The Simple Reason Navy SEALs Succeed

This article was originally published on LinkedIn by John Allen.


“Prepare to enter the water!”

I snapped into position: right hand clamped over my mask; left hand over my weight belt; fins hanging over the edge of the pool. The two SEAL instructors who had just barked out this command were treading water in front of me, seconds away from tearing off my dive mask, tying knots in my breathing apparatus, and pummeling me under 15 feet of water.

My hands were shaking and I couldn’t even feel the 80 pounds of scuba gear digging into my back. This was my seventh (I had been rolled out of the previous class for failing this test four times) and second-to-last chance at passing pool comp, the evolution in SEAL training where you prove that even if you are drowning, you can override your instinct to panic, and follow emergency procedures that you’ve been taught while taking in gulps of air along with mouthfuls of water.

Talk to any SEAL, and all but a handful will tell you about some moment in training when they understood that being an operator isn’t about how many push-ups you can do or how much physical misery and hardship you can endure. It’s about realizing that you can’t run away or quit under any circumstance, whether you’re out of air on a dive, or you’re stacked up outside the door of a known bomb-maker’s house, about to make entry.

“Being an operator isn’t about how many push-ups you can do, it’s about realizing that you can’t quit under any circumstance.”

Ten minutes into my 20-minute-long pool comp test, I knew I was going to pass. Unlike my previous six failed attempts, this time I put all of my focus on just following the emergency procedures that I had been taught, and not on my own personal misery. For the first time, I wasn’t worried about drowning. I found myself performing all the procedures while taking in enough air to stay conscious until I got the signal to ditch my rig and surface, a signal given only when your instructors have tied the final knot in your air hoses — the so-called “whammy knot” — which is intentionally impossible to untangle.

A few years later — when I was stacked up outside a bomb-maker’s house in Afghanistan, I thought about that moment in pool comp when I knew — finally — that I was able to choose how to respond to even the most dangerous situations, under the most stressful circumstances. I knew in that pool and in that stack getting ready to clear a house potentially booby-trapped with IEDs, that I had a quality that is the real ticket to becoming a Navy SEAL, Green Beret, Army Ranger, or F-18 Fighter Pilot.

That quality is “grit,” a combination of persistence, passion, and commitment that is now one of the most sought after intangibles not only in the ranks of special operators but in the world of business. More than natural talent or a high IQ, grit is a trait that means you are willing to practice until you get something right; that you are willing to keep getting back up no matter how many times you fall down.

“That quality is “grit,” a combination of persistence, passion, and commitment that is now one of the most sought after intangibles not only in the ranks of special operators but in the world of business.”

The challenge facing many special operators now isn’t how to make it out of the bomb-maker’s house alive; it is how to make the transition from the military to the civilian world. Top-tier businesses looking to recruit and hire talented employees may love the idea of hiring a SEAL or an Army Ranger, but when it comes to making a firm job offer, sometimes it is easier just to hire the civilian candidate with the MBA or the junior analyst ready for promotion, than it is to train even the most impressive and decorated member of the military’s Special Operations Forces.

“The challenge facing many special operators now isn’t how to make it out of the bomb-maker’s house alive; it is how to make the transition from the military to the civilian world.”

As the co-founder of Elite Meet, a non profit organization with the single goal of helping SOF get good jobs in the private sector, my message to civilian employers is simple: the SOF community is a talent pool like no other. You don’t need to weed through a thousand resumes and sit through hundreds of interviews to figure out which candidate has grit and accountability; who is a self-starter and a team player. It turns out that Uncle Sam has done that for you, and you can find those job applicants right here, among the men and women who are in the process of separating from the special operations and fighter pilot communities.

The SOF community is a talent pool like no other.

The selection process that produces a Navy SEAL does not end when a SEAL candidate makes it through hell week or pool comp, or survives for a month after being dropped without so much as a book of matches into the Alaskan wilderness. It is a never ending selection process as these men will go from training for war into real life combat. When your survival depends on the guy ahead, behind, or next to you, that selection process becomes less about technical competence and more about the bare bones of just who you are, and what you do — every day, and in every situation.

In the world of social media, the appearance of reputation and character can be created with a few keystrokes. For operators, reputations are built the old fashioned way — by what your peers say and think about you. Even after you leave the Teams, behaving in ways that safeguard that respect is the standard to which you will always hold yourself.

In the world of social media, the appearance of reputation and character can be created with a few keystrokes. For operators, reputations are built the old fashioned way — by what your peers say and think about you.

The SOF candidate applying to your company may not look like an exact match, but this is a person who has been selected over and over again for the most difficult and challenging assignments because of their ability to learn quickly, adapt instinctively, and perform effectively under any circumstances. These skills have become so integral a part of their make-up that many SOF vets will hardly think to mention them in a job interview or networking conversation. Yet the best of these operators come with a sterling credential you can count on: reputation and grit.

SOF vets learn quickly, adapt instinctively, and perform effectively under any circumstances.

There is a lot of cache these days to being a member of the Special Operations Forces. But the vast majority of SOF are not looking to read about themselves in books or see themselves glamorized on television. They are looking for business leaders and decision-makers to give them a chance to put their extraordinary skills to work in your company.

If you are an employer, all you need to do is get in the same room with these job applicants and give them a chance to meet you, talk with you about your business needs, and close the deal on a job that works for you — and for them.

We have a saying in the SEAL Teams: You earn your trident every day. Hire a member of this community, and you have hired someone who gives the words “grit,” “talent,” and “work ethic” a whole new meaning.

Learn more about connecting with elite military veterans at www.elitemeet.us