Graduating from BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL) training is one of the most liberating emotions a man can experience. During the training, most of us never looked past our next meal, much less the next week or phase. Eventually, somewhere during land warfare in third phase I actually started to believe I might become a SEAL someday. We kept telling ourselves was how great life was going to be in the Teams’. Good sleep, solid PT, and long hair awaited us. The physical and mental challenges BUD/S still presented each day was softened by the mutual encouragement that we’d be welcomed with open arms at our respective teams when we graduated. We all sat patiently in class waiting for the instructor to announce our team on assignment day. I don’t remember anything else during the session other than “Rutledge…SEAL Team ONE”. My first choice! I’m not sure I based my selection on anything other than a badass book by Dick Couch titled “SEAL Team ONE” I had read years earlier. There was that, and my girlfriend was going to college in San Diego.
Army airborne school complete, Frogman swagger was intact as I prepared my dress whites to check-in to SEAL Team ONE. I had been in the Navy for almost 4 years at this point, and still didn’t know how to tie a neckerchief. I made a brief stop at Recruit Training Center San Diego in Point Loma to remedy the problem. Slamming on the brakes in front of the nearest recruit I could find, I made him tie it for me. My reputation in the Teams would be made by first impressions, I wanted everything to be perfect.
I had coordinated with two other graduates to check in together. It violated our mutual herd instincts to go solo. We met in the parking lot, and smartly walked together in boot camp style to the front door of the quarterdeck with our folders uniformly in out left hands. We were met by the quarterdeck watch who signed us in, and asked us to wait briefly to while he called upstairs to have someone escort us. We patiently stood for about 5 minutes wondering what was next. Would the Command Master Chief (CMC) meet us first, or would our future brothers come down to give us the tour?
“Upstairs” at SEAL Team ONE was hallowed ground, the Commanding Officer, Executive Officer, CMC, the Chief’s Lounge (Goat Locker), Training Cell, and several platoons resided up there. We were going straight to the top, life in the teams’ was going to be exactly as I had envisioned. A compact guy in a brown T-shirt, UDT shorts, jungle boots, and arms like cannons burst through the door, made a quick assessment and said “follow me.” Out of tradition, I allowed the other two guys to go ahead of me since I was the senior man. This proved to be one of the best decisions of my career. We were led up a stairwell with 30 years of SEAL Team ONE faces on the walls, war booty and awards. Before I could process it, we entered the top floor. Offices were on the left, a large classroom on the right. As we stepped a few feet into the hallway, a Master Chief from one of the offices on the left said “Welcome to SEAL Team ONE gents..” In an instant the world erupted! The lead rookie violently disappeared, yanked out of the hallway by several faceless, gorilla looking hands. Folders and dixie cup hats went flying, #2 got ambushed from a different office and was immediately hog tied. I watched it all being at the end of the line as I was put in a choke hold, quickly dragged to the ground, and taped up so fast a rodeo professional would’ve been jealous. In reliving the moment, I think I was somehow impressed with the immediate violence of action, and coordination it took to mount the synchronized ambush with only 5 minutes notice.
Once subdued, but still fighting, heads started poking out of the remaining offices intrigued by the shaking walls and noise resulting from the assault. As appendages and riggers tape were flying, I looked up at #2 a few feet in front of me. He had his hands and feet secured, mouth taped, but still valiantly trying to writhe out of his captivity. He had the ultimate misfortune of having been subdued in front of the Executive Officer’s door. Our X.O. was a Vietnam enlisted SEAL, had risen through the ranks, and although toward the end of his career, was still ripped and had every SEALs respect. That day he was wearing khakis and ribbons, and took one step out of his office with coffee in hand. He made a quick assessment of the carnage occurring in the hallway as his face wore a look of utter annoyance. In an instant I thought to myself “Finally some authority, he’ll put a stop to this.” With that, the X.O. looked at his watch, gingerly stepped over #2 so as not to spill his coffee, and proceeded to walk down the hall. I was devastated and beginning to feel desperation until he stopped, paused for a second, then walked back to the piles of men on the floor. Just when I thought he was going to intervene and save us, he cocked his right leg back, and delivered a two swift kicks in quick succession to #2’s exposed thigh in perfect unison with the beatings already in progress. As he alternated sides of the hallway to negotiate the flying fists and human obstacles on his way out, he uttered “Welcome to the Team boys…”