A sailor fresh out the elite Navy SEAL selection course slung his gear over his broad shoulder and clomped down a steel ladder into the guts of a Navy ship to execute a difficult, dayslong mission specifically assigned to him: scrubbing the stinking scum out of the ship’s cavernous bilge tank.

Hardly the stuff of action movies, but it’s how many would-be SEALs end up.

The Navy attracts recruits for the SEALs using flashy images of warriors jumping from planes or rising menacingly from the dark surf. But very few make it through the harrowing selection course, and those who don’t still owe the Navy the rest of their four-year enlistments. So they end up doing whatever Navy jobs are available — often, menial work that few others want.