|Navy SEAL Training Over the Years
|The Hotel Del Coronado has been made famous over the years by a lot of things. Navy SEAL team recruits run up and down the beach here working till they drop, and it's the same Silver Strand Beach that was made famous by Marlyn Monroe. It is a lot different to be visiting here as a guest, instead of sweating and groaning working to gain acceptance as an elite Navy SEAL. It's a lot different, and a great deal more enjoyable for me to sit with a cute tropical drink with a colorful umbrella in it and be able to observe the newest members of the Navy Special Warfare brotherhood, as they work carting their rubber zodiac rafts over their heads, chanting and singing songs. It's especially more comfortable as I watch them swimming in the Pacific that is all too memorable to me, at a bone chilling 55 degrees.
For me it was a flashback, 40 years ago I was one of these young lads, running and working to please my Basic Underwater SEAL (BUD/S) instructors. I refer to them as the Coronado gods in my book, Dare To Live Greatly. I remember running up and down the Silver Strand glancing at the onlookers and gawker's. I remember wondering what they were thinking as I busted my hump running endlessly back and forth, straining and sweating, running in and out of the salt water as I worked in my SEAL training. I remember gazing at the guests looking down at me as if movie stars, enjoying fine dining being comfortable, dry and cozy while I was nearly drowning in my own sweat, salt water or both.
That was in 1976. I was a member of BUD/S Class 89. The class that coined, "The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday" motto. That was nearly 40 years ago.
And I now I ponder, has BUD/S changed from what I experienced nearly 4 decades ago?
On the surface, I don't see very much difference.
The sweating, the incriminating language that puts any imaginative person to shame, language that would make a prison inmate look tame, the cries of "Hit the SURF," the instructor commands, the running back and forth, and rushing to "the chow," and of course the blasting in and out of the cold Pacific surf… It all looks the same. But, are looks deceiving?
I have just traveled from Atlanta, Georgia over 2,000 miles to Coronado to rediscover and examine if anything has changed in BUD/S training after all of these years. I want to know, is it easier to graduate than it was for me nearly 40 years ago? Are the SEAL graduates today better trained? Tougher?
Well, to begin with they have done away with the "Mud Flats." No more crab walks and endurance games in mud sometimes a foot deep. The last week in first phase largely focused on physical and mental training is "Hell Week" for good reason.
If you are not sure if you want to become a SEAL, this is the phase where you will surely earn your ticket home. During Hell Week, you will experience only a few hours sleep, with constant around the clock physical training, cold water swims, obstacle course endurance and much, much more. I don't know the reason officially that the "Mud Flats" were eliminated, but I can only imagine why. You see during Hell Week, you will receive medical checks three times a day, for good reason. My own experience I remember well. It was nearly the end of my "Hell Week," and my team was about to paddle our large rubber boat or IBS back to Coronado from the mud flats in Tijuana, Mexico. At this point in our training, if you were still alive a person had a good reason to continue to hallucinate!
The medical check that I went through routinely at that point caught a problem that I was not sure if I had been hallucinating about or not. At that point, I was largely beyond pain, running on automatic. After being sleep deprived, physically depleted, and being pushed beyond endurance, I was "on automatic." At this point you are no longer mentally together and you just simply don't care what happens next. This is what happens to everyone during Hell Week!
My ability to walk or run in any coherent manner had been interrupted. The medical check disclosed that my testicles had swollen huge to nearly five times normal size. My instructor's quick look and very audible gasp did not affect me - I was literally beyond pain, beyond caring. I only knew that Hell Week would be over in less than 24 hours!
Perhaps this is one of the reasons that the Mud Flats have been eliminated. "Mud Flats," is the area just where Tijuana meets the Pacific, and it is literally the sewer for Tijuana, its filthy, contaminated, and likely home to every bacteria and disease you can imagine. If it were located in America it would be condemned as contaminated-
And back then this is the area that we and every other BUD Class regularly swam in!
I was lucky. I got to return home with everything I arrived with! When they offered to let me "row back" to the next upcoming class I quickly said No.
No Way. I am one day short of finishing Hell Week. If I can stand, I won't stop.
Is the Basic Underwater Demolition School that SEAL recruits attend now easier than it was for my SEAL teammates, and me back in 1976? In a word- I would say No, its not.
Timed Runs: There are still minimum times required in runs and swims. If you don't make the grade you are out. In fact, it has become much more complicated. Back in High School, if you messed up you would go to the principal's office or Dean, who ever handled the discipline. At BUDS, you appear before a board of instructors. If I had attended the BUD's training now, I would be likely on a first name basis with all of the instructor board members.
Agility And Physical Ability: Back in the day, I did okay on the physical evolutions, but it was likely "heart," that took me through BUDS training. But now heart is just not enough! You have to be a superior athlete on the obstacle course, a swimmer that can swim many miles in cold water at a motor boat pace, and last you have to be able to run at a sprint pace for miles in combat boots in the thick, hot California Sand.
Heart: While heart is not alone enough, even with superior physical traits, the most important observation I have, whether it is back in my BUDS class of 89, or BUDS class 289, you still have to have "HEART," the ability to never quit, no matter what the situation, no matter how severe the sacrifice to continue is.
I sit here at The Hotel Del Coronado, and I can't help feeling a tear well up as I observe the young men run through their paces while their instructors berate and verbally torment them, and urge them onward, to "Be a Winner." I wish I could reach out and tell each of the BUDS SEAL recruit trainees, and let them know that now, this BUDS training experience they are undergoing may be the most important single achievement that they will ever accomplish in life. It may become what they are best known for, even 30 years later in life. I would cry out to them; "Don't quit!"
But then again, those who do not quit will be Navy SEAL team members for life, and that is something that can never be taken away from them.