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A Common Story About Three Different Spec Ops Candidates – Different Situation - Similar Outcomes

Stew smith

A Common Story About Three Different
Spec Ops Candidates
– Different Situations With Similar Outcomes - 

Let me tell you a quick story.  I have been training people for decades.  All types of athletes and non-athletes, but many go onto to do a variety of special ops programs in all branches of military service and police SWAT / Hostage Rescue.  It has been an honor to help prepare people for all these groups for over 20 years. This is a story about three different spec ops candidates who all went to BUDS to test themselves and were faced with the question of “how bad they want it.”  This selection program is the gateway to the SEAL community.  There are many ways to get TO BUDS, but there is only one way to get THROUGH BUDS and into the Teams. Your preparation must match your “how bad do you want it” answer. 

Over the years, I have seen many Special Ops Candidates. Some are solid candidates, many start out as just average and improve significantly, and some don’t have a chance. I am not trying to be mean with that statement, I am just coming from experience and see over-confident – under-prepared kids all the time shipping out way too soon for what they soon find out is not a kid’s game.

All give me hope for the future however and I deeply appreciate someone who wants to serve his/her country in any of the tactical professions – military, police, firefighter / EMT, and special ops too.  The candidates who make it all tend to share a few common denominators that can turn them into great candidates:

Unfortunately, many people who start on this journey get inspired by all the cool guy parts of the job and do not really consider just how difficult the process of getting TO and THROUGH the training can be.  Maybe they saw a cool commercial about special ops? Most started following SEALs and other special operators on social media and got the idea that they wanted to be a SEAL more than they want to prepare to be a good and solid candidate. Wanting to be in special ops is the easy part. Taking the proper steps to build success on that dream is hard – then testing it thoroughly when going through selection is even harder. Your “how bad do you want it” will be tested

Most people who attempt to get INTO the training do not make the cut.  They either fail the ASVAB standards, fail the PT Test standards, or do not qualify for medical reasons. Those that do get cleared by medical, most of them will generally quit or not make the standards to get into the training pipeline once in the military. These are elevated standards like the ones of the BUDS Prep Course final PT test before they enter SEAL Training: 

Navy BUDS Prep Exit PT Test


Minimum Standards

Great Candidates

1000m swim with fins

22 minutes

16-17 minutes or faster

Pushups (2 minutes)



Situps (2 minutes)



Pullups (max)



4 mile timed run

31 minutes

28 minutes or faster

Seeing these scores, when you cannot pass the standards to get the chance to go to boot camp with a Special Operator (SO) rate can be quite demoralizing to a recruit in the delayed entry program with a ship date already but no SO contract yet. Now, the pressure of a timeline that you set yourself on and the demands of the program may not meet up with your abilities. Getting discouraged with workout progress is easy when mentors and recruiters and people you have talked about your goals do not think you are a serious candidate and do not think you can make it in time. All the while, there are also people in your world that say, “Why join the military? Why don't you go get a real job?” And your family and friends want you to consider going to college first, but you decide you want to enlist and follow the dream.  This is a typical journey of many I have seen over the years. 

There is a lot that goes into making this type of decision to leave home and serve your country and thank God for young men and women that make that decision. For most however, it is a perfect storm of failure or lessons learned, if you have a good mindset.  Most young men and women are ready to serve in the regular military when they depart, but young recruits with spec ops aspirations - statistically speaking - are not. Otherwise, you would have a much lower attrition rate not in the 50-75% zone. Sure, the training is hard and will make you dig deep into your “how bad do you want this” part of your brain, but it is not impossible with some preparation time. I know for sure I would not have met the standards, nor been able to handle the training at 18 years old. But I was good to go at 22 years old. 

Just when things could not get any worse for the young recruit, time is up in the delayed entry program and he failed to meet the SO standards to get a contract.  Time to go to boot camp and go with plan B in the Navy for a few years.  But that is ok - he can still transfer to BUDS from the Navy, right?  Well, not necessarily – depends on a few factors like if your year group is full or not (the year you joined the Navy), your rating is undermanned or overmanned, and if you are a better candidate now compared to when you enlisted.  Regardless, you have a few years so time to set a performance starting line - not a timeline that is not enough to properly prepare you. 

