U.S. Navy Seals

Navy SealsThe Challenge

From 1962 when the first US NAVY SEAL teams were commissioned to present day, Navy SEALs have distinguished themselves as an individually reliable, collectively disciplined, and highly skilled maritime force. Because of the dangers inherent in Naval Special Warfare (NSW), prospective SEALs go through what is considered by many military experts to be the toughest training in the world. In fact only 25-30% of recruits will graduate basic training. NSW Command provides vision, leadership, doctrinal guidance, resources and oversight to ensure component maritime special operations forces are ready to meet the operational requirements of combatant commanders. NSW provides a versatile, responsive and offensively focused force with continuous overseas presence.

In less than two months, two troops of US Navy Seals would be deployed for another 180 days of duty to Iraq and Afghanistan. For many of them, it was their first deployment to these two regions. Their interactions would be with all levels of government, heads of state, sheiks, elders, and villagers. There were many challenges: How to assess the participants' cultural knowledge so the training would fit not only the individual but the entire troop? How would they overcome the language barrier without learning the language? How could they develop a brief understanding of the history and diverse cultures of these two countries? What aspects of etiquette, cultural nuances, values and norms should be a primary focus?

We had to consider the best format for delivery under strict time constraints. These two US Navy Seals troops were finalizing their deployment details and had demanding schedules from morning to night. They were highly competitive, fearless, and driven to succeed. We had two short days to implement the two training courses and many of them thought it was a waste of time.

The Solution

The first step for our Director of Cross Cultural Training was to find expert trainers for each of these countries. We hired a region expert to help them understand the complexities of the cultural aspect of each country and to understand the history of the regions. It was important that the regional expert had in depth knowledge and experience of their respective country---the more recent the better, with hands-on experience in the last decade. They needed to understand the relationship between the US military occupation and the Iraqi and Afghani people. In the training, the regional experts focused on some of the major challenges the Seals would face as soon as they landed on the ground; simple and effective communication techniques and how to show respect and honor. We wanted to give them an understanding of the culture on a deeper level.

We set-up multiple training formats from straightforward powerpoint presentations, to case studies, video clips, interactive exercises, critical incidents, and negotiation tactics. We learned immediately that interactive exercises were dynamic and powerful. The training schedule had to be fluid and fast paced. A few competitive drills raised the bar and kept their attention focused.

The Results

With two intense training sessions, we equipped the soldiers with important Arabic and Farsi words; an overview of the complex history of the regions; their relationship with the US; how to address woman; the dos and don’ts of etiquette; understanding their sense of time, and styles of negotiations. We packed in as much material as possible mostly through interactive exercises and competitive drills. It was dynamic, fast-paced, and intense.

It was a privilege to work with the Navy Seals and to give them hands-on techniques and tools to use in Iraq and Afghanistan to improve communication, understanding, and respect. We were honored to work with our soldiers who are serving their country.