Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Games Begin

I had been training so hard for so long that I thought the day would never come -- that something would prevent me from going to BUD/S.

I had worried that perhaps I'd injure myself, or that the doctors at boot camp would find some kind of disqualifying physical defect, or there'd be some kind of bureaucratic SNAFU with my paperwork.

Something, I'd thought, would get in my way. But after almost a month of vacation back in San Jose with Elaine after graduating from intelligence training, Bob called me at home.

Bob had gone to Florida to see his family after graduation. He'd bought a truck there and then drove west to pick me up. The next day, I loaded my sea bag into Bob's new truck and we headed south from San Jose on an eight hour drive to San Diego and Naval Amphibious Base Coronado.

The only part of that long drive that I remember is getting our first glimpse of the Coronado Bay Bridge, which spans the San Diego Bay, linking San Diego proper with Coronado. Bob put AC/DC's "Hell's Bells" in the tape deck and turned up the volume. Nothing was going to stop us -- we'd made it, at long last, to BUD/S.

I found it difficult to sleep that first night, but by the end of the next day, which we spent checking in, getting gear, and surveying the base, I began to relax. All I wanted to do was to begin training.

BUD/S is organized into three phases of training, each of which lasts about two months. First Phase is the physical conditioning phase. Second Phase is dive training. Third Phase is land warfare training. At all times, there are three full classes in training, one in each phase.

You could determine how far along in training a class was by their apparel. When I arrived at BUD/S -- in August 1992 -- students in First Phase wore utility green uniforms (like these), with white t-shirts and green helmets. Second Phase students -- who had made it through "Hell Week" and were learning to be combat divers -- wore the same utility green uniforms, but also wore the coveted green t-shirt, signifying successful completion of Hell Week. They also wore blue helmets.

Third Phase students wore camouflage uniforms, had red helmets, and also wore their K-Bars on their sides. Generally, because much of the Third Phase land warfare training takes place on San Clemente Island, you didn't see third phasers very often. But when you did, there was an aura about them, or seemed to be to us newbies. They were so close to graduation and moving on to the Teams.

(After BUD/S, there are still a lot of qualifications a new graduate must meet before earning his long sought Trident.)

When Bob and I arrived, however, we had just missed classing up with Class 186, so we were slated for Class 187, which wouldn't class-up for another six or seven weeks. In the meantime, along with the other 40 or 50 guys already checked in -- with more arriving every day -- Bob and I began Fourth Phase. Fourth Phase was just physical training -- basically a holding phase until First Phase began.

Typically, I got up around 4:30 a.m. or so, got dressed, and mustered with the class in the common area of our beach front dorms. We'd then jog over together to the "grinder" -- a black top exercise area near the BUD/S instructors' offices -- where we'd sweep, take out trash, and do other chores. Then we'd all jog to the chow hall on the other side of the base. After a quick breakfast, we'd go to the first evolution of the day (perhaps a PT and soft-sand run).

Then it was back to the chow hall for lunch and the second evolution of the day (maybe the obstacle course). Usually, we'd be done for the day around 4:30 p.m. or so and we'd be free until the next morning (unless we had duty, which was relatively infrequent). Once I had settled in, I found Fourth Phase relatively easy and, oftentimes, fun.

In Fourth Phase, for example, we did much of our swimming in the "combat training tank" -- that is, the pool. I remember one morning the instructor announced that we'd be swimming 5 x 800 meters (4000 meters total). As I swam with the other guys in the fast lane, I remember thinking to myself: "I'm getting paid to do this!"

I felt lucky to be there and especially lucky with Class 187. For the first few weeks I was there, the class had just one officer, a young, red-headed ensign with a ballsy story of how he'd made it to BUD/S.

The ensign was a graduate of VMI, the Virginia Military Institute. Along with The Citadel, VMI is considered to be the finest institution of military instruction available. So esteemed is the course of instruction that its graduates can take an officer's commission in any branch of the U.S. military. Our ensign wanted to take his commission in the Navy and become a SEAL.

The Navy, in its infinite wisdom though, had other ideas and told the ensign that there were no Special Warfare slots available. If he wanted a commission in the Navy, the he'd have to choose another career path, like becoming a submariner or a ship driver. The ensign said "no thanks," turned down the officer's commission, and enlisted just like the rest of us.

As an enlisted man, he volunteered for SEAL training at boot camp, passed the screening test, and was sent to hospital corpsman school for advanced training. Then someone noticed that the ensign was a VMI graduate and wised up. After graduating from corpsman school, the ensign was sent to Officer Candidate's School or OCS, where he earned his deserved commission. Then he was sent to BUD/S.

It was our great good fortune to have him. It's hard on group morale when your leader is wanting in any respect. Thankfully, the fledgling Class 187 didn't have that problem.

The picture above was taken just after Bob and I had arrived at BUD/S. I never saw those blocks used in training and they weren't as heavy as they may appear.


ThisCrazyLife said...

This post is old; I stumbled across it. I was married to "the red-headed ensign" and he went on to become a SEAL and served two tours, now an orthopedic surgeon.

Y. said...

That's cool, thanks so much for the update. I'm glad he's out safe and sound.