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Lone Survivor / (by Marcus Luttrell, Patrick Robinson, 2012) -

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Lone Survivor /  (by Marcus Luttrell, Patrick Robinson, 2012) -

Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10 / . " " -

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: 325
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Lone Survivor / (by Marcus Luttrell, Patrick Robinson, 2012) -
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2012
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Marcus Luttrell, Patrick Robinson
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Kevin T. Collins
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upper-intermediate
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14:17:29
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64 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10 / . " " :

.doc (Word) marcus_luttrell_-_lone_survivor.doc [5.14 Mb] (c: 7) .
.pdf marcus_luttrell_-_lone_survivor.pdf [2.65 Mb] (c: 2) .
audiobook (MP3) .


: Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10

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This book is dedicated to the memory of Murph, Axe, and Danny Boy, Kristensen, Shane, James, Senior, Jeff, Jacques, Taylor, and Mac. These were the eleven men of Alfa and Echo Platoons who fought and died in the mountains of Afghanistan trying to save my life, and with whom I was honored to serve my country. There is no waking hour when I do not remember them all with the deepest affection and the most profound, heartbreaking sadness. Prologue Would this ever become easier? House to house, freeway to freeway, state to state? Not so far. And here I was again, behind the wheel of a hired SUV, driving along another Main Street, past the shops and the gas station, this time in a windswept little town on Long Island, New York, South Shore, down by the long Atlantic beaches. Winter was coming. The skies were platinum. The whitecaps rolled in beneath dark, lowering clouds. So utterly appropriate, because this time was going to be worse than the others. A whole lot worse. I found my landmark, the local post office, pulled in behind the building, and parked. We all stepped out of the vehicle, into a chill November day, the remains of the fall leaves swirling around our feet. No one wanted to lead the way, none of the five guys who accompanied me, and for a few moments we just stood there, like a group of mailmen on their break. I knew where to go. The house was just a few yards down the street. And in a sense, Id been there before in Southern California, northern California, and Nevada. In the next few days, I still had to visit Washington and Virginia Beach. And so many things would always be precisely the same. There would be the familiar devastated sadness, the kind of pain that wells up when young men are cut down in their prime. The same hollow feeling in each of the homes. The same uncontrollable tears. The same feeling of desolation, of brave people trying to be brave, lives which had uniformly been shot to pieces. Inconsolable. Sorrowful. As before, I was the bearer of the terrible news, as if no one knew the truth until I arrived, so many weeks and months after so many funerals. And for me, this small gathering in Patchogue, Long Island, was going to be the worst. I tried to get a hold of myself. But again in my mind I heard that terrible, terrible scream, the same one that awakens me, bullying its way into my solitary dreams, night after night, the confirmation of guilt. The endless guilt of the survivor. Help me, Marcus! Please help me! It was a desperate appeal in the mountains of a foreign land. It was a scream cried out in the echoing high canyons of one of the loneliest places on earth. It was the nearly unrecognizable cry of a mortally wounded creature. And it was a plea I could not answer. I cant forget it. Because it was made by one of the finest people I ever met, a man who happened to be my best friend. All the visits had been bad. Dans sister and wife, propping each other up; Erics father, an admiral, alone with his grief; Jamess fianc?e and father; Axes wife and family friends; Shanes shattered mother in Las Vegas. They were all terrible. But this one would be worse. I finally led the way through the blowing leaves, out into the cold, strange street, and along to the little house with its tiny garden, the grass uncut these days. But the lights of an illuminated American flag were still right there in the front window. They were the lights of a patriot, and they still shone defiantly, just as if he were still here. Mikey would have liked that. We all stopped for a few moments, and then we climbed the little flight of steps and knocked on the door. She was pretty, the lady who answered the door, long dark hair, her eyes already brimming with tears. His mother. She knew I had been the last person to see him alive. And she stared up at me with a look of such profound sadness it damn near broke me in half and said, quietly, Thank you for coming. I somehow replied, Its because of your son that I am standing here. As we all walked inside, I looked straight at the hall table and on it was a large framed photograph of a man looking straight at me, half grinning. There was Mikey, all over again, and I could hear his mom saying, He didnt suffer, did he? Please tell me he didnt suffer. I had to wipe the sleeve of my jacket across my eyes before I answered that. But I did answer. No, Maureen. He didnt. He died instantly. I had told her what shed asked me to tell her. That kind of tactical response was turning out to be essential equipment for the lone survivor. I tried to tell her of her sons unbending courage, his will, his iron control. And as Id come to expect, she seemed as if she had not yet accepted anything. Not until I related it. I was the essential bearer of the final bad news. In the course of the next hour we tried to talk like adults. But it was too difficult. There was so much that could have been said, and so much that would never be said. And no amount of backup from my three buddies, plus the New York City fireman and policeman who accompanied us, made much difference. But this was a journey I had to complete. I had promised myself I would do it, no matter what it took, because I knew what it would mean to each and every one of them. The sharing of personal anguish with someone who was there. House to house, grief to grief. I considered it my sworn duty. But that did not make it any easier. Maureen hugged us all as we left. I nodded formally to the photograph of my best friend, and we walked down that sad little path to the street. Tonight it would be just as bad, because we were going to see Heather, Mikeys fianc?e, in her downtown New York City apartment. It wasnt fair. They would have been married by now. And the day after this, I had to go to Arlington National Cemetery to visit the graves of two more absent friends. By any standards it was an expensive, long, and melancholy journey across the United States of America, paid for by the organization for which I work. Like me, like all of us, they understand. And as with many big corporations which have a dedicated workforce, you can tell a lot about them by their corporate philosophy, their written constitution, if you like. Its the piece of writing which defines their employees and their standards. I have for several years tried to base my life on the opening paragraph: In times of uncertainty there is a special breed of warrior ready to answer our Nations call; a common man with uncommon desire to succeed. Forged by adversity, he stands alongside Americas finest special operations forces to serve his country and the American people, and to protect their way of life. I am that man. My name is Marcus. Marcus Luttrell. Im a United States Navy SEAL, Team Leader, SDV Team 1, Alfa Platoon. Like every other SEAL, Im trained in weapons, demolition, and unarmed combat. Im a sniper, and Im the platoon medic. But most of all, Im an American. And when the bell sounds, I will come out fighting for my country and for my teammates. If necessary, to the death. And thats not just because the SEALs trained me to do so; its because Im willing to do so. Im a patriot, and I fight with the Lone Star of Texas on my right arm and another Texas flag over my heart. For me, defeat is unthinkable. Mikey died in the summer of 2005, fighting shoulder to shoulder with me in the high country of northeast Afghanistan. He was the best officer I ever knew, an iron-souled warrior of colossal, almost unbelievable courage in the face of the enemy. Two who would believe it were my other buddies who also fought and died up there. Thats Danny and Axe: two American heroes, two towering figures in a fighting force where valor is a common virtue. Their lives stand as a testimony to the central paragraph of the philosophy of the U.S. Navy SEALs: I will never quit. I persevere and thrive on adversity. My Nation expects me to be physically harder and mentally stronger than my enemies. If knocked down, I will get back up, every time. I will draw on every remaining ounce of strength to protect my teammates and to accomplish our mission. I am never out of the fight. As I mentioned, my name is Marcus. And Im writing this book because of my three buddies Mikey, Danny, and Axe. If I dont write it, no one will ever understand the indomitable courage under fire of those three Americans. And that would be the biggest tragedy of all. 1 To Afghanistan. in a Flying Warehouse This was payback time for the World Trade Center. We were coming after the guys who did it. If not the actual guys, then their blood brothers, the lunatics who still wished us dead and might try it again. Good-byes tend to be curt among Navy SEALs. A quick backslap, a friendly bear hug, no one uttering what were all thinking: Here we go again, guys, going to war, to another trouble spot, another half-assed enemy willing to try their luck against us.they must be out of their minds. Its a SEAL thing, our unspoken invincibility, the silent code of the elite warriors of the U.S. Armed Forces. Big, fast, highly trained guys, armed to the teeth, expert in unarmed combat, so stealthy no one ever hears us coming. SEALs are masters of strategy, professional marksmen with rifles, artists with machine guns, and, if necessary, pretty handy with knives. In general terms, we believe there are very few of the worlds problems we could not solve with high explosive or a well-aimed bullet. We operate on sea, air, and land. Thats where we got our name. U.S. Navy SEALs, underwater, on the water, or out of the water. Man, we can do it all. And where we were going, it was likely to be strictly out of the water. Way out of the water. Ten thousand feet up some treeless moonscape of a mountain range in one of the loneliest and sometimes most lawless places in the world. Afghanistan. Bye, Marcus. Good luck, Mikey. Take it easy, Matt. See you later, guys. I remember it like it was yesterday, someone pulling open the door to our barracks room, the light spilling out into the warm, dark night of Bahrain, this strange desert kingdom, which is joined to Saudi Arabia by the two-mile-long King Fahd Causeway. The six of us, dressed in our light combat gear flat desert khakis with Oakley assault boots stepped outside into a light, warm breeze. It was March 2005, not yet hotter than hell, like it is in summer. But still unusually warm for a group of Americans in springtime, even for a Texan like me. Bahrain stands on the 26 north line of latitude. Thats more than four hundred miles to the south of Baghdad, and thats hot. Our particular unit was situated on the south side of the capital city of Manama, way up in the northeast corner of the island. This meant we had to be transported right through the middle of town to the U.S. air base on Muharraq Island for all flights to and from Bahrain. We didnt mind this, but we didnt love it either. That little journey, maybe five miles, took us through a city that felt much as we did. The locals didnt love us either. There was a kind of sullen look to them, as if they were sick to death of having the American military around them. In fact, there were districts in Manama known as black flag areas, where tradesmen, shopkeepers, and private citizens hung black flags outside their properties to signify Americans are not welcome. I guess it wasnt quite as vicious as Juden Verboten was in Hitlers Germany. But there are undercurrents of hatred all over the Arab world, and we knew there were many sympathizers with the Muslim extremist fanatics of the Taliban and al Qaeda. The black flags worked. We stayed well clear of those places. Nonetheless we had to drive through the city in an unprotected vehicle over another causeway, the Sheik Hamad, named for the emir. Theyre big on causeways, and I guess they will build more, since there are thirty-two other much smaller islands forming the low-lying Bahrainian archipelago, right off the Saudi western shore, in the Gulf of Iran. Anyway, we drove on through Manama out to Muharraq, where the U.S. air base lies to the south of the main Bahrain International Airport. Awaiting us was the huge C-130 Hercules, a giant turbo-prop freighter. Its one of the noisiest aircraft in the stratosphere, a big, echoing, steel cave specifically designed to carry heavy-duty freight not sensitive, delicate, poetic conversationalists such as ourselves. We loaded and stowed our essential equipment: heavy weaps (machine guns), M4 rifles, SIG-Sauer 9mm pistols, pigstickers (combat knives), ammunition belts, grenades, medical and communication gear. A couple of the guys slung up hammocks made of thick netting. The rest of us settled back into seats that were also made of netting. Business class this wasnt. But frogs dont travel light, and they dont expect comfort. Thats frogmen, by the way, which we all were. Stuck here in this flying warehouse, this utterly primitive form of passenger transportation, there was a certain amount of cheerful griping and moaning. But if the six of us were inserted into some hellhole of a battleground, soaking wet, freezing cold, wounded, trapped, outnumbered, fighting for our lives, you would not hear one solitary word of complaint. Thats the way of our brotherhood. Its a strictly American brotherhood, mostly forged in blood. Hard-won, unbreakable. Built on a shared patriotism, shared courage, and shared trust in one another. There is no fighting force in the world quite like us. The flight crew checked we were all strapped in, and then those thunderous Boeing engines roared. Jesus, the noise was unbelievable. I might just as well have been sitting in the gearbox. The whole aircraft shook and rumbled as we charged down the runway, taking off to the southwest, directly into the desert wind which gusted out of the mainland Arabian peninsula. There were no other passengers on board, just the flight crew and, in the rear, us, headed out to do Gods work on behalf of the U.S. government and our commander in chief, President George W. Bush. In a sense, we were all alone. As usual. We banked out over the Gulf of Bahrain and made a long, left-hand swing onto our easterly course. It would have been a whole hell of a lot quicker to head directly northeast across the gulf. But that would have taken us over the dubious southern uplands of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and we do not do that. Instead we stayed south, flying high over the friendly coastal deserts of the United Arab Emirates, north of the burning sands of the Rub al Khali, the Empty Quarter. Astern of us lay the fevered cauldrons of loathing in Iraq and nearby Kuwait, places where I had previously served. Below us were the more friendly, enlightened desert kingdoms of the worlds coming natural-gas capital, Qatar; the oil-sodden emirate of Abu Dhabi; the gleaming modern high-rises of Dubai; and then, farther east, the craggy coastline of Oman. None of us were especially sad to leave Bahrain, which was the first place in the Middle East where oil was discovered. It had its history, and we often had fun