I’d been out to Niland about six weeks before starting SEAL Tactical Training, with one of my buddies from Team Three, John Zinn. John and I were both surfers who’d grown up in California. He looked like your average skinny surf bum, but he was an excellent waterman and a great athlete. When I arrived at Team Three we hit it off right away. 

As new guys, John and I were sent out there for a week to help support one of the SEAL platoons doing some training. One day we’d been sent out on some sort of resupply mission in a bare-frame, stripped-down Humvee. We’d completed the work and were done for the day. We were out in the desert, and no one else was around. We said, “Hey, let’s see what this bad boy can do.” We took off, taking turns driving, busting around the desert mountains, and launching that Humvee over rises in the barren desert terrain like the Dukes of Hazzard. 

It went something like this… yaaa hoooo!!!

As we were tearing ass down a long desert stretch, I saw a dip up ahead and started slowing a little to navigate it. John said, “C’mon, man, punch it!” and I stepped on it. Suddenly there was a gap in front of us. I accelerated, doing my best to jump it. All at once, we were airborne. Everything slowed to a crawl. John and I turned and looked at each other, eyes wide, in slow motion: a Thelma and Louise moment. It couldn’t have been more than a second and a half that we were airborne, but it felt like a full minute. Then we landed. We had managed to clear the gap, but we came down so hard on the other side that it blew out the left front tire and bent the rim. We had no spare. How the hell were we going to explain this? 

We radioed in. The guys at the base said they didn’t have anyone free to come out and get us, so we should hang tight for the night. We weren’t sure exactly where we were, but we knew we were somewhere in the vicinity of an area designated for ordnance exercises. In plain English: a live bombing range. 

We slept out there that night in the Humvee and woke up early the next morning to the sound of F-18 jets screaming overhead and ordnance dropping in the distance. Were they getting closer? We weren’t sure. 

We got on the radio and said, “Um, hey guys, can you get us out of here?” We passed them rough coordinates and asked them to hurry. They came out and brought us a spare; we changed the tire and drove back to camp. Now we had to explain what had happened.