March, 1999. Naval Special Warfare Training Center Coronado, California.
“What in thee fuck are you fucking looking at you female fuck? You think you’re going to get some special fucking treatment and pronoun recognition around here fuck face? Don’t count on it one God damn second you waste of fucking sperm,” said the line backer sized black instructor with crazy eyes.
“Hooyah instructor Yetka,” she replied.
Hooyah could mean many things as she’d come to learn.
Typically it meant “yes” but oftentimes it meant many more like, fuck you, fuck me, we’re fucked, and so on.
Julia Jones “JJ” Parks was going to be among the first group of women to graduate BUD/S training, she just didn’t know it yet.
Basic Underwater Demolition SEAL training was among the toughest military selection courses in the world with a 90 percent failure rate. It was one of the few military courses where water was used to trim the fat to the lean meat.
“The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday,” hung on over the entrance to training in blue and gold letters.
JJ had grown up in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and was raised by her tough-minded African-American father Henry. He was a former Marine captain who ran a successful plumbing business, smoked a cigar every evening, still kept a high and tight haircut, and loved blues music. Henry had served in Vietnam where he met and fell in love with JJ’s mother, a Vietnamese nurse, who had died suddenly of ALS when JJ was 10.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a group of rare neurological diseases that mainly involve the nerve cells (neurons) responsible for controlling voluntary muscle movement. Voluntary muscles produce movements like chewing, walking, and talking. The disease is progressive, meaning the symptoms get worse over time and there is no known cure.
JJ still remembered seeing her dad cry for the first time when they buried mom six months after she was diagnosed. “ALS is a mother fucker,” she thought.
JJ excelled in sports, particularly swimming. This had forced her to keep a decent (not great) GPA: she just wasn’t into academics unless she was interested in the subject material.
She had given up a spot on the Olympic swim team to join the Navy SEALs once they opened it up to women. Being an Olympian would be great but there’s not much return on investment. Even if they win Gold, most athletes struggle to make ends meet.
Her dad was apprehensive at first since he had served in a different era. But he came around to it once JJ bent him to her will. He had a soft spot for his only daughter.
Now she found herself standing on the hot black grinder with white frog feet prints with 198 classmates including four women who’d all made the cut and been allowed to attend BUD/S class 222.
One hundred green helmets of class 221 lined the grinder under a big shiny brass bell. One hundred quitters and the helmet farm was still growing.
JJ had only met Olga Rakanova the week before during their check-in process. Olga was a smoking hot former model turned med school dropout, Naval Academy graduate, whose parents had immigrated from Ukraine. She was also a nationally recognized chess player. JJ could tell right away that she was smart as fuck.
Olga had grown up in Brighton Beach, raised by her grandmother, in Long Island, New York but worlds away from JJ. Her father she’d never met but she figured out later why. He was Russian mafia and likely on some TSA list and could never visit. Her mom died in childbirth and her real mom was her babushka. JJ learned that she loved In-in-Out burger, collected Wonder Woman comics, and couldn’t stop talking about the fact that Comic-Con was held annually five minutes from the SEAL training base.
She was also bisexual and preferred women in America over most of the men she’d met. Most American men she met were hardly real men in her eyes. “American man can’t open door for woman? Talks feeling first date? Wants pronoun? Where is real man in America?
Maybe Navy SEAL man,” she often thought to herself. She was cursed with supermodel good looks and this drove her and the men she attracted crazy. Olga had a pretty good Bond girl accent as well which only made her attract more unwanted attention.
“You know Russian woman killed more people than American sniper, da? True facts,” she had said to JJ when they first met. This was news to JJ. But from Olga, in the coming months, she would learn all about Luydmilla Pavlechenko, the deadliest sniper from the USSR who had killed hundreds of Nazi Germans, and about Wonder Woman.
“Don’t worry….you not my type JJ.”
JJ couldn’t help thinking to herself how this skinny Ukrainian model even got this far but admired Olga for how direct she was. There was no bullshit there.
“You never know who’s going to make it I guess,” she thought. She’d seen crazier things during her time as a swimmer.
“Never underestimate a person by looks alone JJ. You never know what’s on the inside and that’s the part that matters most. Guts and heart,” her father would say to her.
“Guts and heart,” she said under her breath.
Olga and JJ quickly became friends.
The first four weeks went by in a blur but she and Olga were still standing. JJ had a newfound respect for that woman whom nothing could phase. The instructors threw everything they could at the women in the class and Olga, or Oleg as the instructors like to call her, specifically got it bad. JJ wondered if it was because she was so attractive.
Two of the other women quit the first week, along with 40 men. Another 30 candidates quit the next week. By 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 fucked” in the air like a thunderstorm that’s approaching over the horizon.
A typical day leading up to Hell Week would be like this:
0400: Wake up, clean room to inspection ready.
0430: Muster for remedial physical training. Olga was in this group so had to slide left on time to make muster.
0500: Muster on the beach for 90-minute beat-down physical training followed by surf torture in the cold Pacific.
0600: Run 1.5 miles to breakfast and 1.5 miles back from breakfast.
0800: Obstacle course for time and grade. Don’t make the cut, you’re gone.
1000: Two-mile ocean swim for time and grade. Don’t make the time twice and you’re gone.
1200: Run 1.5 miles to lunch and 1.5 miles back.
1400: Six-mile conditioning run on the beach with pants and boots. Don’t make the lead pack and you have reservations 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, 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 per day on average.
1800: Study for tests.
2100: Collapse and start over.
This was a typical day of the first phase and Hell Week was coming for them.
