Crowds flocking to Navy SEAL Museum

While Navy SEALs normally work in the shadows, they came into the international limelight on May 2 when they killed Osama bin Laden.

Now the National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum has seen its daily attendance triple. The museum in Fort Pierce, Florida, documents the history of the SEALs from their humble beginnings in 1943 as the Naval Combat Demolition Teams and Underwater Demolition Teams to the cutting-edge special ops force it is today.

Yet what will surely go down in history as one of the SEAL’s greatest hits isn’t covered by the museum yet. It’s too recent. That will soon change if the museum raises $1.5 million to set up permanent exhibits in its new wing.

On memorial Day about 2,000 people attended services at the museum, and the SEAL team that killed bin Laden got special attention.

“The signal was sent that you cannot attack the U.S. and murder innocent women and children with impunity, that we will find you and get you and win this war,” said Admiral Thomas L. Brown II.

[Photo of SEALs in Afghanistan courtesy U.S. Navy]

Pilot body scans and counter-terror operations: distant consideration for special forces

The uproar over TSA body scanners and pat-downs has hit every corner of the aviation world, from passengers to pilots. The vocal consensus, at least, is that nobody likes them, even though 64 percent of Americans support the practice and 70 percent don’t expect it to impact their travel. A friend of mine, flying today, tweeted that he made it through security at New York’s JFK airport in a mere nine minutes.

Nonetheless, flight crews have voiced vehement opposition to the scans, with one pilot becoming an overnight celebrity by refusing to submit himself to that or a pat-down. We all have to do it, though, so this has left me to ponder … what’s the big deal?

I’ve been particularly intrigued by the attitude of pilots toward body scanners. At first blush, it struck me as a privileged perspective: the top dogs on the plane felt as though they shouldn’t have to be subjected to the same scrutiny as the rest of us. Patrick Smith, resident pilot at, wrote of the recent TSA change over crew scrutiny, in which “airline pilots will no longer be subject to the backscatter body scanners and invasive pat-downs at TSA airport checkpoints”:

For pilots like myself this is good news, though at least for the time being we remain subject to the rest of the checkpoint inspection, including the X-raying of luggage and the metal detector walk-through. Eventually, we are told, the implementation of so-called CrewPASS will allow us to skirt the checkpoint more or less entirely.

He continues:

Not everybody agrees that air crews deserve this special treatment. That’s not an unreasonable point of view, and I don’t disagree with it, necessarily. As security experts like Bruce Schneier point out, if you are going to screen at all, it is important to screen everybody, lest the system become overly complicated and prone to exploitable loopholes.

This made me wonder, what is the risk associated with not screening pilots as intensively? The only scenario that came to mind involved a terrorist incident. As I let my mind race, I constructed a hypothetical situation in which terrorists got on board a plane, took control and asked for demands of some sort – i.e., they wanted more than to cause death and destruction. In this situation, I suspected, counter-terrorist teams, such as 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (1st SFOD-D, also known as “Delta Force”), would be called into play.

My thinking continued: if a pilot hadn’t been scanned, he could have brought a weapon … which could have been taken from him by terrorists. Would the special forces teams want to know if a pilot had been scanned?

As I continued through my hypothetical exercise, I could hear my platoon sergeant’s voice from close to 15 years ago, drilling me from across time: “Actions on the objective,” he used to say, “always spend most of your time rehearsing actions on the objective.”

You have to admit this about military training, it really sticks with you!

So, my first thought was whether, while rehearsing actions on the objective, the special forces teams would want to know every last detail of what was on the plane. My training falls far, far short of that, and my efforts to reach someone from 1st SFOD-D didn’t pan out (unsurprisingly).

Fortunately, I knew a great person to call: Don Shipley, Senior Chief (Retired), U.S. Navy. Now, Shiply runs Extreme SEAL Experience, a destination program that simulates various aspects of Navy SEAL training. Before that, of course, he lived the life, having served with SEAL Team ONE and SEAL Team TWO.

I laid out my hypothetical for Shipley: during mission planning, would the operators want to know if the pilots had been scanned, at least to have a better sense of whether they’d carried any weapons on the plane?

The answer, quite simply, is that it wouldn’t be an immediate concern. I spoke with Shipley by phone today, and he said that whether the pilots had been scanned “would be a very distant ‘what if’.” He explained of the special forces teams, “They’d want to know who they [i.e., the crew] are,” as well as background on how long they’d been flying and any other information related to the incident. Also, Shipley said the teams would want to know if there was an air marshal on the flight. The role of body scans, however, would not be a major factor in planning or rehearsing an operation.

