Originally published on sofrep.com
Damn, it was cold.
My buddy took me between his legs, wrapped his arms around me, and pulled me close—“nut to butt,” as the instructors say when they want us to line up and take up as little space as possible.
I was so close that I could feel my buddy’s heartbeat, his breath warm on my neck.
“I gotta take a piss,” he warned me.
“Go for it, dude,” I said. “Just piss on me.” I was so cold I didn’t care anymore. Anything warm would do.
SEAL training isn’t pretty. It is designed to push an individual past his limits. Whether you’ve locked arms and are getting surf tortured, nut to butt waiting in line to eat, or floating in the ocean hugging each other to keep warm as you await the start of a swim, SEAL training and operations is a close contact sport.
It consists of sandy, muddy, and overall grimy men traveling through adversity and having to rely on a sort of intimacy that few understand. The cold and wet physical conditions that must be endured can surpass a person’s biological and, at times, psychological ability to survive. It’s not something you can do alone.
Can we really expect a woman to open up her legs, pull her swim buddy close, and piss on him to help him stay warm? Sure, why the hell not?
‘IF I WERE GAY, SEAL TRAINING WOULD BE FUN’
Every assault to our survival from the instructors is a test of our individual ability to survive within a collective. It is a rite of passage that requires one to check his inhibitions at the door and push beyond his culturally created internal limitations of intimacy, simply to exploit the body heat and conservation that can only be found while pressed into the flesh of another human being. As we would say in the Teams: “If I were gay, SEAL training would be fun.” (And if you don’t like that we say that, I’ll tell you now, man or woman, you’re not cut out for the Teams.)
If on a cold January morning before sunrise I find myself shivering by the side of the CTT (Combat Training Tank, a large pool) while the instructors are misting my classmates and me with hose water, I’m no doubt going to physically become one with my buddies--whether that buddy is a man or a woman--to stay warm.
How do we measure and test one’s ability to do what is necessary for long-term survival? Look at the picture above. Can you replace one of the guys with a hard-bodied woman pressed between them, flesh on flesh? How will she feel? How will the young man behind her feel after a few minutes of literally having his nuts pressed into her ass? How will that young man’s wife feel? Does any of this matter? Or is that my traditional manhood getting the best of me? I mean, just because men aren’t expected to control their impulses--Tiger Woods, Bill Clinton, and even the good pastor Jimmy Swaggart come to mind--doesn’t mean that we can’t.
Women, if they’re driven and strong enough mentally and physically, can do this job. Same goes for men. We can’t lower our standards for political correctness or for potentially new sexual dynamics. “Well, we can change some things in training to make it fair and appropriate for men and women,” you might say. What if I told you that the coldest night of my life wasn’t spent in training.
What if I told you that I’ve spent more than one night huddled up with a buddy to stay warm and operationally ready? If Sally the SEAL didn’t have to huddle up with the boys in training, how will I know she’ll be able or willing to do it during operations? If she didn’t have to strip naked to get into dry clothes after a long and cold water insert during training, what would she do during a real life op?
SEALs travel the world and set up shop in any and every shithole available. Separate bathrooms, showers, and beds don’t exist when you’re living on a rooftop in East Africa.
And, frankly, physical conditions may be the least of stressors.
‘TOO "F-ing" UGLY TO BE A SEAL’
“Back of the bus, you,” a SEAL instructor yelled to the one black guy in class.
“For today’s run, you’re wearing only your Speedos, fat ass,” another instructor told one of the larger students in class and actually made him run around base wearing nothing but Speedos.
“You’re too fucking ugly to be a SEAL. Get the fuck out of here and just quit before you embarrass us all!” a modelesque-looking instructor told a rather unsightly dude.
SEAL training is not politically correct—and for a reason. SEAL instructors train to the world situation and reality and use racist and mean remarks to try and get us to quit or get angry. They use shock value and the unexpected to ruffle you. They need to make sure you can handle the psychological pressures of war and conflict, and verbal harassment has been their standard way of doing that for years.
I’ve personally seen this type of instruction do its job. I entered the world of Special Operations a bit shy and timid— always worrying about what others thought of me, but I came out of training not giving a fuck. Yell at me, spit on me, tell me I suck…It doesn’t matter. SEAL training taught me to be the master of my own emotions. Nobody can hurt my feelings or make me feel weak or inferior. I won’t let them.
That protective shell that is developed throughout training is thought to come from how many push ups we are made to do, but it really comes from the exposure to intense psychological warfare, which is a critical element to the training and evaluation of SEAL students. I don’t think the politicians or brass truly understand the necessity of calling a SEAL trainee’s momma a whore or the importance of stripping them down, both literally and figuratively, to build and test their limits. What these men have accomplished on the battlefield appears to be limitless, and that is because their training is limitless.
It’s true that, so far, these directives have evolved for and within an all-male culture. They feed from and depend upon male social norms, insults, sensitivities, and, most importantly, boundaries. How will women fare in this culture? Will it have the same effect? If you ask me, women are more than strong enough to survive being called fat, lazy, and ugly. The question is whether or not the brass and politicians are strong enough to call them that.
OH, BUT GIRLS AREN’T AS STRONG AS MEN
Girls aren’t as strong as men? No kidding. Guess what? Some men aren’t as strong as other men either.
There are plenty of small men who make it through SEAL training (keep in mind that the vast majority of all men don’t). While in training, smaller dudes sometimes go into what’s called the Smurf Crew—a boat crew of short guys. Are these men being segregated because they’re short? Well, kind of. Boat crews are established by height, so that when they carry the boats on their heads the crew is evenly matched. I bring this up to demonstrate that we already make concessions for body types of all kinds. Should we restrict short dudes from SEAL training?