JJ was prepared mentally, she’d been lucky enough to have a former Navy SEAL instructor as a swim coach. He’d beat the shit out of her and her team mentally to the point that she knew the game and was thankful for it.
“Bring it on,” she thought…
Initially, she and Olga had been split up into different boat crews. But in week four the class had to be reshuffled into groups of seven-person boat crews based on height (since you had to carry the boats on your head). JJ and Olga had been matched up in the same crew because both were around 5’9″ inches, a little above average for the class.
One thing they both talked about was how normal the class looked four weeks into training. The candidates definitely did not look like what Hollywood depicts on a movie poster. Most of them were of average height and weight and you could’ve passed them on the street and never known.
After four punishing weeks, the class had started to bond. Most were too afraid to get close in the beginning for fear of making friends with someone who’d quit and be gone in an hour and nobody wanted to be next to a quitter. Soon enough, though, most of the weakest in the class were gone as Hell Week was about to kick off.
One thing that had surprised JJ was that the instructors did not go easy on anyone, especially the women, in fact, they got it worse.
They came hard and fast 24/7 at the entire class and if they sniffed out any weakness or a crack in character, they exploited as much as they could.
JJ had more respect for the program and was glad they didn’t go easy on her and the other gals because that would have made it worse on the women in the long-run, and would tarnish the achievement. This was also one of the reasons she and Olga were now just two other BUD/S candidates to their classmates.
The only special treatment she and Olga had so far was being pulled separately in front of the Commanding Officer Burt Raven and Master Chief Jackie Jackson of the Naval Special Warfare Command‘s office to ensure they both felt they were being treated equally among their male counterparts. It was a short conversation.
“Olga, you doin’ good?” Jackson asked in a thick southern accent.
“We wouldn’t want you to think we going soft on ya’ll now,” barked Jackson in a loud crisp voice.
Raven just stared at her and Jackson with steely eyes and a noticeable scar running diagonally across his left brow to his chin. Olga thought there must be a good story behind that one.
“Hooyah Masterchief,” she said.
“Don’t fucking Hooyah me to fucking death, Oleg, speak your mind, women.”
Raven gave Jackson a nod to back off a bit.
“Olga, we just want to make sure you feel that there’s no special treatment given to you here. If we go easy on you and the rest of the women recruits the program would lose respect, you would lose the respect of your classmate and maybe future teammates, and this entire integration process will have no respect inside the military understood?” said Raven.
“Very much sir, Olga have no problem with program.”
“Ok, thank you, you’re dismissed,” Raven replied quietly.
Olga stood there eyes fixed on the gnarled scar running across Captain Raven’s face. Rumors floated among her classmates that Raven had gotten into a knife fight on a tanker ship off the coast of Somalia. Got slashed by a Somali pirate with a box cutter during a hostage rescue. The pirate got it much worse. Raven took an Emerson tactical knife to his jugular and while he bled him out, staring at him through a blood-stained left retina, he didn’t flinch. There’s a big difference when you’re fighting to kill or just fighting. The pirate learned this lesson too late. SEALs are taught that every fight is a fight to the finish, no tap outs, no time outs, no mercy.
She felt real fear thinking about this man and what he was capable of, and this was something she wasn’t used to feel until she classed up with 222. Clearly, the instructors were the real deal.
“What n thee fuck you waiting for Oleg!? A Goddamn presidential escort? Get your skinny commie, SOCOM Navy SEAL video game playing, wannabe ass out of here and join your class on the beach for some log PT!”
“Hoo fucking ya. GET on it!” Jackson yelled.
“Tough gal,” said Raven.
“Yah, she is a tough motha for sure. We threw about everything we could at her and she’s a clock that keeps on ticking,” said Jackson.
“Keep up the good work Jackson. We don’t want to end up like the Navy’s female pilot program. Soon as they started giving special treatment and third chances people started dying and that’s not happening to our community, not on my watch.”
“Yes sir, understood.”
“You’re a good man Jackson. How’s the beautiful wife of yours?”
“Good sir, expecting our second boy this year.”
“Mine would be a widow if it wasn’t for you Jackie.”
Jackson grinned that big wide grin. “Someone has to look out for your ass sir, glad that someone is me.”
“Thanks, Jackie, I’m also glad it’s you.”
The scar story was true. What most of the students didn’t know was that Jackie Jackson saved Raven’s life that day.
Once SEAL Team Three boarded the small missionary ship off the coast of Somalia they realized it was too close quarters to use firearms. Although they had planned for this and had loaded up frangible bullets that wouldn’t ricochet the ship was just too tight.
The SEAL platoon, led by Raven, would go on to save four out of six of the Christian missionaries. The other two had been shot dead by nervous trigger-finger pirates. The pirates had panicked when they found out that the men with black hoods were coming for them.
Raven had entered the bow compartment to find the dead Christians. He was checking pulses and about to administer first aid when Jackson yelled for him to check six. He spun around to see a skinny pirate with a box cutter coming for him. He spun so fast and surprised the stunned pirate who flailed at him slashing his face open. Raven’s brow bone was the only thing that saved his left eye. Raven flicked his Emerson open as he drew the knife up and stuck the pirate in the neck. It was like hog hunting back in Texas as a young boy to put food on his poor family’s table.
The pirate bled out while Jackson secured the room.
To be continued…
“The Reservation” is a new novel (written chapter by chapter weekly live on SOFREP) by former Navy SEAL Brandon Webb for SOFREP Books. If you’re an author interested in publishing military fiction and nonfiction with SOFREP learn more here.