Was Seal Team Six “Diverse”?

[NOTE: Be sure to see the UPDATES, especially UPDATE II, to this post!]

“How long,” a reader emails, “until the media begins to ask about whether the team of Seals that killed Osama was ‘diverse’?” [CORRECTION. Typo in original quote had Obama, not Osama, being killed.]

Good question. Certainly the major (and much of the minor) media and our cultural and moral betters whose views the media reflect believe that “diversity” of the armed forced, including especially one would think in its most important missions, is a matter of grave national importance. As 29 high-ranking military leaders argued in urging the Supreme Court to allow the University of Michigan to prefer some students over others based on their race,

Amici are former high-ranking officers and civilian leaders of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps, including former military-academy superintendents, Secretaries of Defense, and present and former members of the U.S. Senate. They are deeply interested in this case, because its outcome could affect the diversity of our nation’s officer corps and, in turn, the military’s ability to fulfill its missions.

According both to extensive survey data and the common sense of the American people, most of the rest of us continue to believe that “the military’s ability to fulfill its missions,” like the ability of all other organizations and institutions, depends on the skill and competence of the individuals with responsibility to do the job, not their color


“Navy Seals seek minority candidates,” Navy Times reported last November. (HatTip to the same reader whose query began this post.)

SAN DIEGO — The Naval Special Warfare Center is embarking on new marketing and awareness campaigns to reach more minority candidates who have the best odds of becoming Navy SEALs in the hope that those efforts will diversity the commando force….

Roughly 12.5 percent of the U.S. population is black, a number expected to rise to 13 percent by 2040, according to U.S. Census predictions. But only 10 percent of SEAL officers are minorities — with blacks representing 2 percent of officers — and minorities make up less than 20 percent of enlisted special warfare operators, according to a May contract solicitation for the pilot marketing and outreach program.

The latest plan comes as top military leaders — including Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a former CNO — have spoken publicly about the importance of diversifying the military for the next generation, with diversity targets set for 2037.

Perhaps Admirals Roughead and Mullen could describe the “diversity” of the Seal Team Six that nailed Osama. If that teams by chance wasn’t “diverse,” then perhaps the good admirals could explain how the team could have been even more effective if had only been more “diverse.”

The Navy has also made a serious effort to discover the “barriers” that keep minorities out of special ops.

The latest campaign also aims to tackle a long-running and vexing problem: Why aren’t minorities attracted to spec ops as much as white men?

A 1999 Rand study that examined diversity among the military’s spec ops forces found several key “barriers” cited as reasons fewer minority men opt to go into special operations. These included: the lack of minorities as role models within spec ops forces; little support within their own minority communities for choosing spec ops; and poor skills, little access or less experience with swimming, which is critical to spec ops diving missions and a must in meeting physical fitness requirements and completing demanding training.

What? The Navy believes “experience with swimming” is a requirement for the SEALS and their “diving missions”? Doesn’t the Navy brass know that slaves weren’t allowed to swim, that under segregation blacks in the South and elsewhere were often restricted to inferior swimming pools or did not have access to swimming pools at all, and hence that a swimming requirement is pure disparate impact discrimination?


Ward Connerly, whom I’m proud to say is a reader and, more importantly, a friend, emailed the following, which I quote with permission:

In high school, I had a track coach who believed that the bodies of black people inhibited their ability to swim. He told me that if I went into a pool, I would “sink like a rock.” True story!

“Now,” I replied, ”

the real question is, How long did it take you to prove him wrong? (In your shoes, I probably would have been hesitant about testing his theory….)

I thought I was pulling his leg, but as it happened it actually took a while, as he explained:

My coach’s comment left me terrified of swimming pools for about 16 years. After I married, my wife and I were living in an apartment complex that had a pool very close to our unit. The fear of our little son wandering into the pool and me being unable to do anything about it prompted me to take swimming lessons at the YMCA. The first time that I entered the pool at the “Y” I thought of that track coach and worried that I might “sink like a rock.” So, stereotypes matter! Perhaps, this is one factor that explains why a lot of “blacks” avoid the Navy.

