How Navy SEAL Hell Week builds indestructible teams | Brent Gleeson

Becoming a Navy SEAL isn’t exactly easy. First, you have to get through 18 months of training. About a month or so into that, you have to get through Hell Week. With an 80% attrition rate, Hell Week lives up to its name. But former Navy SEAL and current business consultant Brent Gleeson will tell you that the only way to get through it is similar to how teams of any kind get through hard times: by putting the team before the individual. Brent talks with us about his experience going through training, and the moment he realized that great teamwork — both in the business world and on the battlefield — is built on trust and respect.

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When I think about how critical internal and external trust are to the success of any business organization I first go back to how important this principle was from day one of SEAL training.

We talk about discipline, we talk about trust, accountability, mental fortitude, but I had a unique experience happen to me, which is pretty rare during SEAL training.

SEAL training is 18 months long—very, very high attrition rate—for my class only about ten percent ultimately graduated of the original class.

But the first six months of that 18-month training pipeline is called BUDS, which stands for Basic Underwater Demolition SEAL.

And the first three weeks of BUDS are leading up to Hell Week. And those three weeks are no joke either; they’re just as bad as Hell Week, but you get to sleep a couple hours a night.

But then Hell Week is where you’re going to weed out the rest of your class.

By the end of Hell Week 80 percent of your class is gone, the rest will be dropped or rolled for performance issues or what not.

But one of the things that I write about in the book was the first time I learned about the pain of loss and sacrifice, and what I was really going to be experiencing as a member of Naval Special Warfare community. It was an interesting time because this was right before 9/11 so it was peacetime, but long story short we were in Hell Week.

Hell Week starts on a Sunday; ends on a Friday afternoon. And the great thing about that Sunday is the class will report to one of the main classrooms with only a couple required items in their possession and we don’t allow them to know when Hell Week will commence, when breakout starts, and it’s pure chaos; guys will quit minutes into breakout.

And so the anguish, the anxiety is just killing you. It’s a fascinating thing to watch—not a fascinating thing to be a part of.

So that afternoon our class leader, who was the highest ranking officer in the class, he read us—one of the things he did to motivate us was to read us the speech, the Saint Crispin’s Day Speech from William Shakespeare’s Henry V. And a great excerpt that many people know from that speech is, “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers: For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.”

John died four days later.

So we were four days into Hell Week, only about 30 of us left. We were in full gear, no fins, and in an Olympic sized swimming pool doing relay races, and we were performing an evolution called the Caterpillar Race, which is not as cute as it sounds. Your boat crew of seven guys will be in the water on your backs in a line swimming backwards like this, except my legs would be wrapped around the waist of the guy in front of me, his legs wrapped around the waist of the guy in front of him, and so on and so forth. And even fresh this is a very difficult evolution to execute properly and keep your head above water, much less beat the other boat crew to the other side of the pool. Everything in Hell Week is a race.

Four days into Hell Week you’re just a hallucinating blob of a person, so it’s very… it’s hard to even keep your head above water.

Long story short, obviously those reports were not released, but he had a massive heart failure and drowned in the pool next to us. And we were all so out of it nobody knew what was really going on, so about a couple hours later they assembled us in the classroom and the commanding officer walks in, and he basically announces the passing of our class leader, immediately turned over command to the second highest ranking officer in the class—did it very candidly.



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