Often referred to as the US Navy’s best kept secret, Special Warfare Combatant Craft Crewmen (SWCC) operators drive well-armed, fast boats in support of special ops missions including stealthy insertion and extraction of SEALs, clandestine reconnaissance, and combat gunfire support.
SWCCs are the Navy’s high-risk water mission experts and therefore, must be physically fit, mentally tough, focused, and responsive in high stress situations — and getting to that point requires brutal mental and physical training.
The Discovery Channel’s “Surviving the Cut” shows what SWCCs undergo at a 35-day basic course in Coronado, Calif.
These 26 sailors begin their first day of the 5 week Special Warfare Combatant Craft Crewman Training Center in Coronado, California. Each year, 240 sailors start SWCC training and about half pass.
The instructors are prepared to weed out the weakest sailors. 'This is a gut check for these guys. They have a small idea of what they have gotten themselves into at this point and we are really going to open their eyes on day one,' said one SWCC instructor.
Sailors run a quick 2 miles to the beach and spend the next six hours completing brutal workouts in the sand.
Crawling down sand dunes and then crab walking feet first back up the dunes. Every move is watched to make sure that no one is cutting corners.
Next comes the 'buddy carry' which is important for every recruit to master in order to save lives on the battlefield. The sailors carry each other up and down the sand dunes for an hour.
These two sailors miss the time limit and are forced to complete the sprint again until they can make the deadline.
Sticking with your fellow SWCC members is something these sailors learn right away. The entire class runs with the two sailors who are falling behind.
All of the instructors single out one sailor who missed nearly every timed exercise. 'Five weeks of this. Are you ready? You better start showing us. Not impressed,' one SWCC instructor said. Eight sailors leave SWCC training by the end of the first week.
At the beginning of the second week the sailors must demonstrate their water rescue skills. 'This test is going to simulate a real life combat situation. If they had to jump in and save a teammate's life, they have the ability to do so,' a SWCC instructor said.
Each sailor (right) must swim to an instructor who simulates a panicked victim. The sailor must quickly get the victim under control and properly tow him 25 yards to safety.
Overwhelmed, the candidate panics and kicks the instructor in the stomach ... after he is sent out of the pool he decides to drop out of the course.
This sailor shows the proper technique of how to tow a victim. He passes the course along with 13 other sailors.
It's 5 a.m. and the sailors have already completed a quick 4 mile run to the 'demo pit' where they must complete a series of obstacles and tests through a chaotic battlefield simulation.
The sailors spend 4 hours in the pit under intense mental pressure and physical torment. 'We have to make sure that these guys, under extreme stress and confusion, can stand up and execute small tasks such as a headcount and accomplish the greater task,' a SWCC instructor said.
The sailors finish the obstacle course and must now move two 200-pound dummies back to their base. The sailors have only 50 minutes to carry the dummies 4 miles away.
By noon, the sailors stagger to the finish line and complete their team building training. After this exercise, another 2 sailors decide to leave.
During the fourth week of training, sailors are required to complete a surf passage test while battling undertow conditions and rip currents. 'The biggest risk is getting rolled up in a wave and hitting your head on the bottom and getting knocked out,' said one SWCC instructor.
SWCC candidates must swim through the surf break zone with their swim buddies and then regroup as a class 400 yards away in calm open water.
Two sailors are sucked into a rip current and lose control as waves continuously pound against them. A rip current can carry a strong swimmer as fast as 8 yards per second out to sea.
One sailor injured his knee while being dragged in the rip current. He is examined by a medic and his fate in the course is questionable.
Meanwhile, his swim buddy is debriefed on the importance of never giving up on a teammate. Emotionally torn, this candidate drops on request and leaves the course.
The last 50 hours of the course are referred to as 'The Tour.' Students apply skills, teamwork, and mental tenacity in various weather conditions -- over a three day period with limited sleep.
Before they begin, each sailor swallows a digestible core body thermometer pill.'It's primarily for their safety. Any time you go on little sleep and you are constantly moving and burning through calories you need to have a pulse check on these students to know where they are at,' a SWCC instructor said.
The pill electronically transmits the sailor's heart rate and body temperature to a Navy Corpsman. This technology is crucial since sailors are at a severe risk of hypothermia.
Candidates run more than 22 miles, swim in freezing water for 5 miles, and endure a merciless obstacle course. When one sailor falls behind, the rest of his teammates run towards him for support and they finish this exercise together.
The biggest test comes at the 14 hour mark where sailors are loaded into boats in the middle of the night and driven into open water filled with kelp.
The sailors must remove the kelp jammed in the boat's engine by hand. The water is a frigid 48 degrees Fahrenheit. 'It's miserable cause you are already cold and shaking like crazy. The last thing you want to do is get back into the water but you just suck it up and do it,' said one SWCC candidate.
At dawn, the sailors complete the mission and are ordered to swim a mile to shore after 18 hours of torment. According to the documentary, an average man burns about 3,500 calories daily. SWCC candidates burn an estimated 20,000 calories a day during training.
They spend another night at sea and by daybreak are ordered to jog 4 miles. At this point, the sailors haven't slept for more than 48 hours.
The sailors have one more thing to do before they complete SWCC basic training. Recite the SWCC creed with one voice with interlocked arms on the surf.
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