Career Paths

A career as a Navy SEAL offers unique opportunities and experiences for highly motivated people who are seeking challenges in their lives.

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The Navy SEALs foster an unconventional mindset in enlisted men and officers that cultivates teamwork, creative thinking, and awareness under extremely high stress and high risk situations. This makes SEALs the most effective weapons in the global war on terror. The beginning of that training is conducted in Coronado, CA at Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) Training. BUD/S is six months of the most demanding training in the US Military. Immediately following BUD/S, graduates attend four months of high paced advanced tactical training known as SEAL Qualification Training (SQT). To read a detailed description of BUD/S and SQT, click on Operational Training.

Having recently earned their Tridents, a select small number of new enlisted SEALs will attend 18Delta SOF Medicine Course at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, while a few others continue their training in Panama City, Florida to train as SEAL Delivery Vehicle operators. The majority, however, will go directly to a SEAL Team on either the East or West Coast to begin platoon training; what operators call “the real deal” – training for war. Click here to see more on Platoon Training. On the average, SEALs will do at least two platoons at their first Team. The process for a platoon, from forming up to disbanding, spans between 18 to 24 months, and includes a workup, deployment, and stand down phase.

Platoon Life: Workup

Being in a platoon is a lot different than any other job, in the military or otherwise. First of all, every man, officer or enlisted, has a position of leadership. While the OIC, AOIC, Chief, and LPO run the platoon, the rest of the enlisted men in the platoon have specialties as well, for which they are the authority. The Medic takes the lead on all medical issues, whether they are emergent or not. The Lead Breacher is the authority on all mechanical and explosive entry issues. The Weapons Man… you get the point. The pre-deployment workup involves fast paced training, conducted throughout the US by Group Level Training Detachment SEALs that have ‘been there, done that’, and are experts in their specialty. A platoon might spend three weeks in the desert in the middle of nowhere, for example, driving and shooting from HMMWVs (Hum Vees), and then after a short stop at home, fly off to another location to practice small arms tactics and CQC. During some phases of a workup it is not uncommon for a platoon to be out of town, turning and burning up to 85% of the time.

Platoons are regularly tested to ensure that they are reaching the elite levels of expected performance, and for this reason the camaraderie between platoon-mates is very high. Because of the intensity and tempo of the training, platoons band together like brothers, where during off time, practical jokes, good natured ribbing, and rough housing are the norm. In a lot of platoons each member is given a nick-name, or call sign. Where pilots usually pick names that sound cool, SEALs are given names by their platoon mates that represent a physical attribute or embarrassing moment. In one platoon, for example, a SEAL that always seemed to be banging himself up during a land navigation evolution was given the moniker “Crash”. After a “flash-bang” grenade went off near his head, during CQC training a few months later, it was changed to “Crash and Burn”. Fortunately he was not badly hurt, unfortunately for him, the name stuck.

At the conclusion of the pre-deployment workup, each platoon is given a final exam before being placed on the USSOCOM’s operationally capable list. The exam process is termed “CertEx”, or Certification Exercise and is treated exactly like a real world operation. The CertEx starts when the platoon is given a specific mission profile, which must be quickly researched, planned, and executed. The mission profiles are complex enough to require every member of the platoon’s involvement, and are set up to ensure that there are plenty of SNAFUs, which is a critically important because in real world operations, Murphy’s Law makes sure that very few things go as planned. After successfully passing the CertEx, the platoon is ready to deploy.

Platoon Life: Deployment

Generally each Team has an AO, or an Area of Operation. For one Team that may be the Asian Pacific region, for another it could be Europe and the North Atlantic. During times relative peace (“relative” because every SEAL knows there are always bad guys out there), the Teams stay predominantly focused on their AO, currently however, nearly every SEAL platoon spends at least some time in the Middle East. Training is still an important part of the job and will fill in any down-time not taken up by the operational tempo, because no matter how good you are, you can always get better.

For operational security (OpSec) reasons, specific information on rotations, deployment schedules, and past, present, or future missions will not be discussed here. Suffice it to say that deployments are action packed. See declassified mission examples.

Platoon Life: Stand Down

After returning from deployment, platoons go through the stand down phase, which may take up to a month. This is when weapons, equipment, gear, and supplies are turned back in to the various departments within the team that inventory and repair prior to re-issue. Workdays are purposefully designed to be short, and the Platoon Chief will enforce the rule that ‘if you don’t have anything to do, don’t do it here!’ Stand down is a time that SEALs spend most of their time with their wives, girlfriends, and families.   The bonds that form during a platoon are deep and not easily broken, so even though SEALs will move on in different directions from here, they usually stay in pretty close contact with one another and will probably cross paths again.

Professional Development

During the first six months of a new platoon, SEALs attend professional development courses. These include such things as, Jumpmaster, Close Quarters Defense, Special Reconnaissance Scout, NSW Sniper, Dive Supervisor, Breacher, and much more.