in the local markets bargaining with local merchants for everything. But we never felt at home there, and somehow as we climbed into the dark skies, we felt we were leaving behind all that was god-awful in the northern reaches of the gulf and embarking on a brand-new mission, one that we understood. In Baghdad we were up against an enemy we often could not see and were obliged to get out there and find. And when we found him, we scarcely knew who he was al Qaeda or Taliban, Shiite or Sunni, Iraqi or foreign, a freedom fighter for Saddam or an insurgent fighting for some kind of a different god from our own, a god who somehow sanctioned murder of innocent civilians, a god whod effectively booted the Ten Commandments over the touchline and out of play. They were ever present, ever dangerous, giving us a clear pattern of total confusion, if you know what I mean. Somehow, shifting positions in the big Hercules freighter, we were leaving behind a place which was systematically tearing itself apart and heading for a place full of wild mountain men who were hell-bent on tearing us apart. Afghanistan. This was very different. Those mountains up in the northeast, the western end of the mighty range of the Hindu Kush, were the very same mountains where the Taliban had sheltered the lunatics of al Qaeda, shielded the crazed followers of Osama bin Laden while they plotted the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York on 9/11. This was where bin Ladens fighters found a home training base. Lets face it, al Qaeda means the base, and in return for the Saudi fanatic bin Ladens money, the Taliban made it all possible. Right now these very same guys, the remnants of the Taliban and the last few tribal warriors of al Qaeda, were preparing to start over, trying to fight their way through the mountain passes, intent on setting up new training camps and military headquarters and, eventually, their own government in place of the democratically elected one. They may not have been the precise same guys who planned 9/11. But they were most certainly their descendants, their heirs, their followers. They were part of the same crowd who knocked down the North and South towers in the Big Apple on the infamous Tuesday morning in 2001. And our coming task was to stop them, right there in those mountains, by whatever means necessary. Thus far, those mountain men had been kicking some serious ass in their skirmishes with our military. Which was more or less why the brass had sent for us. When things get very rough, they usually send for us. Thats why the navy spends years training SEAL teams in Coronado, California, and Virginia Beach. Especially for times like these, when Uncle Sams velvet glove makes way for the iron fist of SPECWARCOM (thats Special Forces Command). And that was why all of us were here. Our mission may have been strategic, it may have been secret. However, one point was crystalline clear, at least to the six SEALs in that rumbling Hercules high above the Arabian desert. This was payback time for the World Trade Center. We were coming after the guys who did it. If not the actual guys, then their blood brothers, the lunatics who still wished us dead and might try it again. Same thing, right? We knew what we were coming for. And we knew where we were going: right up there to the high peaks of the Hindu Kush, those same mountains where bin Laden might still be and where his new bands of disciples were still hiding. Somewhere. The pure clarity of purpose was inspirational to us. Gone were the treacherous, dusty backstreets of Baghdad, where even children of three and four were taught to hate us. Dead ahead, in Afghanistan, awaited an ancient battleground where we could match our enemy, strength for strength, stealth for stealth, steel for steel. This might be, perhaps, a little daunting for regular soldiers. But not for SEALs. And I can state with absolute certainty that all six of us were excited by the prospect, looking forward to doing our job out there in the open, confident of our ultimate success, sure of our training, experience, and judgment. You see, were invincible. Thats what they taught us. Thats what we believe. Its written right there in black and white in the official philosophy of the U.S. Navy SEAL, the last two paragraphs of which read: We train for war and fight to win. I stand ready to bring the full spectrum of combat power to bear in order to achieve my mission and the goals established by my country. The execution of my duties will be swift and violent when required, yet guided by the very principles I serve to defend. Brave men have fought and died building the proud tradition and feared reputation that I am bound to uphold. In the worst of conditions, the legacy of my teammates steadies my resolve and silently guides my every deed. I will not fail. Each one of us had grown a beard in order to look more like Afghan fighters. It was important for us to appear nonmilitary, to not stand out in a crowd. Despite this, I can guarantee you that if three SEALs were put into a crowded airport, I would spot them all, just by their bearing, their confidence, their obvious discipline, the way they walk. Im not saying anyone else could recognize them. But I most certainly could. The guys who traveled from Bahrain with me were remarkably diverse, even by SEAL standards. There was SGT2 Matthew Gene Axelson, not yet thirty, a petty officer from California, married to Cindy, devoted to her and to his parents, Cordell and Donna, and to his brother, Jeff. I always called him Axe, and I knew him well. My twin brother, Morgan, was his best friend. Hed been to our home in Texas, and he and I had been together for a long time in SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 1, Alfa Platoon. He and Morgan were swim buddies together in SEAL training, went through Sniper School together. Axe was a quiet man, six foot four, with piercing blue eyes and curly hair. He was smart and the best Trivial Pursuit player I ever saw. I loved talking to him because of how much he knew. He would come out with answers that would have defied the learning of a Harvard professor. Places, countries, their populations, principal industries. In the teams, he was always professional. I never once saw him upset, and he always knew precisely what he was doing. He was just one of those guys. What was difficult and confusing for others was usually a piece of cake for him. In combat he was a supreme athlete, swift, violent, brutal if necessary. His family never knew that side of him. They saw only the calm, cheerful navy man who could undoubtedly have been a professional golfer, a guy who loved a laugh and a cold beer. You could hardly meet a better person. He was an incredible man. Then there was my best friend, Lieutenant Michael Patrick Murphy, also not yet thirty, an honors graduate from Penn State, a hockey player, accepted by several law schools before he turned the rudder hard over and changed course for the United States Navy. Mikey was an inveterate reader. His favorite book was Steven Pressfields Gates of Fire, the story of the immortal stand of the Spartans at Thermopylae. He was vastly experienced in the Middle East, having served in Jordan, Qatar, and Djibouti on the Horn of Africa. We started our careers as SEALs at the same time, and we were probably flung together by a shared devotion to the smart-ass remark. Also, neither of us could sleep if we were under the slightest pressure. Our insomnia was shared like our humor. We used to hang out together half the night, and I can truthfully say no one ever made me laugh like that. I was always razzing him about being dirty. Wed sometimes go out on patrol every day for weeks, and there seems to be no time to shower and no point in showering when youre likely to be up to your armpits in swamp water a few hours later. Heres a typical exchange between us, petty officer team leader to commissioned SEAL officer: Mikey, you smell like shit, for Christs sake. Why the hell dont you take a shower? Right away, Marcus. Remind me to do that tomorrow, willya? Roger that, sir! For his nearest and dearest, he used a particularly large gift shop, otherwise known as the U.S. highway system. I remember him giving his very beautiful girlfriend Heather a gift-wrapped traffic cone for her birthday. For Christmas, he gave her one of those flashing red lights which fit on top of those cones at night. Gift-wrapped, of course. He once gave me a stop sign for my birthday. And you should have seen his traveling bag. It was enormous, a big, cavernous hockey duffel bag, the kind carried by his favorite team, the New York Rangers. The single heaviest piece of luggage in the entire navy. But it didnt sport the Rangers logo. On its top were two simple words: Piss off. There was no situation for which he could not summon a really smart-ass remark. Mikey was once involved in a terrible and almost fatal accident, and one of the guys asked him to explain what happened. Cmon, said the New York lieutenant, as if it were a subject of which he was profoundly weary. Youre always bringing up that old shit. Fuggeddaboutit. The actual accident had happened just two days earlier. He was also the finest officer I ever met, a natural leader, a really terrific SEAL who never, ever bossed anyone around. It was always Please. Always Would you mind? Never Do that, do this. And he simply would not tolerate any other high-ranking officer, commissioned or noncommissioned, reaming out one of his guys. He insisted the buck stopped with him. He always took the hit himself. If a reprimand was due, he accepted the blame. But dont even try to go around him and bawl out one of his guys, because he could be a formidable adversary when riled. And that riled him. He was excellent underwater, and a powerful swimmer. Trouble was, he was a bit slow, and that was truly his only flaw. One time, he and I were on a two-mile training swim, and when I finally hit the beach I couldnt find him. Finally I saw him splashing through the water about four hundred yards offshore. Christ, hes in trouble that was my first thought. So I charged back into the freezing sea and set out to rescue him. Im not a real fast runner, but Im quick through the water, and I reached him with no trouble. I should have known better. Get away from me, Marcus! he yelled. Im a race car in the red, highest revs on the TAC. Dont mess with me, Marcus, not now. Youre dealing with a race car here. Only Mike Murphy. If I told that story to any SEAL in our platoon, withheld the name, and then asked who said it, everyone would guess Mikey. Sitting opposite me in the Hercules was Senior Chief Daniel Richard Healy, another awesome Navy SEAL, six foot three, thirty-seven, married to Norminda, father of seven children. He was born in New Hampshire and joined the navy in 1990, advancing to serve in the SEAL teams and learning near-fluent Russian. Danny and I served in the same team, SDV Team 1, for three years. He was a little older than most of us and referred to us as his kids as if he didnt have enough. And he loved us all with equal passion, both big families, his wife and children, sisters, brothers, and parents, and the even bigger one hitherto based on the island of Bahrain. Dan was worse than Mikey in his defense of his SEALs. No one ever dared yell at any of us while he was around. He guarded his flock assiduously, researched every mission with complete thoroughness, gathered the intel, checked the maps, charts, photographs, all reconnaissance. Also, he paid attention to the upcoming missions and made sure his kids were always in the front line. Thats the place we were trained for, the place we liked to go. In many ways Dan was tough on everyone. There were times when he and I did not see eye to eye. He was unfailingly certain that his way was the best way, mostly the only way. But his heart was in the right place at all times. Dan Healy was one hell of a Navy SEAL, a role model for everything a senior chief should be, an iron man who became a strategist and who knew his job from A to Z. I talked face to face with big Dan almost every day of my life. Somewhere up above us, swinging in his hammock, headset on, listening to rock-and-roll music, was Petty Officer Second Class Shane Patton, twenty-two-year-old surfer and skateboarder originally from Las Vegas, Nevada. My prot?g?. As the primary communications operator, I had Shane as my number two. Like a much younger Mike Murphy, he too was a virtuoso at the smart-ass remark and, as you would expect, an outstanding frogman. It was hard for me to identify with Shane because he was so different. I once walked into the comms center, and he was trying to order a leopard-skin coat on the Internet. What the hell do you want that for? I asked. Its just so cool, man, he replied, terminating further discussion. A big, robust guy with blond hair and a relatively insolent grin, Shane was supersmart. I never had to tell him anything. He knew what to do at all times. At first, this slightly irritated me; you know, telling a much junior guy what you want done, and it turns out hes already done it. Every time. Took me a while to get used to the fact I had an assistant who was damn near as sharp as Matt Axelson. And thats as sharp as it gets. Shane, like a lot of those beach gods, was hugely laid back. His buddies would probably call it supercool or some such word. But in a comms operator, that quality is damn near priceless. If theres a firefight going on, and Shanes back at HQ manning the radio, youre listening to one ultracalm, very measured SEAL communicator. Sorry, I meant dude. That was an all-purpose word for Shane. Even I was a dude, according to him. Even the president of the United States was a dude, according to him. Actually he accorded President Bush the highest accolade, the gold-plated Congressional Medal of Honor awarded by the surf gods: Hes a real dude, man, a real dude. He was the son of a Navy SEAL, and his quiet, rarely uttered ambition was to be just like his dad, James J. Patton. He wanted to be a member of the navy jump team, as his father had once been. He completed basic airborne training at Fort Benning, Georgia, before he passed his SEAL qualification exams and accepted orders to SDV Team 1, Alfa Platoon. Five months later he joined us on the flight to Afghanistan. Everything Shane did, all through his short life, was outstanding. In high school he was the star pitcher and the best outfielder. He could play the guitar really well, ran a band called True Story, the quality of which remains a bit of a mystery. He was a super photographer and a skilled mechanic and engineer; hed single-handedly restored and customized two old Volks-wagen Bugs. He had acquired another one that he told me would become the ultimate customized Bug, dude. Thats what Im all about. Shane was as good on a computer as anyone at the base. He spent hours on it, some Web site called MySpace, always keeping in touch with his friends: Hey, dude, howya been? The sixth member of our group was James Suh, a twenty-eight-year-old native of Chicago who was raised in south Florida. James had been with SDV Team 1 for three years before we left for Afghanistan, and during that time he became one of the best-liked guys on the base. He had only one sibling, an older sister, but he had about three hundred cousins, every one of whom he was sworn to protect. James, like his close buddy Shane, was another inordinately tough SEAL, a petty officer second class. Like Shane, hed gone through basic airborne training at Fort Benning and gone forward to join Alfa Platoon. His early ambition had been to become a veterinarian, a dog specialist. But James was born to be a SEAL and was passionately proud of his membership in one of the most elite combat outfits in the world and in his ability to defy the limits of physical and mental endurance. Like Shane, he was a star high school athlete, outstanding on both the swim and tennis teams. Academically, he was constantly in the gifted and advanced classes. In our platoon, James was right up there with Axe and Shane as a SEAL of high intelligence and supreme reliability under fire. I never met one person with