(Former U.S. Navy SEAL Dave Rogers gives a great firsthand account of Navy SEAL training and the infamous Hell Week in this exclusive to Newport Buzz)
I didn’t know his name at first, didn’t ever speak with him, but I knew that he and I had the same goal, and that one of us looked capable of achieving it, and that it wasn’t me.
Naval Training Station Great Lakes is the enlisted Navy’s university. Situated about an hour north of Chicago, the sprawling campus houses the various training facilities or Class ‘A’ Schools, for virtually every Navy boot camp graduate to learn his or her trade before moving on to the fleet proper. While the lifestyle is decidedly less regimented than the boot camps that preceded it, there is still a conspicuously military order to life. Students schedules are tightly controlled, free time is rare and civilian clothes are rarely if ever seen. You still live in a barracks, but now at least you have the semi-privacy of four men to a room. There are still daily barracks inspections. You still march to class. However between the classes, meals, drills and inspections, what little time is left over is your own.
As the vast majority of us had just graduated boot camp and had not had the least bit of liberty in a little more than two months, most guys would use this free time to head straight to the one enlisted ‘club’ to drink beer, play video games and make moves on one of the horribly outnumbered female sailors. I scarcely knew what the inside of the place looked like.
A common misconception about Navy boot camp is that it is physically strenuous. I suppose it is if you literally have never done anything athletic before arriving there, but building physical strength and stamina is not a priority in the Navy. The Navy relies on its enlisted people to perform complicated technical tasks accurately, and while any military wants its people to be at least physically healthy, the training and lifestyle of the U.S. Navy consistently reinforces a minimum standard philosophy. They even call it ‘physical readiness’. It doesn’t sound like much more than being awake.
So it follows that I was actually in worse physical condition when I graduated boot camp than when I had entered, and I needed to be in absolute top form three months hence when I was scheduled to leave Great Lakes and head off to SEAL training. There was work to do. Any free time that I had was spent on runs around the base which would be punctuated by stops for pushups, situps, pullups and rope climbs, trips to the weight room and lap swimming in the base pool a couple times a week.
These days there is a tightly regimented olympic caliber physical training regimen that is mandatory for all recruits who intend to go to SEAL training. They even go through boot camp as a group. When I did it in the 1980’s however there was no such program, and in a way I think my way was better. You needed the discipline to not only get out there on your own, but also the creativity to create a program that would adequately prepare your body. In retrospect now I know that this quality alone was a good harbinger of ultimate success.
So it would go. Long runs in the snow, hours in the weight room, all in preparation for a meat grinder out in Southern California that I really didn’t understand. An interesting thing however is that as I went through all this, I started to notice the same faces showing up doing it with me over and over again. The obvious conversation is struck and not surprisingly you find that among the thousands of sailors at Great lakes, there are other guys spread across the various training commands who are all doing the exact same thing that you are. We’d get to know each other, and find the common bond of preparing for the unknown a foundation for friendship, and of course subconsciously measuring your progress and chances of becoming a SEAL against one another.
Now admittedly I have never in my life been a ‘physical specimen’ kind of guy, and while lots of the other fellas might be stronger, taller or just plain studlier than how I saw myself, I suffered no lack of confidence in my ability to ‘bring it’ on game day. I could run my ass off and no one was gonna outwork me. You might look like an olympian, but I was a psychotic and in that comparison, I liked my chances. I probably would have continued along with my largely baseless exuberance quite nicely had I never seen Magua, but I did see him, and I knew he was going to BUD/S (SEAL Training). It was painfully apparent he was going to the same program I had signed up for, a program that through a seemingly unending battery of tortuous physical evolutions selects less than twenty percent of sailors to be trained among a cadre of the finest warriors in the history of the world. We weren’t the same size, or strength, or look. We weren’t the same species.
I wasn’t the only one who noticed Magua, whose name I would later learn was Petty Officer Third Class Tim Colasani *(name changed). I call him Magua because my memory of him reminds me of the character of Magua, the ‘bad’ indian from the movie ‘Last of the Mohecians’ with Daniel Day Lewis. Colasani had that same chiseled sunken eyed intensity that made my Charlie Brown roundness seem all the more cartoonish. The dark skin, shaved head and nasty disposition were all Magua like, if Magua was also an NFL linebacker, which Colasani seemed perfectly capable of being. Of course as time went on and workouts continued through the weeks, he seemed to appear everywhere. If I was out on a run, he was running past me. In the pool, which was the weakest aspect of my training, he had a wake. In the weight room he would be casually working out with amounts of weight that were more than my maximum. It was depressing.
In the weight room in particular I started to notice that he had a growing following. Members of the loose group of fellow prospective SEALs started to hover in his general area, offering to spot him on the bench and engaging in increasingly animated conversations which I’m sure had a similar dynamic to whatever Jesus and his pals got on about, The whole thing had that Sermon on the Bench quality, at least in my eyes. I was staying away. It was bad enough I knew that this freak existed, I’d be damned if I was gonna go kiss his ass like the rest of those locker room acolytes, or even worse find out that he was a nice guy.
As it turns out, he was a nice guy, and a good leader, something I wouldn’t find out until nine months later, at a place called Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, California, home of Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training.