Ask Stew: The Road from USMC to Navy SEAL BUD/S

BUD/S students train on inflatable boats.
Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) students conduct inflatable boat small surf passage training. (Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Lawrence Davis/U.S. Navy photo)

The roads to become a Navy SEAL all lead to BUD/S -- Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training in Coronado, California. The path to get to BUD/S from another branch of service is not as smooth as the civilian to BUD/S path.

There are specific programs to get candidates and recruits to SEAL training from both the street (civilians) and the fleet (active-duty Navy). There is even a process to pull candidates from other services to join the Navy and get orders to BUD/S. When in doubt, go to – the official Navy Special Warfare recruiting website.

Many candidates prefer to join the military at 18 as a member of the Marine Corps to “gain some experience,” then join some form of special-ops program either in the Marines (RECON or MARSOC) or within another branch of service.

Some may have been told by Marine recruiters, “Sure. Join the Marines, gain some experience and go to BUD/S. You can go to BUD/S as a Marine.” Here is a common email from young high school recruits trying to figure out a path to serve their country:

Mr. Smith, I’m currently interested in the USMC and have been in contact with a recruiter; however, I’ve always been interested in the Navy SEAL program. First, I wanted to know what steps I should take if I wanted to be a SEAL. The other question on my mind is if I were to sign a contract with the USMC (four years active), could I join the Navy after my four years are up and try and enter the program then? I’ll take any help I can get. 

Thanks – Steven


First of all, the first place you should visit online is the official Navy SEAL/SWCC website. You need to read the entire site, learn what you need to do administratively to join the Navy, train and study for the entry-level tests (physical screening test, ASVAB, CSORT) at which you must excel to get to the training. The recruiter/mentor process is to get you to the training. It is up to you to get through the training. Prepare wisely.

Second, you have to be in the Navy in order to attend Navy SEAL training. So you will have to get out of the other branch of service and join the Navy. This most likely is going to happen by doing your full enlistment, then getting out and joining the Navy. 

There is a process for this. The other option is called the inter-service transfer. These types of transfers are unlikely, as the other branch would have to let you go from their ranks before your contract enlistment is completed. In times of downsizing, you might get lucky, but typically this option is not available.

Third, gaining some maturity, growing into a 20-22-year-old, gaining military/work experience and getting more time to train at a higher level is a great idea.  Whether that is buying time to prepare yourself in other military service, work experience or college, it is a good idea for most people.

However, a handful of 19-year-olds graduate SEAL training every year. It is not impossible, just very challenging for the young mind and body.

This question is quite common, and there are many who choose the other services for experience before joining a special-ops unit.  However, if your goal is to become a SEAL, the route that has the less snags is the civilian-to-BUD/S route

There have been situations that someone at a certain rank/ time in the military cannot transfer into the Navy SEAL program if that year group is full. The same issue can even occur within the regular Navy to Navy SEAL program as well. 

The thing to remember is that the age range to join is 17-28. There is no rush to join the SEAL program just because you can at the youngest age possible.  You have plenty of time to prepare yourself. Take advantage of it.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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