How does a man who is not a Navy SEAL manage to tag along with a SEAL team for a week of submarine operations? Mostly dumb luck, is my sterling response. I was a combat diver assigned to a Green Beret A-Team when my boss caught me in his crosshairs with an invitation from West Coast SEAL Team Five to join them for a week of submarine underway operations.

At that point my Green Beret team had only ever done extensive dry dock-side trunk operations—that is, we practiced submarine escape trunk operations but only on boats moored in port. None of us had ever been truly underway at sea. This, as I look back on my career, was the opportunity of a lifetime, and when opportunity knocked I always opened the door. “Never turn anything down but your shirt collar” was a personal policy of mine.

I reported to the SEAL team at NAB Coronado, California. I was there a day early and elected to hang out with them for a full day of their typical shore duty, to include their morning physical training session. I would have to invent a new language to describe how brutal that workout was, for I can’t find words in English to suit it. (Although the German words unglaublich schrecklichkeit fit nicely.)

The ground calisthenics were a real punishment, but the run in the sand of Coronado’s beaches was a great thrill in spite of the constant, ear-splitting sonic booms rendered by the speed of the pace. Much to my personal pride, I managed to remain firmly in the center of the pack—by no means up front where the gazelles lock horns.