Navy SEALs | The Complete Guide (2024)

Over the years, the role of the special operations community has become more pronounced throughout the country and throughout the world. One group that often comes to mind is the United States Navy Sea, Air, and Land (SEAL) Teams, commonly known as Navy SEALs.

This elite unit has participated in every conflict since Vietnam and has been involved in many secret missions; some are now declassified, and others remain shrouded in secrecy.

World War II: The Birth of Naval Special Warfare

The Navy SEALs came into official existence in 1962 to meet the need for a unit capable of operating from sea, air, and land and utilizing guerilla and counter-guerilla tactics against the enemy.

Although the SEALs became their own entity in 1962, they trace their lineage back to World War II, when their legacy for participating in daring, water-borne missions began. Several units are considered contributors to the Navy SEALs we know today.

Top US commanders recognized that many of the operations in the Second World War would involve large-scale beach landings. To prepare for and conduct these landings, the US military identified the need for a unit capable of conducting beach reconnaissance and guiding landing craft.

The groups identified to fulfill this role were the Scouts and Raiders. The unit was a combination of select Army and Navy personnel. They were brought to Amphibious Base Training (ATB) Little Creek to undergo Amphibious Scouts and Raiders (joint) Training. Their training was in preparation for Operation Torchin Northern Africa. They would go on to see combat in Sicily, Anzio, Salerno, and Normandy.

Naval Combat Demolition Units

In addition to the Scouts and Raiders, another specialized unit called the Naval Combat Demolition Units (NCDUs) began training at ATB Little Creek in 1942, focusing on explosives and commando assault techniques. NCDUs, too, participated in Operation Torch and played a major role in D-Day, clearing the way for soldiers to push over the beachhead. The units suffered about a 50 percent casualty rate during the historic assault.

OSS Maritime Unit

The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Maritime Unit is also a proud part of the Navy SEAL’s lineage. They specialize in over-the-beach operations, utilizing cutting-edge swimming fins, masks, and underwater rebreathing units to allow for stealth.

Just like the Special Forces (SF) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Navy SEAL community recognizes that the OSS was the beginning of modern-day guerrilla warfare, covert operations, and specialized reconnaissance behind enemy lines.

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Underwater Demolition Teams

Lastly, the Underwater Demolition Teams (UDTs) may be the most stereotypical original Navy SEAL unit.

UDTs came into existence at the end of 1943, in response to a failed landing at Tarawa, due to landing craft getting stuck on an unidentified coral reef, resulting in heavy losses for the Marines. As a result, the UDTs were formed. Their main mission set was to provide reconnaissance of landing areas and destroy any obstructions, in preparation for a beach assault.

These UDT units were comprised of members from the original Scouts and Raiders, the OSS Maritime Unit, and the Seabees. During swimming operations, the UDT operators would wear their light tan swim trunks, earning them the nickname “Naked Warriors.” As a tradition, these same-style UDT shorts are worn by students in the Navy SEAL and Special Warfare Combat Crewmen (SWCC) pipelines today.

As the UDTs progressed through WWII, their unofficial uniform consisted of swim trunks, swim fins, a mask, and a Ka-Bar combat knife. They participated in every major amphibious landing in the Pacific Theater.

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Masters of Every Domain: Sea, Air, and Land

The SEAL acronym perfectly encapsulates their versatility.

Navy SEALs are adept at operating in any environment – maritime, aerial, or terrestrial. Their training equips them for infiltration via waterborne insertions, military freefall parachuting, or static line jumps. On the ground, they excel in conventional and unconventional warfare tactics.

A SEAL is equally comfortable traversing the rugged mountains of Afghanistan or piloting a silent SEAL Delivery Vehicle (SDV) through the frigid depths of the Pacific.

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Forging Elite Warriors: Recruitment and Training

Navy SEAL training is arguably one of the most challenging special operations pipelines in the country and probably the world.

With an attrition rate of around 75-80 percent, SEAL training is not for the faint of heart. The cold water, sandy beach runs, excruciating pool exercises, and general torment can break even the physically toughest humans.

After getting through the more “torturous” portions of the training, SEAL candidates still must pass technically challenging training regimens, such as diving, military free fall, land warfare, and weapons competency.

