BCT comes first and is a seven-week program testing the physical strength of a candidate and his ability to work as a member of a team. The class begins with approximately 40 students and includes men straight from recruit training and seasoned Sailors from the fleet. A team of highly-trained and experienced special boat operators serve as their instructors.
This phase is the most physical part of training. Some candidates arrive for training in good shape, but some don’t realize exactly what they are getting into until the training has begun.
“During the first two weeks we basically do the crawl, walk, run method,” said Chief Special Boat Operator (SWCC) Christopher Moore, leading chief petty officer of BCT. “We teach them exactly how to do what they need to do to make it through the next five weeks.”
The beginning of the third week of training is when everything gets kicked up a notch. Instructors teach candidates the basics, from proper swimming technique to equipment maintenance. Now it is up to the Sailors to decide if they really want to be in the program.
“One of the biggest things that causes students to drop is that they realize how much work it is, or how it isn’t as glamorous as the recruiting video portrayed it to be,” said instructor Special Boat Operator 1st Class (SWCC/FPJ) Anthony Blond. “They also find out how scary it is being on a boat at night going 40 knots and then decide that it isn’t for them.”
By the beginning of week five, almost half of the candidates remain and they struggle to get into a groove.
“They come here as individuals and they forget that they have to work well with others,” said instructor Special Boat Operator 1st Class (SWCC/FPJ) Lawrence Obst. “No matter how fast or how strong they think they are, they now have to motivate others to complete the tasks and get through the training as a group.”
But the instructors don’t let up on tough standards. They know the candidates must learn to cope with stressful environments. “We can teach them how to use a radio and shoot a gun,” Blond said. “But when the stress level goes up that’s when they lose everything they’ve learned. We have to keep that stress level up so that we know they can perform in that environment.”
Blond and Obst know that they will likely be serving on teams with these students sometime in their career and they want a teammate they can trust. It is the instructors’ mission to ensure the strongest candidates, both mentally and physically, make it through. They would rather graduate a few strong candidates that can handle the stress than a whole class that may not perform.
BCT culminates in a final test of the candidate’s knowledge and physical stamina. It is called “The Tour.” This is a simulation of a basic mission. It consists of more than 36 hours of various physical activities like swimming and push ups, little to no rest, and getting in and out of cold water. It begins with the SWCC physical fitness test then moves on to navigation at sea in small boats. In the end, typically 10 to 20 students make it through. One candidate who was dropped but made it back into the program and persevered was Special Boat Operator 2nd Class Michael Gough.
“This training is physically hard,” he said. “The job and the camaraderie made me come back and do this all over again.” There is much to celebrate after making it through “The Tour.” Both the instructors and the newly-graduated candidates gather in front of BCT headquarters to eat, casually talk, and relax for a few short hours. The candidates have finally earned the SB rating. For those new SBs, it’s time to move on to the next step of becoming a SWCC.
CQT is a less physical and more mentally demanding part of SWCC training. This 14-week school requires candidates to study for and pass written tests rather than just concentrate on strength and endurance tests. “BCT tests the heart and physical capabilities of a student,” said Senior Chief Special Boat Operator (SWCC) James Budrakey, the leading chief petty officer of CQT. “At CQT we are more interested in pumping the students with technical knowledge on how to be boat guys and make an overall package that is ready to go to the teams in a more functional manner.”
The students are given a PQS as a reference for what they are expected to learn over the remainder of the training. This book includes everything from the rules of warfare and 3M to weapons training and communications
Over the 14 weeks of instruction, the students spend about 600 hours in the classroom and countless more studying independently. About 150 classroom hours include labs where candidates learn hands-on with the equipment they were taught during class.
The process of going from class to lab to the practical test is repetitive, but according to instructors, is essential in making sure candidates know and are comfortable with the basic elements of their rating. Repetition becomes especially important as they approach the weapons training portion of their training.
Weapons training starts at week eight of CQT. Over the one-month period of weapons training, the candidates train and qualify on nine weapons from 9mm pistols to .50-caliber, mounted machine guns. Repetition is key in order to safely train. According to some instructors, it is the most challenging part of the course. Ironically, it is also the training students look forward to the most.
“Weapons is known as a high-failure point of training and it has the reputation of being a very tough part of the course,” said Budrakey. “A lot of students get excited about getting out on the range and shooting, but they are also nervous about it because they know it’s a pretty strong challenge.” The weapons training involves classroom as well as shooting range time. The students only have three chances to pass their practical shooting test. This is when paying attention to detail becomes paramount.
“There are some candidates coming through that have never held a weapon before,” said SBC (SWCC) Thomas Sounier. “Getting them used to the sounds and feel can only be done by repeating the training from the classroom to the range.”
Figuring out how to be a Sailor can be difficult as well for some young candidates who may have no naval experience.
“The biggest challenge that many of them face is sailorization and learning what it means to be a Sailor and a leader at such a young age,” said Budrakey.
The students also realize that they have to take more responsibility in order to receive their warfare device.
“CQT gave you more freedom … but it put more on you as an individual to complete the course,” said SB2 (SWCC) Russell Manyo, a recent CQT graduate.
“When they leave here they get their basic 3M qualification, CMS user qualification, and their warfare designation pin which encompasses their weapons and other qualifications,” said SB1 (SWCC) Justin Beebe, a CQT instructor. “They are qualified to go to a team.”
After nearly 100 days of grueling, brain and gut busting training and evaluations, the students prepare for graduation. Gear is turned in, orders to their boat teams are handed out and uniforms are prepped. Graduation morning, the students and all of their instructors form up for the final time. The instructors, special warfare members and family gather to congratulation their loved ones and welcome their new brothers to the teams.
“It feels amazing,” said SB3 (SWCC) David Hostetter. “I have been waiting to get this rate and pin for about a year now and everything I went through was worth it.”
The instructors feel a real sense of accomplishment as well, knowing they have not just done their job, but created the best Sailor they possibly could.
In the end this is not just a SWCC school or a Special Warfare school,” said Sounier. “We are creating a Sailor.”