“There are some pretty good people in charge of those planes,” Shipley noted, “good bunch of guys and gals.”

Does it suck that someone else gets to go through security faster and more easily than you do? Yeah, it feels like an injustice. But, let’s be realistic: there really isn’t much at stake here aside from a sense of fairness. Let’s e smart about this, though. The airline industry – and the air travel experience – is fraught with inefficiency. If we can make the operation a little smoother by giving the crew an easier time of getting to work, let’s just bite the bullet on this issue.

[photo courtesy of Extreme SEAL Experience]

Destination on the edge: SEAL training

Navy SEALS seem to have a phrase that functions as both “hello” and “goodbye”: kick ass! But, it’s not reserved solely for these purposes. This expression also works as a motivator, squeezing every last ounce of effort out of the recipient. And, at Extreme SEAL Experience, you’ll need it. Spend close to four weeks pushing your mind and body past every limit you’ve ever imagined, and you’ll finally understand the full definition of “kick ass!”

Extreme SEAL Experience is one of many military-themed vacation spots at which you can get an inside look at elite military training. This one is different, though. When the instructors at Extreme SEAL Experience send a letter of recommendation to the official Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) school, it makes a difference. Of course, it helps that the program’s teachers have combined special warfare experience of around a century. They can spot talent, and the U.S. Navy knows it.

Extreme SEAL Experience offers four programs, running from the sheer agony of the first day (a prerequisite for the other courses) to SEAL Advanced Operator Training, which includes fastroping, night operations and a frighteningly real field exercise. Each minute of each program is carefully scripted to inflict the most pressure possible … and push you to new levels of, um, “self-discovery.”

The first night, “Hell Night,” is mislabeled. It actually lasts more than 24 hours. For the vast majority of this effort, you will not be happy. There’s no other way to put it. Misery tops (and pervades) the agenda. But, you come out the other side with more confidence and a greater sense of what you can accomplish. Unlike the official version of BUD/S, Hell Night is not designed to hit an 80 percent attrition rate, but you won’t graduate without some pain.

Participants in Extreme SEAL Experience programs understand the intensity of the program (or think they do) before registration. Thus, most are in great shape and have the necessary “Type A” personalities. Youth is abundant, with most guests in their late teens or early twenties. In almost every course, there are a handful of people whose names are stenciled in red. This means they are using Extreme SEAL Experience as a way to test the waters before enlisting and applying for BUD/S. They receive the benefit of some extra attention along the way.

Prospective SEAL candidates are not the only attendees singled out, however. Anything that makes you different will catch an instructor’s eye. If you are the youngest or oldest in your class, you will not escape detection. Those with a bit of gray hair can expect to have the stress of leadership added to an already strenuous program. The “old folks” usually do well, motivating younger team members and adding a touch of maturity to the mix. Age is not a barrier at Extreme SEAL Experience, and it can be an advantage. The oldest graduate was 58, and he was hardcore.

The advanced courses delve into the tools of the special warfare trade. You’ll still push your body and sacrifice some sleep, but you’ll get to have some fun at the same time. Hand-to-hand combat, small unit operations (mostly at night) and live-fire weapons shooting add to your portfolio of skills as an elite recreational special warrior. If you complete all four courses, you will leave with a pretty good sense of what it takes to be a Navy SEAL.

I know what you’re thinking: there’s no way Extreme SEAL Experience can be as tough as the real thing. Duh. There’s no way it could be. The instructors would have to keep an ambulance on site 24 hours a day. Nonetheless, the team goes as far as it reasonably can, which you’ll see is pretty rough. If you can finish the Extreme SEAL Experience, you have a decent chance of surviving BUD/S, but there are no guarantees.

Some people do have a tough time with the program. In fact, it has led a few aspiring SEAL sot reconsider their plans before heading to see their local recruiters. Even if you change your life plans after only one night, the instructors will continue to motivate you. Usually, a decision to quit a session at the camp is averted by a pep talk from the cadre. The participant may not go on to BUD/S, but he can still call his time at Extreme SEAL Experience a success.

If you’re looking to punish your body with aggressive military-style training, you have choices. Shoot for the nastiest experience imaginable, and graduation will be most fulfilling. Extreme SEAL Experience will punish you – which is what you’re looking for. Spend a 27-hour night or a few weeks with these misfits, and you’ll know you’ve accomplished something.

[Photos thanks to Extreme SEAL Experience]