Still interested? Well… Here are the Requirements

To become a Navy SEAL, an individual can either enlist at a Navy recruiting office and earn a Special Operator (SO) contract, or a sailor already in the Navy can submit a package requesting an SO contract. In order to qualify for an SO contract, an individual must prove their physical ability by passing multiple Physical Screening Tests (PST) and achieving a required minimum score on the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery).

Minimum PST scores to earn an SO contract:

  • Swim 500 yards – Breast Stroke or Side Stroke: 12:30
  • Push-ups: 50
  • Curl-ups: 50
  • Pull-ups: 10
  • 1.5 Mile Run: 10:30

Minimum ASVAB score to earn an SO contract:

  • GS + MC + EI = 170 (GS and EI +3 points waivable, MC not)
  • VE + MK + MC + CS = 220 (VE, MK, and CS +3 points waivable, MC not)
  • VE + AR = 110 (VE and AR +3 points waivable) + MC = 50 (not waivable)

In addition, candidates must be 28 years old or younger, successfully pass a medical dive physical examination, be a US citizen, able to have the ability to obtain a Secret clearance, and meet the minimum eyesight requirements.

Minimum eyesight requirements:

  • 20/40 best eye
  • 20/70 worst eye
  • Correctable to 20/25 with no color blindness

Aspiring applicants ages 29-30 may qualify for a waiver based on community needs.

Journey to becoming A Navy SEAL

The first step to becoming a SEAL is first by becoming a Sailor, by attending Navy Boot Camp.

Boot Camp is seven to eight weeks long, depending on scheduling. Navy Boot Camp resides at the Recruit Training Command (RTC) in Great Lakes, Illinois, which is in close proximity to Chicago. In Boot Camp, civilian recruits are transformed into Navy sailors.

During their time at RTC, recruits undergo physical training and military discipline. They are trained in subjects such as seamanship, small-arms familiarization, swimming qualification, firefighting, and ship damage control. Navy history, traditions, and core values are an integral part of the Boot Camp regimen, and recruits are constantly taught and questioned on these subjects.

After graduating from Boot Camp, sailors are sent to their “A” schools, where they will be trained in the specific job they will be doing once they arrive at the fleet.

After graduation from Boot Camp, candidates will literally move across the street to attend Naval Special Warfare Preparatory (NSW Prep) school. Following NSW Prep, students are flown to San Diego, CA, to attend Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training at Naval Amphibious Base, Coronado, CA.

The entire Navy SEAL training pipeline is 58 weeks long. SEAL training is broken up into six training segments:

  • NSW Prep – Eight weeks
  • Naval Special Warfare Basic Orientation (NSWO) – Three weeks
  • First Phase – Seven weeks
  • Second Phase – Seven weeks
  • Third Phase – Seven weeks
  • SEAL Qualification Training (SQT) – 26 weeks
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Welcome to Hell Week

Hell Week is a culmination of the First Phase and a true gut check for those who aspire to be part of the Navy SEALs.

The event goes on for five and a half days, involving extreme sleep deprivation, exposure to hypothermic waters, and of course, a lot of sand.

Candidates are allowed only about four hours of sleep total throughout the week. The rest of the time is dedicated to physical activities and team-building exercises.

One thing candidates are not deprived of is food. Each candidate will burn thousands of calories, so a constant intake of high-calorie food is a must.

Hell Week is extremely hard on the body. Candidates can suffer from rhabdomyolysis – a medical event when muscle starts breaking down.

Students can also suffer from Swimming-Induced Pulmonary Edema (SIPE). SIPE occurs when blood from vessels in the lungs seeps into the airspace, causing individuals to spit up blood and experience extreme coughing fits. Each student swallows a special pill so that medical staff can scan and determine inner body temperature in an effort to monitor each individual’s health.

Needless to say, the attrition rate is exponentially higher during Hell Week.

For those who make it through Hell Week, the training has just begun. Students are still subjected to demanding physical training and tougher test gates. Now, not only do they have to physically perform, but they must also pass diving, shooting, and land warfare modules.

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Since the Global War on Terrorism began after September 11, 2001, more than a dozen Navy SEALs have lost their lives in training accidents. SEAL training is inherently dangerous and requires operators to push it to the edge in order to prepare for combat deployments.

