In the spring of 2000 our eighteen-month work-up concluded with an Operational Readiness Exam (ORE), conducted off San Clemente Island, in which a small group of us simulated a covert tagging and tracking op on an enemy vessel. There were some tricky issues with water currents on the way back in, and things got sketchy. By the time we got back to rendezvous with our vessel I had run out of air and had a headache. But we passed the exercise. GOLF platoon was certified and operationally ready to rotate overseas to serve in an alert status, which the platoon would do after a little down time.

Before it did, though something unexpected happened that changed the course of my career in the Navy.

One day shortly after our ORE, Glen and I were called in to see our OIC, McNary. When we entered his office we found Tom B., our platoon Leading Petty Officer, and Chief Dan there with him. Clearly something was up, something big, but we had no idea what.

Were we in some sort of trouble?

“Listen,” said McNary, “you guys have done a really great job here, and we’re short-handed on snipers right now. We want to offer you the opportunity to go to sniper school.”

I was not planning to become a sniper. In fact, the thought had never occurred to me. Of course we all knew the SEALs had snipers, and we all knew how difficult a course it was. The whole thing seemed fascinating … but I’d never for an instant considered that I might become one of those guys. All my life, I’d loved being in the water, and all my life I’d wanted to be a pilot. But a sniper? Not a chance. And now here it was, being offered to us on a plate.

We were stunned; we were thrilled. And we were terrified.

It was unheard of for a new guy to get a sniper billet. There were some seriously seasoned guys on the team who had waited years to get a slot; that’s how hard they were to get. We knew it was a fiendishly difficult school to pass, and that the last thing anyone wanted was some wet-behind-the-ears new guy in there, because he’d just fuck it up and wash out. We also knew that everyone would be watching us, including our entire platoon, hell, our entire team, and that they would all be counting on us. If we washed out we would be letting them down. If we said yes, we would spend the next three months under excruciating pressure.