Insight and Reflections from a Navy SEAL
Someone captured this photo of me coming off the beach after securing from Hell Week. The guy in the middle was our boat crew leader and could hardly walk. The guy on the other side was my swim buddy for all of BUD/S. I often get asked how people make it through SEAL training. In an organization looking for drive, determination, mental fortitude and a never quit attitude, that is using the crucible of Hell Week to determine who has those attributes, it was quite simple – never quit. Actually, it can be a bit more complicated than that, and I think it’s probably different for each person who decides to volunteer to put themselves to the test.
We are looking for those with grit. One of the great things about BUD/S is that regardless of when you go through, you are linked to the past and the future through a common experience with everyone who has ever worn the Trident. Whether they went through in 1968, 1985, 2007 or will be going through next year, we are all bonded through that shared experience. As I went through the program, particularly Hell Week, I thought of all those who had done things much more difficult than run around on the Coronado beach with a boat on their head getting yelled at by BUD/S instructors.
I thought of those who stormed the beaches at Normandy. I thought of those who fought island to island in the Pacific Campaign in WW II. I thought of the one and two person SF sniper teams waiting quietly for days in hide sites in the Ashau Valley as Viet Cong patrolled within feet of their positions. I thought of those who had endured at the Chosin Reservoir. I thought of Shackleton wintering over in Antarctica. I thought of Slavomir Rawicz and his fellow prisoners who escaped from a Soviet prison in Siberia, trekking all the way to India and to freedom. I thought of those who pledged their Lives, their Fortunes, and their sacred Honor to fight the most powerful military on earth in declaring Independence from Great Britain. I thought about how what I was doing in BUD/S paled in comparison to real hardship and adversity. That helped put it in perspective.
Throwing it back to fairly early on in Afghanistan, though back in 2003 it didn’t seem “early” by any means – it felt like we had already been there for a while. I didn’t quite have my kit dialed in yet, as you can tell from the drop-leg holster; after a couple compound assaults that proved not the way to go. The guys to my right and left had already done an Afghanistan deployment and knew what they were doing. They took me under their collective wings and passed along their lesson’s learned. It was a very formative time in my professional and personal development, and I remain forever humbled and honored to have served alongside such outstanding operators.
I believe this was my first, or at least close to my first, jump at Military Free-Fall School in Yuma. Bright yellow jumpsuit with white socks…not the best look… About a year later the world would change forever.
I think most everything I’m wearing in this pre-9/11 photo was found at the bottom of the “DRMO bin,” for those that remember that treasure trove of gear that older guys at the Team didn’t want anymore, aka “junk.” You could find a gem every now and again, however.
New guy platoon.
There was probably a solid two years from when this picture was taken until Sept 11th. We all thought we would show up at our first SEAL Teams, the “Golden Conex Box” would open, and we would be jetting off on secret missions all over the world. What we really did was train, well that and do “new guy” stuff like empty the trash, paint walls, stand watch, wax floors, and change lightbulbs. This was still the early days of the internet, so many of the lessons learned from conflicts past were only found in books, and I devoured anything I could on special operations history and terrorism. As we started our first pre-deployment work-up, the U.S. Embassy bombings in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya rocked the geopolitical landscape. As the intelligence rep for the platoon and a lifelong student of war, I began to study a group known as al-Qaeda…
Going through some old photos and came across these from the pre-9/11 days. They are all from my “new-guy” platoon at Team 5. It seems both like yesterday and like a lifetime ago. The world would change forever about a year and a half later, and I wouldn’t emerge from a combat focused posture for more than a decade, during which time I devoted myself to the study of conflict and of our enemy. I remain a student of war. That study continues to inform my writing, tempered, I hope, by the benefit of time and distance from the battlefield. My rifle seems to be missing something in those early years…