It may, or may not, pay to be a winner.
Navy SEALs have fascinated psychologists, medical experts, and the general public for years. While they are held to high physical standards, it is the unique, positive mental attributes that separate successful SEAL candidates from the rest in the grueling BUD/S course and in future combat situations. According to Marouf Hasian, Jr. in his article “American Exceptionalism and the bin Laden Raid,” this fascination is reinforced by media-covered missions emphasizing the power and privilege of those sworn to serve, fulfilling a desired but distant relationship between them and interested media consumers worldwide.
Despite the deeply-rooted resilience of America’s modern-day warrior, studies show SEALs suffer from psychological and physical issues in lieu of tragedy. Every day, military departments work with experts to solve post-combat issues trending among veterans and rehabilitate training tactics to prevent future traumas, all fueled by the same fascination with the will and power of the human spirit that gave SEALs their coveted titles in the first place.
We’re not gonna stop until we get at least one quitter.
Enduring the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEALs training course is essential to becoming a SEAL. Because of the intense level at which the course toys with SEAL hopefuls physically and mentally, BUD/S sees a DOR (Drop on Request) rate of approximately 70-80 percent depending on the class, according to Examined Existence. Prior to Hell Week, the most grueling five-and-a-half-day stretch of first phase BUD/S, candidates are required to spend five to nine weeks at Naval Warfare Preparatory School in Great Lakes, Ill. After successfully completing prep school, candidates are transferred to Coronado Island, a small, neat military leg jutting off of San Diego, California, where they spend 24 weeks in California if a DOR is not submitted (SEALSWWC.COM). This includes a three week introduction, a first, second, and third phase, Hell Week, and is followed by SEAL Qualification Training, which polishes the skills of new SEALs in Niland, Ca. for West coast teams and Camp A.P. Hill for East coast teams (SQT-SEAL). The entirety of this process not only brings militants’ abilities and knowledge of demolition warfare, navigation, weaponry, survival strategies, engagement, leadership, teamwork, underwater techniques, medical management, parachuting and air warfare and more to a select level—it intimately challenges the mind and body.
Most DORs occur during Hell Week, when candidates are expected to perform at high levels despite intentional injustices, continuous runs through the sand, endless sets of push-ups and other exercises, ice-cold ocean plunges that bring candidates near the brink of hypothermia, executed in a chaotic environment complete with simulated explosions and gunfire. If the regiment isn’t exhausting enough, candidates do it all despite calorie deficits and an approximate four hours of sleep over a five-and-a-half day period (Nichols).
Though instructors would never allow a candidate to perish during Hell Week, SEAL member and renowned author Marcus Luttrell described his experience as “fighting within an inch of my life” in his book, Lone Survivor, which begins with a detailed step-by-step take on Luttrell’s experience at BUD/S. He recalls an ambulance was parked on the shore at all times, which came in useful when he became so overworked he began hallucinating and couldn’t remember his name.
Surviving BUD/S separates the good from the best. Though combat missions be tough, the willingness to strive and mental drive to succeed in BUD/S alone has sparked the interest of psychologists, professionals, and public and contributed to the slowly growing bank of information derived from studies on the matter.
There are two ways to do something: the right way, and again.
The phrase “mind over matter” may be common, but the ability to push one’s physical boundaries despite instinctive distress signals of the body because of a mind-over-matter mentality isn’t common at all.
“Today, our primary weapons systems are our people’s heads,” said SEAL Team 10 Commander Executive Officer Mike H. “You want to excel in all the physical areas, but the physical is just a prerequisite to be a SEAL. Mental weakness is what actually screens you out.” (NavySEALs.com)
According to one of the few studies on the topic conducted by the Naval Health Research Center and funneled into a report by D.E. Braun and N.C. Pratt, SEALs scores differed from that of the average male population as follows:
-Lower in Neuroticism and Agreeableness facets
-Similar in the Openness facet
-Higher in Extroversion, Assertiveness, Conscientiousness and Excitement-Seeking facets
On even keel between the opposing study subjects were the hostility, impulsiveness, and feelings and values facets. This attests SEALs are born leaders, are less prone to negative emotions related to depression, and are more capable of handling stressful situations in comparison to their average male counterparts.
The study summarizes: “This subset of SEALs appear to be calm, hardy, secure, and not prone to excessive psychological stress or anxiety. They are level-headed, practical and collected even under very stressful or dangerous situations. They are rarely impulsive and have strong control over cravings or urges. Active and assertive, they prefer being in large groups and are usually energetic and optimistic. They seek excitement and stimulation and prefer complex and dangerous environments. They are very competitive, skeptical of others’ intentions, and are likely to aggressively defend their own interests, but are not hostile. Finally, they are purposeful, well organized, persistent, and very reliable.”
