Retired Navy SEAL officer Jocko Willink published an essay this week warning against altering the severe nature of SEAL training in the wake of Seaman Kyle Mullen’s Feb. 4 death. Mullen died after successfully completing the notoriously difficult “Hell Week” of BUD/S training.
In the essay, published Wednesday, Oct. 12, by FOX News, Willink, a Silver Star recipient and book author, describes “conducting, directing, and overseeing vast amounts of brutal training” during his career as a SEAL. He details some of the SEALs’ desert land warfare training in which trainees simulate the rigors of operating in foreign deserts with the full weight of their gear and equipment, all while enduring explosions, CS gas, and simulated firefights with paintballs. He notes that this particular facet of the BUD/s course is but one small portion of a much larger conditioning process. Furthermore, he cautions that, despite its brutal nature, the training pales in comparison to combat and making it less grueling would ultimately weaken the SEAL teams.
“The SEALs were always sleep deprived and dehydrated,” Willink writes. “And the environment was always too hot or too cold or too wet or too dry. Everyone got cuts, scrapes, and bruises. Sprained ankles, strained knees, and injured backs and shoulders occurred with regularity. Heat casualties were common. Sometimes, in rare but tragic cases, SEALs died in training.”
According to The New York Times, at least 11 SEALs have died in training since 1953. But despite the fact that training fatalities occur at unusually high rates among Navy SEALs when compared with similarly elite units in other branches, such as Army Special Forces, Willink remains adamant that the tradition of dangerously harsh SEAL training should not be tampered with.
“Our training is historically based on the worst combat conditions imaginable: the beaches of Normandy, the hinterland of Korea, the jungles of Vietnam, the mountains of Afghanistan, and the urban warzones of Iraq,” he writes. “Our existence is brutal. War is brutal. Because of that — our training is brutal. And it needs to stay that way.”