PST to go to BUDS. That is not counting the medical screening and having a top score on the ASVAB.
So if you’re gearing up for Navy SEAL training (BUD/S), Ranger school (RASP), Green Beret Special Forces (Selection Course), USAF PJs — or any other Spec Ops training course — make sure you avoid these mistakes.
And while I’m writing these from the point of SOF training, they also work for why you fail at reaching any goal you have.
As you read them, think of how you can adapt them to anything you want to achieve in life.
Question: Do you recommend a weight vest to train for Green Beret Special Forces?
Answer: Yes, we like the 5.11 TacTec Chest Rig as you can pick one up for around $60 or so and they are built tough. They also carry the weight better and don’t tear as other vests do. They get a lot of great reviews from guys I have talked to that have used them.
Question: How many chances will you have to pass the swim test in special forces?
Answer: Usually if you fail the first time you end up with water in your lungs and many candidates quit right there. You may be given another chance depending on how hard you tried and if you almost finished the drill. If you were a complete failure then no. Practice swimming now so that you’re ready.
There are many ways to get kicked out of special forces training.
The biggest reason for failure is usually because a candidate isn’t ready in some form. I have compiled a list of the reasons why a majority of people do not make it past the training.
REASON #1: LACK OF MOTIVATION AND NOT HAVING A “WHY”
More Spec Ops candidates fail out of training due to lack of mental toughness than they do the physical. Your “why” is what keeps you motivated. Without one, your level of achievement drops. Your “why” is your motivation anchor.
SOF athletes face enormous physical challenges. But the mind quits before the body. So for many of those that get kicked out they cannot push through the grind and tap into their “why”. That’s what allows you to keep going despite negative thinking
At some point, even the guys who graduate thought about quitting. I did. And what kept me going was my “why”.
Wanting to become a SEAL or a Ranger because it’s “cool” is not a valid why. You need one that has a deep, personal meaning you can almost feel gripping you. It’s the beacon you can visualize when you’re feeling worn out and like you can barely get one foot in front of the other
Surviving the Cut – BUD/S Class 234
Question: What dive watch did you get issued in the training, and what did you wear in the field?
Answer: We were issued a regular dive watch when I got to a SEAL Team. But I left it in my locker and instead wore a Casio G-shock all purpose watch. It is much lighter for running and workouts and also thinner, so it did not get hung up on things easily. When I left the Navy, I had to return the dive watch, but I still have my G-Shock to this day, and it works fine.
REASON #2: THINKING IT’S MAINLY ABOUT BEING PHYSICAL AND MINDSET HAS NO BENEFIT/EFFECT
A lot of the guys who failed out of BUD/S (and why they fail out of any SOF training — and why people fail reaching pretty much any goal) — banked their success totally on how to fit they were. You need strength, yeah — but this is connected to Reason #1.
I remember asking some of those guys why they were going through BUD/S and all they did was shrug and say, “I don’t know. Because it’s cool, I guess.”
If you’re trying to be a Ranger or a SEAL or a Force Recon Marine for that same reason, I guarantee you’ll fail out. They say success in BUD/S (or in life) is 80% mental and 20% physical. Some might even say it’s 90/10.
I was not paying attention my first time through BUD/S and this small detail crept on me and almost got my a** flushed out the door.
Like I said, your mind will fail before your body. You can’t physically power your way through negative thinking.
Question: What kind of workouts would you do now to prepare you for BUDS?
Answer: I would do mostly bodyweight workouts and add in a sandbag, rucking, and trail run to get me ready for training. We used sandbags and a ruck/backpack and pull-up bar but keep it simple and get the job done. I wrote down that plan for my son for the day he goes through training — which will make me proud. You can check out Freak Frogman Workouts here.
REASON #3: YOU THINK RELYING ON YOUR MENTAL OUTLOOK IS ALL YOU NEED
So maybe you read about that 80/20 or 90/10 ratio of mindset to physical and think you can just breeze through BUD/S with a positive outlook. It’s important, but if you can’t physically hack it, you’re going to fail.
A lot of the guys who failed out of BUD/S did so in the first few days because they couldn’t handle the physical side of the training. They passed the BUD/S PST (Physical Standard Test) but banked their success on that being all they needed.
Here at SGPT, we tell guys the bare minimumare what you need. I’ve heard from SOF candidates their recruiter lied to them about the physical requirements for BUD/S, including that you’ll be taught how to swim when you get there.
Navy SEAL PST Standards
Aim for the competitive levels given, if not better. The harder you train and prepare, the easier it will be from that aspect.
Also, find ways to mimic BUD/S conditions as well as you can. Train in cold, sh*tty weather. Make your training difficult, so you can practice your mindset. One of the hardest things we did was continually running in the deep sand and doing calisthenics and then getting back in the cold surf at night. Find a way to replicate this.
If you want more tips for passing the BUD/S PST, check out this article.
Answer: The only one that we can recommend that is legal is SEAL Multi-Vitamin One a Day. I used vitamins during my 11 months in BUDS, and it helped me out a lot when recovering from a long endurance bike ride. I use SEAL Multi myself and trust them with my very active family.
