Ahhh, BUD/S. Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training. Twenty-six weeks or so of pure Hell. Not a good time to be found during that period. Well, okay, maybe a few good times, here and there, in rare instances of instructor absence or of uncharacteristic generosity. But mostly, just Hell. Hell everywhere.
I recently spent an hour with an 18-year-old young man who wants to be a SEAL. He wants to go down that road of great trial and pain. He wants to put his body and mind to the test, to see if he has what it takes to make it through the crucible of BUD/S.
Truth be told, it was a chance for yours truly to spend an hour regaling one of today’s young people with stories from my own youth. It never fails to amaze me how easily BUD/S stories flow once I start down that road. It doesn’t matter if I am speaking with another SEAL — active duty or former — an aspiring SEAL, or just a curious buddy. Once we start down the long, dusty road of BUD/S stories, come around sundown we’ll still be going at it, saved only by the night.
I never pass up the chance to meet with these young men who want to go to BUD/S. When you live where I do, far from the nearest active-duty or retired SEAL, you get a fair amount of requests like this, “Hey, can you talk to my nephew? He wants to be a SEAL.” I always agree and answer whatever questions I can. Let’s be honest; I enjoy it.
Some of these guys will never finish the process of trying to get into BUD/S. Some will never even join the Navy. Some will make it to BUD/S, then wash out. A few might even make it. No matter. I talk to them all and I enjoy recounting my tales.
Maybe it is because of the times, but people these days seem to enjoy hearing about probably the most notorious military training course in the world, even if they are not looking to go to BUD/S themselves. Furthermore, I cannot seem to shut up once I start telling the stories. They just flow out in a cathartic bout of verbal emesis, seemingly without end. I am not usually the most talkative guy, either.
God bless this particular kid who seemed eager to hear all the stories. This was more than likely due to the fact that he was about to mount the wild, bucking, mechanical bull of BUD/S himself to begin his own wild ride.
This young man will hope to God he avoids being thrown off the bull, that he finishes the ride, and that he becomes a SEAL somewhere down the road. I wish him all the luck in the world — God knows, he will need it. He will need it to complement the months of preparation required, to avoid getting hurt, and to avoid failing one of the countless timed and pass/fail evolutions that trip up so many in the course. I think he can do it. He seemed like a rock-solid kid, already aware of what he needed to do to prepare, and he had a tight grasp of the mental fortitude required to will one’s way through the training.
Irrespectively of how many years plant themselves between me and BUD/S, or how far the training recedes in my past, some of these memories will never fully depart my consciousness. Who can forget being ordered to get wet and sandy, and then to report to the classroom for an hour of dive physics? All you could do was stop outside the classroom door on the way back from the surf zone, covered in sand and soaked with saltwater, and try to shake loose some of the sand stuck in every orifice of your body. That shake could not prevent the heartbreak, because you knew you would be cleaning up your own mess in that classroom later that night. Who needs sleep, right?
I feel truly fortunate to be able to talk to these young men, the next generation of warriors-to-be, and to do my small part in helping them on their way. God knows we will always need men like these.
Godspeed, and hold tight to that bull, young man.
This article, originally published in 2016, was written by Frumentarius, a former Navy SEAL officer and Clandestine Service officer with the Central Intelligence Agency’s Counter-Terrorism Center.