a bad word to say about him. It took us almost three hours to reach the Gulf of Oman. Wed cut south of the Strait of Hormuz, staying well away from the superhighway of world oil and gas tankers moving to and from the massive loading docks of the Gulf of Iran. The Iranian navy does its exercises down there, operating out of their main base at Bandar Abbas and also farther down the coast, at their increasingly active submarine base. Not that we imagined some trigger-happy Iranian missile director might take a pop at us with some fast heat-seeking weapon. But caution was usually advisable around there, despite the fact we had a very tough man in the White House whod made clear his policy of harsh retaliation at the merest suggestion of an attack on U.S. air traffic, civilian or military. You had to serve out here in the Middle East to understand fully the feeling of danger, even threat, that was never far away, even in countries generally regarded as friendly to America. Like Bahrain. The rugged part of the Omani coast I mentioned earlier is around the point of land at Ras Musandam, with its deep fjords. This most northerly rocky shelf which juts out into the Gulf of Hormuz is the closest foreign point to the Iranian base at Bandar Abbas. The stretch of coastline running south from that point is much flatter, sloping down from the ancient Al Hajar Mountains. We began our long ocean crossing somewhere down there, north of Muscat, close to the Tropic of Cancer. And as we crossed that coastline heading out toward the open ocean, it really was good-bye, from me at least, to the Arabian Peninsula and the seething Islamic states at the north end of the gulf, Kuwait, Iraq, Syria, and Iran, that had dominated my life and thoughts for the past couple of years. Especially Iraq. I had first arrived there to join Team 5 back on April 14, 2003, coming into the U.S. air base fifteen minutes out of Baghdad with twelve other SEALs from Kuwait in an aircraft just like this C-130. It was one week after the U.S. forces launched their opening bombardment against the city, trying to nail Saddam before the war really started. The Brits had just taken Basra. On the same day I arrived, U.S. Marines took Tikrit, Saddams hometown, and a few hours later the Pentagon announced that major combat had concluded. None of which had the slightest bearing on our mission, which was to help root out and if necessary destroy what little opposition was left and then help with the search for weapons of mass destruction. I had been in Baghdad just one day when President Bush declared Saddam Hussein and his Baath Party had fallen, and my colleagues swiftly captured, that same day, Abu Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Liberation Front, which attacked the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro in the Mediterranean in 1985. Forty-eight hours later, on April 17, U.S. forces captured Saddams half brother the infamous Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti. That was the kind of stuff I was instantly involved in. I was one of 146,000 American and coalition troops in there, under the command of General Tommy Franks. It was my first experience of close-quarter combat. It was the place where I learned the finer points of my trade. It was also the first inkling we had of the rise from the ashes of Osama bin Ladens followers. Sure, we knew they were still around, still trying to regroup after the United States had just about flattened them in Afghanistan. But it was not long before we began to hear of an outfit called al Qaeda in Iraq, a malicious terrorist group trying to cause mayhem at every conceivable opportunity, led by the deranged Jordanian killer Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (now deceased). Our missions in the city were sometimes interrupted by intense searches for whatever or whoever happened to be missing. On my first day, four of us went out to some huge Iraqi lake area looking for a missing F-18 Super Hornet fighter bomber and its U.S. pilot. You probably remember the incident. Ill never forget it. We came in low over the lake in our MH-47 Chinook heli-copter and suddenly we spotted the tail of an aircraft jutting out of the water. Right after that, we found the body of the pilot washed up on the shore. I remember feeling very sad, and it would not be for the last time. Id been in the country for less than twenty-four hours. Attached to Team 5, we were known as straphangers, extra muscle drafted in for particularly dangerous situations. Our primary mission was special surveillance and reconnaissance, photographing hot spots and danger areas using unbelievable photographic lenses. We carried out everything under the cover of darkness, waiting patiently for many hours, watching our backs, keeping our eyes on the target, firing computerized pictures back to base from virtually inside the jaws of the enemy. We worked usually in a very small unit of four SEALs. Out on our own. This kind of close-quarter recon is the most dangerous job of all. Its lonely and often dull, and fraught with peril should we be discovered. Sometimes, with a particularly valuable terrorist leader, we might go in and get him, trying to yank him out of there alive. Brutal, no mercy. Generally speaking, the Navy SEALs train the best recon units in the world. It always makes me laugh when I read about the proud freedom fighters in Iraq. Theyre not proud. Theyd sell their own mothers for fifty bucks. Wed go into some house, grab the guy we believed was the ringleader, and march him outside into the street. First thing hed say was Hey, hey, not me. You want those guys in that house down the street. Or You give me dollars, I tell you what you want to know. They would, and did. And what they told us was very often extremely valuable. Most of those big military coups, like the elimination of Saddams sons and the capture of Saddam himself, were the result of military intel. Somebody, someone from their own side, shopped them, as they had shopped hundreds of others. Anything for a buck, right? Pride? Those guys couldnt even spell it. And that grade of intelligence is often hard-won. Wed go in fast, driving into the most dangerous districts in the city, screaming through the streets in Humvees, or even fast-roping in from helicopters if necessary. Wed advance, city block by city block, moving carefully through the dark, ready for someone to open fire on us from a window, a building, somewhere on the opposite side of the street, even a tower. It happened all the time. Sometimes we returned fire, always to much more deadly effect than our enemy could manage. And when we reached our objective, wed either go in with sledgehammers and a hooley thats a kind of a crowbar that will rip a door right off its hinges or wed wrap the demo around the lock and blast that sucker straight in. We always made certain the blast was aimed inward, just in case someone was waiting behind the door with an AK-47. Its hard to survive when a door comes straight at you at one hundred miles an hour from point-blank range. Occasionally, if we had an element of doubt about the strength of the opposition behind that door, we would throw in a few flash-crashes, which do not explode and knock down walls or anything but do unleash a series of very loud, almost deafening bangs accompanied by searing white flashes. Very disorienting for our enemy. Right then our lead man would head the charge inside the building, which was always a shock for the residents. Even if we had not used the flash-crashes, theyd wake up real quick to face a group of big masked men, their machine guns leveled, shouting, daring anyone to make a move. Although these city houses were mostly two-story, Iraqis tend to sleep downstairs, all of them crowded together in the living room. There might be someone upstairs trying to fire down on us, which could be a massive pain in the ass. We usually solved that with a well-aimed hand grenade. That may sound callous, but your teammates are absolutely relying on the colleague with the grenade, because the guy upstairs might also have one, and that danger must be taken out. For your teammates. In the SEALs, its always your teammates. No exceptions. However, in the room downstairs, where the Iraqis were by now in surrender mode, wed look for the ringleader, the guy who knew where the explosives were stored, the guy who had access to the bomb-making kit or the weapons that would be aimed straight at American soldiers. He was usually not that difficult to find. Wed get some light in there and march him directly to the window so the guys outside with the intel could compare his face with photographs. Often the photographs had been taken by the team I worked in, and identification was swift. And while this process happened, the SEAL team secured the property, which means, broadly, making darned sure the Iraqis under this sudden house arrest had no access to any form of weaponry whatsoever. Right then what the SEALs call A-guys usually showed up, very professional, very steely, steadfast in their requirements and the necessary outcome of the interrogation. They cared, above all, about the quality of the informants information, the priceless data which might save dozens of American lives. Outside we usually had three or four SEALs patrolling wide, to keep the inevitable gathering crowd at bay. When this was under control, with the A-guidance, we would question the ringleader, demanding he inform us where his terrorist cell was operating. Sometimes we would get an address. Sometimes names of other ringleaders. Other times a man might inform us about arms dumps, but this usually required money. If the guy wed arrested was especially stubborn, wed cuff him and send him back to base for a more professional interrogation. But usually he came up with something. Thats the way we gathered the intelligence we needed in order to locate and take out those who would still fight for Saddam Hussein, even if his government had fallen, even if his troops had surrendered and the country was temporarily under American and British control. These were dangerous days at the conclusion of the formal conflict. Fired on from the rooftops, watching for car bombs, we learned to fight like terrorists, night after night, moving like wild animals through the streets and villages. There is no other way to beat a terrorist. You must fight like him, or he will surely kill you. Thats why we went in so hard, taking houses and buildings by storm, blowing the doors in, charging forward, operating strictly by the SEAL teams tried-and-trusted methods, ingrained in us by years of training. Because in the end, your enemy must ultimately fear you, understand your supremacy. Thats what we were taught, out there in the absolute front line of U.S. military might. And thats probably why we never lost one Navy SEAL in all my long months in Iraq. Because we played it by the book. No mistakes. At least nothing major. Although I admit in my first week in Iraq we were subject to.well.a minor lapse in judgment after we found an Iraqi insurgent ammunition dump during a patrol along a river as sporadic shots were fired at us from the other side. There are those military officers who might have considered merely capturing the dump and confiscating the explosive. SEALs react somewhat differently and generally look for a faster solution. Its not quite, Hey, hey, hey.this lots gotta go. But that will do for broad guidelines. We planted our own explosives in the building and then deferred to our EOD guy (explosive ordnance disposal). He positioned us a ways back, but a couple of us did wonder if it was quite far enough. No problem. Stay right where you are. He was confident. Well, that pile of bombs, grenades, and other explosives went up like a nuclear bomb. At first there was just dust and small bits of concrete flying around. But the blasts grew bigger and the lumps of concrete from the building started to rain down on us. Guys were diving everywhere, into trucks, under trucks, anywhere to get out of the way. One of our guys jumped into the Tigris! We could hear these rocks and lumps of hard mud walls raining down on us, hitting the trucks. It was amazing no one was killed or hurt out there. Eventually it all went quiet, and I crawled out, unscathed. The EOD maestro was standing right next to me. Beautiful, I said. That went really well, didnt it? I wished Mike Murphy had been there. Hed have come up with something better. We worked for almost three months with SEAL Team 5 out in the Baghdad suburbs. That was really where we were blooded for battle, combing those urban streets, flushing out insurgents wherever they hid. We needed all our skill, moving up to the corner blocks, opening fire out there in the night as we rounded these strange, dark, foreign street junctions. The trouble was, the places often looked normal. But up close you realized there were holes straight through the buildings. Some of them just had their front fa?ade, the entire rear area having been blown out by U.S. bombs as the troops fought to run down the murderous Saddam Hussein. Thus we often found ourselves in what looked like respectable streets but which were in fact piles of rubble, perfect hiding places for insurgents or even Sunni Muslim terrorists still fighting for their erstwhile leader. On one such night I was almost killed. I had moved out onto the sidewalk, my rifle raised, as I fired to provide cover for my teammates. I remember it vividly. I was standing astride a bomb, directly over it, and I never even saw it. One of the guys yelled, Marcus! Move it! and he came straight toward me, hit me with the full force of his body, and the pair of us rolled into the middle of the street. He was first up, literally dragging me away. Moments later, our EOD guys blew it up. Thankfully we were both now out of range, since it was only a small improvised explosive made in someones kitchen. Nevertheless, it would have killed me, or at the very least inflicted serious damage on my wedding tackle. It was just another example of how amazingly sharp you need to be in order to wear the SEAL Trident. Over and over during training, we were told never to be complacent, reminded constantly of the sheer cunning and unpredictability of our terrorist enemy, of the necessity for total vigilance at all times, of the endless need to watch out for our teammates. Every night before our mission, one of the senior petty officers would say, Cmon now, guys. Get your game faces on. This is for real. Stay on your toes. Concentrate. That way youll live. I learned a lot about myself out there with Team 5, moving through the dark, zigzagging across the ground, never doing anything the same way twice. Thats what the army does, everything the same way. We operate differently, because we are a much smaller force. Even with a major city operation we never travel in groups of more than twenty, and the recon units consist of only four men. It all causes your senses to go up tenfold, as you move quietly, stealthily through the shadows, using the dead space, the areas into which your enemy cannot see. Someone described us as the shadow warriors. He was right. Thats what we are. And we always have a very clear objective, usually just one guy, one person who is responsible for making the problem: the terrorist leader or strategist. And theres a whole code of conduct to remember when you finally catch up with him. First of all, make him drop his gun and get his ass on the ground. Hell usually do that without much protest. Should he decide against this, we help him get on the ground, quickly. But we never, never, turn around, even for a split second. We never give these guys one inch of latitude. Because hell pick that rifle up and shoot you at point-blank range, straight in the back. He might even cut your throat if he had a chance. No one can hate quite like a terrorist. Until youve encountered one of these guys, you dont understand the meaning of the word hate. We found half-trained terrorists all over the world, mostly unfit to handle a lethal weapon of any kind, especially those Russian-made Kalashnikovs they use. First of all, the damn thing