Question: Is there a lot of math in BUDS?
Answer: There is not a lot of math, but you do need math skills for Dive Table problems. Check out the NOAA Diving Manual 5th Edition. I would read through that book and especially the Dive Physics portion and have a starting knowledge of diving. I wish I would have read this book at 18 years old before I went into BUDS.
Quote from Stew Smith (Navy SEAL) “Also understand Algebra and Science, as you will see this math and physics in Dive Training when you apply Laws of Physics to the body while diving. Specifically, Charles Law and Boyle’s Law will be used learning how to SCUBA Dive in the Navy.”
REASON #4: YOU DON’T LET YOUR TEAM HELP YOU WHEN YOU NEED IT
Being a SOF soldier means relying on other people to get a mission done. This includes times when you’re exhausted and need help. Not asking for help in some way means you’re not betting in a team-oriented mindset. You’re not working as a unit. You might think it makes you a burden to ask, but it’s the opposite — not asking when you’re struggling makes you the burden because when you slow down, so does everyone else.
Yes, it does come down to you and your mindset and personal approach for whether you graduate or not, but if you can’t reach out and rely on your buddies then you become a weak link in the mission’s success. Or, at BUD/S the success of the evolution.
If you look at pictures of boat crews at BUD/S it’s a team of individuals. If you’re struggling, then your whole team will struggle. Reach out.
Question: What boots are the BUD/S trainees issued in training camp?
Answer: The trainees are issued Bates Lite boots and a good pair of dive socks to go with them. These are a big improvement over the old Vietnam-era jungle boots that we were issued back in the day. We recommend these boots as an all-around go-to training boot while running an obstacle course, rucking in the mountains, or running on a sandy beach for training.
REASON #5: YOU DON’T HELP YOUR TEAM WHEN YOU SEE SOMEONE STRUGGLING
Yes, it’s important to focus on what you’re doing as an individual to get you to graduation. But if you only focus on yourself and let the guy (or guys) next to you who are having a tough time struggle because their failure means a better chance of success for you, then you’re caught up in your ego and are making yourself the weakest link.
Your team is only as strong as the weakest member. Being arrogant with your self-centered attitude (seeing a teammate’s struggles as your benefit) is a quick way for the instructors to focus on you and for you to fail out.
If your “why” is based around making other people’s struggles your strengths, you will get kicked out.
Taking the time to understand and realize this one is key. I watched dozens of guys get kicked out of the initial training for this one thing.
Find Out What a Navy SEAL knows about “Surviving the Cut”
Question: What dive fins and mask do you recommend for training?
Answer: If you are just getting started I would first swim in the pool without fins and make sure you have the combat swimmer stroke down good. I would pick up IST Rocket Fins as we used something similar in BUDS training.
Start slow swimming a few laps with fins and then go back to no fins for the rest of the workout. Over time, build up to where you can easily do 1k to 2k swims with fins in the pool.
Question: Did you use Body Glide Foot Anti Blister Balm in BUDS to protect from chafing?
Answer: All the guys smeared Vaseline in the crotch, underarms, and feet to help protect from chafing and blisters.
It helps some, but you will still get chafed from the sand and seawater. It took me two weeks to recover from the skin chafing during Hell Week.
Today’s SEAL candidates are using anti-chafe balms like Bodyglide and using compression shorts to keep the sand out and to protect their inner thighs. Guys that did not use enough lubricant on their legs and armpits suffered severely. I would also put it on your nipples if you are in the saltwater it is easy to get chafed.
BONUS TIP: YOU DON’T COMBINE ALL OF THESE TIPS INTO A SOLID FRAMEWORK
Only focusing on each of these tips as something to focus on one at a time means you’re not getting through BUD/S in a balanced way. There will be times when one tip is at the forefront of your focus, but it’s important to think of them as a cycle.
Also, it’s important to recognize when you might be focused on the wrong tip. There will be times when you do need to drill down and focus only on yourself in a moment. But that may also be a moment when you need to reach out and ask for help — or give help. The ironic thing is that if you give help when you’re the most exhausted, you start feeling more energized and positive.
Question: What socks do they issue now in BUDS training?
Answer: They issue the Vermont Darn Tough Socks which are built to last. If you ever wear this sock out then just box it up and send it back to the Darn Tough headquarters, and they will send you a fresh pair. I own a few pairs and love them. I will be wearing a pair this coming weekend for a long ruck in the mountains.
Question: What sunglasses did you wear back in the day, and what would you suggest today for working in the ocean and outside in the glaring sun?
Answer: I wore Vuarnets back in the ’80s and wish I still had a pair. But today I wear Gatorz Sunglasses and know a bunch of Team Guys and Rangers that like them, too. These are the same glasses worn in the movie Lone Survivor. A lot of guys also like the Oakley brand glasses.
BONUS TIP #2: YOU TAKE EVERYTHING THE INSTRUCTORS SAY TO YOU PERSONALLY
I’ve had athletes say SOF instructors (or even boot camp instructors) are bullies. These are not teachers who are picking on you because they’re a**holes. They’re doing it to make you dig down deep and find stronger levels of your “why” and strengths in you that you didn’t know you had.
