March, 1999. Naval Special Warfare Training Center Coronado, California. Basic Underwater Demolition Training.
“What in thee f**k are you f***ing looking at, you female f**k? You think you’re going to get some special treatment and some pronoun recognition around here, f**k face? Don’t count on it one God damn second you waste of f***ing sperm!” said the NFL-sized black instructor with wild and crazy eyes.
“Hooyah, instructor Yetka,” she replied.
Hooyah could mean many things as they would come to learn.
Typically it meant “yes” but oftentimes it meant many more like, f**k you, f**k me, we’re f***ed, this water is f***ing cold, and so on.
Julia Jones “JJ” Parks was going to be among the first group of women to undergo the grueling Navy SEAL BUD/S training, she just didn’t know quite what was in store for her and the rest of the first women in her class. If she did, maybe she and the others would quit now and save themselves seven months of gruesome punishment. The instructor staff would be elated if that happened. The extra work and political spotlight on them could burn a hole through the sun.
Basic Underwater Demolition SEAL training was among the toughest military selection courses in the world with a 90 percent failure rate. It was one of the few military courses where water was used to trim the fat to the lean meat.
“The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday” sign hung over the entrance to the training compound in blue and gold letters.
The girls stood in formation waiting just outside the commanding officer’s office. For what they didn’t know.
JJ had grown up in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and was raised by her tough-minded African-American father Henry. He was a former Marine captain who had come up through the enlisted ranks and now ran a successful plumbing business, smoked a fat Nicaraguan cigar every evening, still kept a high and tight haircut, and loved blues music, especially BB King.
Henry had served in Vietnam where he met and fell in love with JJ’s mother, a Vietnamese nurse, who had died tragically and suddenly of ALS when JJ was 10.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a group of rare neurological diseases that mainly involve the nerve cells (neurons) responsible for controlling voluntary muscle movement. Voluntary muscles produce movements like chewing, walking, and talking. The disease is progressive, meaning the symptoms get worse over time and there is no known cure.
JJ still remembered seeing her dad cry for the first time when they buried her mom six months after she was diagnosed. “ALS is a mother f***er,” she thought.
She excelled in sports, particularly swimming. This had forced her to keep a decent (not great) GPA: she just wasn’t into academics unless she was interested in the subject.
JJ gave up her Olympic dreams of making the U.S. swim team in order to join the Navy SEALs.
Being an Olympian would be great but there’s not much return on investment. Even if they win Gold, most athletes struggle to make ends meet and fall into depression afterward. She’d seen too many documentaries on the subject and decided to do something with a higher purpose and to make her dad proud.
Her dad was a bit apprehensive, at first, since he had served in a different era. But he came around to it once JJ bent him to her will. He had a soft spot for his only daughter.
Now she found herself standing on the hot black grinder, which was covered with white frog feet prints, with 198 classmates, including four women, who’d all made the cut and been allowed to attend BUD/S class 222. They were mustering for initial indoctrination and check-in.
One hundred and two green helmets of class 221, the class before hers, lined the grinder under a big shiny brass bell, which the students of first phase would polish twice daily. One hundred and two quitters and the helmet farm was still growing.
JJ had only met Olga Rakanova the week before during their check-in process. Olga was a smoking hot former model turned med school dropout, Naval Academy graduate, whose parents had immigrated from Ukraine. She was also a nationally recognized chess player. JJ could tell right away that she was smart as hell.
Olga had grown up in Brighton Beach, raised by her grandmother, in Long Island, New York, but worlds away from JJ.
Olga’s mom died in childbirth and her real mom was her Babushka. Her father she’d never met but she figured out later why. He was in the Russian mafia and likely on some CIA list and could never visit her.
JJ learned that Olga loved In-in-Out burger, collected Wonder Woman comics, and couldn’t stop talking about the fact that Comic-Con was held annually five minutes from the SEAL training base.
She was bisexual and preferred women in America over most of the men she’d met. Most American men she met were hardly real men in her eyes. “American man can’t open door for woman? Talks feeling first date? Wants to talk pronoun bullshit? Where is real man in America? Navy SEAL is man,” she often thought to herself.
She was cursed with supermodel good looks and this drove her and the men she attracted crazy. Olga had a pretty good Bond girl accent as well, which only made her attract more unwanted attention.
“You know Russian woman killed more people than American sniper, da? True facts,” she had said to JJ when they first met. This was news to JJ. But from Olga, in the coming months, she would learn all about Luydmilla Pavlechenko, the deadliest sniper from the USSR, who had killed hundreds of Nazi Germans, and about Wonder Woman.
“Don’t worry…. you not my type JJ.”
JJ couldn’t help thinking to herself how this skinny Ukrainian model even got this far but admired Olga for how direct she was. There was no bullshit there.
“You never know who’s going to make it I guess,” she thought. She’d seen crazier things during her time as a swimmer.
“Never underestimate a person by looks alone, JJ. You never know what’s on the inside and that’s the part that matters most. Guts and heart,” her father would say to her.
“Guts and heart,” she said under her breath.
Olga and JJ quickly became friends.
There were two other women in their class that they hadn’t met, only heard about.
Jackie Gonzalez or “Jackie G” was a former UFC fighter that joined the Navy after realizing she was good in the Octagon but would never be a professional fighter. She started too late, so decided to enlist in the Navy as a cook. When SEAL training opened up to women she was one of the first applicants.