is inaccurate, and in the hands of an hysteric, which most of them are, the guns spray bullets all over the place. When these guys go after an American, they usually fire blindly around a corner, aiming at nothing in particular, and end up killing three passing Iraqi civilians. Only by pure chance do they hit the American soldier they wanted. On May 1, 2003, President Bush announced the military phase of the war was over. Four days later it was revealed Saddam and his son had heisted $1 billion in cash from the Central Bank. Around that time, with the search for weapons of mass destruction still under way, we were detailed to the gigantic Lake Buhayrat ath Tharthar, where supposedly a large cache had been hidden by Saddam. This was a major stretch of water, nearly fifty miles long and in some places thirty miles wide, set on a flat, verdant plain between the Euphrates and the Tigris, south of Tikrit. Theres a huge dam at one end, and we were stationed just to the south at a place named Hit. Seemed fitting. So we jocked up and combed the deep, clear waters of that lake for about a week, every inch of it. We were operating out of Zodiacs and found nothing except for a bicycle tire and an old ladder. As the weeks went by the weather grew hotter, sometimes hitting 115F. We kept going, working away through the nights. There were times when it all seemed to grow calmer, and then on July 4, a taped voice, which al-Jazeera television said was Saddam, urged everyone to join the resistance and fight the U.S. occupation to the death. We thought that was kind of stupid, because we werent trying to occupy anything. We were just trying to stop these crazy pricks from blowing up and wiping out the civilian population of the country we had just liberated from one of the biggest bastards in history. Didnt much matter what we thought. The very next day a serious bomb went off at a graduation ceremony for the new Iraqi police class, trained by the United States. Seven new cops were killed and seventy more were wounded. God alone understood those to whom that made sense. We continued our operations, looking for the key insurgents, forcing or bribing the information out of them. But it already seemed their recruiting numbers were limitless. No matter how many we ran to ground, there were always more. It was around this time we first heard of the rise of this sinister group who called themselves al Qaeda in Iraq. It was an undisguised terrorist operation, dedicated to mayhem and murder, especially of us. However, the whole movement received a severe blow to its morale on July 22, when Saddams sons, Uday and Qusay, who were at least as evil as their dad, were finally nailed at a house in Mosul. Im not allowed to speak of this highly classified operation, save to mention the pair of them were killed when U.S. Special Forces flattened the entire building. Their deaths were entirely due to the fact that a couple of their devoted, loyal comrades, full of pride in their fight for freedom, betrayed them. For money. Just as they would later betray Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Despite all our efforts, the suicide bombers just continued, young Iraqis convinced by the teachings of the extremist ayatollahs that the murder of their perceived enemies would open the gateway to paradise for them that the three trumpets would sound and they would cross the bridge into the arms of Allah and everlasting happiness. So they just went right back at it. A bomb killed a U.S. soldier on August 26, which meant there had now been more U.S. lives lost since the conflict ended than during the battle. On August 29, a massive car bomb exploded outside a Shiite mosque in Najaf and killed eighty people, including the revered and greatly loved Shiite leader Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakin. In our opinion, this was rapidly getting out of hand. It seemed no matter what we did, no matter how many of these nuts we rounded up, how much explosive, bombs, or weapons we located, there was always more. And always more young men quite happy to take that shortcut to the trumpets, get right over that bridge and plug into some quality happiness. By now, late August, the question of the missing WMDs was growing more urgent. Hans Blix, the United Nations chief weapons inspector, had retired from public life, and the U.S. Armed Forces were now keeping a careful watch. In our view, the question of whether Saddam Hussein had biological and chemical weapons was answered. Of course he did. He used them in Halabja, right? I guess by now the issue in the minds of the American public was, Did he have a nuclear weapon, an atom bomb? But, of course, that is not the most significant question. The one that counts is, Did he have a nuclear program? Because that would mean he was trying to produce weapons-grade uranium-235. You get that from using a centrifuge to spin uranium-238, thus driving the heavy neutrons outward, like water off the lettuce in a salad spinner. Its a hell of a process and takes up to seven years, at which time, if youve had a trouble-free run, you cut off the outside edges of the uranium and there you have a large hunk of heavy-molecule uranium-235. Cut that in half and then slam the two pieces together by high explosive in a confined steel space, like a rocket or a bomb, and right there its Hiroshima all over again. And thats the issue: Was Saddam spinning for uranium-235, and if so, where did he get the uranium in the first place? And where was he conducting his program? Remember, there is no other reason on this earth to want uranium-235 except to make an atom bomb. We knew the American intelligence agencies believed he had such a program, that somewhere in this vast country its bigger than Germany, nearly as big as Texas there were centrifuges trying to manufacture the worlds most dangerous substance. That was all the information we had. But we knew what to look for, and we would most certainly have recognized it if we had found it. Did Saddam actually own the completed article, a finely tuned atomic bomb or missile? Probably not. No one ever thought he did. But as former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld once remarked, What do you want to do? Leave him there till he does? You may remember the CIA believed they had uncovered critical evidence from the satellite pictures of those enormous government trucks rolling along Iraqs highways: four of them, usually in convoy, and all big enough to house two centrifuges. The accepted opinion was that Saddam had a mobile spinning program which could not easily be found, and in fact could be either lost and buried in the desert or alternatively driven across the border into Syria or even Jordan. Well, we found those trucks, hidden in the desert, parked together. But the inside of each one had been roughly gutted. There was nothing left. We saw the trucks, and in my opinion someone had removed whatever they had contained, and in a very great hurry. I also saw the al Qaeda training camp north of Baghdad. That had been abandoned, but it was stark evidence of the strong links between the Iraqi dictator and Osama bin Ladens would-be warriors. Traces of the camps military purpose were all around. Some of the guys who had been in Afghanistan said it was just about a direct replica of the camp the United States destroyed after 9/11. There were many times when we really were chasing shadows out there in that burning hot, sandy wilderness. Especially in our coastal searches. Out there, often in uncharted desert wasteland near the water, wed see rocket launchers in the distance and drive right onto them, only to find they were just decoys, huge fake missile containers pointing at the sky, made out of scrap metal and old iron bars. After a two-day drive over rough country in unbelievable heat, that counted as a very grave inconvenience. If our team had ultimately found Saddam in his hidey-hole, wed probably have shot him dead for a lot of reasons but especially on the strength of those wasted desert runs. (Just joking.) Ill say one thing. That Iraqi president was one wily devil, ducking and diving between his thirteen palaces, evading capture, making tape recordings, urging the dregs of his armed forces to keep killing us, encouraging the insurgents to continue the war against the great Satan (thats us). It was tough out there. But in many ways Im grateful for the experience. I learned precisely how seditious and cunning an enemy could be. I learned never to underestimate him. And I learned to stay right on top of my game all of the time in order to deal with it. No complacency. Looking back, during our long journey in the C-130 to Afghanistan, I was more acutely aware of a growing problem which faces U.S. forces on active duty in theaters of war all over the world. For me, it began in Iraq, the first murmurings from the liberal part of the U.S.A. that we were somehow in the wrong, brutal killers, bullying other countries; that we who put our lives on the line for our nation at the behest of our government should somehow be charged with murder for shooting our enemy. Its been an insidious progression, the criticisms of the U.S. Armed Forces from politicians and from the liberal media, which knows nothing of combat, nothing of our training, and nothing of the mortal dangers we face out there on the front line. Each of the six of us in that aircraft en route to Afghanistan had constantly in the back of our minds the ever-intrusive rules of engagement. These are drawn up for us to follow by some politician sitting in some distant committee room in Washington, D.C. And thats a very long way from the battlefield, where a snipers bullet can blast your head, where the slightest mistake can cost your life, where you need to kill your enemy before he kills you. And those ROE are very specific: we may not open fire until we are fired upon or have positively identified our enemy and have proof of his intentions. Now, thats all very gallant. But how about a group of U.S. soldiers who have been on patrol for several days; have been fired upon; have dodged rocket-propelled grenades and homemade bombs; have sustained casualties; and who are very nearly exhausted and maybe slightly scared? How about when a bunch of guys wearing colored towels around their heads and brandishing AK-47s come charging over the horizon straight toward you? Do you wait for them to start killing your team, or do you mow the bastards down before they get a chance to do so? That situation might look simple in Washington, where the human rights of terrorists are often given high priority. And I am certain liberal politicians would defend their position to the death. Because everyone knows liberals have never been wrong about anything. You can ask them. Anytime. However, from the standpoint of the U.S. combat soldier, Ranger, SEAL, Green Beret, or whatever, those ROE represent a very serious conundrum. We understand we must obey them because they happen to come under the laws of the country we are sworn to serve. But they represent a danger to us; they undermine our confidence on the battlefield in the fight against world terror. Worse yet, they make us concerned, disheartened, and sometimes hesitant. I can say from firsthand experience that those rules of engagement cost the lives of three of the finest U.S. Navy SEALs who have ever served. Im not saying that, given the serious situation, those elite American warriors might not have died a little later, but they would not have died right then, and in my view would almost certainly have been alive today. I am hopeful that one day soon, the U.S. government will learn that we can be trusted. We know about bad guys, what they do, and, often, who they are. The politicians have chosen to send us into battle, and thats our trade. We do whats necessary. And in my view, once those politicians have elected to send us out to do what 99.9 percent of the country would be terrified to undertake, they should get the hell out of the way and stay there. This entire business of modern war crimes, as identified by the liberal wings of politics and the media, began in Iraq and has been running downhill ever since. Everyones got to have his little hands in it, blathering on about the publics right to know. Well, in the view of most Navy SEALs, the public does not have that right to know, not if it means placing our lives in unnecessary peril because someone in Washington is driving himself mad worrying about the human rights of some cold-hearted terrorist fanatic who would kill us as soon as look at us, as well as any other American at whom he could point that wonky old AK of his. If the public insists it has the right to know, which I very much doubt, perhaps the people should go and face for themselves armed terrorists hell-bent on killing every single American they can. I promise you, every insurgent, freedom fighter, and stray gunman in Iraq who we arrested knew the ropes, knew that the way out was to announce he had been tortured by the Americans, ill treated, or prevented from reading the Koran or eating his breakfast or watching the television. They all knew al-Jazeera, the Arab broadcasters, would pick it up, and it would be relayed to the U.S.A., where the liberal media would joyfully accuse all of us of being murderers or barbarians or something. Those terrorist organizations laugh at the U.S. media, and they know exactly how to use the system against us. I realize I am not being specific, and I have no intention of being so. But these broad brushstrokes are designed to show that the rules of engagement are a clear and present danger, frightening young soldiers, who have been placed in harms way by their government, into believing they may be charged with murder if they defend themselves too vigorously. I am not a political person, and as a Navy SEAL I am sworn to defend my country and carry out the wishes of my commander in chief, the president of the United States, whoever he may be, Republican or Democrat. I am a patriot; I fight for the U.S.A. and for my home state of Texas. I simply do not want to see some of the best young men in the country hesitating to join the elite branches of the U.S. Armed Services because theyre afraid they might be accused of war crimes by their own side, just for attacking the enemy. And I know one thing for certain. If I ever rounded a mountainside in Afghanistan and came face to face with Osama bin Laden, the man who masterminded the vicious, unprovoked attack on my country, killing 2,752 innocent American civilians in New York on 9/11, Id shoot him dead, in cold blood. At which point, urged on by an outraged American media, the military would probably incarcerate me under the jail, never mind in it. And then Id be charged with murder. Tell you what. Id still shoot the sonofabitch. 