Hell Week is the defining event of BUD/S training. It is held early on – in the 3rd week of First Phase – before the Navy makes an expensive investment in SEAL operational training. Hell Week consists of 5 1/2 days of cold, wet, brutally difficult operational training on fewer than four hours of sleep. Hell Week tests physical endurance, mental toughness, pain and cold tolerance, teamwork, attitude, and your ability to perform work under high physical and mental stress, and sleep deprivation. Above all, it tests determination and desire. On average, only 25% of SEAL candidates make it through Hell Week, the toughest training in the U.S. Military. It is often the greatest achievement of their lives, and with it comes the realization that they can do 20X more than they ever thought possible. It is a defining moment that they reach back to when in combat. They know that they will never, ever quit, or let a teammate down.
Over the years, research has been done to determine the common trait in those individuals who make it through Hell Week, without a definitive answer. Those who ultimately succeed in BUD/S SEALs, the true predictor of which candidates will succeed, are those who have a burning desire to see it in their eyes – not necessarily the fastest swimmers or the largest and strongest men.
Do not quit and instead, take turns to hang in there and help each other, as camaraderie and teamwork are essential. Some trainees are so fatigued that they fall asleep while eating to ensure they get plenty of food. Others are pulled out of the water by their teammates and boats while they are asleep. The water’s salt burns cuts and the sand chafes their skin raw. Everything, including their faces, hands, and uniforms, is covered in mud. When they are extremely sleep-deprived and approaching hypothermia, they operate functionally and make sound decisions, requiring them to perform evolutions that lead, think, and perform. Even when standing in formation, waist-deep in the cold ocean water with the cutting wind, or soaking wet on the beach, it can still be challenging. Trainees are constantly in motion, whether it’s paddling through the surf and mud, rolling in the sand, doing push-ups and sit-ups, carrying boats on their heads, swimming, or running.
The SEAL community is small, so Instructors know that those trainees who pass the rigorous assessment and testing, and demonstrate the ability to save their teammates and show physical prowess, are likely to serve in future combat operations. Instructors make it honorable and even easy for students to come out of the cold and enjoy coffee and doughnuts in front of their suffering former classmates, by ringing the bell that signals defeat. Throughout Hell Week, Instructors use bullhorns to mimic an inner voice that urges trainees to quit, in order to test their resilience. Medical personnel are always on hand to monitor and provide care for the exhausted trainees during evolutions, ensuring safety is always adhered to.
During periods of conflict, the United States dispatches one of its highly skilled Navy SEALs who have earned a position due to their perceived invincibility and ability to accomplish anything. After enduring the grueling ordeal, they proceed to complete BUD/S training and join the ranks of the SEALs, with the majority of students successfully enduring Hell Week. The decision to persevere or give up lies solely with the individual student, as they are constantly faced with tempting opportunities to quit, doubts being planted in their minds, and immense physical and mental strain. While the Instructors possess the ability to make anyone quit if they desired, that is not their objective. It is not the trainees’ physical stamina that fails them, but rather their mental strength. Trainees simply reach a point where they believe they are too exhausted, in pain, covered in sand, or freezing to continue. In reality, the challenges of Hell Week and BUD/S encompass both mental and physical aspects, although SEAL candidates often mistakenly believe that physical prowess is paramount.