The following is an event that happened leading up to Hell Week. It was one of those life moments where we have a choice to make. Enjoy, Brandon
By the fifth week of First Phase, I was a wreck: exhausted, humiliated, just about beaten into a corner. Then one afternoon, just a few days before Hell Week was to begin, it all came to a head.
Every afternoon we formed up in seven-man boat crews, grabbed our heavy rubber boats, threw them up on top of our heads, and ran with them to the beach to get tortured for a while. On this particular afternoon we were on our way out to the beach when Instructor Shoulin called over to my team. “Webb, get over here.”
Michelson, my boat crew leader, said, “Hey, what’s up, Instructor Shoulin? Where is he going?”
“You are a worthless piece of shit, Webb! Do you even know what a piece of shit you are? You are the biggest piece of shit we’ve ever seen! You’re weighing your whole class down. You are a one-man walking disaster. You are fucking it up for everyone else. You don’t belong here, you fleet piece of shit. Do you even know how badly you’re fucking this up, how much everyone wants you gone? You’re a disgrace, Webb. You’re garbage. You need to quit. Nobody wants you in Hell Week.”
And on and on for the next hour. It was beyond brutal. I could feel how intensely they all wanted me to get up, limp away, and go ring that goddam brass bell.
The worst of it was, I knew they were right. There was a reason they were singling me out. I was physically out of shape, and that had been affecting the entire class, and that bothered me. In fact, this is something I’ve continued to be conscious of and careful about to this day: If you show up late, if you don’t have your gear together, or your facts together, or whatever shit it is you need to have together, then you are affecting the whole team. They were right, and it was a lesson I would never forget.
But if I was not physically as tough as I needed to be, I had one thing going for me. I was very tough mentally.
There is a common misperception that to make it through SEAL training you have to be a super athlete. Not so. In its purely physical requirements, the course is designed for the average athletic male to be able to make it through. What SEAL training really tests is your mental mettle. It is designed to push you mentally to the brink, over and over again, until you are hardened and able to take on any task with confidence, regardless of the odds—or until you break.
And I was not about to break.
My body at this point was nowhere near as conditioned as it would become in the months and years ahead, but mentally, I was ready for anything. That was the only reason I survived that hour on the beach. That was the only reason I made it through BUD/S.
People have asked if I ever thought about quitting during the SEAL training, if I ever had one of those dark-night-of-the-soul moments you hear about, those moments of piercing doubt and anguished uncertainty. The answer is Never—not once. Lying there facedown in the sand with these four hardcase psychopaths doing their level best to break me, something else happened instead: I got what we call a fire in the gut.
Of the four, it was Instructor Buchanan who was the most in my face. So I looked up at him, nailed him with the coldest stare I could muster, and said, “Fuck you, Instructor Buchanan—fuck you. The only way you’re getting me out of here is in a body bag.”
He glared back at me, gauging me, weighing my intent. I meant every word, and he knew it. He took one step back and jerked his head, gesturing up the beach toward where my boat crew was prepped and waiting. “Get back to your crew” was what he said, but the way he said it made it sound like “The hell with you.”
From that point on, my experience in BUD/S completely turned the corner. Those instructors left me alone. When Hell Week started a few days later, it felt almost anticlimactic. Welcome to my world, I felt like saying to the other guys. I’d been playing these games throughout First Phase.
There is a saying in BUD/S: Ideally you want to become the gray man. In other words, you become invisible, nobody notices you, because you do everything so perfectly that you never stand out.