Ask Stew: Is There a Backlog in Navy Special Warfare Recruiting?

Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL students participate in surf passage.
Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL students participate in surf passage at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, California. (Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael Russell/U.S. Navy photo)

During a year of COVID, quarantines and restriction of movement (ROM), the Navy has continued recruiting future sailors into its ranks. Although schools such as Basic Underwater Demolition (BUD/S) and SEAL training shut down for a short time, the recruiting process is getting back to normal, even though there is still a two-week quarantine for new recruits heading to boot camp.

The initial closure caused a backup for recruits heading to Advanced Training (A School) after boot camp, but that situation has been resolved. There are still rumors of the backlog still in place, especially in the Navy Warrior Challenge programs.

I would call the term “backlog” an inaccurate description. Instead, understand that it’s now more competitive to get into these programs, because the Navy simply needs fewer SEALs than it did over the past decade.

Here is an email from a future recruit who wants to join but has a few questions related to this “backlog.”

Hi Stew, I am not sure if you know the answer, but I have been hearing that the pipeline is so saturated with recruits now that, even in the case of a fluke injury, my opportunity might be lost and I could be dropped from training at BUD/S. I am considering all my options because I'd like every opportunity possible for a fair shot at the job. Thanks, Doug.

The idea that the Navy is “saturated with recruits” and potential injury at BUD/S have nothing to do with each other.

Sure, the Navy has no shortage of recruits wanting to join to become SEALs, but the injuries in training are dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Being medically rolled to stay at BUD/S, heal and prepare for another class is an institution at SEAL training. The Navy’s medical, physical therapy, rehab and rebuilding program is top-notch and designed to help good students recover from injuries and join future classes.

Sure, there are students who will get medically dropped after a review by a board of medical professionals and SEAL training leaders. The board will look at your entire experience and review your performance up to the point of injury. If they see you have not failed events in the past, have a relatively short recovery period (weeks or months, not years) and have received good reviews from the instructor staff and your classmates (peer rankings), they usually will keep you.

As for the pipeline being saturated with recruits and no one getting contracts because of these backlogs, that is simply not true. Here is the deal regarding recruiting and training new SEALs to join the Navy Special Warfare/SEAL community.

There is increased competition to obtain a SEAL contract as a recruit, but that’s not because of a backlog. There was a backlog initially with COVID-19, but the process is now back to normal.

Moving the BUD/S prep course from Great Lakes, Illinois, to Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, California, may have been an issue with post-boot-camp sailors during the transition this year. The SEAL community is also in transition from a growth phase to a maintenance phase.

The Navy now is focused on replacing the people in the SEAL community who retire or resign each year. They no longer need the increased number of SEALs required when the Navy was expanding with additional teams to fill the sustained combat deployments of the past two decades. However, the Navy still needs a significant number of recruits to get to and through SEAL training each year.

There will be a regular number of recruits going to boot camp with BUD/S contracts. Contracts are being offered and people are shipping out, but only the best candidates are getting the Special Operator contracts. Recruits are getting contracts this month to ship in July and September, and recruits are shipping this month, too. They are taking only the best physical screening test (PST) scores, which is the way it should be. Classes likely will be smaller because of those requirements, but the training process continues.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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