Potential Coast Guard SEAL candidates train in November 2009 at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, Calif. Of the six Coast Guardsmen selected for the program, three have joined SEAL teams, two are still in training and one dropped out. (Coast Guard)
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The Coast Guard has put on hold a program allowing members of the service to train as Navy SEALs, and a review into whether it should permanently end will be finished by the end of the fiscal year.
The program, announced by then-Commandant Adm. Thad Allen in July 2008, allows qualified Coast Guardsmen to remain in the service while going through entry level SEAL training and joining a team for about five years. Allen praised the program as "a win-win for us and the Navy," saying Coasties would bring back a special brand of expertise, and naval special warfare would draw from a broader group of recruits.
The Coast Guard stopped adding people to the program as "a matter of budget" in August, about three months after Adm. Robert Papp took over as commandant, said Capt. Jerry Doherty, chief of response for the Coast Guard's Pacific Area. Papp ordered a review of the program, which Doherty said started June 27 and is scheduled to be done by Oct. 1.
Six Coasties entered training for the elite commandos under the program before the August cutoff, with one dropping out. Three Coast Guardsmen are on SEAL teams, one is in Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training and another is undergoing SEAL qualification training.
The program has been criticized for using Coast Guard resources at a time when the service is stretched especially thin.
Doherty said any controversy over the program comes from "non-Coast Guard actors in the blogosphere and the media [attempting] to make it controversial," but he added that there are many people who want to know what exactly the Coast Guard is getting out of the program.
"I think there are a lot of people that are asking what the business case is," Doherty said. "What return is the Coast Guard going to get in its investment?
"And, certainly, if you look at it from a dollars-and-cents perspective, the Coast Guard isn't getting a dollars-and-cents benefit. The benefits are intangible."
A team of about 20 people is analyzing those benefits — building connections within the special-operations community and welcoming highly trained Coasties back into the service — against the costs of paying personnel for years when they're not filling Coast Guard billets, Doherty said.
Part of the review will analyze how likely Coast Guardsmen will be to return to the service after serving with the SEALs, and how valuable they will be to the Coast Guard, he said.
"In our agreement with our members, we acknowledge that that they have no obligation to return to the Coast Guard," Doherty said. "It's reasonable to expect we would lose some of them, or perhaps all of them.
"Part of our review will have to be, even if that is the case, given the direct benefits to national security and the indirect benefits to the Coast Guard: Are those benefits worth the cost?"
A spokeswoman for Naval Special Warfare Command did not comment by press time on what the loss of the program would mean for the SEALs, which has 2,300 active-duty members. She referred Navy Times to an article published in the command's magazine, Ethos, in April 2010, praising the first two Coasties who made it through SEAL training.
"The Coast Guardsmen have done very well throughout one of the most demanding military training programs in the world," said Capt. Stewart Elliott, commanding officer of the Naval Special Warfare Center, in the article. "We look forward to welcoming these new SEALs into the ranks of our nation's elite maritime special operations force."