2 Baby Seals. and Big Ole Gators I wrestled with one once and was pretty glad when that sucker decided hed had enough and took off for calmer waters. But to this day my brother loves to wrestle alligators, just for fun. We flew on, high over the southern reaches of the Gulf of Oman. We headed east-northeast for four hundred miles, forty-five thousand feet above the Arabian Sea. We crossed the sixty-first line of longitude in the small hours of the morning. That put us due south of the Iranian border seaport of Gavater, where the Pakistan frontier runs down to the ocean. Chief Healy snored quietly. Axe did a New York Times crossword. And the miracle was that Shanes headset didnt explode, as loud as his rock-and-roll music was playing. Do you really need to play that shit at that volume, kiddo? Its cool, man.dude, chill. Jesus Christ. The C-130 roared on, heading slightly more northerly now, up toward the coast of Baluchistan, which stretches 470 miles along the northern shoreline of the Arabian Sea and commands, strategically, the inward and outward oil lanes to the Persian Gulf. Despite a lot of very angry tribal chiefs, Baluchistan is part of Pakistan and has been since the partition with India in 1947. But that doesnt make the chiefs any happier with the arrangement. And its probably worth remembering that no nation, not the Turks, the Tatars, the Persians, the Arabs, the Hindus, or the Brits has ever completely conquered Baluchistan. Those tribesmen even held off Genghis Khan, and his guys were the Navy SEALs of the thirteenth century. They never tell us, or anyone else, the precise route of U.S. Special Forces into any country. But theres a big American base in the Baluchistan coastal town of Pasni. I guess we made our landfall somewhere along there, long before first light, and then flew on over four mountain ranges for 250 miles up to another U.S. military base near the city of Dalbandin. We never stopped, but Dalbandin lies only fifty miles south of the Afghan border, and the airspace is safe around there. At least, its as safe as anything can be in this strange, wild country, which is kind of jammed into a triangle among Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Baluchistan, its endless mountains a safe haven for so many fleeing al Qaeda recruits and exiled Taliban fighters, currently provides shelter for up to six thousand of these potential terrorists. And even though Chief Healy, me, and the guys were nine miles above this vast, underpopulated, and secretive land, it still gave me the creeps, and I was pleased when the aircrew finally told us we were in Afghanistan airspace, running north for another four hundred miles, up toward Kabul. I fell asleep somewhere over the Regestan Desert, east of one of Afghanistans greatest waterways, the 750-mile-long Hel-mand River, which flows and irrigates most of the southern farmlands. I cannot remember my dreams, but I expect they were of home. They usually are when Im serving overseas. Home for us is a small ranch out in the piney woods of East Texas, near Sam Houston National Forest. We live down a long, red dirt road in a lonely part of the country, close by another two or three ranches, one of which, our adjoining neighbor, is about four thousand times bigger than ours and sometimes makes us seem a whole lot bigger than we are. I have a similar effect on my identical twin brother, Morgan. Hes about seven minutes older than I am, and around the same size (six feet five inches, 230 pounds). Somehow Ive always been regarded as the baby of the family. You wouldnt believe seven minutes could do that to a guy, would you? Well, it did, and Morgan is unflagging in his status as senior man. Hes a Navy SEAL as well, a little behind me in rank, because I joined first. But he still assumes a loose command whenever were together. And thats pretty often, since we share a house in Coronado, California, hard by the SEAL teams. Anyway, theres two or three houses on our Texas property, the main one being a single-story stone ranch surrounded by a large country garden, which contains one little plantation for corn and another couple for vegetables. All around us, just about as far as you can see in any direction, theres pasture, studded with huge oak trees and grazing animals. Its a peaceful place for a God-fearing family. Right from kids, Morgan and I were brought up to believe in the Lord. We werent compelled to go to church or anything, and to this day the family are not churchgoers. In fact, Im the only one who does go to church on a somewhat regular basis. On Sunday mornings when Im home, I drive over to the Catholic church, where people know me. I was not baptized a Catholic, but it suits me, its beliefs and doctrines sit easily with me. Since I was young, I have always been able to recite the Twenty-third Psalm and several others from beginning to end. Also, I thought the late Pope John Paul was the holiest man in the world, an uncompromising Vicar of Christ, a man whose guidelines were unshakable. Tough old guy, John Paul. A lot too tough for the Russians. Ive always thought if he hadnt been a vicar, hed have made a good Navy SEAL. Down home, in our quiet backwoods area, it looks like an untroubled life. There are a few minor irritants, most of those being snakes. However, Dad taught us how to deal with them long ago, especially the coral snakes and those copperhead vipers. Theres also rattlesnakes, eastern diamondbacks, and king snakes, which eat the others. In the local lake you can find the occasional water moccasin, and he is one mean little sonofabitch. Hell chase you, and while I dont much like em, Im not scared of them. Morgan goes after them as a sport, likes to hustle em up, keep em alert. A mile or so up the road from us, theres a mighty herd of Texas longhorns. Beyond the house theres a half dozen paddocks for my moms horses, some of them belonging to her, others boarders from other people. People send horses to her for her near-mystical power to bring sick or weak animals back to full fighting form. No one knows how she does it. Shes plainly a horse whisperer. But she has some special ways of feeding them, including, for a certain type of ailing racehorse, some kind of a seaweed concoction she swears to God can turn a cow pony into Secretariat. Sorry, Mom. Didnt mean that. Just joking. Seriously, Holly Luttrell is a brilliant horsewoman. And she does turn horses that seem very poorly into gleaming, healthy runners again. I guess thats why those horses keep on coming. She can only cope with about ten at a time, and shes out there in the barn at five every morning looking after them. If you take the time, you can see the effect she has on them, the very obvious results of her very obvious skills. My moms a seventh-generation Texan, although she did once immigrate to New York City. Around here, thats like moving to Shanghai, but Mom has always been a rather glamorous blonde and she wanted to make a career as an air stewardess. Didnt last long, though. She was back in the big country of East Texas real quick, raising horses. Like all of us, she feels Texas is a part of her spirit. Its in mine, in Dads, and it sure as hell is the very essence of Morgan. None of us would live anywhere else. Were right at home down here, with people we have known and trusted for many years. Theres no one like Texans for a spirit of expansiveness, optimism, friendship, and decency. I realize that might not be acceptable to everyone, but thats how it seems to us. Were out of place anywhere else. Its no good pretending otherwise. That might mean we just get real homesick quicker than other people. But I will come back to live here when Im finished in the military. And I intend, sometime, to die here. Hardly a day goes by, wherever I am in the world, when I dont think of our little ranch and my huge circle of family and friends, of having a beer on the front porch and telling tall stories full of facts, some of em true, all of em funny. So while Im on the subject Ill explain how a farm boy from the backwoods of East Texas came to be made a petty officer first class and a team leader in the U.S. Navy SEALs. The short explanation is probably talent, but I dont have any more of that than the next guy. In fact, my natural-born assets are very average. Im pretty big, which was an accident of birth. Im pretty strong, because a lot of other people took a lot of trouble training me, and Im unbelievably determined, because when youre as naturally ungifted as I am, you have to keep driving forward, right? Ill outwork anyone. Ill just go on and on until the dust clears. Then Im usually the only one left standing. As an athlete, Im not very fast, but Im kind of sharp. I know where to be, Im good at anticipating things, and I guess thats why I was a halfway decent sportsman. Give me a golf ball and I can hit that sucker a country mile. Thats because golf is a game that requires practice, practice, and more practice. Thats my brand of doggedness. I can do that. I play to a reasonable handicap, although I wasnt born a Ben Hogan or anything. But Ben came from Texas like me. We were born about ninety-four miles apart, and in my country thats the equivalent of a sand wedge. Ben, of course, was known to practice more than any other golfer who had ever lived. Must be something in the water. I was born in Houston but raised up near the Oklahoma border. My parents, David and Holly Luttrell, owned a fair-sized horse farm, about 1,200 acres at one time. We had 125 head up there, mostly Thoroughbreds and quarter horses. My mom ran the breeding programs, and Dad took charge of the racing and sales operation. Morgan and I were brought up with horses, feeding, watering, cleaning out the barns, riding. Most every weekend wed go in the horse van to the races. We were just kids at the time, and both our parents were excellent riders, especially Mom. Thats how we learned. We worked the ranch, mended fences, swinging sledgehammers when we were about nine years old. We loaded the bales into the loft, worked like adults from a young age. Dad insisted on that. And for a lot of years, the operation did very well. At the time, Texas itself was in a boom-time hog heaven. Out in West Texas, where the oil drillers and everyone surrounding them were becoming multimillionaires, the price of oil went up 800 percent between 1973 and 1981. I was born in 1975, before that wave even started to crest, and I have to say the Luttrell family was riding high. It was nothing for my dad to breed a good-looking horse from a $5,000 stallion and sell the yearling for $40,000. He did it all the time. And my mom was a pure genius at improving a horse, buying it cheap and devoting months of tender loving care and brilliant feeding to produce a young runner worth eight times what she paid. And breeding horses was precisely the right line to be in. Horses were right up there with Rolex watches, Rolls-Royces, Learjets, Gulfstream 1s, palaces rather than regular houses, and boats, damn great boats. Office space was at a premium all over the state, and massive new high-rise blocks were under construction. Retail spending was at an all-time high. Racehorses, beautiful. Give me six. Six fast ones, Mr. Luttrell. That way Ill win some races. That oil money just washed right off, and people were making fortunes in anything that smacked of luxury, anything to feed the egos of the oil guys, who were spending and borrowing money at a rate never seen before or since. It wasnt anything for banks to make loans of more than $100 million to oil explorers and producers. At one time there were 4,500 oil rigs running in the U.S.A., most of them in Texas. Credit? That was easy. Banks would lend you a million bucks without batting an eye. Listen, I was only a kid at the time, but my family and I lived through the trauma to come, and, boy, Ive done some serious reading about it since. And in a way, Im glad I lived through it, because it taught me to be careful, to earn my money and invest it, get it somewhere secure. And it taught me to think very carefully about the element of luck, when its running, and how to keep your life under control. I have long since worked out that when the crash came in Texas, its effects were magnified a thousandfold, because the guys in the oil industry sincerely believed money had nothing to do with luck. They thought their prosperity came from their own sheer brilliance. No one gave much consideration to the world oil market being controlled in the Middle East by Muslims. Everything that happened had its roots in Arabia, assisted by President Carters energy policy and the fact that when I was five years old the price per barrel of crude was $40. The crash, when it came, was caused by the oil embargo and the Iranian revolution, when the ayatollah took over from the shah. The key to it was geopolitical. And Texas could only stand and watch helplessly as the oil glut manifested itself and the price per barrel began to slide downward to an ultimate low of around $9. That was in 1986, when I was not quite ten. In the meantime, the giant First National Bank of Midland, Texas, collapsed, judged insolvent by government financial inspectors. That was one huge bank to go belly-up, and the ripple effect was statewide. An era of reckless spending and investing was over. Guys building palaces were forced to sell at a loss. You couldnt give away a luxury boat, and Rolls-Royce dealers darned near went out of business. Along with the commercial giants felled by the oil crash went the horse farm of David and Holly Luttrell. Hard-running colts and mares, which Dad had valued at $35,000 to $40,000, were suddenly worth $5,000, less than they cost to raise. My family lost everything, including our house. But my dads a resilient man, tough and determined. And he fought back, with a smaller ranch and the tried-and-trusted techniques of horse raising he and Mom had always practiced. But it all went wrong again. The family wound up living with my grandfather, Morgan sleeping on the floor. My dad, who had always kept one foot in the petrochemical business ever since he came back from Vietnam, went back to work, and in a very short time he was on his feet, with a couple of huge deals. We moved out of Grandfathers place into a grand four-story house, and the good times seemed to be back. Then some giant deal went south and we somehow lost it all again, moved back out to a kind of rural skid row. You see, my dad, though born over the border in Oklahoma, is a Texan in his soul. He was as brave as a lion when he was a navy gunner in Vietnam. And in Texas, real men dont sit on their money. They get back out there, take risks, and when they hit it big, they just want to hit it bigger. My dads a real man. You could tell a lot about him just by the names he gave the ranches, big or small Lone Star Farms, North Fork Ranch, Shootin Star. Like he always said, Id rather shoot for a star and hit a stump than shoot for a stump and miss. I cannot describe how poor we were during the time Morgan and I were trying to get through college. I had four jobs to pay tuition and board and make my truck payment. I was the lifeguard in the college pool and I worked with Morgan on construction, landscaping, cutting grass, and yard work. In the evening I was a bouncer in a rough local bar full of redneck cowboys. And I was still starving, trying to feed myself on about twenty dollars a week. One time, I guess we were around twenty-one, Morgan snapped his leg playing baseball, sliding into second. When they got him to the hospital Morgan just told them we didnt have any money. Eventually the surgeon agreed to operate and set the leg on some kind of long-term credit. But the anaesthetist would not administer anything to Morgan without payment. No ones tougher than my brother. And he eventually said, Fine. I dont need anaesthetic. Set the leg without it. I can take the pain. The surgeon was aghast and told Morgan he could not possibly have such an operation without anaesthesia. But Morgan stuck to his guns. Doc, I dont have any money. Fix my leg and Ill handle the pain. No one was crazy about that, especially the surgeon. But then Jason Miller, a college buddy of Morgans, turned up, saw that he was in absolute agony, and gave him every last dollar of his savings to pay the anaesthetist. At which point they put Morgan back together. But Im getting ahead of myself. When we were young, working the horses, my dad was very, very tough on us. He considered that good grades were everything, bad ones were simply unacceptable. I once got a C in conduct, and he beat me with a saddle girth. I know he was doing it for our own good, trying to instill discipline in his sons, which would serve them well in later life. But he ruled our lives with an iron fist. He would tell us: One day Im not gonna be here. Then its gonna be you two, by yourselves, and I want you to understand how rough and unfair this world is. I want you both prepared for whatever the hell might come your way. He tolerated nothing. Disobedience was out of the question. Rudeness was damn near a hanging offense. There was no leeway. He insisted on politeness and hard work. And he didnt let up even when we were all broke. Dad was the son of an Arkansas woodsman, another amazingly tough character, and he brought that stand-on-your-own-feet ruggedness into our lives at the earliest opportunity. We were always out in the woods, in rough country in the East Texas pines, the red oaks, and the sweet gum trees. Dad taught us to shoot straight at