What Happens to Navy SEAL Program Applicants Who Don’t Succeed at Getting In?

A series of unpleasant options awaits

Navy SEALs parachute in tandem during the Army-Navy game on December 8, 2018.
Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Navy SEALs occupy a rarefied place in both American military history and popular culture. They have a well-earned reputation for being an elite group, in terms of both their training and the assignments they’re given — and they’ve been the subject of countless films and television series. In recent years, however, some details about the SEAL program have taken on aspects of a cautionary tale, including reports of SEAL candidates dying as a result of their training.

A recent report by Dave Philipps in the New York Times looks at another unfortunate aspect of the process of becoming a Navy SEAL — namely, what happens to people who apply for the program but don’t make it through the training. Philipps writes that they’re often given “menial work that few others want” as their regular assignments — including scraping paint or cleaning bilge tanks.

The article goes on to cite an alarming statistic — that out of one class in BUD/S, the Navy SEAL selection course, 93% of applicants left before completing it. Philipps cites a 2006 change in the SEAL application process as playing a significant role here.

Prior to that decision, Philipps writes, SEAL applicants had to train for another role (or rate) in the Navy — and if they didn’t make it through the SEAL training course, they’d still have something to fall back on. This is no longer the case, which is why many who didn’t graduate have wound up in unfulfilling positions on ships — which has led to some experiencing severe depression.

The article goes on to describe Congressional efforts to look into rectifying these issues. But it’s a complex set of issues without an easy resolution — and with plenty of moving parts to account for.

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