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.

After breakfast, lockers filled with Heckler and Koch MP5 submachine guns and SIG Sauer P-226 semi-auto pistols were brought out for cleaning. They had all been exposed to seawater and sand the night before. I was horrified that the weapons had been left for so many hours exposed to salt water, but I was in Rome, so I shut my big fat Roman pie hole and began cleaning.

Heckler and Koch MP-5 9 x 19mm submachine gun (Wikipedia Commons)

“Dude, you like, totally don’t have to do this, dude,” one of the SEALs offered in a dude sandwich.

“Dude, I’m like, totally fine with it, dude,” I returned as I broke down a gat. The salty brethren of ST-5 seemed to take a liking to me for helping with weapons cleaning, a detested task in special operations once you have done it 5,000 times.

They even chatted with me. Granted, most of it I didn’t understand, though I did nod often with enthusiasm, throwing in my own occasional “dude.” We cleaned and duded the rest of the afternoon, the scurvy bilge rats “cleaning” on average two to three weapons for every one I cleaned. I was wearing my non-Roman on my sleeve.