It’s true. I have a guest key here at the famed Hotel Del Coronado. I’m actually a guest here.
Yes, the same Hotel Del Coronado made famous by Marilyn Monroe. And the same Silver Strand beach that Navy SEAL wannabes run up and down almost every day or until they drop.
Hi, my name is Larry Fowler. At my ripe old age of 50-something, it's admittedly more enjoyable to observe groups of young men running and singing songs from the hotel seaward. At times, these men are carrying large rubber boats on their heads then minutes later they’re swimming in a toasty 55- degree Pacific Ocean.
You see, a long thirty years ago, it was the opposite. I was one of these men running up and down the Silver Strand. I still recall ‘gazing’ at the movie-star like people who had the ultimate luxury of being dry and enjoying fine dining beyond human comprehension on the hotel patio, and drowning themselves in pure comfort while I was likely being nearly drowned in salt water or by my salty sweat. Or worse, both.
That was in 1977. BUD/S class 89. And now it is about 30 years later.
What has changed about BUD/S?
Off hand, there looks to be little difference.
The sweating, the incriminating language that puts any imaginative prison inmate's offensive directives to shame, the ‘Hit The Surf’ commands from the instructors, constant running to the ‘chow’… and oh yeah, the ‘cold’ water all appears to the same.
But is it?
I traveled from Atlanta, a generous 2,000 miles, to Coronado to discover what has changed in all these years. Is it easier to graduate BUDS today? Are the new SEALs tougher? Better trained?
Well, to begin with, they did away with the ‘mud flats’. The last week in first phase training is called ‘Hell Week’. You can only imagine why, right? ‘Hell week’ completes first phase, which is largely focused on ‘physical’ and 'mental' training.
How Much Do You Dare Want To Be A Navy Frogman SEAL?
If you’re unsure about your desire about becoming a Navy Frogman, this is the phase where you will surely earn your ticket home. During Hell Week, you’ll experience only a few hours sleep with around-the-clock physical training, cold-water swims, Obstacle Course endurance and much, much more. I cannot verify the official cause for the mud flats to be eliminated, but I can only imagine. You see, during Hell Week, you receive medical checks three times per day, for good reason.
It was almost the final day of the week and we were about to paddle our IBS (large rubber boat) back from the mud flats (in Tijuana, Mexico) back to Coronado. Yes, if you’re still alive at this point, you have good reason to continue to hallucinate!
Bottom line – your ‘mental’ tolerance for pain is minimized, especially during Hell Week. As such, following one of the three-per-day medical checks, it was discovered that body parts were extremely swollen coming out of the mud flats. This would explain my inability to walk or even run in a semi-coherent straight line. I still recall the instructor’s ‘quick’ peak and very audible gasp at this — and I dare say — ugly, perverse sight. But again, I did not care. I only knew that Hell Week would be concluding within 24 or so hours!
Sorry, don’t mean to digress, but which leads me to say, no more ‘mud flats’? The explanation could be very simple. The ‘mud flats’ is a sewer for Tijuana. It stinks. It’s filthy - home to likely every disease imaginable. In America, it would probably be ‘contaminated’ for anyone within a hundred miles, and here we were swimming in it.
Ha! I was lucky. I got to go home with all that I arrived with! When offered the option to ‘row back’ to the next upcoming class, I quickly said no. No way. I’m almost home - just one more day of Hell Week. If I’m able to stand… I will not stop.
By many estimates, NAVY SEAL training is the toughest military training in the world. You’re tested both physically and mentally beyond human comprehension. What better perseverance training for becoming an ‘entrepreneur’! For example, I had the buoyancy as a ton brick… one training exercise required us to ‘porpoise’ the length of an Olympic pool with our ‘hands’ and ‘ankles’ firmly tied together. After, barely making it from one end to the other end of the pool (and digesting a gallon of chlorine water) the SEAL instructors noticed that my wrists were bleeding from my obvious ‘struggling’. With that, they not only ‘retied’ my wrists & ankles back together and even tighter, but then also tied my ‘elbows’ back together behind my back! And yes, they then tossed back in the pool to repeat the swim.
BUD/S taught me that we have no limitations other than the ones we place on ourselves!
So, back to the original question. Is BUD/S easier now?
I would say no.
Number one: from what I understand, there are still minimum timed runs and swims. If you don’t make it, you’re a goner. In fact, it has become much more complicated. Like the good old high schools days, if you mess up, you go to the principal's office (or disciplinarian). At BUDS, you go before a board of instructors. If I had been in this year's BUDS class, I would have probably been on a first name basis with all the board members.
All said and done, although I did okay on almost all physical evolutions, ‘heart’ probably got me through BUDS. But now, heart's not enough! You have to be a superior athlete with agility on the ‘O’ course, a swimmer that can endure many miles in cold water swims at a motor boat pace and lastly, a runner that can seemingly sprint for miles while wearing combat boots in the thick, hot California sand.
I conclude with the most important observation. Above all, regardless whether it's Class 89 or Class 289, you have to have ‘HEART’. The ability – or inability – to never quit no matter what or how severe the sacrifice.
As I sat here from the hotel, I cannot help from welling a tear as I see these young men run through their paces while instructors verbally torment them to ‘be a winner’. I wish that I could reach out to each trainee and tell him that completing BUDS may be the most important single achievement that they will accomplish in life. It may become what they’re best known for even 25 or 30 or more years later in life. I would cry to them not to quit. Then again, those who don’t will be Navy SEALs for life, never to be taken away.
Article by Larry Fowler, BUDS Class 89 (photo below Larry Fowler, Doug Young & Scott Rawding with Class 89 motto ‘The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday’)