I was a new guy on probation at SEAL Team 3 (it’s different now, you get your Trident after SEAL Qualification Training) and serving in a support role. Need a boat driver for a platoon training dive? “Hey new guy, get over here..”. Need another bus driver to haul guys to and from a run out in town? “New guy, get over here…”
So off to the Naval Special Warfare motor pool to find out how to get my 36 PAX (passenger) bus license.
First let me tell you that most motor pool operators cringe when checking out vehicles to Spec Ops types. They have checked out too many vehicles only to have them returned with no tread, dents and smoke coming from the hood. We tend to be very hard on vehicles, especially after returning from a race or offensive driving course. Drive it like it’s stolen.
The guy behind the counter took one look at my SEAL Team 3 PT shorts and was instantly on guard. “I need a 36 PAX drivers exam I said.” The guy didn’t say much, he grunted something about SEALs fucking up a new truck last week, and handed me a thick stack of papers. “Have someone who’s licensed sign off this qualification package and call us when you’re ready to test”, he said.
I took the paperwork back and heard the senior guys on the upper deck of SEAL Team 3 say, “Webb, get that damn license because we’re out of drivers for next Friday’s PT run, don’t fuck around. Hear me?, said half ass Mac. Mac had literally lost half his ass to a land mine in Vietnam. The “new guys” knew his name but dared not call him by it or end up in a world of hurt, or worse.
It was Friday, and I had one week to sign off a stack of paperwork and take my bus test. Only one thing to do I thought, pencil whip this qualification sheet and take that test sooner than later.
After completing my qual sheet with the help of my fellow new guy’s handwriting, I called the vehicle depot the following Monday and said I would like to test for my 36 PAX bus drivers license. The guy that answered said he had an open slot later that afternoon. “Yes! I thought to myself.” Here we go.
My training up to this point had been in a short bus (you know the type) only. My experience consisted of cranking the air brake handle and familiarizing myself with all the buttons and gauges that buses come with. In short, I had zero actual driving experience. “How hard can it be?”, I said to myself thinking of the Ballad of the Navy SEAL.
I showed up for my test and the bus was beautiful, as pretty as a new bus can be I guess.
The examiner was the same guy who gave me my original qualification packet. “You got all this signed off over the weekend?”, he said with a raised brow. I explained that I had weekend duty and was lucky enough to find somebody to sign me off. He didn’t seem to buy it but we proceeded anyway.
He gave me a lengthy talk about how this was a new bus and I was to be extra careful. After showing him I knew how to signal and work the gauges (this was the only part I’d mastered) we were off, me having never driven a bus in my life. What the hell.
We started at the Naval Amphibious Base (NAB) in Coronado and he had me drive over the Coronado bridge and onto a Naval Station 32nd street, where all the big Navy boats are parked.
My first mistake was when I pulled up to a train track and slow rolled it without coming to a complete stop. Strike one. He couldn’t hide his grin and I was sure he was out to get me at this point.
I have to admit, up to this point I was doing pretty well for never having driven a bus before, my confidence was soaring (even after the blown stop) as I was signaling and merging into traffic like a Greyhound-driving pro much to the disappointment of my test examiner.
An hour and a half into it, we finally ended up back across the bridge at Naval Air Station North Island. And man was he taking it to me! Parallel parking and backing up into tight spaces behind and besides aircraft pallets loaded with gear, everything and every situation he could muster.
I had pulled it off flawlessly to this point (minus one strike) and could see the look of disappointment of my examiner. He seemed to realize I had been learning on the fly but passing his test regardless. We would both be surprised very shortly.
After my fourth parallel parking exercise he shrugged and said, “you passed, take us back to NAB.
Grinning ear to ear I pulled up to the stop sign by the back gate. Home free I thought. I stopped and proceeded to make a right turn that would take us to the back gate and me as a licensed bus driver. Suddenly I heard an ear shattering SCREEEEEEACTHHH, Pop, Bang, SCREEEEATCHH!!!! I turned to check my mirror and could also see my examiner and his reflection of horror that was on his face. I had taken the turn too sharp to the right, and had run into and partly over my stop sign. I faintly heard him yell for me to stop but we had traffic coming from the left and I was committed to completing this turn and certainly not stopping in the middle of the road to show case my error to the other drivers. Stop? Back up? No fucking way.
A few blocks down I pulled over, and we inspected the damage. My examiner (a career E-6 motor head) was bright red in the face with veins bulging from his neck. “My bus, what the fuck have you done to my beautiful new bus?!” His anger had turned to sadness, and he was moaning like he lost a child. I felt a twinge of sadness myself and could tell, he honestly cared deeply for his machine. “Hey, I’m sorry. I cut that turn a little too close back there”, I said. He just stared at me in disbelief and told me to get in, and that he was driving us home.
When we got back I still asked, “I still passed right, you said I passed?” He told me there was no way he was passing me and mumbled something about paperwork, and a damage report. I just hoped he didn’t call Half Ass back at my team.
That Wednesday I called down for the my re-test. They let me re-test (different guy) and I passed with flying colors. On Friday I was driving the Team to Balboa park for a 6 mile run. Mission accomplished.
No shit, there I was…36 PAX bus driver.
Brandon Webb is a former Navy SEAL and author of the New York Times Best Seller, The Red Circle.
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