Articles

Navy has first female applicants for SEAL officer, special boat units

More than a year after a mandate for the Pentagon opened previously closed ground combat and special operations jobs to women, officials say the Navy has its first female candidates for its most elite special warfare roles.


Two women were in boot camp as candidates for the Navy's all-enlisted Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewman program, Naval Special Warfare Center Deputy Commander Capt. Christian Dunbar told members of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Service in June.

Another woman, who sources say is a junior in an ROTC program at an unnamed college, has applied for a spot in the SEAL officer selection process for fiscal 2018, which begins Oct. 1, and is set to complete an early step in the pipeline, special operations assessment and selection, later this summer, he said.

"That's a three-week block of instruction," Dunbar said. "Then the [prospective SEAL officer] will compete like everyone else, 160 [applicants] for only 100 spots."

Related: This is how the military is integrating women

A spokesman for Naval Special Warfare Command, Capt. Jason Salata, confirmed to Military.com this week that a single female enlisted candidate remained in the training pipeline for Special Warfare Combatant Crewman, or SWCC. The accession pipeline for the job, he added, included several screening evaluations and then recruit training at the Navy's Great Lakes, Illinois boot camp before Basic Underwater Demolition School training.

Salata also confirmed that a female midshipman is set to train with other future Naval officers in the SEAL Officer Assessment and Selection, or SOAS, course this summer.

"[SOAS] is part of the accession pipeline to become a SEAL and the performance of attendees this summer will be a factor for evaluation at the September SEAL Officer Selection Panel," he said.

Because of operational security concerns, Salata said the Navy would not identify the candidates or provide updates on their progress in the selection pipeline. In special operations, where troops often guard their identities closely to keep a low profile on missions, public attention in the training pipeline could affect a candidate's career.

U.S. Navy special warfare combatant-craft crewmen (SWCC) from Special Boat Team 22 drive a special operations craft-riverine. SWCC are U.S. Special Operations Command maritime mobility experts. | U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Kathryn Whittenberger

It's possible, however, that the first female member of these elite communities will come not from the outside, but from within. In October, a SWCC petty officer notified their chain-of-command that they identified as being transgender, Salata confirmed to Military.com.

According to Navy policy guidance released last fall, a sailor must receive a doctor's diagnosis of medical necessity and command approval to begin the gender transition process, which can take a variety of different forms, from counseling and hormone therapy to surgery. Sailors must also prove they can pass the physical standards and requirements of the gender to which they are transitioning.

These first female candidates represent a major milestone for the Navy, which has previously allowed women into every career field except the SEALs and SWCC community. A successful candidate would also break ground for military special operations.

Also read: First 10 women graduate from Infantry Officer Course

Army officials said in January that a woman had graduated Ranger school and was on her way to joining the elite 75th Ranger Regiment, but no female soldier has made it through the selection process to any other Army special operations element. The Air Force and Marine Corps have also seen multiple female candidates for special operations, but have yet to announce a successful accession.

The two women now preparing to enter the Navy's special operations training pipeline will have to overcome some of the most daunting attrition rates in any military training process

Dunbar said the SEALs, which graduate six Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL classes per year, have an average attrition rate of 73 to 75 percent, while the special boat operator community has an average attrition rate of 63 percent. The attrition rate for SEAL officers is significantly lower, though; according to the Navy's 2015 implementation plan for women in special warfare, up to 65 percent of SEAL officer candidates successfully enter the community.

But by the time they make it to that final phase of training, candidates have already been weeded down ruthlessly. Navy officials assess prospective special warfare operators and special boat operators, ranking them by their scores on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB, physical readiness test, special operations resiliency test, and a mental toughness exam. The highest-ranking candidates are then assessed into training, based on how many spots the Navy has available at that point.

"We assess right now that, with the small cohorts of females, we don't really know what's going to happen as far as expected attrition," Dunbar, the Naval Special Warfare Center deputy commander, told DACOWITS in June.

Dunbar did say, however, that Naval Special Warfare Command was considered fully ready for its first female SEALs and SWCC operators, whenever they ultimately arrived. A cadre of female staff members was in place in the training pipeline, and the command regularly held all-hands calls to discuss inclusivity and integration.

