Hazing is alive and well in the dark corners of the military bunkers.
Probably the most memorable “training” I received during the entire 18 months of our platoon’s workup was not an official training at all, and I sure never got a certificate for it. But it made a lasting impression.
Not long after we met, Gabriele and I had a date set for our wedding. My family had spent good money on the preparations. For whatever crazy reasons kids do crazy things, though, around the second week of MAROPS, we decided we couldn’t wait any longer. We quietly eloped — snuck off to Vegas and hit a chapel.
When we got back I said, “Look, my mom will kill me if I tell her what we did. She’s planned this whole big thing. She’ll be devastated.” I swore Gabriele to secrecy. I couldn’t let my mother find out, and since my sister, Rhiannon, was living right in the area and going to San Diego State, we couldn’t let her find out either.
That same evening we went out to dinner at a nice place with the guys from the platoon, all there with their wives and girlfriends. Somehow the news leaked out. I suspect Gabriele just couldn’t keep it to herself and took one of her friends into the ladies room and whispered it to her. The next thing you know I was tying myself in knots trying to defend this little white lie. “Hey,” one of the guys said, “I heard you got married?”
“No,” I said quickly, “someone doesn’t know what they’re talking about.” I completely denied it. SEALs are resourceful, though. This was 1999, still the covered-wagon days of the Internet, but they went Web surfing and managed to find our Clark County marriage certificate online.
A few days later I was due to receive a conduct award at Friday quarters. This is something that typically happens every four years, if you have managed to stay out of trouble. Friday morning rolled around, we all mustered for quarters, and I heard my name called out. I went and stood in front of the whole team and our CO, Captain McRaven (Harward was gone by now), began reading out what I fully expected was going to be a conduct award. He started out by reading my name, rank, and training history, and then he veered off into some pretty bizarre stuff, including a description of my sexual orientation, and then launched into a long list of “atrocities” I’d committed — concluding with how I had lied to my platoon. (I later learned that Chief Dan had written it. I wish I had a copy. It was a masterpiece.)
I was mortified and felt my face turn beet red. I had lied to my platoon, and now everyone knew it.
As summary punishment the whole team grabbed me and threw me in the ocean, which was pretty funny, except that I knew it wasn’t over. There was a hazing in my future.
Every new guy had already gotten a basic welcome-to-the-platoon hazing out at San Clemente Island. That was bad, but we all knew it was coming and handled it well. It’s a rite of passage that lets you know: Hey, you may think you know something, and you may think you’re pretty hot stuff — but you don’t, and you’re not. I know it sounds harsh, but the truth is, most of us did think we were pretty hot stuff by that point, and maybe we did need to be cut down to size.
I also knew what normally happened to guys in the platoon who got married: They would get hazed. I once saw a newly engaged guy walking around innocently in downtown Coronado when a navy van with no license plates pulled up, and a few guys in balaclavas jumped out and snatched the guy right off the street, threw him in the van, and took off. That was normal, but I’d withheld my news and then lied about it when confronted. I knew I was going to get it even worse.
They got me that same night. We had just come back from a beach training, about two in the morning. I was peeling off my wet suit, had it around my ankles — and the guys grabbed me and wrapped me up in something. Next thing I knew I was duct-taped stark naked to a metal cart we used for hauling equipment. They wheeled me over to the ice machine, dumped ice on me, then wheeled me into a gear storage area and started taping me up.
The CO happened to walk through and saw something out of the corner of his eye—but Chief Dan whispered something to him and he scurried off as if he hadn’t seen a thing. Plausible deniability.
They gave me a “lobster claw,” duct-taping my hands into claws so I had no use of my fingers. Then they gave me a “happy hat,” taping over the tops of my eyebrows, so I had a hard time seeing out from under the duct tape, then taping a handle onto my head so they could move it around like a marionette. They asked me, “Are you having a good time?” and then they nodded my head for me, Yes, thank you.
Chief Dan had kept a running commentary going, telling me that this was why I never wanted to lie to my platoon again. He interrupted himself to yell, “Go get the tequila!” A moment later, he put the bottle to my mouth and made me take a shot. It was the cheapest, worst tequila money could buy, just vile stuff, and I drank probably half the bottle by the time the night was over. Which was probably a good thing for me, because it did somewhat numb the experience.
Next they brought out a miniature handheld generator we use in demolition work, about the size of a small cell phone, called a mini-blasting machine. You squeeze it four, five, six times in rapid succession, and you can hear it building up a charge, rrrr, rrrr, RRRR, RRRR!! — and then it lets loose with enough of a charge to set off a blasting cap. Only in this case, the wires weren’t tied into a blasting cap. They were wired into me. Chief Dan had the guys screw a set of Claymore wires into the handheld generator and hook the other ends up with alligator clips to my nipples.
I don’t know how many volts go through that thing, but when that charge hits you, you lose all control, and that was exactly what I did.
Next, someone was ripping open an MRE, because every MRE contains a little bottle of Tabasco sauce. I strained to see who was doing this. Oh, shit. It was Krueger, the guy who took such pleasure in giving it to the new guys. Not good. Krueger opened the Tabasco sauce and poured it over my private parts. Now, I like hot food as much as the next guy, but having it on the outside is quite different than having it on the inside. When that Tabasco sauce hit my balls, I thought someone had dipped me in kerosene and lit a match.
The whole time, the senior guys were drinking beers, laughing and talking, tunes going on the radio in the background, while they gave the new guys orders. The new guys were getting pretty freaked out. Later they told me what was going through their minds at the time: It’s only a matter of time before one or more of us get thrown into the mix, too. Meanwhile, Chief Dan continued giving me lessons on platoon ethics and the importance of holding your platoon above all else.
Now Krueger put on a pair of surgical gloves, took a pair of clippers, and started clipping off all my pubic hair. Then he put one hand over my eyes, took a can of spray glue that we use to attach targets on the shooting range, spray-glued my face, and sprinkled the clippings all over me.
Ah, perfect. Now I had a beard made of my own pubic hair.
I was freezing to death, nuts on fire, waiting for another shock any minute. Finally Chief Dan said, “All right, somebody call Gabriele and ask her to come get him.” They called Gabriele from my cell phone, but she didn’t pick up. I was supposed to have been home hours ago, and she naturally assumed I was out drinking with my buddies and just now getting around to calling her to say I was sorry, that I’d be home soon. She was too pissed off to answer.
I suspected they were making the call because they’d run out of beer, so they figured they might as well quit. I was right, but when she never picked up, Chief Dan just shrugged — and sent off one of the new guys to go get another 18-pack.
The torture lasted another 30 minutes. Finally they quit, leaving Glen and the Rat to untape me and help me through the shower. It took four razor blades to get my face clean, or at least mostly clean. I was picking off bits of spray glue for weeks.
That was the last time I ever got hazed, and it left an impression—not only on me, but on all the guys. They talk about it to this day. I’ll tell you what, though: I never lied to the platoon again.
If you enjoyed this story please consider reading more about my journey from hippie parents into the SEAL Teams in my bestselling memoir, The Red Circle.
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