The admiral who oversaw the bin Laden raid says this is one thing Navy SEALs must do

Senior Chief Petty Officer Jayme Pastoric/US Navy/DVIDSA member assigned to Naval Special Warfare Group 2 conducts military dive operations of the East Coast of the United States
  • In a recent interview with PBS, retired SEAL Adm. Bill McRaven said, “SEAL training really doesn’t have a lot to do with how big and how strong and how fast you are. There’s only one thing you have to do in SEAL training. And that’s not quit.”
  • McRaven was head of the Joint Special Operations Command when US Navy SEALs raided Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan in 2011.
  • SEAL candidates go through a rigorous training process, including a “Hell Week” in which recruits sleep only about four hours per night.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

In an interview with PBS News Hour’s Judy Woodruff, retired Adm. Bill McRaven, the former SEAL who oversaw the 2011 raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound as the head of Joint Special Operations Command, told Woodruff that there’s only thing a SEAL recruit has to do during their gruelling training: “Not quit.”

“So, the one thing that defines everybody that goes through SEAL training is that they didn’t ring the bell, as we say,” McRaven said. “They didn’t quit. And that’s really what you’re trying to find in the young SEAL students, because, in the course of your career, you’re going to be cold, wet, miserable. You’re going to kind of fail often as a result of bad missions, bad training.”

McRaven started out his Navy career as a SEAL, rising through the ranks until he was charged with overseeing the entire special forces community as the commander of the US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM).

While tenacity is an essential part of being a great SEAL, there’s a lot of training that goes into being a part of the Navy’s most elite fighting squad.


Before even heading to BUD/S recruits go to Naval Special Warfare Prep in Great Lakes, Illinois for two months of physical and mental preparation.

MC1 Les Long/US Navy/DVIDSA U.S. Navy SEAL (Sea, Air and Land) candidate navigates a suspended cargo net at a Naval Special Warfare elevated obstacle course, May 11. SEAL candidates use the obstacle course in preparation for attending the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) course

Candidates learn the ropes at Naval Special Warfare orientation, which lasts three weeks and orients trainees to what lies ahead at Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training.

“During Orientation, officers and enlisted candidates become familiar with the obstacle course, practice swimming and learn the values of teamwork and perseverance. Candidates must show humility and integrity as instructors begin the process of selecting the candidates that demonstrate the proper character and passion for excellence,” according to the SEALs and Surface Warfare Combatant Craft website.


SEAL candidates start the Surf Passage, one of the most well known parts of SEAL training.

Surf Passage is a notoriously challenging part of BUD/S training, as Business Insider previously reported. During orientation, SEAL and Special Warfare Combatant Craft Crewmen candidates, usually divided into teams of six or seven, carry their boats above their heads down the beach toward the ocean. They must take their boats waist-deep into the water before they can get in, and paddle out toward breaking waves, which can be three to five feet high – or larger.

Sometimes boats flip over, scattering crew and gear in what’s called a “yard sale.” But if teams successfully make it out past the breakers, they get to ride the waves back to shore.


You’re basically guaranteed to get sandy at BUD/S or Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training, which lasts 24 weeks.

BUD/S training takes place at the Naval Amphibious Base in Coronado, California.

Before prospective SEALs even enter training, they must take a physical exam, as well as a test called the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), one called the Computerised-Special Operations Resilience Test (C-SORT), and a physical screening test consisting of a 500-yard swim, push-ups, pull-ups, curl-ups, and a 1.5-mile run.

The ASVAB assesses a candidate’s ability to learn, while the C-SORT determines his maturity and mental toughness, according to the Navy SEAL and Special Warfare Combatant Craft Crewman (SWCC) website.


Push-ups are another part of life for SEAL trainees. Here, BUD/S students perform push ups in their full gear, with their feet balanced on the shoulders of classmates.

Potential SEALs must be able to do at least 50 push-ups in two minutes to even qualify for BUD/S.


SEALS have to be able to do pull-ups — lots of them.

The minimum number of pull-ups to be considered for BUD/S?At least 10 in two minutes.


Students at BUD/S can expect to do a lot of running — 200 miles just during Hell Week.


Hell Week comes during the fourth week of training. SEAL candidates sleep about four hours per night and complete about 20 hours of physical training per day.


SEAL candidates also practice marksmanship during Hell Week.

Kyle Gahlau/US NavyBasic Underwater Demolition/SEAL students wade ashore on San Clemente Island.

It’s important to stay hydrated during training, which is designed to push candidates to their breaking points.

US Navy/Petty Officer 1st Class Abe McNatt

BUD/S has an attrition rate of between 73% and 75%, the Navy told NPR in 2017.

“So, while it is important to be physically fit when you go through training, you find out very quickly that your background, your social status, your colour, your orientation, none of that matters,” according to McRaven, who recently wrote the memoir, “Sea Stories: My Life in Special Operations.”

“The only thing that matters is that you go in with this purpose in mind and this – the thought that you are just not going to quit, no matter what happens.”


There’s a lot of underwater training in BUD/S. Candidates are expected to start off as strong swimmers, as they will have to deal with extremely stressful situations underwater during training, including so-called “drown-proofing.”

US Navy

SEAL candidates also undergo scuba training.


Trainees learn about underwater knot tying. Here BUD/S participants try it out before they have to perform the task underwater.


There is an academic component to SEAL training, as well. Here, BUD/S class 246 gets a lesson in combat ethics and core values.


SEAL candidates also head to parachute training. Here, SEAL Team 7 members are parachuting from a MC-130J Commando II, straight into the water.

Staff Sgt. Erin Piazza/US Air Force/DVIDSSEAL Team seven members jump from an MC-130J Commando II during Emerald Warrior/Trident at Naval Air Station North Island, Calif., January 19, 2019.

SEAL recruits participate in a land training exercise during the Seal Qualification Training, a 26-week course after BUD/S.

Recruits also receive weapons training, medical training, and demolitions training during SQT. They also learn how to operate in cold weather.


After 24 gruelling weeks in BUD/S, SEAL candidates receive their SEAL Qualification Training diploma.

After receiving the SQT diploma, SEALS are assigned to their SEAL team to prepare for deployment.

Enlisted and officers must complete SQT and be designated as SEALs to earn the coveted Trident insignia worn on a SEAL’s uniform.

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