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Career Make-Over

Navy SEAL Hopeful Immerses Himself in Preparations

February 11, 2001|SUSAN VAUGHN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Discipline, perseverance and peak mental and physical fitness are assets for any line of work. But a few specialty careers demand these in extreme measures.

In June, Aaron Henderson, 20, will enter what some call the world's toughest military school: the Navy's Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL, or BUD/S, program in Coronado, Calif.

Since his junior year in high school, Henderson's goal has been to become a Navy SEAL.

"But right now, I just want to get through the training," he said.

Henderson has reason to be concerned about his chances of getting through BUD/S. On average, only 24% of the men in a class make it through the program.

Methodically, Henderson has been preparing for what may prove to be the challenge of his life.

While still in his hometown of Burlington, Wash., Henderson approached Jim Kauber, a retired master chief SEAL and the father of a close friend, about the career path.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday February 18, 2001 Home Edition Work Place Part W Page 2 Financial Desk 1 inches; 21 words Type of Material: Correction
Career Make-Over--The last name of Navy SEAL hopeful Aaron Hendrickson was incorrect in the Career Make-Over that ran in the Feb. 11 Work Place section.

"I think Aaron was looking for something special to do," Kauber said. "Athletically, I knew that he definitely had the physical ability to [tackle the SEAL program]. So we discussed the type of individual that tends to gravitate to the career: somebody very aggressive, intelligent, motivated, with a 'no-quit' attitude. And knowing Aaron as I do, he fits that profile."

Henderson already had proved himself an exceptional high school athlete, becoming a two-time league champion in tennis and wrestling. He hoped he could incorporate the goal-setting methods, mental discipline and physical fitness regimens that he used in those sports into his SEAL ("Sea, Air and Land") preparatory training.

But Kauber told Henderson that he needed to improve his swimming skills. The two created a program to enable Henderson to become faster and gain more stamina in the water. Still, Henderson said, "that'll be my toughest area" when he enters the BUD/S program.

In addition, Kauber led Henderson every day in 6 a.m. physical training sessions that included calisthenics, push-ups and sit-ups.

"I would have the same physical [regimen] that the SEALs do," Kauber said. "It was my opportunity to show him what goes on in training for the SEALs, to help him get used to the intensive grind of the program. He never missed a day."

However, physical preparation will be only half of Henderson's battle, Kauber said. "Mentally, you really can't train for it," he said. "It's having an attitude: 'No matter what they do to me, I'm gonna complete it, because it's worth it.' "

With his family's encouragement, Henderson enlisted in the Navy in September 1999. He went through boot camp and, since last April, has been stationed with SEAL Team 3 at the Naval Special Warfare Base in Coronado, doing information technology work. Superiors have been impressed with his performance. In July, the SEAL Team 3 Commanding Officer Adam Curtis named Henderson "Sailor of the Quarter."

Henderson's BUD/S training will begin in four months. It's impossible to predict which men will succeed, said Cmdr. Jeff Alderson, a SEAL spokesman based in Coronado. In recent years, triathletes, track stars and football players have quit when the training got too hard.

Henderson will be challenged to push his physical and mental limits more than he's ever done before.

So Henderson has been trying to learn as much as he can about what to expect. He's queried men who have completed the training, as well as those who are going through it.

"They've said that everyone has a few areas where they do well and others that are more difficult for them," he said. He also sought guidance from SEAL Team 3 Command Master Chief Frank Bosia. He told Bosia that his long-term goal was to move up the ranks into a leadership position.

Bosia cautioned him to plan only one step at a time. "Getting past BUD/S should be your focus," he said. "Above anything else, you'll need to be mentally resilient, physically tough and determined."

Bosia added that as a SEAL, Henderson would need to work well in teams. Through cooperation with platoon mates would come "the ability to achieve mission accomplishment," he said.

Henderson will first go through eight weeks of increasingly difficult physical conditioning. He'll do four-mile timed runs in boots, navigate 16-station obstacle courses, make two-mile swims in the cold Pacific and be tested for confidence in the water through "drownproofing": With his hands tied behind his back and his ankles tightly bound, he'll bob for 30 minutes in a water-filled combat-training tank. Eventually, he'll also have to float for 60 minutes in combat boots and fatigues.

During Henderson's third week of this first phase of the program, he'll experience "Hell Week," 5 1/2 days of continuous training, when he'll get no more than four hours of sleep for the entire week. Physical demands are so challenging that on average SEAL trainees burn 10,000 to 15,000 calories a day. Some vomit from fatigue. Hallucinations are common. Hypothermia is a constant threat.

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