For those in the Fleet trying to get to BUDS, you either are more motivated than ever to get there or you may start to feel like you do not belong in that profession. Only hard work will build your confidence back up as you deal with all the insecurities that come with constantly failing to meet the standard.  Once you start to exceed the standard will you start to create a positive internal dialogue with yourself.  To avoid all of this, just be ready to join the Navy and become a SEAL, when you start talking to a recruiter. You might be ready to join the Navy and attend Boot Camp, but that is NOT the same as being ready to become a SEAL. 

The above story is a common outcome for countless recruits seeking to go in the spec ops world. Here are a few condensed stories of three different options for the enlisted recruit who could not get to or through BUDS after boot camp.

Three Stories of an enlisted fail to get to or through BUDS with three different outcomes BUT similar!

Enlisted Fail to BUDS

Enlisted Fail to Officer SEAL

Enlisted Fail to Green Beret

- Never met the standard to get accepted into BUDS as a recruit.
-Lateral Transfer - Got to BUDS from Fleet
see Process
- became a much better candidate
- crushed the PST
- prepared for longer runs, swims, load bearing – getting THROUGH the training.

- Graduated BUDS at age 21!


-Not able to get to BUDS from the FLEET
(Year Group Full)
- finished 4 year enlistment
- took online college courses

- a year later – graduated college and put in OCS BUDS officer package.
- Got selected to attend SOAS – success!
- Went to OCS then to BUDS
- graduated BUDS as an officer.

-Not able to get through BUDS (Not get out of rating)
- finished 4 year enlistment
- joined Army next day
- 18X contract
- Got Selected to go SF
- Now in the Army wearing a Green Beret.






Plus there is another favorite story of mine. Don’t let me forget the officer BUDS student who quit in first phase and is now serving as an Admiral in the Surface Warfare Community.  You not being ready when you attempt the process does not mean the dream is done. You can keep moving in a new direction and succeed on many different levels and continue serving in many different ways.

There is a moment when you realize you need to UP YOUR GAME if you want to get to or stay in your current position especially in the Special Ops training pipeline. Each of the stories above all had a spark that did not die, and they were re-focused on the path that would get them to a spec ops program. 

Here is the growth that occurred for each of the above candidates: 

  • They got to work though they could not do it by themselves. They were good performers with support of their chain of command. Each had someone (CO/XO, division officer / chief) that provided solid advice and cared about their desire to serve in a different capacity.
  • They maxed the next PST with above competitive scores.
  • One finished his four-year enlistment strong then needed one more year of full time college and crushed it and got in killer shape.
  • The other after multiple tries to get back to BUDS, fails due to Navy issues, finished his Navy enlistment and went Army as a solid Army SF 18-X candidate. 

Here is something they all learned about themselves during this journey:

  • There were stronger, harder workers, more mature, more focused than before.
  • They saw the difference between the 4 years of growth from 18-22.
  • They all were in the best shape of their lives and thoroughly understood what they were getting themselves into.
  • They knew how to bring their A-Game to challenges.
  • They realized that just because there is something that they really want to do, it is not going to be given to them like they deserved it.
  • If you have a dream and a focused determination, you don't have to push yourself - the dream pulls you.
  • They all had a dream when they were younger but did not realize the level of effort that dream required. Now they know. 

Now as operators, they see now know how they have grown:

  • They all saw initial failure as a learning experience now - not as an end to a dream.
  • They all had two choices: They had to re-work the dream to make things happen or they could have moved onto something else.
  • The officer candidate sees himself as a leader from a level of experience that was unlike many of his peers.
  • The officer candidate when attending BUDS saw himself as someone who could talk to the younger classmates who were experiencing many of the issues the 18year old me had at BUDS. He wanted to help them because he had been where they were - except he never even made it TO BUDS as an 18 year old.
  • They are all focused on learning their job as operators.
  • The junior officer actually considers himself like a rookie quarterback on a pro football team. He is surrounded by experience and talent like he has have never seen before just as a quarterback has to rely on his veteran linemen and backs to get the ball down the field. He has to make decisions that affect his platoon and the mission, but could not do it without the advice of the Team. 

In Conclusion 

They all could have avoided a great deal of heart break and pain had they been patient and joined when they were ready.  Looking back, they all now know they really were not ready until 21-22 versus 17-18 years old when they first joined. In the end, they all had to finish growing - both physically and in maturity. 

