(AP) -- The trainees had been awake for days, but they could still muster a "Hoo-yah, Secretary Rumsfeld!" as the visiting defense chief looked them over.

They were 60 "buds" -- hopefuls to join the elite ranks of the Navy SEAL (search) teams. Dozens had already given up, ringing a bell and calling it quits. For them, Tuesday was the middle of "hell week" -- where they are kept awake, training, for 51/2 days. The lucky ones may get a cumulative four hours of sleep during that time.

As the men stood before Donald H. Rumsfeld in teams of six, their trainers yelled for them to alternately lift an their mid- to late 20s.

They are drawn from the ranks of the Navy and must pass rigorous physical tests to qualify for training. Only 30 percent of an average class of trainees finish the six-month training regimen to become SEAL team members.

Rumsfeld, who joined President Bush in San Diego Tuesday to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the U.S. victory over Japan in World War II, also met with active SEALs at their base.

"They're amazing folks," he said.

He pinned bronze stars (search) on several SEALs, thanking them for heroism in Iraq. Reporters were asked not to reveal their names or photograph their faces.

One SEAL helped protect Iraqi oil wells during the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Others played a key role in capturing high-level insurgents, according to officers who described their actions.

Rumsfeld said he personally approved some of their missions.

"You are the quiet professionals doing extraordinary things, often in anonymity," he said. "But even though most Americans know little about your remarkable exploits, they do take comfort in knowing you are in the fight."

Despite their maritime origins, SEALs -- an acronym for Sea, Air and Land -- have been on the front lines in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Still, it has been a rough period for the elite SEAL units. Like other special operations units, while their successes go unheralded, their failures are often well-known.

On June 28, eight Navy SEALs, along with eight members of the Army's 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, were killed in Afghanistan when a rocket-propelled grenade hit their MH-47 Chinook. Also killed were three SEAL commandos they were trying to rescue on the ground. A fourth escaped.

Some SEALs have also been accused of taking part in the abuse of prisoners.