A few days after Navy SEALs bagged Osama Bin Laden, we tracked down Alden Mills, an 11-year SEAL vet. In his words, here are all the badass details you need to know about the kind of guys who took out the terrorist.
1. They’ve been at it a long time. The Bin Laden mission got a lot of attention, and rightly so. It’s fantastic that they were able to take one bad guy off the face of this earth. But what they’ve been doing is nothing new. SEALs were started in 1962, thanks to JFK. It’s a total volunteer force. You volunteer to try out for it. And you can volunteer to leave.
2. You’ve gotta want it. I went to the Naval Academy for four years and tried out for a slot in BUD/S, which stands for Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training. To get in, you had to pass a physical test. Basically, it’s a 500-yard swim, two minutes of pushups, two minutes of sit-ups, as many continuous pull-ups as you can do, and a 1.5-mile run in pants and boots. Then BUD/S is about 35 weeks long. The whole process takes about two years to become a certified SEAL.
3. There’s a whole lot of training involved. Once you get assigned to a platoon, you’re doing a 12- to 18-month training cycle before you deploy for six months. And you’re training for well over 150 different kinds of missions, everything from combat diving to HALO (high-altitude, low-opening) parachuting to CQC, close-quarters combat. You’re working out every morning. And you’re constantly trying to find ways to train as realistically as possible.
4. As physical as it is, it’s much more mental. Everybody thinks that you have to be a physical stud to be a SEAL. And I’m not disagreeing with that. But I certainly wasn’t the fastest runner or swimmer or the fastest guy on the obstacle course. You’ve got to have a mental toughness about you to appreciate a very simple code. And that code is: the body obeys the brain. Until you master that, you’re going to have a really hard time getting through field training. Being able to suffer is a big portion of what it’s all about.
5. Every day is different. SEAL stands for Sea, Air and Land. And for good reason. You’re going to be working with missions in the water and under the water. You’re going to be working on land, and you’re going to be working in the air. And everything in between. On one mission, we were launching classified combat mini-submersibles off the backs of nuclear submarines. On another mission, our job was to bring everybody back alive. I can’t tell you where it was. But we did it.
6. You’d better like to travel. You’re on the road a lot—at least 50 percent of the time. In my 11 years as a Navy SEAL—active and reserve—I probably did missions in 15 different countries.
7. The money isn’t great. If you’re doing SEAL team for the pay, you’re in the wrong line of work. What they don’t pay you in dollars, they more than make up for in the overall mission. And as far as I’m concerned, no one can pay you enough to put your life on the line. But to me it was the ultimate way to serve my country. It had nothing to do with the dollars.
8. The hours are inconsequential. I never even thought about it. If you’re clock-watching, again, you’re in the wrong line of work. As far as I’m concerned, you were on 24/7.
9. It’s an eclectic bunch. The guys I served with ran the gamut. Some have gone on to become doctors and lawyers. Others have become entrepreneurs like me. Others have gone to Wall Street. I know some guys who have become priests. But they’re all highly motivated. They love their job and they love their country.
10. We’re not all Rambos. And I’d actually say Rambo wouldn’t survive in the SEAL environment because it’s extremely team-oriented. It’s not about an individual.
11. It’s the best brotherhood on the planet. In fact, that’s the best part about the job, the camaraderie. The absolute willingness to jump on a grenade for your teammate if that’s what’s called for. I mean, you’ve gotta think of this like being on the ultimate sports team. Except you get to carry guns, jump out of airplanes and play with really cool stuff.
Alden Mills spent over seven years as a platoon commander at SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team TWO and SEAL Team TWO. He earned an MBA from Carnegie Mellon University and is now the CEO of Perfect Fitness, creator of the Perfect Pushup.