Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Class 187

Bob loved his hair.

That's what I remember most about our class-up party. The class-up party is a BUD/S tradition. On the weekend before your class starts First Phase, there's a kegger on the beach which is open to the BUD/S instructors.

The one mainstay of the class-up party is the haircut. The classmates take turns shaving each others' heads. I didn't mind, but Bob was not very excited about it. He had no choice though. It was the beginning of what would be a tumultuous five weeks culminating in our own personal Super Bowl: Hell Week.

Before I continue, though, a caveat. These posts aren't meant to be an in-depth source of information about BUD/S per se. This is a memoir about my personal experiences and development. BUD/S was a significant part of that, but if you want to know the ins and outs of BUD/S, there are now lots of other sources available. The best is probably the video series done by the Discovery Channel: Navy SEALS: BUDS Class 234. It's also available on YouTube -- here's the first segment which will give you a good taste of the start of First Phase.

Aside from its culmination in Hell Week, the most significant difference between Fourth Phase and First Phase is that after classing up, you actually have to start performing. That is, just about every week in First Phase you're required to meet certain standards, which included various timed standards for runs, the obstacle course, a two-mile ocean swim, life saving, a 50-meter underwater swim, and drown proofing. But I'm getting a little ahead of myself.

While still in Fourth Phase, a second officer joined the class. He was a full lieutenant from the fleet and at first blush didn't look the part. He was very lanky and -- relative to most of the officers who go through BUD/S as ensigns -- he was a little older. But he had his shit together and despite all the "attention" the instructors gave him, he ended up being a great class leader.

For the most part, I enjoyed First Phase because the class was spirited, I was in a good boat crew, and I had a good swim buddy. All BUD/S classes are divided into boat crews by height. Since I was short in height, I was assigned to the last boat crew, commonly called the "Smurfs." Being a Smurf had its disadvantages and its advantages. We couldn't row worth shit, so when it came to paddling races, we never won (winning races at BUD/S oftentimes means getting to finish early and rest while the rest of the class continues to get hammered).

On the bright side, though, we were all about the same height which gave us a distinct advantage during log PT. Compared to the other boat crews -- which had wider height distributions -- it was easier for us to hold the log over our heads for longer periods. As a result, we repeatedly won log PT challenges and got to bail out early. As the instructors always said, "it paid to be a winner."

As for swim buddies, BUD/S students are matched up based on timed swims in Fourth Phase. Unfortunately, we were timed swimming without fins. I was fast without fins, but found swimming with the stiff duck feet fins provided at BUD/S a little hard to get used to. As a result, I swam slower and was assigned a different swim buddy, which turned out to be great.

My new swim buddy was named Wong. He was an enlisted man in the Singapore army. We had three Singaporeans in Class 187: Mr. Ang, who was an officer, Wong, and another enlisted guy. They all stuck together, naturally, and were always squared away.

In the week before Hell Week was to start, we had to do a two nautical mile ocean swim. Before the swim, two students were designated to check the water temperature, to determine whether or not we got to wear our wetsuit tops (if the water was cold enough, we'd wear rubber). They were given a thermometer and headed for the surf. The water was cold, though, so they didn't feel like going out very far. In fact, they stood in about knee-deep water and let the thermometer hang down into the surf. I remember watching them and getting agitated.

The thermometer was in the water when the surf rolled in, but out of the water as the surf receded. Naturally, when the instructors checked the temperature it measured "TW" or "toasty warm." No rubber, we were told. Wong looked at me seriously as we geared-up on the beach and said, "Don't worry, if we fail, we fail together."

We didn't fail, but it was cold! With just a few hundred yards to go, Wong and I would take a few strokes and look up. We were heading for the beach. We'd then take another few strokes and look up. We were heading straight out to sea (rather than parallel to the shore). We were getting punchy. Once back on the beach, we saw Mr. Ang pulled out of the water unconscious -- the tough bastard had hyped out.

After some time in a hot tub, however, Mr. Ang recovered and Class 187 was ready for Hell Week. As I recall, we started First Phase with about 80 guys. As we approached Hell Week, we were down to 60-something.

I felt pretty confidant though. How much colder could I actually get?

Bob and I ready for First Phase -- cockiness meter in the red.


Eric said...

I was in your boat crew. This brings back a lot of memories. I got a med roll due to a femur fracture a couple of days before hell week.

Y. said...

Really? Awesome to hear from you! Hope my memory jibes with yours. Did you make it through to the Teams eventually?

Eric said...

No I never made it to the Teams. I never classed up with another class. I ended up getting a medical discharge. I bounced arround some construction jobs for a few years and then finally found a carrere with the Fire Department. Your memory by the way is right on the money. Good to here from you and I hope life is treating you good. Talk to you soon.