SEALs Reach Out to Increase Diversity

Gidget Fuentes, Navy Times, April 30, 2012

The Navy’s special warfare community has grown in size over the past few years but still remains overwhelmingly white. It’s a statistic officials are working hard to change.

Today’s force of SEALs and SWCCs, or special warfare combatant-craft crewmen, is roughly 85 percent white, according to Naval Special Warfare Command in Coronado, Calif. That’s much higher than the Navy overall—which in 2010 was about 64 percent white, according to the Defense Manpower Data Center—and is also out of whack with the cultural environments in which today’s SEALs operate.

That gap remains despite concerted efforts by Naval Special Warfare Command to seek more minority candidates and expand its overall recruiting pitch to get more SEALs and SWCCs to fill the larger force mandated by Congress. But as the community grew in size, the command also beefed up standards and requirements during the 26-week SEAL Qualification Training, causing graduation rates to drop across all ethnicities.

“Where we stand today is, we have more work to do,” said Capt. Duncan Smith, a SEAL who heads Naval Special Warfare Command’s recruiting directorate.

“We absolutely have a need for operational diversity. For us to train with our special operations partner nations, our mission is more easily accomplished if we have people with the cultural and racial identities that allow us to create lasting relationships to better understand our partner forces,” Smith said.

But recent years’ efforts, which included tailoring marketing to minorities and reaching out to historically black colleges and universities, fell flat in attracting more minorities to the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL course and follow-on SQT.

So the command is casting the net wide again, getting outside help to market to minority populations and taking a more coherent look at targeting communities with potential minority candidates—not just blacks.

A recent directive from Rear Adm. Sean Pybus, head of Naval Special Warfare Command, expanded the range of targeted minorities to young men of Asian and Arab descent, as well as Hispanics.

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Don’t expect to see quotas, however.

“We have no numeric goal for diversity. This is not a quota-based operation,” [Capt. Duncan] Smith said. “This is really just wanting to make progress and to better prepare our force to conduct overseas operations.”

And the command won’t ease its tough standards to become a SEAL or SWCC. “We are trying to become more diverse, but our standards have never been compromised,” he said, “and will not be compromised.”

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With combat and global operations keeping spec ops forces deployed and in demand, the Navy doesn’t have enough SEALs and SWCCs—especially minorities—to send to recruiting districts and scout neighborhoods, schools, sports teams and urban areas. Contractors will help with outreach, and the latest push will concentrate on many minority neighborhoods, said Scott Williams, a command spokesman.

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“The swim component of SEAL training and SWCC training across all cultures is one that is a dividing factor,” Smith said, noting those unfamiliar with swimming have the toughest time passing the physical screening test. {snip}

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