(By Denise Clark) When I announced my intentions to travel several states and meet three ex-Navy SEALs for interviews pertaining to a writing project, friends and family thought I was insane.
"Are you crazy?"
"What are you thinking? You don't even know them!"
Regardless, I can say with certainty that I did not feel uncomfortable about my decision, even though I was a woman traveling alone. I felt more nervous about navigating my way around an airport and city to which I had never been than to the thought that I might somehow be endangering myself by placing myself in the proximity of Navy SEALs. While most people believe that Special Forces, including Navy SEALs, are steroid-addicted muscle-bound men to be avoided at all costs, I found out firsthand that such is not the case.
This is not to say that I did not realize that Navy SEALs are specially trained to carry out missions with the utmost efficiency and expediency as well as methods that many people might cringe over. However, I also knew that most Navy SEALs follow an unwritten code of conduct.
While I certainly did not know these three men prior to meeting them for the first time, I did speak to one of them on the phone on several occasions prior to my trip. Instead of hearing a gravelly, hard-edged voice, I was pleasantly surprised to hear a smooth, soft-spoken Southern accent that belonged to a person with an obvious sense of humor as well as one who was not caught up in himself or his history as a Navy SEAL.
After making a decision to travel and arrangements had been made to meet at a hotel in San Diego, California, where the Navy school puts its BUDs recruits through rigorous training, this writer arrived in San Diego with absolutely no preconceived expectations. After notifying the ex-Navy SEAL that I had arrived, he suggested that we meet for the first time in a public area around the hotel pool, more in an effort to make me feel more comfortable and secure than the need to soak up a few of the glorious San Diego rays of sunshine.
Never Assume. Never Prejudge. Especially Naval Special Warfare Operators On & Off The Field.
I was immediately surprised upon seeing him for the first time. It seemed that even I had subconsciously come with preconceived notions of what a Navy SEAL should look like. I wasn't exactly thinking "Rambo", but it had crossed my mind. Of course, I was there to meet with ex-Navy SEALs, but that's neither here nor there. At any rate, a handsome and smiling man who exuded a sense of ease about himself that immediately put me at ease met me and introduced himself as Larry.
His friends, Scott and Doug, were off somewhere playing Ping Pong or something, since Larry, I found out shortly, felt that I might feel a tad overwhelmed being immediately surrounded by three SEALs at once.
It didn't take long to establish a rapport with Larry, and soon thereafter, I was also introduced to Scott and Doug. Dashed were all my preconceived notions. With a sense of growing chagrin, I realized that hey, these were people… nice people, with wives, kids, family problems, joys and stories enough to keep them all laughing for days.
To be honest, I was rather surprised that these guys looked like "ordinary people". It is obvious that many civilians operate on misconceived notions of what, and who, Navy SEALs are, to the point where we have created concepts and visions of these fearsome and highly trained Special Forces warriors that do not at all meet realistic expectations.
My job was to interview these three old buddies who had been together for the most important part of their history as Navy SEALs: BUDs training. While that training had taken place nearly twenty years earlier, it was easy for me to see the camaraderie and loyalty shared among these three friends as they gathered to reminisce together and try to try to explain to me, a mere civilian, and a woman at that, the importance and impact that their Navy SEAL training had on their lives 10, 15, even 20 years after the fact. They laughed, joked, and giggled together like any other old friends. Missing was any indication of vanity or arrogance that often accompanies many people's perceptions of a Special Forces soldier.
These very special warriors talked about their past, how they got into the Navy SEAL program, as well as the challenges and obstacles that they faced during various periods of their BUDs training, including their experiences in the mud flats and on the obstacle course, which still stands today. Through it all, I felt nothing but respect for these men who pushed themselves and their attitudes and their bodies beyond limits that most people would never consider.
One thing that astounded me the most was a comment made by Larry on our second day of interviews. We were walking near a body of water and I idly commented that I didn't particularly like the water. Larry told me that he didn't either. I glanced at him in surprise. He looked at me in all seriousness and told me he sank like a rock when he was in water. "I swam like a two-ton truck and ran like a three-legged elephant." He looked off into the distance, a faint smile on his lips. "But," he said quietly. "Quitting was not an option."
Yes, Navy SEALs have goals and dreams; they romance and bleed and hope. Just like ordinary people. They may be afraid, but are encouraged to face their fears. They may be uncertain, but are trained to make decisions. They might find obstacles in their path on a daily basis, but their training and their tenacity, determination and integrity enable them to find ways around, over, or under such obstacles that have stood them in good stead in the years between their initial training and where life finds them today.
Unfortunately, one of those warriors has passed on, but his legacy will live on in the memory of his friends and family, and by my memories of our three days together. After spending those three days in a hotel room with these three very gifted, intelligent, and obviously loyal friends, I realized that Navy SEALs are a very special breed indeed, and that the experience of enduring, surviving, and graduating from BUDs training not only cements the bonds of friendship, but leaves the everlasting mark on the hearts and souls of those who graduate.
Those three guys might be considered modern day knights, but they were no boy scouts, that's a fact. They were trained to attack and destroy in the most brutal and efficient manner possible, but they shared a common bond of everlasting friendship. Those three guys, who were more than capable of killing on orders, were also devoted to their families and wives.
I saw pride in country shining in their eyes and knew that loyalty and honor kept time with the beating of their hearts. While their sense of self was strong, their sense of country, of duty, of honor, was even stronger. They were, and always will be, Navy SEALs.
"You don't have to tell people," said Larry. "They will know."
I will never forget those three days in San Diego and am honored that I got the chance, however briefly, to share in memories forged through difficulty and hardships. Though Doug is gone now, I will always remember his impish grin, as well as Scott's true sincerity as he answered all my questions with patience and honesty. Most of all, I will remember Larry as a true Southern gentleman in every sense of the word, the one with the quiet voice and a heart as big as the Rock of Gibraltar.
Denise Clark is a professional development and ghost writer. For more information to Gemini Writing Service. This article is not to credit anyone (last names withheld) but to highlight the high standards and professionalism found in the Naval Special Warfare community.