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Can a Felon Become a Navy SEAL?

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Some felons have the desire to serve their country and many have done so before their incarceration. For those that still want to serve and that have the desire to be in a special force in the military, they may have thoughts of becoming a Navy SEAL.

This blog post will address the issue of whether or not a felon can become a Navy SEAL.

  • What is a Navy SEAL?
  • What Training Does a Navy SEAL Need?
  • Getting a Security Clearance
  • An Opportunity for Felons?
  • Recommended Action


What is a Navy SEAL?

In the 1960’s, each branch of the military began its own specialized force. The Navy used Underwater Demolitions Team (UDT) personnel to form units called SEAL teams. These teams were developed to conduct unconventional warfare and secret operations for the Navy. The Navy SEALs were established by President John F. Kennedy in 1962.

The Navy’s sea, air, and land forces, known as SEALs, are trained to deliver highly-specialized warfare capabilities that go beyond the capabilities of standard military forces.

Their missions include:

  • Direct action warfare
  • Special reconnaissance
  • Counterterrorism
  • Foreign internal defense

A SEAL’s duties include, but are not limited to:

  • Conducting insertions and extractions by sea, air, or land
  • Capturing important enemy personnel and terrorists
  • Collecting information and intelligence by special reconnaissance missions
  • Carrying out action missions against military targets
  • Performing underwater reconnaissance and demolition

What Training Does a Navy SEAL Need?

In order to become a SEAL, candidates are required to meet the following qualifications:

  • Male
  • Between 18 and 28 years old
  • A U.S. citizen
  • High school graduate
  • Proficient in English
  • Have a clean record
  • No substance abuse, misdemeanors, or felony convictions

Becoming a Navy SEAL involves more than 12 months of initial training in areas including:

  • Basic underwater demolition school
  • Parachute jump school
  • SEAL qualification training

This is followed by an additional 18 months of pre-deployment training and intensive specialized training.

Becoming a SEAL begins by being in the Navy. There are three options for becoming a Navy SEAL:

  • Enlist as a civilian
  • Enlist while in the Navy and apply for a transfer
  • Enlist from another branch of military service

The Navy accepts approximately 1000 sailors each year to attend SEAL training.

An applicant must pass:

  • A SEAL physical screening test
  • An armed services vocational aptitude battery
  • A psychological test

While it’s difficult to become a SEAL, there are several ways to become a SEAL candidate. Before joining the Navy, the candidate may request being allowed to enlist through the SEAL challenge contract. This will guarantee a person the opportunity to come a SEAL candidate.

For enlistment in the military, there is no such thing as a sealed record or an expunged record. All incidents resulting in arrest, charges, or conviction must be disclosed before enlistment.

All Navy SEALS must pass an extensive background investigation. The candidate must be able to obtain a proper security clearance. The Navy considers a felony conviction an automatic disqualification for all candidates, regardless of the job.

Getting a Security Clearance

A security clearance is granted to someone who has completed an appropriate personnel security background investigation. The investigation determines whether a person’s personal and professional history indicates loyalty to the United States through:

  • Strength of character
  • Trustworthiness
  • Honesty
  • Reliability
  • Discretion
  • Sound judgment

An Opportunity for Felons?

A felon would most likely not be considered to become a Navy SEAL.

An applicant who has one felony as an adult or up to two felonies as a juvenile may apply for a moral waiver from the commander of the Navy recruiting command. If the waiver is granted, a felon can enter the Navy. Anyone with two or more felonies on his or her adult record or three or more felonies at any age is not eligible to apply for a waiver.

Certain felonies are automatic disqualifications from entering the Navy. These are sex crimes, including:

  • Rape
  • Assault with intent to rape
  • Possession or distribution of child pornography
  • Kidnapping of a minor
  • Any other crime requiring registration as a sex offender

A felony conviction will not automatically disqualify someone for a security clearance. However, a criminal record could be especially difficult to achieve if other factors reflect negatively on a person’s background and character.

Felony crimes that are problematic involve:

  • Dishonesty like theft or embezzlement
  • Substance abuse like a DUI
  • Possession of controlled substances

The following are positive factors for an applicant:

  • The felony was not recent
  • The crime was an isolated incident
  • Someone was coerced into committing the crime
  • Someone did not voluntarily commit the crime
  • Acquittal was granted
  • There is clear evidence of rehabilitation

Obtaining a security clearance will depend on the particular offense. Even if the criminal record is expunged, all charges within the past seven years must be disclosed when applying for a security clearance. Someone must disclose information regardless of whether the record was sealed, expunged, or dismissed.

It’s important to be honest when applying to become a Navy SEAL. If a felony isn’t disclosed but is found on a background check this constitutes fraud and is punishable by jail time. It is a crime to falsify an application, which could result in being sent back to prison.

Recommended Action

It’s a major challenge, but it might be worth it for a felon wanting to become a Navy SEAL. Giving himself the best chance for success by having his record expunged and also documenting any training programs or additional education could make a critical difference.

Having support from family, friends, or previous employers can make a huge difference. A felon doesn’t have to be defined by his crime. We are not defined by our mistakes but by how we recover from them. He can begin again, live an honest life, and achieve his goals no matter how difficult it might seem.

What do you think about this blog post? Have you or someone you know been in the situation of trying to become a Navy SEAL with a felony? What was that like for him, and how did they achieve success? Please tell us in the comments below.

4 thoughts on “Can a Felon Become a Navy SEAL?”

  1. Hi
    I am currently trying to enlist the Navy with the desire to join the SEAL.
    All recruiters says “no” as soon as they hear the word “felony”.
    Any suggestion on how I could approach it with recruiters or any other path to go through?
    Thank you for any help…

    • Contact the headquarters for NRC ask for a chief recruiter. Be brutally honest and show dedication. Everything is waiverable screw the textbook.

      Wartime is an easier time to enlist though.


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