Say What? (11)

  1. CaptDMO May 8, 2011 at 4:26 pm | | Reply

    Wait…wait, what taxpayer/registered voter/single parent population-based percentage of the actual boots on the ground, of actual SEAL graduates
    (as opposed to “applicants”), were “openly” GLBT folk? (what does that actually mean anyway?) Was there disparate impact discrimination in percentage, reflected by the census, or CDC/Dept. of “education”, of males “diagnosed” as “special needs children”, and proscribed mind altering “modification” drugs as a prerequisite for public school enrollment?

  2. CaptDMO May 8, 2011 at 4:31 pm | | Reply

    By the way, how many folks that simply watched on a monitor, or (ie.) “maintained” the (malfunctioned and destroyed) entry/exit transport, will receive special “campaign participation” medals, bonuses, or promotions?

  3. Captain Nemo May 9, 2011 at 2:41 pm | | Reply

    Brian Lamb interviewed Dick Couch, a former SEAL, this Sunday om CSPAN and that very subject came up. Don’t know if it’s available online. There are many theories about why black people don’t do well in the water — two he mentioned were 1) cultural: playing in the hydrant when you’re a kid is different than playing in a pool and 2) racial: black people have denser muscles and tend to sink. Couch, who in addition to his personal experiences has written several books and gone through SEAL training as an author as well as a sailor, has personally observed that black candidates are much harder to “drown-proof” because they tend to sink. I am not a physiologist and can’t comment, but I think there’s a real issue there.

    I have had some experience in military drown-proofing programs (Army) and can say there appear to be some physical differences, that in general black men tend to have more trouble swimming, and that it’s not all cultural or psychological. It’s one of those issues like upper body strength for women being less than that for men — the military has to deal with these differences in the real world but doesn’t dare talk about it for fear of being called racist or sexist. It would certainly be a PR disaster if they thrust several black candidates into the program and a couple drowned.

    Don’t think this is an insoluble problem, but OTOH don’t expect much discussion on the real-world problems either.

  4. Steve N May 10, 2011 at 5:15 pm | | Reply

    Perhaps the track coach was just trying to keep his best runners running… To the extent that black athletes have lower body fat (??) and longer legs, it probably does hurt their swimming ability on the margins at very elite levels, but their better average athleticism more than compensates for it among the great mass of HS/college athletes . When and where blacks swim, they tend to do well.

    Just (re)watched the BUDS (Navy Seal) training series on the Military Channel over the weekend. The training is extremely fierce and psychological. About 70% of those who voluntarily sign up and are admitted (already the cream of the crop) to the training drop out. In the last week (of 3), “hell week”, the attrition continues for the first couple days. Then it shuts off: The only recruits remaining the last 3 days are the ones who will (quite literally) die before quitting. In this particular series, 21 of about 83 passed the training, two with broken bones. There may be psychological racial disparities between the races, that help explain why so few blacks and minorities get into the Seals–not unlike the disparities in amateur participation in marathons (although, having run 3 marathons myself, they are a trivial walk in the park compared to BUDS training).

  5. Jethro May 12, 2011 at 8:24 pm | | Reply

    Unless they had another operation i wasnt aware of…. your first line may need a little recrafting as you have them taking out 44th prez and not OBL… :)

    “How long,” a reader emails, “until the media begins to ask about whether the team of Seals that killed OBAMA was ‘diverse’?”

    Good read though.

  6. johnnycab23513 May 13, 2011 at 6:16 pm | | Reply

    Please pray that Adm. Mullen does not propose going the route of police departments and fire departments nationally. I just can’t see lowering the requirements for becoming a SEAL just to make minorities, women, and [edited to remove nasty language referring to people of whom the commenter does not approve] etc. feel good about themselves.

  7. Just a guy September 10, 2011 at 6:40 am | | Reply

    I’m mixed race (black but barely), currently training and want to enter SEALs, now as I have not gone through BUD/S (but have read all there is about it, that a civilian can), I’d like to add my own two cents.