She grew up in Venice, California, and was raised by two professional women who had adopted her when she was seven. One of her moms was an entertainment lawyer and the other owned an iconic local coffee shop on the beach.
Jackie didn’t want to remember much about her life prior to being adopted. She remembers heating up instant noodles in the Greyhound bus stop bathroom sink with her biological mom who was addicted to heroin. It wasn’t an easy childhood, she never knew her dad and even though mom was an addict she did always feel loved and protected. The final act of protection was her real mom giving her up for adoption.
It was a good life with her two parents. She went to a great school and had everything she needed.
When she decided to come out as lesbian it was very easy for her because her two moms were there for support and could relate to a young teen coming of age and dealing with her sexuality.
Jackie loved to surf and fight and sometimes when the surfing locals, a tribal bunch, got a bit tough on her she would combine the two.
It didn’t take long for people in the water to give her respect and let her catch her fair share of waves.
She was a big girl, just shy of six feet tall and when her moms noticed the fight in her they channeled the energy into an early MMA gym membership.
The other woman in the class, Amanda Fischer, was 22. She had been raised by an African-American mom and a Mexican-American father.
She graduated as a collegiate track star for Arizona State University (ASU) and gave up a shot at the Olympics when she heard she may have a shot at becoming one of the first women to complete Navy SEAL training. Her specialty in college was running the grueling 400m hurdles, known to be one of the toughest races in track and field.
Amanda was running and jumping from an early age. As a multiracial girl who grew up in a more affluent neighborhood of Scottsdale, Arizona, she didn’t quite fit in with the other girls who were mostly white. They were mean as hell, and besides various racial slurs tossed her way they would also chase her home from the elementary school bus stop.
Eventually, her parents, both middle-class teachers, got her into karate which stopped the bullying. Then in high school, she found her thing, and that was running hurdles on the track team.
Her other hobbies included quite a collection of garbage pail kids’ cards. She had just about every card in the series. Thousands of them, now stacked up in the garage of her parents’ home in Arizona.
Captain Raven, the CO, put the four women’s folders down on his desk, shook his head, and thought, “Well… I’ll at least make sure they get a fair shot at this.” He knew in many ways that his staff would make it harder on them. In some way, this gave him and Jackson, his command master chief, some comfort because they knew they would be judged by the product they sent out to the Teams.
There were some instructors he knew to keep a close eye on because inevitably a few bad apples would try and spoil the basket. There are many ways to get a student out of training if the staff, and sometimes the students, don’t like the candidate.
He remembered his mentor telling the story of rich kid Don Dilzerian, who had gone twice through training and the grueling “Hell Week”, and both times was peered out for attitude by his classmates. They couldn’t stand the arrogance and sense of entitlement that this guy exuded. No place in the Teams for this kind of attitude.
Bad attitudes can kill and is cancerous to unit cohesion.
“I’m ready, send them up,” he said to Jackson over the phone.
Captain Raven put the phone back in the receiver and wiped the sweat from his brow after letting the training staff know he was ready to speak with the ladies.
They filed into his office and assumed parade rest as Master Chief Jackson followed behind them.
“I’m not going to lie to you ladies. This will be one of the toughest things you try to accomplish in your life.”
“You all should be proud of even getting this far. Most men don’t have the fortitude to put their name on the application let alone show up for the toughest military selection course in the world.”
“That said, I assure you that the instructor staff has been thoroughly prepared for your arrival and you will get a fair shot at making it through SEAL training.”
“However, a fair shot doesn’t mean any special treatment. I’ve briefed the president herself on this and explained how bending rules or standards would diminish the accomplishment of making it through BUD/S.”
“You all understand me? No special treatment,” Captain Raven said.
In unison they replied, “Hooyah, sir.”
“Whatcha ya’ll waiting for a special f***ing invitation? Y’all wrong as two boys f***ing right here. Get thee f**k outta here and finish your check-in before I drop you for a non-verbal DOR!” barked Jackson.
Raven winked at him with a hint of a smile.
DOR meant drop-on-request and if a student refused to do something, or froze, they could be dropped for not complying.
The women scurried out of the CO’s office like hungry rats on a New York subway track.
Jackson looked out the office window to make sure they were out of earshot and said, “Sir, I hope they know what they’re getting into.”
“That makes two of us, master chief. The good thing is that next week when they class up they’ll know real quick when that fire hose nozzle opens up in their face.”
“Yes sir, ain’t that the truth.”
“Keep a close eye on the staff, please. I don’t want any more headlines, we’ve had enough of that lately and I want to keep WARCOM and the president’s staff off my ass. ”
“You bet, sir, it’s on like Donkey Kong and I’m the king of the f***ing Kong jungle.”
Raven laughed dryly. “Roger that, master chief, I know you’ll get it done and ensure these gals get a fair shake.”
Jackson pulled up his green camo trousers, tucked in his blue instructor shirt, cocked his head, put his four-point camo hat on, nodded, and walked out.
Brandon is re-writing his novel (working title, “First of the Best: The Story of the First Females to Finish Navy SEAL Training”) about the first females to make it through SEAL training. To follow along please check out his upcoming work on SOFREP.