Brandon Webb Navy SEAL Red Circle

On Friday morning, June 14, 1997, two days after my twenty-third birthday, I arrived in my dress whites on the main quarterdeck of the pre-training office in Coronado to check in for Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training. It had taken me more than four years to get this far, and I was aware that the odds of making it through the course were somewhere between 1 and 3 out of 10. I was nervous as hell.

The grunt on duty handed me a check-in sheet with a list of signatures to collect that would grant me admission, signatures for such items as Medical, Dental, Admin, and Physical Training Rest and Rehabilitation, or PTRR. As I scanned the page I heard a roar like the crash of a gigantic surf coming from outside. The sound practically shook the building.

“Forty-nine! Fifty! Fifty-one!”

It was a BUD/S class doing their PT on the grinder, the legendary concrete-and-asphalt courtyard just outside the quarterdeck doors where BUD/S calisthenics take place. I can still feel the shivers that ran up my spine as I stood there in the sweltering June heat, hearing the thunder those guys produced.

Walking outside, I saw about thirty hard-looking guys in brown shirts and tan UDT shorts doing PT in the courtyard with a chiseled blond instructor leading them through the exercises. The students were lined up on the black concrete, their feet positioned atop staggered rows of small, white frog-feet outlines painted onto the grinder’s surface. Just off the edge of the concrete, there hung a shiny brass ship’s bell with a well-worn braided rope trailing down from the ringer. At the foot of the bell, more than a hundred green helmets lined the ground in a neat, mournful row, each helmet inscribed with the name and rank of one more would-be SEAL who would never go on to graduate training.

“Sixty-one! Sixty-two! Sixty-three!”

This was the infamous brass bell, one of the most dreaded symbols of SEAL lore. If you reached the point where you decided you just couldn’t take it, I’d heard, where the training was just too brutal to go on, you would signify that you were stepping out by leaving the grinder and ringing the brass bell three times. You would leave your class helmet behind. The brass bell was a one-way street out of BUD/S.