Navy's elite train at Great Lakes base

April 15, 2009 4:51:14 PM PDT
The rescue of the ship captain being held hostage by pirates drew a lot of attention to the Navy's elite commando unit, the Navy Seals.They go through a rigorous and demanding training program, and it all begins at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center.

They are the cream of the crop. All naval recruits must pass through the Great Lakes Naval Training Center for boot camp.

And of the $50,000 that do annually, only about one percent of them will even try to become a Navy Seal. It's that hard.

To us, the sharpshooting rescue was remarkable. To them, it was no surprise.

"It's very difficult...it's a grind," said Lieutenant Scott Reynolds, a Navy Seal candidate.

"You have to be able to endure a lot of physical pain, emotional pain and you just have to dig deep," said Master Chief Paul Tharp.

The digging deep that eventually produces a Navy Seal begins in Northern Illinois at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center.

ABC7 observed "BUDS class 277," which is comprised of 115 young men who think they have what it takes to become a Seal, the most elite fighting team of the entire armed forces.

Attrition is high. Only a quarter to half of these young men will make it.

"They come into the Seals prep school. It's about an 8 to 10 week long physical training curriculum," said Tharp.

Master Chief Paul Tharp, who's been a Seal for 24 years, says from here, they're off to a grueling six month regimen at the Naval Amphibious Base in Coronado, California and at least another year of specialized training after that.

Seal stands for 'sea, air and land.'

Proficiency in all three were needed on Sunday in the dramatic rescue of Captain Richard Phillips.

Dozens of Navy Seals were airdropped in, three highly trained snipers positioned themselves on the stern of the U.S. Bainbridge, and they picked off three Somali pirates with simultaneous shots from 100 feet away in rolling seas.

What may seem heroic to us, is part of the job to Master Chief Tharp.

"Would you imagine if you were put in the same spot you would have pulled off the same task, the sharpshooting especially," ABC7 Reporter Kevin Roy asked.

"I would try, certainly," Tharp replied.

"You're capable of that?" said Roy. "Absolutely," said Tharp.

And to aspiring Seals -- candidates like Scott Reynolds -- the rescue of Captain Phillips is the ultimate motivator.

"Yeah, you're right...to us that is like the pinnacle...of athletic ability, being a professional and being mentally strong," Reynolds said.

There are only about 2,000 Seals on active duty and their missions are usually top secret.

The unit that pulled off this week's rescue operation is known as Seal Team Six, and it has been on the front lines in the hunt for terror mastermind Osama Bin Laden.

Training just one Seal is estimated to cost from $350,000 to $500,000.


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