The reason why I told this story with so many options after the initial failure is to demonstrate that you can find a way if you stay focused on your dream and continue to better yourself each year.  But here are some things to take from these similar journeys:

  • Never give up when things are looking at their worst.
  • Just because a door shuts, does not mean you cannot find another door down the hallway of options – you just need to keep moving and stay focused on another route.
  • If you really want to do anything find your WHY so you can refocus and get energized to finish
  • You must grow and evolve – becoming a better person than you were the year before.
  • This applies to all areas of life and business in and out of the military / special ops world.

So - What is Good Enough - Assess Yourself (CLICK HERE)

Who Is The Coach, Trainer, Author Stew Smith?

 I'm the former Navy SEAL that military recruits and special ops candidates go to for books, ebooks and online coaching to prepare themselves to get to and through intense tactical assessment and selection programs and qualify for service in their chosen tactical profession.  See More at

Check out the Complete List of Training Programs (Spec Ops, Military, Police, Fire) 

Which Program is Right For Me - Special Ops Candidates 



Navy SEAL Workout Phase 1 Beginner Weeks 1-9 
Navy SEAL Workout Phase 2 - 3 - Intermediate Weeks 1-12
Navy SEAL Workout Phase 4 Grinder PT - Four weeks before Hell Week

Navy SEAL / SWCC, EOD, Diver Program Series - Phase 1 is what I call a beginner guide, but it is still challenging.  It is geared toward those who are scoring minimally or failing their Navy PST test - 500yd swim, pushups, situps, pullups, 1.5 mile run.  It is easier than The Complete Guide to Navy SEAL Fitness and a good prep course before attempting it. 

Phase 2 and 3 of the Navy SEAL / SWCC, EOD, Diver program is about the same level of intensity as Navy SEAL Fitness and is also a good follow-up plan after Phase 1

Phase 4 ot the Navy SEAL Key to Mental Toughness is by far my toughest workout ever created.  It resembles a day of BUDS, complete with "wet and sandy", runs after eating, high rep punishment push-ups, 4 mile timed runs, 2 mile swims with fins, log PT simulation, and even a HellWeek Simulator with 3 workouts a day.  

Navy SEAL Weight Training Book
Complete Guide to Navy SEAL Fitness Book

The Pipeline of Training Options: 


It depends:  The Complete Guide to Navy SEAL Fitness is a classic and focuses on high rep calisthenics and running and swimming base.  You will build up your running over 12-18 weeks to 20 miles but very fast paced focus on both the 1.5 mile run for the PST and the 4 mile timed run for weekly run test at BUDS. If you are an athlete with a strong power / strength background in lifting and not running or swimming, Navy SEAL Fitness is ideal for you. IF you need some place to start Navy SEAL Fitness is ideal for you as well because a calisthenics base / running / swimming progression is a good place to build a foundation.  Though you will likely need to spend some time in the Navy SEAL Weight Training Book OR if Navy SEAL FItness is too challenging, go with Navy SEAL SWCC, EOD, Diver, PST Phase 1 Workout.  Phase 1 is a good starting point if Navy SEAL Fitness program is too tough. 

Navy SEAL Weight Training - This is part two (winter lifting phase) of my SEAL Prep program. If you have done the Navy SEAL Fitness (12 weeks to BUDS) program a few times and need a break, this is the next program that integrates lifting with the Navy SEAL Prep training. 

Special Ops and Selection Prep Programs

Special Ops – Most of my programs tend to focus on getting TO and THROUGH a specific tactical training program. So you may see a mix of all the seasons in some of these books, but if you are training long term, you can take advantage of Seasonal Periodization and save yourself some of the over-use, long term pains that tend to follow many of the tactical preparations - especially on the spec ops level of training. 

Start training today with workouts that focus on the specifics of getting to and through tactical profession training from firefighter, police, swat, military to special ops. We have programs to help you get TO and THROUGH training.


Seasonal Tactical Fitness Programs 

Especially These That Are Used For Local Spec Ops Candidates Last Year


and even more at Complete List of Books / eBooks...

Tactical Fitness Series - Tactical Fitness, Tactical Strength, and Tactical Mobility is an ALL-encompassing program that focuses on lifting, calisthenics, run, ruck, swim, speed, agility, and flexibility / mobility. Many people focusing on USMC (OCS, RECON, MarSOC) Army Ranger / SF, Air Force Special Warfare, SWAT / Federal Law Enforcement, and Navy Special Warfare have done very well focusing on the Tactical Fitness Series and developing themselves into an all-round Tactical Athlete

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