KODIAK ISLAND, Alaska — SEAL candidates battled all night through deep snow and freezing wind to complete the final exercise of cold weather training April 11, on Kodiak Island.
The 24-hour final training exercise, or FTX, is the ultimate test for candidates as they put their accumulated cold weather survival knowledge to use in a real-world scenario. Evolutions during the FTX included a 500-yard ocean swim through 34-degree water to a rocky beach at dusk, a river crossing via highline and long range navigation through mountain wilderness to infiltrate and establish covert surveillance of a target site. The 25 SEAL candidates did it all while carrying half of their body weight in gear and weapons.
“These guys did great,” said SEAL Ensign Ron Rector, officer in charge of Naval Special Warfare Center Detachment Kodiak. “They were motivated, and it’s an awesome class. They love doing this stuff even though there were a lot of tough evolutions.”
The 28-day course was designed to give candidates the skills they need to endure and operate in frigid conditions. Candidates coming to Kodiak learn everything from how to use specialized survival gear to plotting a course in the mountainous, snow-covered terrain.
“We teach them how to survive in the cold weather starting with the basics — setting up tents and starting their stoves,” said one veteran SEAL instructor who requested anonymity due to his active status. “Most of these guys have never spent a night out in the cold before, and we have to show them how to utilize their gear.”
During the 28-day course, candidates learned how to create shelter, build a fire and find food. Learning how to move through the wilderness without getting lost is an important part of the training.
“We learned how to navigate using terrain association, and how to find terrain features on a map,” said Special Warfare Operator 3rd Class Joshua Miller.
“Navigation out here is really tough because everything looks the same.”
Before the candidates completed the FTX, they spent days in the remote mountains of Kodiak, learning from instructors all the things they can’t learn in a classroom like how to make a snow cave for shelter and what to do if they had to carry on with minimal gear.
“We were shown how to survive with just a fire and our knife,” said Miller.
During training leading up to the FTX, the class, after spending all night in snow caves on Pyramid Mountain, traveled by snowshoes and ski poles over several feet of snow drifts to the Buskin River for a rewarming drill.
While instructors closely monitored and gave encouragement, the platoon walked onto the ice until they broke through and were submerged up to their necks for five minutes in near freezing water. Then they exited and worked in pairs, assembling their two-man tents and firing up their stoves to avoid hypothermia.
“The first feeling in the water is pure shock,” said Special Warfare Operator 3rd Class Michael Gaviria. “It shocks your body and takes your breathe away.”
“The idea is to teach these guys that this is what it’s like if you’re really frozen,” said Rector. “It’s also a confidence builder, to let them know they can do this and they are going to be alright.”
The candidates comprise SEAL Qualification Class 272, now completing their third week at the Naval Special Warfare Center Detachment Kodiak. They began SEAL training in June 2008, and they have three months remaining on the long, arduous road toward earning the coveted trident breast insignia worn only by the Navy’s elite special warfare commandos.
Naval special warfare is the maritime component of U.S. Special Operations Command and is the Navy’s special operations force. The community is composed of more than 7,500 personnel, including 2,300 SEALs and 600 special warfare combatant-craft crewmen (SWCC), along with military support personnel, Reserve components and civilian staff. SEALs and SWCC focus on missions involving irregular warfare, direct action, anti-terrorism, special reconnaissance, foreign internal defense, information warfare, security assistance, counter-drug operations, personnel recovery and hydrographic reconnaissance.