Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training was divided up into four parts. Indoc, first phase “conditioning,” second phase “diving,” and third phase “land warfare” which the last weeks were spent on a shark-infested island over 80 miles off the coast of California called San Clemente.
The brutal training was modeled after the original Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT) from World War II. The UDT teams were legendary for swimming ashore at night, armed with masks, fins, a knife, and some explosives. They would scout beach landing sites, map the beach depth, and sometimes if required, conduct demolition work. All this allowed the Marines to land their landing craft the next morning.
The song went something like this:
“Marines will say they’re first ashore but UDT was there before.”
In 1962 President Kennedy saw the need for a maritime Special Operations force and commissioned the Navy SEALs. Teams One and Two were the first teams with one on the west coast and ST2 on the east coast.
The SEAL acronym stood for “sea, air, land.” Marines on Navy ships would joke that it really meant Sleep, Eat, and Lift because that’s all they saw SEALs, who would hop a quick boat to someplace bad, would do.
The first four weeks of training went by in a blur for JJ.
Olga, Amanda, Jackie, and her were still standing.
JJ had a newfound respect for Olga. Nothing phased that woman and she was the most fragile of the bunch, at least she looked that way. One thing they all learned was to never judge someone by appearance alone. You never knew what fire burned inside.
The first wave of 20-ish quitters were some of the fittest in the class. One guy Krass Heban looked like he was carved out of Greek marble. When he rang the brass bell, a BUD/S tradition, he was crying like a baby after getting razzed by a flock of first-phase instructors.
The first two weeks were rough but not that bad. The first phase of training was a whole new chapter of pain, an open hand smack to the face.
Thirty candidates in total quit in the first week of the first phase of training.
The first-phase cadre threw everything they could at the class, especially at the women. Sixteen-hour days were the norm and there was not a minute wasted.
ADD more training.
At lunch the Thursday before the infamous “Hell Week,” after six weeks of brutal training, Amanda announced to her boat crew that she was going to quit.
JJ was at the table next to her in the Navy chow hall and overheard. The students had their own area in order to separate them from the rest of the regular Navy. They called their section the fishbowl because it felt like everyone was staring at them like tropical fish in a pet store window.
“What the hell, Amanda, you’re crushing everything like the fucking Terminator,” JJ said.
“I just don’t have the fire to make it through five more months of this and with Hell Week coming up I worry about getting injured. Plus my parents are pushing for me to try out for the Olympic team.”
“Ok, your choice, we’ll miss you for sure.”
After lunch, Amanda’s green helmet was placed in a long line of other drops under the brass bell that hung in the first phase grinder next to the pull-up bars.
F**k, now it was just the three of them. Selfishly she knew there was safety in numbers and now there would be one less female in the class to draw attention away from her and the others.
“F**k me,” she mumbled to herself as she stuffed her face with something white on her plate that resembled a fish patty.
That night the girls all huddled together at the Starbucks on base. They had gotten used to the staring from the other Navy people on base. Their heads were shaved like the male students’ and walking around the Coronado Amphibious base with a shaved head usually meant one thing, SEAL students.
The fact they were women with shaved heads just made their celebrity student status stand out further.
“F**k her,” Olga said sucking her second caramel frappe. “Best thing about BUDS is I can eat anything I want, no fucking compromise. Worst thing for me is how stupid American business is. Everyone in America trying to please each other. No hurt feelings, what bullshit. Russia very different, no pronouns in Russia. Plastic cup and paper straw make no sense.” She said as she raised one eyebrow and looked over at JJ who was about to speak.
JJ was the natural leader among them.
“I hear you Olga but the reality is that there will be more attention on all three of us, so we really need to look out for each other going forward. Especially with Hell Week coming for us all.”
“Winter coming and it’s Hell Week.” Olga said.
Jackie G spit out her latte and all of them laughed.
They binged watched Game of Thrones on Olga’s laptop on the weekends. Which of course Olga got for free on some dodgy Russian dark-web page. Olga was also a brilliant coder, one of the smartest understated people JJ had ever met.
No bragging, just action. JJ loved that about her.
Jackie put her cup down on the small outside table and looked about both of them.
“I know the heat is on. It’s been on us since day one but we got this.”
They all high-fived each other. The conversation drifted to men, girls, and what job they’d want in the SEAL Teams. It was a complicated question. JJ was bisexual but preferred men. Olga was bi but preferred women and Jackie G only liked women. It made for interesting conversations. JJ liked it.
She felt for Olga, or Oleg as the instructors like to call her. She specifically got it much worse than the rest of the class. JJ wondered if it was because she was so attractive. “Probably so,” she thought.
By the end of week four, they were left with only 112 candidates and the infamous “Hell Week” was starting on Sunday. Hell Week was just that, pure torture, grueling physical, and mental brutality for over five days of no sleep. Two-mile night ocean swims, “Steel Peer” cold torture, 20-mile sand runs, hauling boats and logs on your head, and paddling into dangerous surf and rock landings. It was no joke and you could feel the winds of “we’re f***ed” in the air like a thunderstorm that was approaching over the horizon.
A typical day leading up to infamous Hell Week would look like this:
0400: Wake up, clean room, ready for afternoon inspection.
0430: Muster for remedial physical training (PT). Olga was in this group so she had to get up extra early in order to get her room and uniform in order to make early PT muster.
0500: Muster on the beach for 90-minute beat-down physical training followed by surf torture in the cold Pacific ocean. Everyone learned that Hell can also be a very cold place.
0600: Run 1.5 miles to breakfast and 1.5 miles back from breakfast.
0800: Obstacle course for graded time. Don’t make the cut, you’re gone. Times lower weekly.
1000: Two-mile open ocean swim for time and grade. Don’t make the required time twice and you’re gone. Back to the needs of the regular Navy and that usually involved shipping out on the USS Never Dock.
1200: Run 1.5 miles to lunch and 1.5 miles back.
1400: Six-mile conditioning run on the beach with camo pants and combat boots. Don’t finish in the front part of the pack and you have a confirmed reservation in the “Goon Squad.” This is a special form of torture with sand crawls and eight-count bodybuilders that would make most Cross Fit coaches cry to mamma. All the while you watch the top runners stretch and drink water.
1600: Classroom lectures on ocean currents, tides, hazards, and navigation. Fall asleep and instructors would pull cords on ice buckets overhead and wake up the whole row on your behalf. Sleepers were not very popular. Sleep too much and the instructors will “non-verbal drop on request (DOR)” you and you’re out of the program.
A student had died in the dive phase in the class ahead of JJ and the instructors joked it was a “non-verbal DOR.”
1700: Run to dinner 1.5 miles and back. Nine miles plus six miles beach run, plus one mile to quarters and back twice a day. This is 19 miles of running per day on average. If you didn’t show up a good runner they’d make you one.
1800: Study for upcoming tests on navigation, tides, hydrographic charts, and SEAL history.
1900: More Classroom
2100: Eat another dinner, shower, collapse, rinse and repeat.
This was a typical day of the first phase and Hell Week was coming for them. Five and a half days of intense physical activity and mental torture with no sleep. It was meant to push you beyond what you thought your limits were.
“Most of you mother f****rs have no idea what the human body and mind are capable of. Our job is to help you be born again hard.” Jackson said in one of his famous speeches to the class.
He was full of them, and the class swore he must have held a Master’s degree in cursing, maybe even a Ph.D.
To be continued…
Brandon is re-writing his novel (working title, “First of the Best: The Story of the First Females to Finish Navy SEAL Training”) about the first females to make it through SEAL training. To follow along please check out his upcoming work on SOFREP. You can read Part I here.