In Lars Draeger’s book Navy SEAL Training Guide: Mental Toughness, he chalked BUD/S candidates’ and active SEALs’ successes up to four tendencies: goal setting, mental visualization, positive self-talk and arousal control. More elaborately, successful candidates are known to attack one challenge at a time instead of focusing on an overwhelming big-picture achievement (for example, focusing on one set of push-ups or mile instead of the entire completion of Hell Week.) Luttrell lends his success to this, saying that the men who quit focused on the agony of the future instead of dealing with each moment of pain singularly. Mental visualization, or conceptualizing a success and believing it possible for oneself, supports the goal-setting tactic and incorporates positive self-talk. Arousal control is the ability to suppress panic in favor of clear, rational decision-making and the task hand. These four abilities are at the core of resilience and have been recognized not only in the forming of Navy SEALs as helpful practices, but in large companies and self-help enthusiasts looking to strengthen themselves and institutions (Mann.)
On your backs, on your bellies, on your backs, on your bellies. Feet!
Despite the mental resilience advantage SEALs have, it has become evident they are not exempt from post-combat mental and physical disorders.
National Geographic recently shed light on mild TBIs (Traumatic Brain Injuries) in Caroline Alexander’s article “The Invisible War on the Brain.” The term “shell shocked” has been used since World War I, symptomized by nervous or disconnected behavior as well as physical debilitation, such as hearing loss, memory issues, headaches, dizziness, seizures, and prolonged mood abnormalities that resemble those of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), issues which surface after exposure to an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) or long periods of ordnance testing. The U.S. Department of Defense said approximately 230,000 soldiers/veterans were diagnosed with issues related to TBIs between 2001 and 2014. Medical professionals are stunned by the variances in which TBIs present themselves, and confirm that the issue is “unique to military experience.”
Though numbers are high for TBIs, they are put to shame by the high rate of veterans suffering from PTSD. In his article “Are We Winning the War Against PTSD?” Richard J. McNally estimates that most wars generate an approximate 30% PTSD rate among veterans, who will try to readapt to civilian life struggling with anxiety, depression, and/or thoughts of suicide. Many develop substance dependencies in an attempt to cope (Brady) and further their inability to function properly in society as they did prior to deployment (PTSD Prevalence).
In Janice A. Aloi’s “A Theoretical Study of the Hidden Wounds of War: Disenfranchised Grief and the Impact on Nursing Practice,” she states that many veterans are not able to fully heal due to stunted progression on the Kubler-Ross grieving table.
Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross assembled grief into five stages: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. According to Kubler-Ross, everyone experiencing grief naturally advances through the five stages with time—however, Aloi says in her article that many veterans are not able to reach full emotional health because they do not progress past the denial stage.
Admitting internal conflict is the first step toward addressing the issue. If this step is not completed, a healthy end result becomes less likely. Disenfranchised grief, or an external insinuation that a soldier or veteran are misunderstood or should not feel a certain way, contributes to the grieving militant’s inability to admit feelings of distress.
You don’t have to like it, you just have to do it.
While veterans are guaranteed help post-combat if desired, it has become clear that preparing soldiers’ minds for war—alongside their bodies—creates insurance for medical and military departments trying to scale back PTSD numbers among veterans.
A stunning immersion journalism article titled “A State of Military Mind” by Brian Mockenhaupt reported that the military’s understanding and development of prevention tactics are rapidly growing. Meditation, yoga, and teaching soldiers how to “learn under stress” instead of simply minimizing it has become an urgent concern for military departments.
One technique used throughout the training processes is called habituation. Habituation is the continuous exposure to real-life incidences—familiarizing soldiers with potentially damaging scenarios in hopes of conditioning, desensitizing, and nearly immunizing soldiers to natural emotional responses (“Fear and Mental Toughness”). Though habituation has proven to lessen the level of suffering in militants post-combat, it has not even come close to erasing it. The advancement of technology has allowed for very realistic situations to be simulated in training environments, but instructors are still looking for ways to intensify the personality of simulated practice and emphasize habituation to better prepare their soldiers.
As they say in BUD/s, “It’s all mind over matter. If I don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
Nothing lasts forever.
“Commanders at all levels must become more knowledgeable and proactive in developing ways to prepare their formations to deal with adversity during combat operations. Although Commanders are conducting tough and realistic training prior to deployment, the high number of returnees diagnosed with PTSD indicates we are not doing enough. In training it is difficult to replicate the true nature of war; specifically graphic injuries to Soldiers or other traumatic events. The Army must assist commanders by conducting effective mental health screening on Soldiers prior to deploying, provide training that strengthens Soldiers through resilience and exposure, and provide forward mental health support,” said Colonel Ricardo M. Love in Psychological Resilience: Preparing Our Soldiers for War.
Though a basic understanding of the rare SEAL mentality and development of the modern-day warrior has been documented, as well as the statistically stunning causes-and-effects of stress disorders in lieu of traumatic experiences, society has the potential to flourish and overcome these issues in and alongside the protectors of this nation if the number of directed studies increased, funded, performed, and released.
