Review: To be a Navy SEAL

To be a Navy SEAL, by Cliff Hollenbeck and Dick Couch

$19.95 Motorbooks International Publishing Company

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Reviewed by Thomas Lundquist with Edward Lundquist


Want to be a Navy SEAL?  Read this book first.


Many young people imagine joining the elite U.S. Navy SEALs.  So Sea Classics asked a young person, 16-year old Thomas Lundquist of Springfield, Virginia, to read and review this book. 


This is a great book that provides some insight into what it’s like to become a member of one of the most feared fighting forces on the planet.  To become a Navy SEAL, which stands for SEa – Air and Land, one must first complete 27 weeks of Basic Underwater Demolition / SEAL training, or BUDS.  There’s nothing basic about this training, it is strenuous and mentally exhausting.  Most people who begin the training will not complete it.    Those who do are not automatically SEALs, for there is another 15 weeks of advanced training before one qualifies as a SEAL.


Photographer Cliff Hollenbeck and Author Dick Couch were granted exclusive access into all aspects of this training, and followed a BUDS class from start to finish.  We see everything the students of class 228 had to endure, and we can see the strain on their faces as they tackle problems, exercises, drills and sometimes-even punishment.  The authors even participated in some of these exercises to give credibility to what they present in their book.  Dick Crouch is still a member of the Naval Reserve and is a qualified Navy SEAL.


The average class size is about 130-140 students who will begin training together.  There are five classes per year.  The average dropout rate is about 75 percent.  A student can quit, but come back up two more times.  The class featured in this book, class 228, which started with 137 trainees, only 20 graduated. 


The training stresses teamwork.  A good trainee knows where his men at all times, and what they doing.  If he does not, the consequences are swift and harsh.  Often, if one trainee messes up, all must pay the price.


Even routine things are difficult.  Trainees have to run six miles to the chow hall, sometimes with their boats carried above their heads, just to eat.  Trainees must count the number of pushups they do each day, usually somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000.


Students who decide not to continue with training may “Drop on Request,” or DOR.  Some years ago, a student would bang their head on the instructors door and yell, “I quit!”  Then, a bell was instituted.  A student that rang the bell once would be signaling for the instructor, but if they rang three times, they were announcing, “I quit.” 


“The bell was removed for a short time during the 90s from classes 196 through 204,” according to Ensign Bashon Mann, a spokesman for Navy Special Warfare Command.  “A psychological study proved the bell was demeaning to the Sailor who wished to be removed from training and there proved to be a lasting affect to the individual once they left BUD/S training.  The bell was reinstated because we are training men to go to war.  This is not a place to come to if you are looking for someone to rub
your tummy.”


Both authors have a wealth of knowledge about the Special Warfare community.


I asked them what inspired them to write this book. “If there was any inspiration, it was to show the training as it is, not as often fictionalized by the adjective-driven entertainment media,” said Cliff Hollenbeck.


“We have both authored novels that feature Navy SEALs,” said Hollenbeck. “Dick was also the ranking SEAL reserve officer for a number of years, which kept him in contact with many of our Vietnam era teammates. (I was not in the reserves).  During his retirement ceremony, we talked with current SEAL instructors about the many changes in BUD/S training, along with the many things that had remained the same. Out of that came the suggestion we write a book on modern training. The Special Warfare Command gave us complete access and we, in fact, authored two books. One is a long documentary primarily of text and a few photos. We thought a picture-oriented book would better tell the BUD/S story and approached MBI. They agreed, and ‘To Be A Navy SEAL’ was created.”


“From the basics to the most advanced tactics, SEAL training is relentless and endless. It is very demanding, difficult… and usually cold and dirty. There are no hot shots, supermen or super heroes. To a man, they are dedicated to the team concept… always training to improve their own capabilities… always helping teammates improve their capabilities, as well. They fiercely loyal and will never quit of their own will,” said Hollenbeck.


I asked Hollenbeck if a young person wanted to become a SEAL, what should he do to
prepare himself?

”Using a sixteen-year-old, such as yourself, Tom, I would give the same recommendations to any teen in high school, military bound or not. Special Warfare should be thought of as a career which requires education and training above and beyond anything any sixteen year old has ever experienced.

”Get a good and well-rounded education first. Mentally and physically. Do your best to learn what is being taught, not just to get a certain grade or win. I know this seems simple and similar to what every parent tells their children.  A man with this foundation will succeed in life. It’s the minimum to begin SEAL training.

”The average Navy SEAL is well educated. Basic SEAL training requires a good
knowledge of physics, physiology, advanced mathematics, communications and
general problem-solving abilities. Many SEALs are college grads, many from the
Naval Academy. Although not necessary, many also come into the service as
experienced sport divers, parachutists and marksmen.

”A high school diploma is a must. I suggest a two-year associate degree as the minimum. A four-college degree will guarantee a much better rank and education in the Navy. While the military will help kids with study and other problems, special forces will not.

Don’t expect this training to get you into shape.  You already have to be in peak physical condition.

”The average Navy SEAL is in excellent physical and medical condition. They can run and swim all day and all night if necessary… carrying a loaded pack of equipment,” said Hollenbeck.  ”I suggest participating in high school and college sports that have running and decision-making. Basketball, baseball, water polo and tennis are among the best conditioners for the body and mind. Varsity sports, especially football, are more about winning than learning and conditioning. To begin SEAL training a man must be able to run, swim and do pushups. A LOT and for a very long time.  I learned some of the above the hard way, so many of the suggestions are ‘Do as I say, not as I did.’”

Is this book a realistic look at the tough training required to be a Navy SEAL?  Yes.  It shows this training like it really is.  Hard.  There is a picture in the book that shows a rock painted with Class185’s motto, “If it don’t suck, we don’t do it.”  Dick Couch’s photography is terrific, and leaves little to the imagination, except the pain and the exhaustion, and the pride of completing this grueling course.




(Tom Lundquist is a high school student from Springfield, Va.  His father, Edward Lundquist, is a retired Navy captain and director of corporate communication for the Center for Security Strategies and Operations, Anteon Corporation, Washington, D.C.)

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