This is a guest post from my husband, Craig, who recently attended the Extreme SEAL Experience.
I wrote this review the day after the US Navy SEALs terminated Osama Bin Laden. Twenty-four SEALs, presumably three patrols of eight, successfully accomplished their mission. After attending the Extreme SEAL Experience (ESE) in April 2011 (ESE 411) – I have a better understanding and appreciation for the SEALs’ expertise, ability and efficiency. My experience was ‘pretend’ and for ‘fun’ – I want to make a point of that to make sure I give my highest respect and appreciation for the men and women in the Armed Forces and especially for the US Navy SEALs.
Extreme Seal Experience Advanced Course Overview
The seven day course starts off with a 24-hour Hell Night followed by five days of advance training. It concludes with a graduation party with fellow teammates and SEAL Instructors. Senior Chief and the Instructors do not reveal the weekly plan or even the daily plan. Part of the lesson is to be flexible and to adapt to new situations. I’m proud to say that our class (ESE 411) did the longest Hell Night of about 26 hours and was one of the coldest. So in other words, no two courses are the same – but I’m sure most include the core training of Long Distance Boat Movement, Physical Training (PT), Hand-to-hand Combat, Patrolling, Special Reconnaissance, Stealth and Concealment, Military Operations in an Urban Environment, Close Quarter Combat, Drown-Proof Training, Underwater Knot Tying, Combat Weapons Training, and jumping out of a helicopter into a river (Helo-Casting).
Like with anything – you get what you pay for. This course comes out to about $270 per day. I agree that it is a lot of money, but after seeing how hard they work for you, how much goes into planning, and how much equipment is needed to provide this training – you realize it is a bargain. For example, a Barrett 50-cal sniper rifle is about $10k and about $7 a round. I’m sure the rubber Zodiacs are not cheap either. I need to point out that a lot of their work is done behind the scenes. They certainly spend a lot of time beforehand preparing for the course. Most importantly, you are paying for their expertise and training. You are paying to learn from veteran and active duty US Navy SEAL instructors.
The reason people attend this course vary greatly and I am certainly not the expert on the subject (Senior Chief Shipley is the expert). Our group’s background varied from successful corporate VPs to guys that recently graduated early from High School.
In our group, some people attended because they’ve seen all the movies, they’ve read all the books, but they wanted to ‘feel’ what it is like. They couldn’t commit to the US Armed Services and this is the closest they would get to experiencing it. I fall into this category – combined with the fact that I needed a reason to get motivated to get in shape.
Other people were former Navy and Marines that just wanted to get a taste of it again.
About half of our group were already scheduled to enter the military (Navy EOD-Explosive Ordinance Disposal and Navy SEALs BUD/S) or were considering joining the military. This was certainly a good ‘try before you buy’ experience.
There are also several testimonials on the ESE website that this experience was much deeper and meaningful than what is seen on the surface. Some guys have had a lot of unfortunate things happen to them over the years and they needed something to relight their life… Something to get them out of a rut or out of their own self-pity or depression. This program definitely provides something dramatic and is certainly something to get excited about. I’m sure some would testify that this program is better than any medication you can take.
I signed up for the course about four months in advance and I thought about it every day until my course. And now that I’ve attended the course I’m sure I will reference it quite a bit and will talk about it with family and friends for years to come. For me, attending Extreme SEAL Experience Advance Course is part of enjoying the moment and trying to live a full life.
Extreme Seal Experience Review
There are tons of positive reviews on the ESE website and the program has been so successful they have also created a West Coast program. My review is that this program is well organized, creative and successfully delivers. Despite all the Physical Training – it is fun. You get to do a lot of ‘Bucket List’ items, and you get to hang out with a bunch of interesting and fun individuals. If you want to know what you do during Hell Night or during the week – I would have to say that it is best to go in blind and enjoy the moment. The course is always evolving and it turns out to be more fun not to know what is happening next. I’m a Type-A planner so this was difficult for me to accept going into it, but after completing the course – I wouldn’t do it any other way.
Food: The food is always excellent and the deserts are especially appreciated. I would take note that if you are Vegetarian or Vegan – you will need to strongly consider holding off on that while you are there. Mrs. Shipley has a very detailed plan of what everyone needs to eat (protein, carbs, calories) for the activities planned. Some of the guys who did not follow the eating schedule struggled. I personally ate the largest grilled chicken breast in my life. It must have weighed at least five pounds and I finished it – because my body needed the protein.
Training: The training is well thought out, well organized and thorough. They provide all the equipment, safety protection and weapons you need in order to learn the skill. They significantly emphasize safety and ‘friendly fire’ training, in fact – you receive extra PT when you do not follow the safety protocol. Senior Chief and the Instructors are all veteran Navy SEALs and some are still active duty. Most of the Instructors are former Navy SEAL BUD/S instructors (some as long as ten years).
Preparation: The physical demand of the program is always at the top of most people’s mind when considering an ESE course. Our class had a wide range of fitness levels from the super studs to the not-so-fit. It is of course, a lot easier when you are physically fit, but if you are not at your peak fitness level you can still get through the course. Just don’t quit. Keep in mind that you work in Fire Teams of 6 to 8 people– so if you fall behind it will be your team that will pull you through. My Fire Team definitely pulled me through the Log-PT.
My recommendation is to work towards the SEAL PST requirements. You will do more sprinting than long distance running at ESE and you will do more push-ups than any other body weight exercise. I would definitely recommend working out in a pool (continuous 500 meters/10 laps in most pools). You do wear a military-grade life jacket so you at least won’t drown – it will just take you longer to swim to shore.
What To Pack: Most of the things are provided at ESE and they do provide a packing list and video on their website. Everyone agrees to pack extra socks. I would pack seven pairs of socks. You will go through three pair of dry socks on Hell Night. I personally used SmartWool Heavy hiking crew socks with Bridgedale liners. The liners prevent blisters and hotspots. I used Sierra Trading Post and AltRec online for the best prices. You may want to use Hammer Gel Gu packs and/or Hammer Gel Electrolyte pills to help prevent cramping. They provide plenty of bottled water and all the over-the-counter medication you may need to include athletic wraps and tapes. And if they don’t have it – they will run to the store and get it for the team. Don’t bother bringing any gloves or tactical gloves – you won’t get to wear them.
Boots: The BIG thing I would recommend is bring your own boots. They provide boots, but it is a first-come first-serve basis. Many of the 9 to 11 sizes go fast, so many of the guys wore boots a size or two bigger or even mismatched brands. It probably would not hurt to bring a second set of boots to rotate through during the week and don’t forget to break in your boots beforehand. I wish I would have packed a head lamp or small flashlight to use in the bunk house when the lights were out. I also wish I would have packed a rubber snake… that would have provided some good laughs/videos.
Overall, I am definitely satisfied with my Extreme SEAL Experience and definitely hope to do it again in the future.
Disclaimer: I have not received any compensation for my review – I simply wrote this to help anyone that is interested in this course.