Should we restrict big fellas because they’re heavy, can’t be carried out by a single person, and simply take up more space? We’re not looking to produce a master race here. (The last guy who did that ended up choking down a cyanide tablet.) We want and need diversity. We need to blend in and bend over the enemy everywhere he or she is not looking.
There are situations when you must consider body composition. Weight must be factored into the equation when parachuting with gear, etc., but for the most part concessions are made to make training fair for the short or tall dudes, and then when operational in the Teams the chips fall where they do. So when I hear “How will a woman carry out an injured man who’s bigger than she is?” my response is “The same way a 150-pound guy will carry out a 250-pounder. Probably with some help.”
SIZE DOESN’T MATTER
To qualify for the SEALs, size doesn’t really matter. Performance does, and the physical standards are easy to measure and evaluate:
- Swim 500 yards in less than 12:30 minutes.
- Do 50 pushups in less than 2 minutes.
- Do 50 sit-ups in less than 2 minutes.
- Run 1.5 miles in less than 10:30 minutes.
Do that, and you’re in.
However, keep in mind that these standards were designed around men’s limits. Take our Drown Proofing test: We tie a SEAL student’s hands and feet together and then test his ability to bob up and down in a 9-foot pool, dive down, pick up a mask with his teeth, transit a certain distance, and float without forward movement on top of the water.
Women, because of their biological makeup (they generally have a higher percentage of body fat than men), float more than men, which would make some aspects of this test easier for them, but others, like getting their bodies down 9 feet without the use of their hands or feet, more difficult.
Would it make sense, be fair even, to level the playing field and ask all students to take the test at the same level of buoyancy by using weight vests or floatation? Possibly. Or we can let women work harder to dive just as we let men work harder to float. Meet the standards, get out of the pool, slap your buddy on his or her ass, say, “Good job,” and move on.
I recently wrote a book titled Raising Men: Lessons Navy SEALs Learned from Their Training and Taught to Their Sons (shameless plug - go buy it now), which talks about the ways in which we can prepare our boys for the demands of manhood. However, in addition to my son, Jason, I have three daughters—Taylor, age 23; Ella, age 11, and Lea, age 9.
As I sat for countless hours pouring every bit of my SEAL experience into the book that I could, my daughters sat next to me. I’d look over at them and think how critical it is not only for them to get this highly competitive knowledge and experience (perhaps another book titled Raising Women?), but how important for the world it is that they excel.
We can no longer raise our daughters for different purposes than our sons. Women are powerful and have skill sets and capabilities that rival men’s, and can even surpass men’s, and this planet needs every player at his or her best. Our daughters, just like our sons, need to be taught to consolidate their resources and exploit every advantage they can to win. That’s the basic job description of a SEAL.
Several months ago, my wife and I pulled our girls out of all traditional sports and started something we call SEAL Pups. I have been teaching my girls, just as I’ve taught my son, how to train like a SEAL.
I’ve taught them how to swim underwater with weight belts and how to build sniper hides. They train in a martial arts class that allows them to fight with the boys—getting choked out is getting choked out, whether it’s a girl’s arm or a boy’s arm that does it.
Just last night, I watched Lea get smothered by a boy much bigger than she is, and guess how she dealt with it? Just like a boy...She choked back the tears, leaned in, and went back at it. Whether or not my girls choose to enter the SEALs, they will know how to handle themselves in the water and what to do in life or death situations.
Isn’t that what we want? The strongest team possible? Why would we want to exclude any special skills or capabilities offered by any gender? This planet can no longer afford to do that. Shit’s getting too serious.
WHAT’S TAKEN SO LONG?
Girls can’t do anything boys can do any more than boys can do anything that girls can do, despite what Bruce Jenner wants us to think. (Sorry dude, but you’re still a dude.) What makes this nation great is that we have the capacity and the drive to innovate and get out ahead of the competition. SEALs have dominated the battlefield for decades and will continue to do so for decades more. Why? Because we are strong enough and well-funded enough to try new things, and we have the confidence to include and build up others. We focus on results.
I’m not saying that any of this will be easy. Innovation seldom is. No doubt there are some women out there that can and will make it through training, but any team guy will tell you that training is just the beginning. It’s likely that my opinion on the matter may shock some people and infuriate others but I’ve got faith. Not in the politicians or brass, but in the SEAL instructors themselves. They’ll be sure that any and every person that wears a trident has earned it as they’ve always done. If there’s a way to leverage the unique talents and capabilities of the female half of this tribe they’ll find it.
Women can and will bring new and powerful capabilities to the SEAL Teams. As war becomes less conventional and more dependent upon the more subtle skills of intelligence, surveillance, and surgical strikes, women will fill that space as would any other SEAL—with strength, with honor, and with grace. That is, if they don’t quit!
I know there will be challenges to bringing women into the fold, and I’ve heard and read enough people whining and complaining about it all. I’d like to hear some clever ways to both incorporate and exploit the women who might make it.
- What unique attributes would women bring to the battlefield?
- What are some ways to deal with the male/female dynamic?
- Describe a mission that only a woman could do.
Eric’s new book, Raising Men: Lessons Navy SEALs Learned From their Training and Taught to their Sons (St. Martin’s Press), will be available on May 3, 2016. To pre-order a copy, visit Amazon or Barnes & Noble.