    One, I’m overly buoyant, I can’t sink, if I jump into a pool, I tend to pop right back up. Which can actually be it’s own problem in SEALs (not able to stay under water to do the goggle retrieval). I know a good number of black people who could meet the swimming requirements (that is the times, and qualifications), most of the really difficult part is mental resiliency, dealing with the pain, you don’t need to be a super athlete, you need to be super committed. Plus the running/cardio is actual the most difficult part and takes more preparation than the swimming.

    I have a good number of black and white friends, and I think the difference is why those who enter the military tend to. African Americans tend to enter, to get money for college, job training, personal reason, I’m not saying they aren’t patriotic, white people, tend to enter for the romantic image and honor of it, even though it’s a silent career, you know you’re part of the very select few and that is SEALS is and most of them want to/intend to go in as officers.

    Getting an officers billets for SEALS is next to impossible (15 slots are for Annapolis only). There are roughly 2000 enlisted seals, versus 500 officers, statistically speaking you are more likely to find in a given room in America a brain surgeon than a Navy seal. Getting one means you played varsity sports, have an impecciable high GPA etc…, I don’t see as many black people decided after that, that instead of buisness, non-profit they want to be in combat, plus less come from money, so for them, having a job that pays more in more of a nesscisty.

    African Americans tend to be more cynical “You know you’re dying for a country that doesn’t care about you” sort of deal. Or “I’ve been through enough pain, why would I volunteer for extra”. Less gun-ho overall about the whole deal. Compare that to my white friends who say “Yeah you need to train, but mentally you’re cut out for it, way more than the nine to five” or “Dude go to it, better than this nine to five”.

    I think there is also the African American tendency to dislike official badges, medals, qualifications. Not that many don’t achieve such things, but it’s not as central to personal identity. The external qualifier, and the want to be part of a hierarchical power structure aren’t there as much.

    I was talking to a friend about how I was sort of pissed where I was career wise (some of it was my fault, but I saw some of my smart, but less intelligent friends going farther in their careers) and this friend happened to be black, but I was going on, how it really hit me in the gut. He said it doesn’t matter, what you’ve got is fine, and didn’t get that really for white people our self worth is very connected to our job, the friend who is advancing faster in his career is doing better, his dating life doesn’t matter, spirtuality etc… I could dislike a potential mate, but if I hear their alma mata, and what they do is prestigious, that could override, them not being caring of what have you and visa verse, are other things really when you get down to it all none issues you know, so all of our eggs are in one basket.

    White people tend to define themselves by their occupation, socio-economic status etc…, though some careers are elite enough where they confer a sort of social currency that is more important than pay check (state department, special forces, high level academia etc…) so all that stuff means a whole lot more. Here I’m very much a white guy.

    So maybe (A) we volunteer for SEALS more, since being such a thing, really to us reflects self worth, we don’t drop out, since failing that would mean to ourselves we were failures, and being screamed at, and told to crawl through sand till our arms bleed, doesn’t equal or have some mental similarity to oppression, or maybe we don’t mind that sort of pseudo-oppression, really training, since we haven’t dealt with real overt oppression the same way. And we are more willing to die for a country because it’s seen as the most honorable way to go if it happens.

    Just some thoughts on the matter.

  8. TACP April 16, 2013 at 4:00 pm | | Reply

    What? The Navy believes “experience with swimming” is a requirement for the SEALS and their “diving missions”? Doesn’t the Navy brass know that slaves weren’t allowed to swim, that under segregation blacks in the South and elsewhere were often restricted to inferior swimming pools or did not have access to swimming pools at all, and hence that a swimming requirement is pure disparate impact discrimination?

    HOLY SHIT! What part of the first letter of SEALS did you not understand?

  9. TACP April 16, 2013 at 5:27 pm | | Reply

    Sorry typo– Not SEALS just SEAL

  10. double dee August 4, 2013 at 4:21 pm | | Reply

    I was a pathfinder in the army and the instructors made this course harder on the trainees that did not look like them, so the reason that most blacks do not make it in the other special ops courses is that the instructors are 97% white. White males think that special ops is for WHITES ONLY. When the core trainers are of one color, they tend to make that course extra hard for the color that do not look like them. It is in all branches of the service in specialty courses.

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