‘We Gotta Break Them’: US Seals’ Hell Week

The US Navy SEALs rank among the most elite special forces units in the world. Their name Navy SEALs is an acronym of the words Sea, Air, Land, meaning that even though the SEALs come from the sea, they are capable of doing well in any environment.

Such a thing requires almost inhuman physical endurance, and it is no coincidence that the Corps operates one of the most demanding candidate selection programs.

Central to it is the so-called “Hell Week”, which represents an almost impossible test of physical and mental endurance, tolerance to pain and cold, and the ability to work in a team under high stress and sleep deprivation.

Above all, however, it tests the determination and desire of each candidate.

Evidence of the brutality of this test is the death of Kyle Mullen, who died earlier this year coughing up blood a few hours after successfully completing the test on his next attempt.

The official cause was pneumonia, but the circumstances still remain unclear, and the whole case sparked a huge discussion about the difficulty of “Hell Week”, which forces candidates to take dangerous stimulants in order to advance in the selection process.


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It itself lasts about a year, and its first part is a 24-week course of physical and mental preparation, divided into three phases.

The first of them is related to physical training, the second is a course for carrying out tasks in water, while the final one is training for working with explosives, orienteering and other tactical skills.

The real test, however, is the first weeks, where the cadets learn to work as a team under increasingly difficult physical and mental conditions.

It is during this stage that the dream of most students to become a seal ends and at the end of which “Hell Week” awaits them.

It runs from Sunday evening to Friday morning in the final week of phase one, and includes various tests of running, swimming, rowing, carrying boats over your head and all sorts of other things, all taking place outdoors in water, sand or mud and with 4 hours of sleep per day.

During the “Hell Week” candidates eat regularly and consume several thousand calories a day, but almost all of them lose weight.

The idea of ​​the whole test is not to screen out the strongest or the best swimmers and runners. It is usually the ones who show the best ability to think, make sound decisions, and function functionally as a team when they are sleep deprived, near hypothermic, and even hallucinating.


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Some of the trials are impromptu, and one moment all participants may be fast asleep, while the next they’re doing push-ups and sit-ups amid machine-gun fire while instructors yell and kick them in the stomach.

Other tests are planned events that have been taking place since the Navy SEALs’ inception.

One of them is called “Around the World” and is a 12-hour rowing competition in the open sea, in which the winner wins a few hours of sleep. Another event is a 15-hour marathon of exercises and tests in a muddy field.

One of the hardest tests, however, is carrying a boat. With it, a team of six people carries a 150-kilogram inflatable boat on their heads for several kilometers.


Photo: Getty Images

“The purpose of ‘Hell Week’ is to reveal the true nature of a person,” a former SEAL and current instructor told The Insider. “It’s only when you’ve barely managed to sleep for five days, all the while doing brutal tests wet and covered in mud and sand, that you know who you are.”

At the end of the week, usually no more than 25% of all applicants remain. Many drop out due to injury and exhaustion, and even those who finish often have serious fractures, lacerations or bruises.

“Can I trust you for help in the most extreme circumstances? Will you still be the same team player when everything around you is on fire? Hell Week helps us understand if a person falls into that category,” explains the instructor. “

“We have to break them down to see if it’s worth building them back up afterwards.”

After the Kyle Mullen case, that philosophy will most likely have to be rethought.

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