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Destination on the edge: SEAL training

by Tom Johansmeyer Feb 2nd 2009 @ 9:00AM

Navy SEALS seem to have a phrase that functions as both "hello" and "goodbye": kick ass! But, it’s not reserved solely for these purposes. This expression also works as a motivator, squeezing every last ounce of effort out of the recipient. And, at Extreme SEAL Experience, you’ll need it. Spend close to four weeks pushing your mind and body past every limit you’ve ever imagined, and you’ll finally understand the full definition of "kick ass!"

Extreme SEAL Experience is one of many military-themed vacation spots at which you can get an inside look at elite military training. This one is different, though. When the instructors at Extreme SEAL Experience send a letter of recommendation to the official Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) school, it makes a difference. Of course, it helps that the program’s teachers have combined special warfare experience of around a century. They can spot talent, and the U.S. Navy knows it.

Extreme SEAL Experience offers four programs, running from the sheer agony of the first day (a prerequisite for the other courses) to SEAL Advanced Operator Training, which includes fastroping, night operations and a frighteningly real field exercise. Each minute of each program is carefully scripted to inflict the most pressure possible ... and push you to new levels of, um, "self-discovery."

The first night, "Hell Night," is mislabeled. It actually lasts more than 24 hours. For the vast majority of this effort, you will not be happy. There’s no other way to put it. Misery tops (and pervades) the agenda. But, you come out the other side with more confidence and a greater sense of what you can accomplish. Unlike the official version of BUD/S, Hell Night is not designed to hit an 80 percent attrition rate, but you won’t graduate without some pain.

Participants in Extreme SEAL Experience programs understand the intensity of the program (or think they do) before registration. Thus, most are in great shape and have the necessary "Type A" personalities. Youth is abundant, with most guests in their late teens or early twenties. In almost every course, there are a handful of people whose names are stenciled in red. This means they are using Extreme SEAL Experience as a way to test the waters before enlisting and applying for BUD/S. They receive the benefit of some extra attention along the way.

Prospective SEAL candidates are not the only attendees singled out, however. Anything that makes you different will catch an instructor’s eye. If you are the youngest or oldest in your class, you will not escape detection. Those with a bit of gray hair can expect to have the stress of leadership added to an already strenuous program. The "old folks" usually do well, motivating younger team members and adding a touch of maturity to the mix. Age is not a barrier at Extreme SEAL Experience, and it can be an advantage. The oldest graduate was 58, and he was hardcore.

The advanced courses delve into the tools of the special warfare trade. You’ll still push your body and sacrifice some sleep, but you’ll get to have some fun at the same time. Hand-to-hand combat, small unit operations (mostly at night) and live-fire weapons shooting add to your portfolio of skills as an elite recreational special warrior. If you complete all four courses, you will leave with a pretty good sense of what it takes to be a Navy SEAL.

I know what you’re thinking: there’s no way Extreme SEAL Experience can be as tough as the real thing. Duh. There’s no way it could be. The instructors would have to keep an ambulance on site 24 hours a day. Nonetheless, the team goes as far as it reasonably can, which you’ll see is pretty rough. If you can finish the Extreme SEAL Experience, you have a decent chance of surviving BUD/S, but there are no guarantees.

Some people do have a tough time with the program. In fact, it has led a few aspiring SEAL to reconsider their plans before heading to see their local recruiters. Even if you change your life plans after only one night, the instructors will continue to motivate you. Usually, a decision to quit a session at the camp is averted by a pep talk from the cadre. The participant may not go on to BUD/S, but he can still call his time at Extreme SEAL Experience a success.

If you’re looking to punish your body with aggressive military-style training, you have choices. Shoot for the nastiest experience imaginable, and graduation will be most fulfilling. Extreme SEAL Experience will punish you ? which is what you’re looking for. Spend a 27-hour night or a few weeks with these misfits, and you’ll know you’ve accomplished something.
[Photos thanks to Extreme SEAL Experience]


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