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For Navy SEALs, grueling training pays off

The elite operators who ended the hostage drama off Somalia began their training on a strip of beach known as the Silver Strand. Attrition is high; those who make it face another six-month regimen.

April 14, 2009|Tony Perry

CORONADO, CALIF. — The Navy SEALs who ended the pirate-hostage drama off Somalia with three deadly sniper shots began their training on a strip of the beach known as the Silver Strand.

Every aspiring SEAL must pass a grueling six-month regimen at the facility here. Attrition is high: Only a quarter to half make it. Those who do then undergo another six months of advanced training.

Given the elite nature of the SEALs, no one here was surprised at the success of the rescue mission, said Capt. Chris Lindsay, chief of staff to the Naval Special Warfare Command. "We have a lot of confidence in our operators," he said.

One way the SEALs -- named for their ability to operate at sea, in the air and on land -- winnow out each class is Hell Week, an exercise in which candidates are allowed only four hours of sleep over five days. As Lindsay spoke to reporters Monday, would-be SEALs in mid-Hell Week lugged heavy rubber boats over sand dunes and into the surf.

All SEALs are trained to be good shooters, but the best are selected for sniper training, Lindsay said. "Our guys train, prepare for years. They train for game day."

The Navy has 2,600 SEALs; because of the secrecy that is part of their institutional culture, not much is known about their roles in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Two have been awarded the Medal of Honor in those wars, both posthumous.

It is not known where the team that rescued Capt. Richard Phillips is based, although SEALs are assigned to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet headquarters in Bahrain, the tiny island-nation in the Persian Gulf.

A couple of blocks down the beach, past the Hotel del Coronado, former SEALs were already analyzing the mission over beers at McP's Irish Pub & Grill, a favorite hangout owned by a former SEAL.

"It was a good show, a damn good show," said Bill, who identified himself as a former SEAL but spoke only on condition that his full name not be used.

The walls of McP's are covered with SEAL pictures, memorabilia and slogans like the one that is meant to describe their rigorous training:

"The only easy day was yesterday."

And on one wall is a poetic paean to SEAL snipers and their ability to strike without warning:

"Signals passed to set the stage

About surprise these men were sage."

--

tony.perry@latimes.com

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