the age of seven, bought us a .22 rifle, a Nylon 66. We could hit a moving Miller High Life beer can from 150 yards. Now thats redneck stuff, right? Redneck kids in redneck country, learning lifes skills. He taught us how to survive out there. What you could eat and what you couldnt. He showed us how to build a shelter, taught us how to fish. He even taught us how to rope and kill a wild boar: drop a couple of long loops around his neck and pull, then hope to hell he doesnt charge straight at you! I still know how to butcher and roast one. At home, on any of the ranches, Dad showed us how to plant and grow corn and potatoes, vegetables and carrots. A lot of times when we were really poor we just about lived on that. Looking back, it was important training for a couple of farm boys. But perhaps most important of all, he taught us to swim. Dad himself was an all-American swimmer and this really mattered to him. He was superb in the water and he made me that good. In almost everything, Morgan is naturally better than I am. Hes very gifted as a runner, a fighter, a marksman, a navigator on land or water. He always sails through his exams, whereas I have to slog it out, studying, practicing, trying to be first man in and last man out. Morgan does not have to strive. He was honor man after his SEAL BUD/S class, voted for by his peers. I knew he would be before he even started. Theres only one discipline at which he cant beat me. Im faster in the water, and I have the edge underwater. He knows it, though he might not admit it. There was a huge lake near where we lived, and thats where Dad trained us. All through the long Texas summers we were out there, swimming, racing, diving, practicing. We were just like fish, the way Dad wanted it. He spent months teaching us to dive, deep, first on our own, then with our scuba gear on. We were good, and people would pay us to try and retrieve keys and valuables thrown into deep water. Of course, Dad considered this might be too easy, and he stipulated we only got paid if we found the correct object. During this time we had the occasional brush with passing alligators, but one of my great Texas friends, Tray Baker, showed us how to deal with them. I wrestled with one once and was pretty glad when that sucker decided hed had enough and took off for calmer waters. But to this day my brother loves to wrestle alligators, just for fun. He is, of course, crazy. But we sometimes take an old flat-bottomed boat fishing in the lake, and one of those big ole gators will come sliding up alongside the boat. Morgan makes a quick assessment Nostrils about eight or nine inches from his eyes, so hes eight or nine feet long. Morgan executes a ramrod-straight low-angled dive right on top of the gator, clamping its jaws shut with his fists, then he twists it and turns it, gets on its back, all the while holding those huge jaws tight shut and laughing at the panic-stricken beast of the deep. After a few minutes they both get fed up with it, and Morgan lets it go. I always think this is the most dangerous part. But I never saw a gator who felt like having another go at Morgan. They always just turn around and swim away from the area. He only misjudged it once, and his hand bears a line of alligator-teeth scars. You know, I think Dad always wanted us to be Navy SEALs. He was forever telling us about those elite warriors, the stuff they did and what they stood for. In his opinion they were all that is best in the American male courage, patriotism, strength, determination, refusal to accept defeat, brains, expertise in all that they did. All through our young lives he told us about those guys. And over the years, it sunk in, I suppose. Morgan and I both made it. I was about twelve when I realized beyond doubt that I was going to become a Navy SEAL. And I knew a lot more about it than most kids of my age. I understood the brutality of the training, the level of fitness required, and the need for super skills in the water. I thought I would be able to handle that. Dad had told us of the importance of marksmanship, and I knew I could do that. SEALs need to be at home in rough country, able to survive, live in the jungle if necessary. We were already good at that. By the age of twelve, Morgan and I were like a couple of wild animals, at home in the great outdoors, at home with a fishing pole and gun, easily able to live off the land. But deep down I knew there was something more required to make it into the worlds top combat teams. And that was a level of fitness and strength that could only be attained by those who actively sought it. Nothing just happens. You always have to strive. In our part of East Texas, there are a lot of past and present special forces guys, quiet, understated iron men, most of them unsung heroes except among their families. But they dont serve in the U.S. Armed Forces for personal recognition or glory. They do it because deep in their granite souls they feel a slight shiver when they see Old Glory fluttering above them on the parade square. The hairs on the backs of their necks stand up when these men hear the national anthem of the United States. When the president walks out to the strains of a U.S. military bands Hail to the Chief, theres a moment of solemnity for each and every one of them for our president, our country, and what our country has meant to the world and the many people who never had a chance without America. These men of the special forces have had other options in their lives, other paths, easier paths they could have taken. But they took the hardest path, that narrow causeway that is not for the sunshine patriot. They took the one for the supreme patriot, the one that may require them to lay down their lives for the United States of America. The one that is suitable only for those who want to serve their country so bad, nothing else matters. Thats probably not fashionable in our celebrity-obsessed modern world. But special forces guys dont give a damn about that either. I guess you have to know them to understand them. And even then its not easy, because most of them are shy, rather than taciturn, and getting any of them to say anything self-congratulatory is close to impossible. They are of course aware of a higher calling, because they are sworn to defend this country and to fight its battles. And when the drum sounds, theyre going to come out fighting. And when it does sound, the hearts of a thousand loved ones miss a beat, and the guys know this as well as anyone. But for them, duty and commitment are stronger than anyones aching heart. And those highly trained warriors automatically pick up their rifles and ammunition and go forward to obey the wishes of their commander in chief. General Douglas MacArthur once warned the cadets of West Point that if they should become the first to allow the Long Gray Line to fail, a million ghosts in olive drab, brown khaki, in blue and gray, would rise from their white crosses thundering those magic words, Duty, Honor, and Country. No need for ghosts in the U.S. Navy SEALs. Those words are engraved upon our hearts. And many such men way down there in East Texas were willing to give up their time for absolutely no reward to show kids what it takes to become a SEAL, a Ranger, or a Green Beret. The one we all knew about was a former Green Beret sergeant who lived close by. His name was Billy Shelton, and if he ever sees this, hell probably die of embarrassment, seeing his name in print on the subject of valor. Billy had a glittering army career in combat with the Green Berets in Vietnam and, later, serving on a government SWAT team. He was one of the toughest men I ever met, and one afternoon just before my fifteenth birthday, I plucked up my courage and went to his house to ask if he could train me to become a Navy SEAL. He was eating his lunch at the time, came to the door still chewing. He was a bull of a man, rippling muscles, fair skin, not carrying one ounce of fat. To my eyes he looked like he could have choke slammed a rhino. I made my hesitant request. And he just looked me up and down and said, Right here. Four, tomorrow afternoon. Then he shut the door in my face. I was a bit young at the time, but the phrase I was groping for was No bullshit, right? Now, everyone in the area knew that Billy trained kids for the special forces. And when he had a group of us running down the street, cars driving by would blow their horns and cheer us on. He always ignored that, and he showed us no mercy. Our program included running with heavy concrete blocks on our shoulders. When Billy thought we were strong enough, we stepped up the pace, running with rubber tires, which felt like theyd just come off the space shuttle or at least that big ole tractor out back. Billy did not hold an exercise class; he operated a full pre-SEAL training program for teenagers. Over the years he had us in the gym pumping iron, hauling the torture machine, the ergometer, pounding the roads, driving our bodies, sweating and straining. Morgan and I were terrified of him. I used to have nightmares when we were due to report to him the next morning, because he drove us without mercy, never mind our extreme youth. We were in a class of maybe a dozen guys, all midteens. Im gonna break you down, mentally and physically, he yelled at us. Break you down, hear me? Then Im gonna build you right back up, as one fighting unit so your mind and body are one. Understand me? Im gonna put you through more pain than youve ever been in. Right about then, half the class ran for their lives rather than face this bulldog, this exTexas Tech tailback who could run like a Mack truck going downhill. He had the support of a local high school, which allowed him to use their gym free of charge to train future special forces from our part of the world. Im not your friend, hed shout. Not right here in this gym. Im here to get you right fit, trained, and ready for the SEALs, or the Berets, or the Rangers. Im not getting one dime from anyone to do this. And thats why youre gonna do it right, just so you dont waste my time. Because if any one of you fails to make the grade in the special forces, it will not be because you were too weak. Because that would mean Id failed, and Im gonna make sure that cannot happen, because right here, failures not an option. Im gonna get you right. All of you. Understand? Hed take us on twelve-mile runs, hauling the concrete blocks till we nearly collapsed. Guys would have blood on the backs of their heads from the chafing. And he never took his eyes off us, never tolerated idleness or lack of concentration. He just made us grind it out, taking it to the limit. Every time. Thats what built my strength, gave me my basis. Thats how I learned the fitness creed of the SEALs. Billy was extremely proud of that; proud to pass on his knowledge. And he asked only for undying devotion to the cause, the discipline of a samurai warrior, and lungs like a pair of bagpipes. He was absolutely relentless, and he really loved Morgan and me, two of only six survivors in the class. Once, when I came back from a tour of duty in Iraq, I went to see him after a couple of weeks easy living and Moms cooking, and he threw me out of the gym! Youre a goddamned fat, pitiful excuse for a SEAL, and I cant stand to look at you! he yelled. Get out of my sight! Holy shit! I was out of there, ran down the stairs, and didnt dare go back until Id dropped eight pounds. No one around here argues with Billy Shelton. The other skill I needed was still to come. No Navy SEAL can operate without a high level of expertise in unarmed combat. Billy told me Id need to take martial-arts classes as soon as possible. And so I found a teacher to work with. All through my grade school and college career, I studied and learned that strange, rather mystical Asian skill. I worked at it for many years instead of becoming involved in other sports. And I attained all of my goals. Morgan says the real truth is I dont know my own strength and should be avoided at all times. By any standards, I had a head start in becoming a Navy SEAL. I was made aware of the task at a young age, and I had two strong engines driving me forward: my dad and Billy Shelton. Everything I learned beyond the schoolroom, down from my early years, seems to have directed me to Coronado. At least, looking back now it seems that way. Everyone understands why theres a huge rate of dropouts among applicants for the SEALs. And when I think of what I went through in the years before I got there, I cant even imagine what it must be like for guys who try out with no prior training. Morgan and I were groomed to be SEALs, but it was never easy. The work is brutally hard, the fitness regimes are as harsh and uncompromising as any program in the free world. The examinations are searching and difficult. Nothing but the highest possible standard is acceptable in the SEAL teams. And perhaps above all, your character is under a microscope at all times; instructors, teachers, senior chiefs, and officers are always watching for the character flaw, the weakness which may one day lead to the compromise of your teammates. We cant stand that. We can stand damn near anything, except that. When someone tells you he is in the SEAL teams, it means he has passed every test, been accepted by some of the hardest taskmasters in the military. And a short nod of respect is in order, because its harder to become a Navy SEAL than it is to get into Harvard Law School. Different, but harder. When someone tells you hes in a SEAL team, you know you are in the presence of a very special cat. Myself, I was just born lucky, somehow fluked my way in with a work ethic bequeathed to me by my dad. The rest of those guys are the gods of the U.S. Armed Forces. And in faraway foreign fields, they serve their nation as required, on demand, and mostly without any recognition whatsoever. They would have it no other way, because they understand no other way. Accolades just wash off them, they shy away from the spotlight, but in the end they have one precious reward when their days of combat are over, they know precisely who they are and what they stand for. Thats rare. And no one can buy it. Back in the C-130, crossing into the southern wastes of the Regestan Desert, the gods of the U.S. Armed Forces with whom I traveled were asleep, except for the beach god Shane, who was still rockin. Somewhere out in the darkness, to our starboard side, was the Pakistani city of Quetta, which used to be quite important when the Brits ran the place. They had a big army staff college down there, and for three years in the mid-1930s, Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery, later the victor of the Battle of Ala-mein, taught there. Which proves, I suppose, that Im as much addicted to military trivia as I am to the smart-ass remark. However, we stayed on the left-hand, Afghanistan side of the border, I think, and continued on above the high western slopes of the great range of the Hindu Kush mountains. The most southerly peak, the one nearest the desert, is 11,000 feet high. After that it gets pretty steep, and it was to those mountains we were headed. Way below us was the important city of Kandahar, which a few weeks later, on June 1, 2005, was the scene of one of the most terrible Taliban attacks of the year. One of their suicide bombers killed twenty people in Kandahars principal mosque. In that central-city disaster, they killed the security chief of Kabul, who was attending the funeral of an anti-Taliban cleric who had been killed three days earlier by a couple of guys on a motorbike. I think that Chief Healy and myself, in particular, were well aware of the dangers in this strife-torn country. And we realized the importance of our coming missions, to halt the ever-burgeoning influx of Taliban recruits streaming in over the high peaks of the Hindu Kush and to capture their leaders for interrogation. The seven-hour journey from Bahrain seemed endless, and we were still an hour or more south of Kabul, crawling north high above the treacherous border that leads directly to the old Khyber Pass and then to the colossal peaks and canyons of the northern Hindu Kush. After