Other Opportunities

While platoon life makes up the majority of an enlisted man’s operational career, there are quite a few positions on the training and departmental support side of the house that give veteran SEALs a little down time. Assignments as BUD/S, SQT, and Advance Training instructors allow SEALs to give back to the community that has given to them by helping to shape the future of Naval Special Warfare by training and equipping the new generations of Naval Special Warriors. SEALs assigned to Training Detachments provide instruction and oversight to platoons during their workup phase. There are also positions available in some of the remote locations that Naval Special Warfare has Training Detachments and Units. Other non-operational billets exist for SEALs in the various departments located at each Team. Examples of these are the Medical, Air, Communications, Weapons, and Demo Departments, as well as others. By going from assignments in platoons to working in departments or training positions, SEALs are able to balance their career and their family life.

SEAL Enlisted Career Path

Typically, a new Enlisted SEAL will go straight to a SEAL Team or SDV Team for his initial tour and stay there for 3-5 years doing training, workups, and overseas deployments. If you’re assigned to an SDV Team your first tour, you will most likely go to a SEAL Team for your second tour. Individuals can request a desired geographic location (East or West Coast), and the SEAL Detailer will do his best to align that with the needs of the Navy. The Navy also makes a dedicated effort to assign dual-Navy couples to the same coast.

During your career, you will attend special training schools. You will earn multiple qualifications and be expected to maintain the skills. As an E-4 and up, you can qualify in Special Demolitions, Breeching, and as a Loadmaster, Parachute Rigger, and Hazardous Cargo Certifier. As an E-5, you can qualify as a Rappel Master, Fast Rope Master, Static Line and Freefall Jumpmaster, a Sniper, Diving Supervisor in Open and Closed-Circuit Diving. And while all SEALs train in Desert and Urban Warfare, a few SEALs can train in Arctic Warfare on an as-needed basis to comprise a SEAL Winter Warfare platoon.

After 8-10 years SEAL experience, you will have qualified for opportunities to perform a tour as a BUD/S Instructor, go to a Naval Special Warfare Unit overseas, take a prestigious assignment on the Leapfrog parachute jump team, or serve in select billets on other Navy Staffs. You will spend most of your career serving operationally, but also serve on staffs, and can advance to positions of ever-greater Enlisted leadership.

SEAL Officer Career Path

Enlisted men and Officers have a similar start to their careers, but a distinctly different career path. Both go through BUD/S and SQT together, (the only military training where officers and enlisted are trained side by side), both generally do at least two platoons back to back before diversifying into other areas and specialties. But where enlisted men continue on in operational roles for the majority of their career, the upward progression of an officer eventually takes them out of the field and behind a desk where high level planning takes place.

As a SEAL Officer you will typically go straight to a SEAL or SDV Team for your first Operational tour and do two years training, workups and overseas deployments. If your first assignment is an SDV Team, you will most likely go to a SEAL Team for your second tour. On your first tour, you will be an Assistant Platoon Commander in an Assistant Officer in Charge (AOIC) billet. For your second two-year Operational tour, you will be a Platoon Commander in an Officer in Charge (OIC) billet.

As an Officer, you may qualify in specialized training such as Sniper, Freefall Jumpmaster, Dive Supervisor, Rappel Master and Fast Rope Master. You will usually not go to schools such as Special Demolitions, Breeching, Loadmaster, Rigger, Hazardous Cargo Certifier, and Outboard Motor Maintenance, as they are Enlisted specialties.

Your third tour will be Shore Duty on a Staff assignment, in language school, or at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA. Alternatively, a billet may be available for you to fulfill Joint Professional Military Education (JPME) Phase I requirements by attending one of the four U.S. Military War Colleges in the Junior Course. (You must be LCDR Select (O-4) or higher.)

You will next go back to an operational command for a tour, then alternate staff and operational tours. The career progression generally looks like this:

  • (O-3) LT or (O-4) LCDR

    - Operations Officer at a SEAL or SDV Team or equivalent

  • (O-4) Senior LCDR

    - Executive Officer at a SEAL or SDV Team or equivalent

  • (O-5) Commander Command

    - Commanding Officer of a SEAL, SDV or Special Boat Team

  • (O-6) Major Command

    - Command of one of the four Naval Special Warfare Groups or Naval Special Warfare Development Group

  • (O-6) Staff Position

    - Staff officer at the Pentagon or another senior Navy Staff, or Deputy Commander of a theater Special Operations Cmd.

The above are representative tours from Ensign (O-1) to Navy Captain (O-6). It will typically take 20 years to make this progression. However, everyone’s career path is unique and assignments are based on performance, timing of your rotation, available billets, and needs of the Navy. The one guarantee is that it will be an exciting and challenging adventure, with great opportunities for leadership, responsibility and advancement.


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