This includes, and is not limited to, studies on familial receptions and relations in order to lower divorce rates and misperceptions among military families, PTSD and TBI coping solutions and resources, pre-combat mind-honing techniques, medical advancements, and continued study that supports the unique gift of SEAL mentality and ability.
SEALs remember BUD/s as one of the most difficult challenges overcome. Many more trials via real-life missions and post-deployments arise as former militants adjust to being home again. Though the lives of SEALs are often extraordinarily uncommon, it is important that professionals explore all possible solutions to ensure veterans can reflect on their experiences with a separation and peace.
“I will never quit,” the SEAL Creed states. “I persevere and thrive on adversity. My Nation expects me to be physically harder and mentally stronger than my enemies. If knocked down, I will get back up, every time. I will draw on every remaining ounce of strength to protect my teammates and to accomplish our mission. I am never out of the fight.”
Alexander, Caroline. “The Invisible War On the Brain.” National Geographic 1 Jan. 2015. Print.
Aloi, Janice A. “A Theoretical Study of the Hidden Wounds of War: Disenfranchised Grief and the Impact on Nursing Practice.” Hindawi Publishing Company 2011 (2011). International Scholarly Research Notices. Hindawi Publishing Company. Web. 30 Jan. 2015. <http://www.hindawi.com/journals/isrn/2011/954081/>.
Boss, Jeff. 10 Inspirational Quotes from Navy SEAL Training (Entrepreneur)http://www.entrepreneur.com/slideshow/232209
Brady, T. Back, Sudie E. Coffee, Scott F. Substance Abuse and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.Current Directions in Psychological Science, Vol. 13, No. 5 (Oct., 2004), pp. 206-209. Print.
Braun, D. E., and N. C. Pratt. “PERSONALITY PROFILES OF U.S. NAVY SEA-AIR-LAND (SEAL) PERSONNEL.” The Black Vault. Naval Health Research Center. Web. 31 Jan. 2015. <http://documents.theblackvault.com/documents/defenseissues/ADA281692.pdf>.
Draeger, Lars. Navy SEAL Training Guide: Mental Toughness. Special Operations Media, 2013. Print.
“Fear and Mental Toughness.” Navy Seals.com. Navy Seals.com. Web. 30 Jan. 2015. <http://navyseals.com/nsw/fear-and-mental-toughness/>
Hasian Jr.,Marouf. “American Exceptionalism and the bin Laden Raid.” Third World Quarterly. Vol. 33, No. 10 (2012) (pp. 1803-1820).
“How to Be Mentally Tough Like a Navy Seal.” Examined Existence.Www.examinedexistence.com. Web. 30 Jan. 2015. <http://examinedexistence.com/how-to-be-mentally-tough-like-a-navy-seal/>.
Love, Colonel Ricardo M. PSYCHOLOGICAL RESILIENCE:PREPARING OUR SOLDIERSFOR WAR. 23 March 2011. Print.
Luttrell, Marcus. Robinson, Patrick. Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10. Little, Brown. New York. 2007.
Mann, Don. How to Become a Navy SEAL: Everything You Need to Know to Become a Member of US Navy’s Elite Force. Sky Horse. Print.
Mark, Divine. “SEAL Code: A Warrior Creed.” Navy Seals.com.Www.navyseals.com. Web. 30 Jan. 2015. <http://navyseals.com/nsw/seal-code-warrior-creed/>.
McNally, Richard J. ARE WE WINNING THE WAR AGAINST POSTTRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER? Science, New Series, Vol. 336, No. 6083 (18 May 2012), pp. 872-87.
Mockenhaupt, Brian. “A State of Military Mind.” Pacific Standard. Pacific Standard.com. 18 Jun 2012 <http://www.psmag.com/books-and-culture/a-state-military-mind-42839>.
Navy SEAL BUD/S Training Stages Overview – SEALSWCC.COM | Official Website U.S. Navy SEALs (SEALSWCC.COM)
Nichols, Katie. “Are You Mentally Tough Enough to Become a US Navy SEAL?” The Sport In Mind. TheSportInMind.com. 23 Oct 2013 <http://www.thesportinmind.com/articles/are-you-mentally-tough-enough-to-become-a-us-navy-seal/>.
PTSD Prevalence, Associated Exposures, and Functional Health Outcomes in a Large, Population-Based Military. CohortTyler C. Smith, Deborah L. Wingard,Margaret A.K. Ryan, Donna Kritz-Silverstein, Donald J. Slymen,James F. SallisPublic Health Reports (1974-), Vol. 124, No. 1 (JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2009), pp. 90-102.
SQT-SEAL Qualification Training. Navy Seals.com. Web. 17 Feb. 2015. <http://navyseals.com/nsw/sqt-seal-qualification-training/>.