that, the mountains swerve into Tajikstan and China, later becoming the western end of the Himalayas. I was reading my guidebook, processing and digesting facts like an Agatha Christie detective. Chaman, Zhob, key entry points for the Taliban and for bin Ladens al Qaeda as they fled the American bombs and ground troops. These tribesmen drove their way over sixteen-thousand-foot mountains, seeking help from the disgruntled Baluchistan chiefs, who were now bored sideways by Pakistan and Afghanistan, Great Britain, Iran, the U.S.A., Russia, and anyone else who tried to tell them what to do. Our area of operations would be well north of there, and I spent the final hours of the journey trying to glean some data. But it was hard to come by. Trouble is, theres not much happening in those mountains, not many small towns and very few villages. Funny, really. Not much was happening, and yet, in another way, every damn thing in the world was happening: plots, plans, villainy, terrorism, countless schemes to attack the West, especially the United States. There were cells of Taliban warriors just waiting for their chance to strike against the government. There were bands of al Qaeda swarming around a leader hardly anyone had seen for several years. The Taliban wanted power in Afghanistan again; bin Ladens mob wanted death and destruction of U.S. citizens, uniformed or not. One way or another, they were all a goddamned nightmare, and one that was growing progressively worse. Which was why they sent for us. In the weeks before our arrival, there had been widespread incidents of violence, confirming everyones dread that the generally hated Taliban was once more on the rise and a serious threat to the new government of Afghanistan. Even with the support of thirty thousand U.S. and NATO troops, President Hamid Karzai struggled to control the country anywhere outside of Kabul. A few weeks earlier, in February, the Taliban flatly announced they were increasing their attacks on the government as soon as the weather improved. And from then on they launched a series of drive-by shootings and bombings, usually directed at local officials and pro-government clergy. In the south and over to the east, they started ambushing American soldiers. Its a strange word, Taliban. Everyones heard it, like insurgent, Sunni, ayatollah, or Taiwan. But what does Taliban really stand for? Ive suffered with them, what you might describe as close encounters of the most god-awful type. And Ive done a lot of reading. The facts fit the reality. Those guys are evil, murderous religious fanatics, each one of them with an AK-47 and a bloodlust. You can trust me on that one. The Taliban have been in prominence since 1994. Their original leader was a village clergyman named Mullah Mohammad Omar, a tough guy who lost his right eye fighting the occupying forces of the Soviet Union in the 1980s. By the mid-90s, the Talibans prime targets in Afghanistan before I showed up were the feuding warlords who (a) formed the mujahideen and (b) threw the Soviets out of the country. The Taliban made two major promises which they would carry out once in power: to restore peace and security, and to enforce sharia, or Islamic law. Afghans, weary of the mujahideens excesses and infighting, welcomed the Taliban, which enjoyed much early success, stamping out corruption, curbing lawlessness, and making the roads safe for commerce to flourish. This applied to all areas that came under their control. They began their operation in the southwestern city of Kandahar and moved quickly into other parts of the country. They captured the province of Herat, which borders Iran, in September 1995. And one year later, their armies took the Afghan capital of Kabul, overthrowing the regime of President Burhanuddin Rabbani and his defense minister, Ahmed Shah Massoud. By 1998, they were in control of almost 90 percent of the country. Once in power, however, the Taliban showed their true colors. They set up one of the most authoritarian administrations on earth, one that tolerated no opposition to their hard-line policies. Ancient Islamic punishments, like public executions for convicted murderers and amputations at the wrist for those charged with theft, were immediately introduced. I cannot even think about the penalty a rapist or an adulterer might anticipate. Television, music, sports, and cinema were banned, judged by the Taliban leaders to be frivolities. Girls age ten and above were forbidden to go to school; working women were ordered to stay at home. Men were required to grow beards, women had to wear the burka. These religious policies earned universal notoriety as the Taliban strived to restore the Middle Ages in a nation longing to join the twenty-first century. Their policies concerning human rights were outrageous and brought them into direct conflict with the international community. But there was another issue, which would bring about their destruction. And that was their role in playing host to Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda movement. In August 1998 Islamic fanatics bombed the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing more than 225 people. Washington immediately presented the Taliban leaders with a difficult choice either expel bin Laden, who was held responsible for the bombings by the U.S. government, or face the consequences. The Taliban flatly refused to hand over their Saudi-born guest, who was providing them with heavy funding. President Bill Clinton ordered a missile attack on the main bin Laden training camp in southern Afghanistan, which failed to kill its leader. Then in 1999 the United States persuaded the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions on Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. Two years later, even harsher sanctions were put in place in another attempt to force the Taliban to hand over bin Laden. Nothing worked. Not sanctions nor the denial of Afghanistans U.N. seat. The Taliban were still in power, and they were still hiding Osama bin Laden, but their isolation, political and diplomatic, was becoming total. But the Taliban would not budge. They took their isolation as a badge of honor and decided to go whole hog with an even more fundamentalist regime. The poor Afghan people realized too late what they had done: handed over the entire country to a group of bearded lunatics who were trying to inflict upon them nothing but stark human misery and who controlled every move they made under their brutal, repressive, draconian rule. The Taliban were so busy trying to enslave the citizens, they forgot about the necessity for food, and there was mass starvation. One million Afghans fled the country as refugees. All of this was understood by the West. Almost. But it took horrific shock, delivered in March 2001, to cause genuine inter-national outrage. That was when the Taliban blasted sky-high the two monumental sixth-century statues of the Bamiyan Buddhas, one of them 180 feet high, the other 120 feet, carved out of a mountain in central Afghanistan, 143 miles northwest of Kabul. This was tantamount to blowing up the Pyramids of Giza. The statues were hewn directly from sandstone cliffs right in Bamiyan, which is situated on the ancient Silk Road, the caravan route which linked the markets of China and central Asia with those of Europe, the Middle East, and south Asia. It was also one of the revered Buddhist religious sites, dating back to the second century and once home to hundreds of monks and many monasteries. The two statues were the largest standing Buddha carvings on earth. And their summary destruction by the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan caused museum directors and curators all over the world to have about four hemorrhages apiece. The Taliban effectively told the whole lot of them to shove it. Whose statues were they, anyway? Besides, they were planning to destroy all the statues in Afghanistan, on the grounds they were un-Islamic. The Bamiyan Buddhas were destroyed in accordance with sharia law. Only Allah the Almighty deserves to be worshipped, not anyone or anything else. Wraps that up then, right? Praise Allah and pass the high explosive. The blasting of the Buddhas firmed up world opinion that something had to be done about Afghanistans rulers. But it took another explosion to provoke savage action against them. That took place on September 11, the same year, and was the beginning of the end for the Taliban and bin Ladens al Qaeda. Before the dust had settled on lower Manhattan, the United States demanded the Taliban hand over bin Laden for masterminding the attack on U.S. soil. Again the Taliban refused, perhaps not realizing that the new(ish) U.S. president, George W. Bush, was a very different character from Bill Clinton. Less than one month later, on October 7, the Americans, leading a small coalition force, unleashed an onslaught against Afghanistan that shook that area of the world to its foundations. U.S. military intelligence located all of the al Qaeda camps in the mountains of the northeast part of the country, and the military let fly with one of the biggest aerial bombardments in modern warfare. It began with fifty cruise missiles launched from U.S. warships and Royal Navy submarines. At the same time, long after dark in Afghanistan, twenty-five carrier-based aircraft and fifteen land-based bombers took off and destroyed Taliban air defenses, communications infrastructure, and the airports at Kabul, Jalalabad, Kandahar, and Herat. The U.S. bombs blasted the big radar installations and obliterated the control tower in Kandahar. This was the city where Mullah Omar lived, and a navy bomber managed to drop one dead in the middle of his backyard. That one-eyed ole bastard escaped, though. The Taliban, its military headquarters now on fire, did own a somewhat insignificant air-strike capacity, just a few aircraft and helicopters, and the U.S. Air Force wiped that right out with smart bombs as a matter of routine. Navy bombers taking off from the carriers targeted the Talibans other military hardware, heavy vehicles, tanks, and fuel dumps. Land-based B-1, B-2, and B-52 bombers were also in the air, the B-52s dropping dozens of five-hundred-pound gravity bombs on al Qaeda terrorist training camps in eastern Afghanistan, way up in the border mountains where we would soon be visiting. One of the prime U.S. objectives was the small inventory of surface-to-air missiles and shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles, stolen from either the Russians or the old mujahideen. These were hard to locate, and various caches were removed by the tribesmen and hidden in the mountains. Hidden, sadly, for use another day. One hour after that nighttime bombardment began, the Northern Alliance opened fire with a battery of rockets from an air base twenty-five miles north of Kabul. They aimed them straight at Taliban forces in the city. There were five thunderous explosions and all electric power was knocked out throughout the capital. But the United States never took its eye off the ball. The true objective was the total destruction of al Qaeda and the leader who had engineered the infamous attack on the Twin Towers the Pearl Harbor of the twenty-first century, as the president described it. And that meant a massive strike on the sinister network of caves and underground tunnels up in the mountains, where bin Laden made his headquarters. The cruise missiles had softened up the area, but that was only the start. The real heavyweight punch from the worlds only superpower would come in the form of a gigantic bomb the BLU-82B/C-130, known as Commando Vault in Vietnam and now nicknamed Daisy Cutter. This is a high-altitude, fifteen-thousand-pound conventional bomb that needs to be delivered from the huge MC-130 aircraft because it is far too heavy for the bomb racks on any other attack aircraft. This thing is awesome. It was originally designed to create instant clearings for helicopter landings in the jungle. Its purpose in Afghanistan was as an antipersonnel weapon up in those caves. Its lethal radius is colossal, probably nine hundred feet. Its flash and sound is obvious from literally miles away. The BLU-82B is the largest conventional bomb ever built and, of course, leaves no nuclear fallout. (For the record, the Hiroshima atom bomb was a thousand times more powerful.) On the upside, the Daisy Cutter is extremely reliable, no problems with wind speed or thermal gradient. Its conventional explosive technique incorporates both agent and oxidizer. It is not fuel-air explosive, like the old FAE systems used for much, much smaller bombs. Its nearly twelve feet long and more than four feet wide. The BLU-82B depends on precise positioning of the delivery aircraft, coordinates gotten from fixed ground radar or onboard navigation equipment. The aircraft must be perfectly positioned prior to final countdown and release. The navigator needs to make dead-accurate ballistic and wind computations. The massive blast effect of the bomb means it cannot be released below an altitude of 6,000 feet. Its warhead, containing 12,600 pounds of low-cost GSX slurry (ammonium nitrate, aluminum powder, and polystyrene), is detonated by a 38-inch fuse extender a few feet above ground level, so it wont dig a crater. The entire blast blows outward, producing overpressure of 1,000 pounds per square inch. Hence the nickname Daisy Cutter. The United States has never specified how many of these things were dropped on the Tora Bora area of the White Mountains, where the al Qaeda camps were located. But there were at least four, maybe seven. The first one, according to a public announcement by the Pentagon, was dropped after a reported sighting of bin Laden. We can only imagine the crushing effect such a blast would have inside the caves where the al Qaeda high command and senior leadership operated. Wouldnt have been too good even if you were standing in the middle of a field but a cave! Jesus, thats brutal. That thing wiped out hundreds of the enemy at a time. The United States really did a number on the Taliban, flattened their stronghold in Kunduz in the north, shelled them out of the Shomali Plains north of Kabul, carpet bombed them anywhere they could be located around the Bagram air base, where, four years later, we were headed in the C-130. In the fall of 2001, the Taliban and al Qaeda were mostly fleeing the U.S. offensive or surrendering. In the subsequent years, they drifted together on the other side of the Pakistani border, reformed, and began their counteroffensive to retake Afghanistan. Somehow these hickory-tough tribesmen not only survived the onslaught of American bombing and escaped from the advancing Northern Alliance, but they also evaded one of the biggest manhunts in the history of warfare as an increasingly frustrated United States moved heaven and earth to capture bin Laden, Mullah Omar, and the rest. I guess their propensity to run like hell from strong opposition and their rapid exit into the Pakistani mountains on the other side of the border allowed them to limit their human and material resources. It also bought them time. And while they undoubtedly lost many of their followers after a front-row view of what the American military could and would do, they also had many months to begin recruiting and training a brand-new generation of supporters. And now they were back as an effective fighting army, launching guerrilla operations against the U.S.-led coalition forces only four years after theyd lost power, been driven into exile, and had nearly been annihilated. As we prepared for our final approach to the great, sprawling U.S. base at Bagram, the Taliban were once again out there, killing aid workers and kidnapping foreign construction workers. Parts of eastern and southern Afghanistan have been officially designated unsafe due to increasingly daring Taliban attacks. There was evidence they were extending their area of influence, working closely again with bin Ladens al Qaeda, forging new alliances with other rebel groups and anti-government warlords. Same way theyd grabbed power last time, right? Back in 1996. Only this time they had one principal ambition before seizing power, and that was to destabilize the U.S.