"All the barriers have been removed," he said. "Our planning has been completed and is on track."

Salata said the Navy had also completed a thorough review of its curriculum and policies and had evaluated facilities and support capabilities to determine any changes that might need to be made to accommodate women. As a result, he said, minor changes were made to lodging facilities and approved uniform items.

Nonetheless, Salata said, "It would be premature to speculate as to when we will see the first woman SEAL or SWCC graduate. Managing expectations is an important part of the deliberate assessment and selection process; it may take months and potentially years."

Editor's note: This story has been updated in the third paragraph to correct the school the SEAL officer candidate attends. She is a junior in an ROTC program at an unnamed college, not the Naval Academy.

Humor

The truth about cell phones in Basic Training

Thank god you got out when you did! The moment you received your DD-214, it was officially an end of an era. Hopefully, your branch won't fall victim like all those other, weaker branches did. It's Lord of the Flies in here.

New recruits are arriving in droves and they're pulling out their cell phones to record themselves talking back to their drill sergeants. If the drill sergeants have a problem with it, they whip out their stress cards, go back to eating their Tide Pods, and continue listening to their music (which, coincidentally, has gotten progressively worse since your generation, too).

Keep reading... Show less
Articles

How R. Lee Ermey's Hollywood break is an inspiration to us all

While there have been many outstanding actors and celebrities who have raised their right hand, there has never been a veteran who could finger point his way to the top of Hollywood stardom quite like the late great Gunnery Sergeant R. Lee Ermey.

Keep reading... Show less
Military Life

5 reasons your troops are more important than promotion

If there's one complaint common across the military, it's that commanders too often care more about their careers than the well-being of their troops. It's problematic when higher-ups are willing to put lower enlisted through hell if it means they look good at the end of the day.

Keep reading... Show less
Military Life

'Operation Cure Boredom' is a funny, unrepentant look back at life in the 1990s Air Force

The following is an excerpt from the first book by Air Force veteran and Hollywood writer Dan Martin. Titled Operation Cure Boredom, it's a hilarious collection of short stories chronicling the adventures of Martin's 1990-1994 enlistment in the world's best Air Force.

This chapter, called "Guest on the Range," is about the extraordinary lengths Martin went to in order to qualify on the firing range as a junior enlisted Crew Chief.

Keep reading... Show less
Military Life

The top 6 reasons people decide to join the infantry

Deciding to join the military is a huge step for anyone looking to make a life-altering change. One of the most appealing aspects of becoming a member of the armed forces is the vast array of professional opportunities the service offers.

You can sign up, ship out, and, within a few short months, be guarding a military installation as your newfound brothers- and sisters-in-arms sleep.

Keep reading... Show less
GEAR & TECH

These high-tech glasses could change how sailors train

Training has evolved over the years but the core elements have always remained the same. There's an instructor and a bunch of students. They go over material, both in theory and in practice, mastering the skills required by the job. But no matter how good the teacher, students will always need a refresher from time to time. So, that means it's time to go back to school — or does it?

Now, mixed-reality technology — including smart glasses — could change the way sailors learn the skills they need to serve.

Keep reading... Show less
Entertainment

6 US conflicts that would (probably) make terrible video games

When developers set out to make video games, their focus should always primarily be on crafting a fun and engaging experience. Oftentimes, you'll see video games set far in the future so that developers can place an arsenal of advanced, sci-fi weaponry in the hands of the player — because it's fun. Other times, they'll take cues from real wars and toss the player directly into the heat of a historical battle — because that's fun, too.

Keep reading... Show less
Tactical

How to start a fire with only one hand

Heading out into the wilderness for a camping trip is exhilarating and refreshing. Starting a campfire and roasting some marshmallows under the stars is a great way to get in touch with Mother Nature. Although the idea of spending a night in the great outdoors sounds incredible, campers should always remember to bring specific tools and learn important survival skills in the event they sustain an injury and help is far, far away.

It gets cold out there at night, so it's important to know the basics of starting a fire to keep warm — even in the dire circumstance that you've been injured. Do you know how to start a fire with just one hand? You never know — this skill might just save your life.

Keep reading... Show less