It’s about making you see you’ve got more in you than you realize. If an instructor is always putting his focus on you, there’s a reason for it. Listen. Figure out why he’s doing it. It’s for a good reason and is not about cutting you down out of meanness.
If you take his focus personally and make it about you and start feeling sorry for yourself, you’re going to give him reasons to focus on you even more. You’re in control of the cycle. Find a way to break it.
SOF instructors aren’t there to be your friend. They’re there to push you — hard — so you’ll succeed.
Check out this video on”Surviving the Cut” showing some hard work.
Answer: We like the SOG Salute Folding Knife as an everyday carry as it does not cost too much and if you lose it then no major deal. This knife will do the work in cutting open boxes, through rope, and keeping the ticks and leeches off of you (just heat the tip and press onto the buggers).
We recommend this knife as a good value everyday carry knife.
BONUS TIP #3 PHYSICAL REASONS INVOLVING RUCKING, MUSCLE STAMINA AND INJURY
Rucking- In the Special Ops training, you will be rucking. So will the Army and Marines candidates.
BUD/S training used to introduce rucking in the third phase i.e. land warfare. They now have to ruck in each of the phases.
Prepare yourself for rucking in conditions that imitate the mountains and sandy terrains.
Learn how to wear a rucksack and start conditioning yourself for longer distances. Rucks could weigh as much as 100 pounds.
People who fail at rucking have weak core and leg strength.
Low muscle stamina – Getting muscle strength is great. It helps.
However, the capability to move your bodyweight multiple times up, down, over, and under objects requires a different set of training.
Condition your muscles for endurance by performing calisthenics.
Combine your lifting weights with high repetition calisthenics to get ready for the grueling routine.
Physical trauma – Injuries happen to anyone.
Sometimes they are caused by inadequate preparation for drills such as carrying logs or boats. Runs, rucks, and swimming activities also cause injuries if you are ill-prepared.
Accidents also happen to the best candidates.
An injury may not be the end of your training if you were exceptional up to the point of that injury.
Excellent candidates are likely to be moved forward, allotted time to heal, and admitted to the next class.
However, if your performance was average, or you failed a few of the phases and eventually passed after some tries; you are not so lucky.
If you get injured you will get kicked out of training because failure and performance issue is a bad combination.
Question: I am training for Army Ranger school, can you recommend a good running shoe to help me improve my 5k run time?
Answer: A shoe that I like that will fit most feet is the Nike Free 5.0+ running shoe. It is an all around shoe that is lightweight but will take a beating on the pavement. You can use this on the pavement or on light trails and sandy beach runs. Make sure to throw in some hill sprints.
BONUS TIP #4 MENTAL REASONS WHY YOU WILL GET KICKED OUT OF TRAINING
Fear – We all have phobias.
The fear of heights, darkness, water, claustrophobia, and fear of dark water has undone many candidates.
You will encounter many of your fears during training and your only option is to confront them.
There will be night swims and skydiving. These two activities produced many quitters.
No matter how sick you feel, getting through with it repeatedly will make your phobia feel more natural in the end. That’s how you win.
Physical discomfort – although all candidates know that they are not signing up for a holiday camp, the physical discomfort can be overwhelming.
The cold, hunger, exhaustion, wetness, sleepiness, and sandy conditions are all unpleasant.
If you were wet and cold a couple of times, just the thought of being wet again can make you quit while you are still dry.
None of these conditions are easy to bear. It takes great mental strength to endure.
However, spending days and nights under uncomfortable conditions will make you stronger. You will appreciate the warm beds more.
MORE QUESTIONS FROM OUR READERS
Question: What is a good book about BUDS to let me know more of what to expect?
Answer: We like the book Breaking BUD/S: How Regular Guys Can Become Navy SEALs as it gives a pretty accurate description of what to expect in the day to day life inside the compound at BUDS.
Question: What is the best single book you would recommend about being a Navy SEAL and training and going through BUD/S?
Question: Can you be straight up kicked out of seal training?
Answer: Yes; absolutely you can fail out at any point. If you are not a team player you can be dropped.
Question: What happens if you try to quit being a navy seal?
Answer: If you quit during BUD/S training you will be sent back to the regular Navy where you will chip paint and swab the decks. It is not a very pleasant experience.
Question: Can you be kicked out of a SEAL Team?
Answer: Yes; we have seen guys kicked out for drug use and failure to complete an evolution (refused to sky dive).
Question: What happens if you don’t run fast in Navy SEAL training?
Answer: You will get put in the goon squad and forced to do pushups and sugar cookies in the surf zone.
There are many reasons why people fail to go through with their Special Ops training. Many of these reasons can be overcome by preparation, wits, and will.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brad McLeod knows first hand about mental toughness. After passing Hell Week and Dive Pool Comp at BUD/S, he failed a math test and was kicked out of training. A year later, he returned, graduated, and served as an operator on the Navy SEAL Teams. Proceeds from this website go to help raise funds for the Navy SEAL Foundation on CrowdRise. SEALgrinderPT is also a proud sponsor of the Navy SEAL Foundation.