GREAT LAKES, Ill. (NNS) -- As part of a Navy-wide plan to recruit and grow the Navy's elite Sea, Air and Land warriors, or Navy SEALs, a new school was officially recognized Feb. 7.
The Naval Special Warfare Preparatory School will now be a unique step for Sailors looking to become SEALS.
After the establishment of new special operator rates in 2006, the Navy began a plan to significantly grow the special operations (SEAL) rating to meet the ever increasing demand for their unique skill sets in the war on terrorism.
"[The Navy] wants more SEALs, not SEALs-light," said Capt. Roger Herbert, commander of the Naval Special Warfare Center and the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEALS (BUD/S) Course in Coronado, Calif., a guest speaker at the activation ceremony.
"When they show up for BUD/S we know they'll be ready because of the training they have received here at the prep school," he added.
Since the preparatory school began in November, 148 Sailors have advanced through the program and have been shipped to BUD/S training in Coronado. The school is designed to prepare SEAL candidates for the rigors of BUD/S both physically and mentally.
The validation of their contracts through Dive Motivator mentoring and screenings before and during boot camp, NSWPS, BUD/S and SEAL Qualification Training (SQT) will greatly help to boost the number of special operations forces in the Navy at a time when the nation is at war against insurgents and terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Through this school will pass young men, some of whom will become some of the very elite special forces in the world -- Navy SEALS. They will protect the weak. They will defend the innocent and they will fight for us and those wanting to be free," said Rear Adm. Arnold O. Lotring, commander, Naval Service Training Command and a driving force behind establishing the new school at Naval Station Great Lakes.
"They deserve everything we can do to make them successful. They deserve this school that we dedicate today," added Lotring.
Before the school began, only about 26 percent of those that began BUD/S successfully completed the grueling six-month training, said Herbert. Last year the success rate increased to about 31 percent and Herbert expects the new preparatory school will boost it even higher.
"Physical capacity, mental toughness and the desire to be a SEAL are the keys to success. This school is where those keys will begin to take hold," Herbert said.
Currently there are 1,800 enlisted SEALs and the Navy's goal is to have 2,500 by 2012. The Navy is now actively recruiting candidates from both civilian life and from the fleet for SEAL training.
The increase will be possible by raising the skill level of the SEAL candidates through the preparatory school, not by lowering standards, Herbert said.
Seamen Apprentice Frank Tucci of Cary, Ill., has wanted to be a Navy SEAL since he was about five years old.
The 20-year-old completed boot camp in January and is now going through the daily conditioning at the new preparatory school which is unlike anything he's done before.
"You're pushed every day to your limit," he said. "I don't think there's anything that compares to this except maybe if you're on a professional sports team."
The classes on nutrition and injury prevention are also helpful to the 148-pound Sailor.
"Staying healthy is a big part of making it," Tucci said.
To advance out of the preparatory course, the Sailors
have to complete a series of timed challenges that include swimming 1,000 yards, running four miles and doing a set amount of pull ups, push-ups and sit-ups. Some are ready in a week, some take the full eight weeks.
SEAL candidate Chris Gioia, 29, played ice hockey and ran in the mountains while growing up in Alaska. He is also an accomplished swimmer.
Gioia had also been interested in the SEALs since he was a kid. His prior athletic experience makes the physical training tolerable, but, he said, it's still grueling at times.
"I have a strong feeling [BUD/S] is going to be challenging," he said. "I'm going to do my best to give it all I've got. Right now they're really kicking our butts and this is only the prep school."
According to the activation ceremony's keynote speaker, Rear Adm. Sean A. Pybus, director of Operations, Center for Special Operations U.S. Special Operations Command, SEALs are crucial elements in the war on terrorism.
"We are in a fight that will be 10 or 20 years, if not longer," Pybus said. "SEALs are maritime, multipurpose combat forces expected to handle special missions in all operational environments and threat conditions. SEALs typically operate in small numbers, frequently on risky clandestine missions."
The Feb. 7 activation ceremony was complete after Master Chief Special Operations (SEAL) Paul Tharp, also a decorated Afghanistan veteran, accepted his orders as the officer in charge for the school at Great Lakes.
SEAL candidates will continue the process of learning about these missions from the training they receive in the swimming pool, gymnasium and weight room and from Tharp and his civilian coaches, former SEAL instructors and staff members at the Naval Special Warfare Preparatory School.
For more news from Naval Service Training Command, visit www.news.navy.mil/local/greatlakes/.