Common FAQ: Transitioning from the Marines

Many have asked if a Marine can become a Navy SEAL. The short answer is NO. An active-duty Marine cannot become a Navy SEAL.

In order to go through Navy SEAL training, an individual must be a member of the Navy. An active-duty Marine who wants to transfer to the Navy, in order to attend SEAL training, can submit a Request for Conditional Release, but the chances of that being approved are slim to none.

If a Marine wants to become a SEAL, they will most likely have to finish their contract and then go visit a Navy recruiter to re-enlist and receive a SEAL contract.

Navy SEAL Pay

On average, an unmarried East Coast E-5 SEAL, with four years of service, makes about $80,500 a year. A SEAL on the West Coast makes more due to receiving a higher housing allowance to compensate for an increased cost of living.

Here’s an example breakdown of an E-5 Navy SEAL’s pay for 2024:

  • Base Pay: $3,365.70
  • Special Duty Assignment Pay: $450
  • High Altitude Low Opening (HALO) Jump Pay: $225
  • Dive Pay: $340
  • Demolition Pay: $150
  • Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH): $1,725.00 (Virginia Beach without dependents)
  • Basic Allowance or Subsistence (BAS): $460.25

Re-enlistment bonuses ranging from $30,000 to $160,000 are granted to SEALs. In addition, depending on where Navy SEALs deploy, they may be eligible for Hazardous Duty Incentive Pay, Hostile Fire Pay/Imminent Danger Pay, and exemption from income tax.

You can check more about the Special and Incentive Pay Index here

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Navy SEALs Equipment

The Navy SEAL Teams use a variety of weapons and equipment. The list is ever-evolving and dependent upon real-world operations.

Due to the nature of Navy SEAL’s work, weapons and equipment must be capable of standing up to and surviving the toughest conditions. The maritime environment is unparalleled when it comes to destroying equipment. The corrosive nature of saltwater can be detrimental.

Additionally, the desert-like environments that the SEAL teams have come to know so well, can also be tough on operating equipment, especially weapons.


Some weapons are tried and true and serve as the backbone of the Navy SEAL arsenal.

The M4A1 has been used for years by the SEALs, and the US military as a whole. What makes the Navy SEAL’s rifles unique is the modifications they are able to put on their weapons, including suppressors, red-dot scopes, and custom-made rifle uppers.

The SEALs have added a new team rifle to their arsenal, the FN SCAR. The SCAR comes in a 5.56mm and a 7.62mm option. The rifle is very accurate, and although it’s not classified as a sniper rifle, it’s certainly an outstanding marksmanship rifle, which is a good weapon to have in long-range engagements.


For years, Navy SEALs have carried a special version of the SIG Sauer P226 called the MK25.

During the last couple of years, Naval Special Warfare (NSW) has been transitioning to the Glock 19. This has been a hotly debated issue, with staunch supporters on both sides.

The Glock 19 shoots 9mm rounds and has a magazine capacity of 15 rounds. It is slightly smaller and lighter than the MK25. It is also easy to break down and clean and has a reputation for operating flawlessly in the worst conditions.

Navy SEALs have used the SIG Sauer MK25 for years due to its chrome-lined barrel and chamber, stainless steel slide, and Nitron coating, which made it ideal for use in harsh saltwater environments. The MK25’s reliability, accuracy, and ability to easily breakdown and clean made it also ideal for SEAL operators.

High Caliber Weapons

SEAL teams are outfitted with machine guns and an assortment of sniper rifles.

With respect to the heavy weapons category, the M249 Light Machine Gun is a powerful and functional tool. It shoots a 5.56mm round and can be belt-fed or magazine-fed. Its larger counterpart, the M240, shoots a 7.62mm round and is an extremely lethal weapon. The drawback is its size and weight.

The Navy SEALs’ sniper rifle inventory is impressive.

Among them are the infamous MK 15 and M82, which shoot a .50 caliber round and are classified as “anti-material” weapons. Another tried-and-true rifle is the MK 11, a member of the SR-25 family. This weapon was used in many operations in Afghanistan, notably when seeking out high-value targets.

