THE SWIFT, SILENT, DEADLY WARRIORS’ BATTLE AGAINST STRESS

In the 1990 movie entitled Navy Seals, the actor Charlie Sheen played the role of Lieutenant Dale Hawkins, a young and aggressive Navy special forces operator assigned to a team of highly-trained commandos that were given a mission to track down and “grab” a known terrorist. During their mission to neutralize the terrorist, Hawkins was assigned to guard a door below the room where their target was fast asleep. Itching to get into action, Hawkins left his post and accidentally encountered one of the terrorist leader’s guards. His unauthorized action prompted a heavy firefight between his Navy Seal team and the armed bodyguards of the terrorist leader. When the smoke cleared, one of his team mates lay dead in a pool of blood. The post-mission evaluation clearly pointed out that Hawkins made a mistake that cost the life of one Navy commando. What was supposed to be a silent, uneventful special operation turned into a running gunbattle that was not part of the original mission plan. After that incident, the movie portrayed the character of Lieutenant Hawkins as a man plagued by guilt about the loss of his team mate. Stress and anxiety slowly eroded the confidence of Hawkins, making him temporarily unable to function as a professional soldier. Paralyzed by his own guilt, his inability to focus only further jeopardized the lives of his team mates, not to mention his own.

Beyond the reels, stress and anxiety do affect soldier in the real world. Even the most battle-experienced special forces operators will admit that every single mission has filled them with fear and anxiety. It is said that even soldier are afraid of war because they are the first ones to suffer because of it.

For that reason, the training of elite special operations units like the U.S. Navy Seals involves a lot of physical as well as psychological components. If Navy Seals ever hope to survive and win in actual combat, their training must be so hard and intense that managing stress and anxiety becomes as much a skill as handling an M4A1 Special Operations Peculiar Modification (SOPMOD) carbine.

While the training provided for regular infantry is still considered hard, anxiety panic attacks have been recorded among soldier who underwent the standard Army boot camp that is conducted with relatively less psychological training components. As for the Navy Seals, the qualifying physical examinations alone would be enough to drag down and demoralize even a fairly strong man. The physical screening tests involve a 500-yard swim in under 12 minutes; 42 push-ups in under two minutes; 50 sit-ups in under two minutes; six pull-ups; and a 1.5-mile run in combat boots —- just for starters. After passing the initial physical fitness tests, the recruit must undergo the 25-week Basic Underwater Demolition Training that includes learning advance scuba diving techniques, underwater explosives and ordnance training, combat swimming. Navy Seal recruits will also have to undergo additional land warfare training, navigation, weapons familiarization, individual and unit combat maneuvers, combat skydiving, and a long list of other training courses designed to make them lean, mean “killing machines.”

Stress management is also a very important component of Navy Seal training. Every Seal who was awardent his Trident already knows four of the most dreadful letters in the U.S. Navy. Those letters are S-E-R-E, which stands for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape training. The infamous SERE training involves the deployment of recruits to an island to accomplish a mission. To make their training mission more realistic, other veteran Seals and special forces operators are unleashed to hunt them down. If they are caught, the recruits are subjected to physical and mental torture. These activities are done to simulate as closely as possible the anxieties, dangers, and hardships of real war. At SERE training, the recruits are taught how to maintain emotional and psychological control in middle of interrogation and physical testing.

Aside from the rigorouse selection and training process, the Naval Special Warfare community is still pursuing research and developing new training on stress management. This time, the focus is on Seal veterans and other operators who have actually been deployed on missions. Like the character portrayed by Charlie Sheen, there are still hardened warriors who can efficiently neutralize an enemy without blinking an eye. However, the experience of losing a colleague in the heat of battle is something that remains a very emotional and disturbing experience for any Navy Seal or professional soldier.