CHESPEAKE, Va. - The U.S. Navy SEALs are legendary for their toughness and tenacity. These highly trained warriors spend years honing their skills on land, sea, and air.
The group gained almost super hero status with the recent tracking and elimination of 9/11-mastermind Osama bin Laden.
CBN News Reporter Chuck Holton, a former Army Ranger, recently went on a mission to find out if SEAL training was as tough as many say it is.
Tasting the Real Thing
Welcome to the Extreme SEAL Experience. Situated just outside Norfolk, Va., the week-long course gives regular folks a taste of the real thing.
I (Chuck) wanted to see if I still had what it takes, so I signed up. Fifteen others showed up the first day, regular guys from all different backgrounds
Retired Navy SEAL Sr. Chief Don Shipley runs the program with the help of other former SEALs.
"All these instructors are SEALs," Shipley said. "We've all been though hell week; we've all done the deployments. We know what it takes to get through that training."
The Extreme SEAL Experience started with a surprise wake-up call at 2:30 a.m. I knew a long hard day was on the horizon.
The beginning of the course is comprised of 24 hours of grueling physical and mental challenges.
Navigating Hell Night
"The first day of training we run down here is called Hell Night. It's a simulation of hell week in BUD/S… kind of," Shipley explained.
BUD/S stands for Basic Underwater Demolition School, the 6-month training all Navy SEALs must complete.
The most intense part: Hell week - 132 hours that push men past their breaking points, with much of it done in the cold ocean water. Most who enter the school drop out during this phase.
"If I was running actually SEAL training down here, I'd be backing ambulances in here every day," Shipley said. "It's very controlled chaos down here."
The next 24 hours were non-stop action, starting with a 10-mile paddle, eight men crammed into each boat. Navigating the river in compete darkness was more difficult than I anticipated.
Still, it was a pretty good team work exercise, kind of getting to know each other, trying to figure out how we were going to work together and make this happen.
We ended up in front of a stagnant, algae-infested pond.
Then the fun began. Nothing like pond scum for breakfast. But there's a method to the madness. Special operators can't afford to be squeamish.
We haven't even been out here for three hours yet and this is where we were. I got a the feeling it was going to get a lot harder from here.
Next came lots and lots and lots of physical training, or PT -- hundreds of push-ups, sit-ups, flutter kicks, and whatever else the instructors can dream up.
The art of camouflage is also vitally important as SEALs regularly operate behind enemy lines.
This group of guys have come from all over the United States and Canada and paid between $1,500 and $3,000 to take course. All of them have one mission: to find out what it takes to be a Navy SEAL.
"Let's get 10 good ones (push-ups), all together, all the way up, all the way down," Shipley ordered.
If the push-ups weren't perfect, we had to start over.
Log PT is designed to force the men to work as a team under very arduous conditions
The course isn't just about running and push-ups. We also learned some tactical skills like hand-to-hand combat and and how to transition silently from water to land.
Past the Breaking Point
In actual SEAL training, such exercises are designed to teach guys what they are capable of and push them beyond their physical limits.
That's why only about 20 percent of them actually make it to the end of SEAL training.
The highlight of Hell Night is a simulated mission - the pay off for all the hard work. The guys must use all the skills learned throughout the day to complete the operation.
These weekend warriors get painted up, paddle down river under the cover of darkness, hike through dense forest - a small taste of what life must be like as a real Navy SEAL.
For them guys, this is better than spending vacation sitting on the beach. For them, the reward is knowing they challenged themsleves and made it through.
In the end, they'll be going back home with a little more self confidence, some incredible memeories, and a greater respect for the sacrifices made by our nation's special operators.
--Originally aired June 10, 2011.