This is Part I of a three-part series by Brandon Webb. Read Part II here.

The first time I saw Glen Doherty, he was relaxing in a parked Humvee reading a book and I was on the edge of physical collapse.

I remember the moment like a snapshot because it struck me right then how ironic it was. Here we were, the toughest of the tough, baddest of the bad, strapping young specimens on our way to becoming Navy SEALs, and what was this guy doing? Sitting there reading some piece of classical literature like a third-year English lit student. And here was the ironic part: My first thought was, “Hey, another one.” Because reading was one of my great loves, too –classic novels, popular page-turners, memoirs, business books, you name it. Being a voracious reader was something Glen and I had in common — as I would soon learn, it was just one of the many things we had in common. Maybe we both sensed that.

In any case, there we were: him perched in his comfortable Humvee, me on my last legs, one of the few men still standing in the final stretch of a brutal 14-mile forced run in full gear in the scorching midsummer California desert, which on a cool day was close to 100 degrees. And this wasn’t a cool day. Out of a class of 72 guys, barely a dozen of us were still vertical.

Actually, I wasn’t exactly vertical either. Both my legs had just seized up and I had dropped like a sack of cement.

Glen glanced up from his book and grinned at me. “How ya doin’? Ya look like shit.”

I didn’t just look like shit. I felt like shit.

It was the summer of 1998 and toward the end of our STT session at post-apocalyptic Niland. This was that same 14-mile ordeal that Mike Bearden breezed through and that just about killed the rest of us. Of course, our instructors didn’t want it to literally kill us. They just wanted to take us as close to that brink as they could without any of us actually tipping over the edge. Which was why Glen was there. Glen was a Navy medic, or corpsman, about to go through STT himself, and right then attached to our class as support staff, on hand to make sure we didn’t die from heatstroke or dehydration in the inhuman conditions at Niland.