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Corps of Cadets becomes a top producer of Navy SEAL candidates

by Shay Barnhart

Cadets in the War Memorial pool

Capt. Peter Phillips, the Corps of Cadets’ deputy commandant for 1st Battalion, instructs cadets in the Naval Special Preparatory Team during an early-morning training session in the War Memorial pool. Photo by Maj. Gen. Randal Fullhart.

In the past two years, no ROTC program in the country has had more students selected for U.S. Navy SEAL training than Virginia Tech.

Of the 18 ROTC students chosen to train as SEALs this year, four are 2018 graduates of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets and the university’s Naval ROTC.

Another six senior cadets are among the 53 men and women nationwide who began the rigorous SEAL selection process. A seventh was accepted as a candidate for the Navy’s specialized Explosive Ordinance Disposal program, which trains technicians to disarm improvised explosive devices, neutralize chemical threats, and render safe nuclear weapons.

The students’ success is testament to their character and dedication to training and to a program that is growing stronger every year, said Capt. Michael Fisher, commanding officer of Virginia Tech’s Naval ROTC.

SEALs (Sea, Air, and Land teams) are the Navy’s most elite special operations force. Candidates come from the Navy’s Officer Candidate School, the U.S. Naval Academy, the Navy’s ROTC programs at 166 colleges and universities across the country, and from applicants already serving with naval units.

Cadets in the Naval Special Preparatory Team train in the War Memorial pool before dawn during the school year.

Cadets in the Naval Special Preparatory Team train in the War Memorial pool before dawn during the school year.

Between 40 and 50 ROTC applicants are selected for SEAL Officer Assessment Selection each summer. From those candidates, only half will continue to Basic Underwater Demolition School—21 weeks of basic SEAL training followed by 26 weeks of qualification training.

Cadets interested in becoming SEALs train with the Naval Special Preparatory Team, a small specialty group within the corps and the Naval ROTC. They volunteer for 12-plus hours of extra training a week, including 10-mile runs, 22-mile marches carrying a 55-pound backpack, 90-minute pool sessions, and circuits on the Corps of Cadets obstacle course.

The team is mentored by Capt. Peter Phillips, a corps deputy commandant and a retired Navy SEAL. Phillips graduated from Virginia Tech and the Corps of Cadets in 1989 with a degree in history.

Phillips helps connect the team’s juniors and seniors with active-duty mentors. He designs their training to make it even more realistic.

“I do a lot of mentoring and coaching on the mental aspects” of the SEAL selection process, Phillips said. “Most people quit because of the mental side.”

From the editor: Due to the nature of the work associated with the SEAL program, the names of the cadets have been withheld by request of the U.S. Navy.

Shay Barnhart is the communications director for the Corps of Cadets.