By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Nov. 4, 2008 - As Navy Secretary Donald C. Winter last week praised Navy SEALS as "the ultimate warriors," officials at the Naval Special Warfare Center here said they're holding fiercely to stringent training standards as they strive to produce more of the elite special operators. Winter, speaking at the Navy SEAL Warrior Fund dinner in New York, praised the attributes SEALs embody as he announced that the newest Zumwalt-class destroyer would be named for a SEAL killed in Iraq.
Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Monsoor was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for heroic actions in Ramadi, Iraq, in September 2006. President Bush noted in April as he presented the Medal of Honor to the fallen warrior's parents that Monsoor made a conscious decision to sacrifice himself for his fellow SEALs when he threw his body on a grenade and took its full blast.
USS Michael Monsoor, the second ship in the Navy's newest class of destroyers, will honor his memory and deeply held principles, Winter said during the SEAL Warrior Fund dinner.
"Those who served with him will remember him always as a consummate professional who faced terrorist enemies with aplomb and stoicism," Winter said. "He had a mission to accomplish, and nothing could crack his warrior focus."
Winter said Monsoor shared with his fellow SEALs a distinct set of qualities and values: courage, absolute dedication to duty and to each other, physical and mental toughness, and commitment to an exacting code of honor.
"In our minds, SEALs are the ultimate warriors -- a secret weapon that keeps our enemies awake at night," he said.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, a big advocate of special operators, recognized the capabilities they bring to the fight as Navy Adm. Eric T. Olson, a SEAL himself, took command of U.S. Special Operations Command in July 2007.
"You have volunteered multiple times to take the most difficult assignments," Gates said as he addressed the special operations community. "You do so with courage, determination and skill that leaves the rest of us in awe. The success of special operations begins with the individual warrior – each of you – and we are eternally grateful for your willingness to serve our nation."
With the recognized need for more special operators for the war on terror, officials here, where SEALs are trained, insist they're holding firmly to longstanding standards.
"One thing we've adamantly adhered to is not lowering standards," said Navy Lt. j.g. Frederick Martin, the center's public affairs officer. "A SEAL produced out of the class arriving today is going to be as good [as] or better than a SEAL produced 10 or 20 years ago."
There's no shortage of interest in becoming a SEAL. The challenge, Martin said, is finding people who can make it through the training program. About 70 percent of candidates wash out.
"We don't care what the attrition rate is," Martin said. "If we could graduate every single member of the class and meet the standards, we would be ecstatic. That would be a huge number of SEALs into our force.
"But the bottom line," he said, "is that we refuse to let our standards slip."
The training regimen is among the most brutal anywhere. It begins with 24 weeks of Basic Underwater Demolition/SEALs, or BUDS, training. Next comes a week of static line jump training followed by three weeks of military free-fall training. Finally, candidates undergo 19 weeks of SEAL qualification training.
Physical screening tests help weed out would-be candidates who wouldn't endure the physical demands of the training. A six- to eight-week preparatory course offered after boot camp ensures SEAL candidates are conditioned as "nearly Olympic-level athletes" before entering SEAL training, Martin said.
"But we have not yet found an effective way to screen people for the mental strength and mental toughness it takes to make it through BUDs as well as the follow-on training," he said. "It is an intangible quality that you can't create a really good test for."
A new mentorship program offers SEAL candidates the opportunity to work through challenging periods when notoriously high drop-out rates occur with the help of a senior SEAL. Martin said it's too soon to assess the program, but initial indications show it's having a positive effect.
Cadre members at the center analyze each class to come up with clues about why some quit and others stick it out. But in the end, the deciding factor of who will graduate and who won't boils down to sheer will.
"Ultimately, the guys who are going to be SEALs want to be SEALs, and that drives them through," Martin said. "They know they can do it, and they keep pushing themselves and they make it through."
The physical and mental endurance required to make it through SEAL training ensures new members have what it takes to carry out the direct-action and special reconnaissance missions anywhere in the world.
"SEALs train to be able to do anything," Martin said. "That is one of the tenets of their training. We can send them to South America or Afghanistan or Central Asia or wherever we have a need for the SEAL to be, and they have the skills to operate there and carry out their mission."
This requirement, he said, drives the SEALs' training program.
"By the end of their time here, the students know that they can be wet and cold and sandy and still do what it is they need to do. Uncomfortable does not mean stop," he said. "It means you are uncomfortable but still doing your job."
For SEALS, completion of their arduous training program signals the beginning of the next phase of their education – by fellow SEALs with whom they will serve in the combat theater.
"These guys are very good at self-assessments to make themselves better," Martin said. "SEALs are very, very good at taking an experience – this worked, or this didn't – and applying those lessons learned very quickly and modifying what they are doing beyond that.
"It's the quality that makes them truly exceptional," he said, "and produces the finest special warfare operators in the world."