Lastly, Navy SEALs are outfitted with very expensive night vision equipment, kits, and ballistic gear. Depending on the team and the mission, SEALs will use either 2-tube or 4-tube night vision goggles. Regardless, the night vision equipment today is cutting-edge, allowing for a clearer view and maintaining functionality even in very low-light conditions.

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The SEAL Teams and High-Profile Missions

There are eight conventional SEAL Teams. In addition, there are two SEAL Delivery Vehicle Teams (SDV), two reserve SEAL Teams, and the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU), informally known as SEAL Team 6.

SEAL Teams 1, 3, 5, 7, and Reserve Team 17 are located in Coronado, California. Meanwhile, SEAL Teams 2, 4, 8, 10, Reserve Team 18, and DEVGRU are in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

SDV 1 is in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and SDV 2 is in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Over the years, Navy SEALs have been involved in many high-profile operations.

As mentioned, the SEAL Teams were born during the Vietnam War. Pioneering operators were deployed to South Vietnam and early on were involved in the Phoenix Program, a CIA-led operation. The goal of the Phoenix Program was to capture and/or eliminate North Vietnamese Army personnel and members of the Viet Cong.

Navy SEALs also conducted operations in North Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, many of which were highly classified.

By the war’s end, SEAL Team members were awarded three Medal of Honors, five Navy Crosses, 42 Silver Stars, 402 Bronze Stars, two Legions of Merit, 352 Commendation Medals, and 51 Navy Achievement Medals. 48 SEALs were killed during the war.


In Panama, in 1990, during Operation Just Cause, members of SEAL Teams 2 and 4 were tasked with destroying Panamanian Defense Force naval assets and Manuel Noriega’s plane.

Four Navy SEALs swam into Balboa Harbor using Draeger rebreathers. They placed C4 explosives onto Noriega’s personal gunboat, blowing it up completely. This marked the first swimming operation since World War II.

48 SEALs jumped into the airstrip where Noriega’s plane was stored. The SEALs had expressed concern about the mission.

Unfortunately, their fears were founded. The SEALs landed in a barrage of gunfire from Panamanian Defense Forces. The plane was successfully destroyed and the airstrip secured, but there was a price to pay – four SEALs were killed, and 13 were wounded.

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Navy SEALs were on the scene of the infamous special operations mission gone bad, “Black Hawk Down.”

A four-man sniper team from DEVGRU had been assigned to the ground unit that assaulted the Olympic Hotel during the Battle of Mogadishu. The four SEALs were all awarded Silver Stars, and one SEAL earned the Purple Heart after being wounded three times, staying in the fight the entire time.


Among the many successful missions that Navy SEALs conducted in Afghanistan, tragedy was sometimes an unfortunate byproduct.

In 2005, four Navy SEALs were sent on a high-level reconnaissance mission known as Operation Red Wings. The SEALs’ location became compromised, and an intense firefight ensued. Three of the SEALs were eventually killed.

A Quick Reaction Force in a Chinook helicopter, containing eight SEALs and eight members of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR), was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG), and all on board were killed.

Lt. Michael Murphy, the leader of the four-man team, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

Maybe the most infamous operation to date was the killing of Osama bin Laden, officially known as Operation Neptune Spear.

On May 2, 2011, a DEVGRU element of 25 Navy SEALs and members of the 160th, flew modified Black Hawk helicopters into Abbottabad, Pakistan. The CIA had been gathering intelligence on bin Laden’s compound for quite some time and, for all intents and purposes, led the mission. The entire operation took 38 minutes. One of the Black Hawks experienced a mechanical failure while inserting the SEALs, resulting in a crash landing.

No one was seriously injured. Four people were killed during the firefight, including Osama bin Laden and his son.

Closing Thoughts

The Navy SEALs represent the pinnacle of physical and mental fortitude. Their unwavering dedication to duty and elite skillset makes them a vital force in safeguarding our nation.

This guide has provided a glimpse into their world, but the true depth of their capabilities and sacrifices remains classified.

For those who yearn for the challenge, the SEAL pipeline awaits – a crucible that will push you to your limits and forge you into something extraordinary.

This article has been reviewed and updated by the SOFREP News Team.

Navy SEALs | The Complete Guide (2024)


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