Thursday, October 2, 2008

A Plan Develops

By the end of the summer (1990), I'd had my fill of the front desk duties at the YMCA and all the members' dirty towels. So, I enrolled in the Y's lifeguard certification course.

The Y was a small community and I had already become friends with the other guards, and I had been swimming a lot on my own, so the course, while challenging, was also fun. Shortly after passing it, I began taking on lifeguard hours and lessening my front desk role.

Then, after the new year (1991), Elaine and I flew to Houston, where her parents live. While the suburbs of Houston leave a lot to be desired, Elaine's parents lived in a nice, tree-lined neighborhood, and in a nice sized house (where I was given my own room).

Elaine's mother had been a stay-at-home mom and her father was an engineer. They were very hospitable and we all got along quite well. Elaine and I stayed at least a week and about halfway through our trip, I had a Eureka moment.

Elaine's mom took us to a large bookstore, where I eventually drifted over to the history and politics section. As I browsed the titles, which began transitioning to military affairs, I saw the cover of a paperback book that stopped me in my tracks.

The book: SEALs In Action, by Kevin Dockery.

It was as if all the things I had been doing in the last year -- all the seemingly unconnected thoughts and dreams I'd been having about my future -- all collapsed into a singularity at the moment I saw that book's cover. (And like such a collapse, the resulting energetic explosion was to be immense.)

I've already discussed, for example, how even before leaving the Center, I had struck upon the idea of becoming a spy of some sort. Then, after leaving the Center, my dad set up an informational interview for me with his old partner from the police department, who had gone on to the FBI and was then the acting special agent-in-charge or "SAC" of the Bureau's San Francisco office. Among other things, the SAC told me that I needed a degree, probably an advanced one (in accounting, law, or a foreign language), and that many agents also had military experience.

After that, I'd made it a point to take a tour of FBI Headquarters when Elaine and I were in Washington, D.C. The agent giving the tour said that approximately 70% of agents had military experience.

So, I had been swimming, running, lifting weights, and going to school with the idea of getting into the intelligence field when I came across Kevin Dockery's book in that Houston bookstore with Elaine and her mom. The cover photo drew me in immediately: warriors emerging from the deep to "hurt somebody's feelings." Real life action -- that's what I craved.

SEALs In Action was published before widespread knowledge of Navy SEALs existed in the public domain. But I had known from my own readings that the SEALs were the U.S. Navy's special forces component and underwent near mythic training to achieve their fearsome status within military circles. What I hadn't known, however, were the precise requirements to become a SEAL. Dockery's book laid them out precisely.

As I quickly consumed SEALs In Action in my upstairs room at Elaine's parents' home, I realized that at 25 years of age, I was still under the age cut-off (then 27). Also, I felt confident that I could already meet or surpass many of the individual, entry-level physical fitness standards: swimming, running, push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, swimming 50 yards underwater. I could do all those things. As I lay back on the bed I was both excited and scared.

I realized then and there that I had found my path forward. The enormity of that realization scared the shit out of me.

I knew just where the Navy recruiting office was, too -- just a short drive from school. Within just a few days after returning to California from Texas, I walked in and told the recruiter I wanted to be a Navy SEAL.

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