-led coalition forces and eventually drive them out of Afghanistan forever. I ought to mention the Pashtuns, the worlds oldest living tribal group; there are about forty-two million of them. Twenty-eight million live in Pakistan, and 12.5 million of them live in Afghanistan; thats 42 percent of the entire population. There are about 88,000 living in Britain and 44,000 in the U.S.A. In Afghanistan, they live primarily in the mountains of the northeast, and they also have heavily populated areas in the east and south. They are a proud people who adhere to Islam and live by a strict code of honor and culture, observing rules and laws known as Pashtunwalai, which has kept them straight for two thousand years. They are also the quintessential supporters of the Taliban. Their warriors form the backbone of the Taliban forces, and their families grant those forces shelter in high mountain villages, protecting them and providing refuge in places that would appear almost inaccessible to the Western eye. That, by the way, does not include U.S. Navy SEALs, who do have Western eyes but who dont do inaccessible. We can get in anywhere. Its easy to see why the Pashtuns and the Taliban get along just fine. The Pashtuns were the tribe who refused to buckle under to the army of the Soviet Union. They just kept fighting. In the nineteenth century, they fought the British to the verge of surrender and then drove them back into Pakistan. Three hundred years before that, they wiped out the army of Akbar the Great, the most fearsome of Indias Mogul rulers. Those Pashtuns are proud of their stern military heritage, and its worth remembering that in all the centuries of bitter, savage warfare in Baluchistan, during which time they were never subdued, half the population was always Pashtun. The concept of tribal heritage is very rigid. It involves bloodlines, amazing lineages that stretch back through the centuries, generation after generation. You cant join a tribe in the way you can become an American citizen. Tribes dont hand out green cards or passports. You either are, or you arent. Language, traditions, customs, and culture play a part, but, I repeat, you cant join the Pashtuns. And that gives them all a steel rod of dignity and self-esteem. Their villages may not be straightforward military strongholds as the Taliban desire, but the Pashtuns are not easily intimidated. The people are organized strictly by relationships; male relationships, that is. The tribal lineage descends from the fathers side, the male ancestors. I understand they dont give a damn for Mom and her ancestors. Inheritances are strictly for the boys, and land rights go directly to sons. They have a proverb that says a lot: I against my brothers; my brothers and I against my cousins; my brothers, my cousins, and I against the world. Thats how they do it. The tight military formation has, again and again, allowed them to knock eight bells out of more sophisticated invaders. The tribal code, Pashtunwalai, has heavy demands: hospitality, generosity, and the duty to avenge even the slightest insult. Life among the Pashtuns is demanding it depends on the respect of your peers, relatives, and allies. And that can be dangerous. Only the tribes principles of honor stand in the way of anarchy. A tribesman will fight or even kill in order to avoid dishonor to himself and his family. And killing throws the whole system into confusion, because death must be avenged; killers and their families are under permanent threat. Which puts a big air brake on violence. According to the learned Charles Lindhorn, a professor of anthropology at Boston University, homicide rates among the Pashtun tribes are way lower than homicide rates in urban areas of the United States. I am grateful to the professor for his teachings on this subject. The Taliban creed comes right out of the Pashtun handbook: women are the wombs of patrilineage, the fountainheads of tribal honor and continuity. Their security and chaste way of life is the only guarantee of the purity of the lineage. This seclusion of women is known as purdah, and it is designed to keep women concealed, maintaining the household, and it gives them a high sense of honor. Purdah represents the status of belonging. A womans husband can go fight the invaders while she controls the household, enjoying the love and respect of her sons, expecting one day to rule as matriarch over her daughters-in-law and their children. Thats the basis of the Taliban view of women. And I guess it works fine up in the Hindu Kush, but it might not go over too well in downtown Houston. Anyway, theres been a lot of terrible fighting on the Pashtuns lands, mostly by outsiders. But the ole Pashtunwalai has kept them intact. Their tradition of generous hospitality, perhaps their finest virtue, includes the concept of lokhay warkawal. It means giving of a pot. It implies protection for an individual, particularly in a situation where the tribe might be weaker than its enemies. When a tribe accepts lokhay, it undertakes to safeguard and protect that individual from an enemy at all costs. I, perhaps above all other Western visitors, have reason to be eternally grateful for it. We were on our final approach to the enormous U.S. base at Bagram. Everyone was awake now, seven hours after we left Bahrain. It was daylight, and down below we could see at last the mountains we had heard so much about and among which we would be operational in the coming weeks. There was still snow on the high peaks, glittering white in the rising sun. And below the snow line, the escarpments looked very steep. We were too high to pick up villages on the middle slopes, but we knew they were there, and thats where we were probably going in the not too distant future. The huge runway at Bagram runs right down the side of the complex, past hundreds and hundreds of bee huts, lines and lines of them. On the ground we could see parked aircraft and a whole lot of Chinook helicopters. We didnt worry about whom wed have to share with. SEALs are always billeted together, separate from anyone else, thus avoiding loose talk about highly classified missions. All of our missions are, of course, highly classified, and we do not talk loosely, but other branches of the services are not so stringently trained as we are, and no one takes any chances. Here we were at last, in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, a country the size of Texas, landlocked on all sides, protected by the granite walls of mountains, war torn for years and years and still at it. Just like always, warlords were trying to drive out the usurpers. Us. And we werent even usurping, just trying to stop another bloody tribal upheaval and another regime change from the elected to the dictators. Boy. It seemed like a hell of a task. But we were excited. This was what we joined for. In truth, we could hardly wait to get down there and get on with it. And in a sense, it was pretty simple. We somehow had to get out into those infamous mountain passes and put a stop to this clandestine infiltration of faceless tribal warriors making their way across the border, doggedly, silently, prepared to fight at the drop of a turban. We knew their track record, and we knew they could move around the mountains very quickly. They had dominated those slopes, caves, and hideouts for centuries, turning them into impregnable military strongholds against all comers. And they had already faced the SEALs in open combat up there, because the SEALs had been first in. They would be prepared, we knew that. But like all SEAL operational teams, we believed we were better than everyone else, so the goddamned Taliban had better watch it. Danny, Shane, James, Axe, Mikey, and I. We were here on business, trained to the minute, armed to the teeth, all set to drive the armies of the Taliban and al Qaeda right back to where they came from, seize the leaders, and get rid of anyone too dangerous to live. And restore order to the mountains. I was eight thousand miles from home, but I could e-mail my family and loved ones. I was a bit light on home comforts, but I had in my rucksack a DVD player and a DVD of my favorite movie, The Count of Monte Cristo, from the novel by Alexandre Dumas p?re. Its always an inspiration to me, always raises my spirits to watch one brave, innocent mans lonely fight against overpowering forces of evil in an unforgiving world. Thats my kind of stuff. Backs to the wall. Never give in. Courage, risks, daring beyond compare. I never thought my own problems would very shortly mirror, albeit briefly, those of Edmond Dant?s and the hopelessness of his years in the grim island fortress of Chateau dIf. And I never thought those unforgettable words he carved with flintstones, into the granite walls of the cruelest of jails, would also provide me with hope; a forlorn hope, but hope nonetheless. During the peril of my own darkest hours, I thought of those words over and over, more times than I care to admit: God will give me justice. 3 A School for Warriors It was pitch dark, and he was wearing sunglasses, wraparound, shiny black.Most of you arent going to be here in a couple of months, said Instructor Reno.If you guys dont start pulling together as a team, none of you will be here. The six SEALs from Bahrain landed in Bagram, in northeast Afghanistan, shortly after first light. I realize I have just spent two entire chapters essentially pointing out what a momentous event that was, our arrival to work with the elite mountain troops of the U.S. Army. It has occurred to me that you might be wondering why we thought we were so goddamned superior to everyone else, why we felt entitled to our own private brand of arrogance. Not wishing to be haunted by anyones doubts about me and my teammates, I propose to explain right now, before we get moving, precisely why we felt this way about the world. Its not some form of premature triumph, and it would be absurd to call it mere confidence. That would be like calling the Pacific wet. Its a higher form of consciousness, and I do not mean that to be pretentious. Its been said that only the very rich understand the difference between themselves and the poor, and only the truly brilliant understand the difference between themselves and the relatively dumb. Well, only men who have gone through what we went through can understand the difference between us and the rest. In the military, even the rest understand what it takes to scale the heights of combat excellence. And in my case, it started inauspiciously. Way down on the ranch, with Mom in tears, refusing to leave the house to see me go. March 7, 1999. I was twenty-three. To say that I was not making amazing headway in my hometown would be an understatement. The reputation Morgan and I had was not assisting either of us. There were always guys showing up wondering how tough we really were. I guess my dad considered it a matter of time before one of us was faced with a low-flying pugilist and either hurt someone badly or got badly hurt himself. And so I decided to get out of town and join the U.S. Navy SEALs. Morgan thought it was a great idea, and he introduced me to a recruiting officer in a nearby town, Petty Officer First Class Beau Walsh. He steered me down to the military enlistment processing station in Houston; thats navy recruitment. Naturally, I told them immediately there was no need for me to attend boot camp. I was already way too advanced for that. Yessir, Ill go straight to Coronado, where the big dogs eat. Thats what Im all about, Im a half-trained SEAL already. They sent me directly to boot camp. I signed the papers and prepared to report for duty in a few days. As I left the ranch, it was not a real ceremony of departure, but everyone was there, including Beau Walsh and Billy Shelton. As previously stated, Mom caved in and retreated to the house, unable to witness the departure of her baby. That was me. My destination was more than a thousand miles to the north, Navy Recruit Training Command (RTC) in Great Lakes, Illinois. And I can truthfully say, it was where I spent the most miserable eight weeks of my entire life. I had never even seen snow, and I arrived in the middle of the worst blizzard that boot camp had seen in eleven years. It was like sending a Zulu to the North Pole. That wind and snow came howling in across Lake Michigan, blasting its way onto the western shore where we were situated, thirty-five miles north of Chicago. Right on the water. I could not believe the sheer misery of that freezing weather. The camp was a gigantic place, with hundreds of recruits trying to make that miraculous transformation from civilian to U.S. Navy sailor. It was a drastic metamorphosis, both mental and physical, and it would have been difficult enough in fine weather. But in that ice, snow, and wind, Jesus. Words fail me. Id never needed winter clothes, and I had none. I remember being extremely pleased when the navy issued everyone the right gear thick socks, boots, dark blue trousers, shirts, sweaters, and coats. They told us how to fold and store everything, showed us how to make our bunks every morning. Without missing a beat, they put us straight into physical training, running, working out, marching, drilling, and many classes. I didnt have much trouble, and I excelled in the swimming pool. The requirements were to enter the water feetfirst from a minimum height of five feet, remain afloat for five minutes, and then swim fifty yards using any stroke. I could have done that in my sleep, especially without having to worry about the occasional alligator or water moccasin. The running would not have been that bad in decent weather, but the campus was absolutely frigid, and the wind off the lake was cutting. A penguin would have had trouble out there. We ran through snow, marched through snow, and made our way to classes through snow. In that first week, while we were trying to avoid freezing to death, they instilled in us three words which have been with me ever since. Honor, Courage, Commitment, the motto of the United States Navy, the core values that immediately became the ideals we all lived by. I can remember to this day an instructor telling us, What you make of this experience here at Great Lakes is what will make you as a person. He was right. I hope. In the second week, they put us through the Confidence Course. This is designed to simulate emergency conditions in a U.S. Navy warship. They taught us to be sharp, self-reliant, and, above all, to make key decisions on which our lives and those of our shipmates might depend. That word: teamwork. It dominates and infiltrates every single aspect of life in the navy. In boot camp, they dont just tell you, they indoctrinate you. Teamwork. It was the new driving force in all of our lives. Week three, they put us on board a landbound training ship. Everything was hands-on training. We learned the name of nearly every working part of that ship. They taught us first aid techniques, signaling ship to ship with flags (semaphore). We spent a lot of time in the classroom, where we focused on navy customs and courtesies, the laws of armed conflict, shipboard communication, ship and aircraft identification, and basic seamanship. All this was interspersed with physical training tests, sit-ups, sit-reaches, and push-ups. I was fine with all of those, but the one-and-a-half-mile run in that weather would have tested the stamina of a polar bear. They told us anyone who failed could come back and take it again. I decided I would rather run barefoot across the Arctic than take it again. Gave it my all. Passed, thank God. During week four, we got our hands on some weaponry for the first time the M16 rifle. I was pretty quick with that part of the course, especially on the live-fire range. After that, the navy concentrated on which path through the service everyone wanted to take. That was also easy for me. Navy SEALs. No bullshit, right? The firefighting and shipboard damage-control course came next. And we all learned how to extinguish fires, escape smoke-filled compartments, open and close watertight doors, operate the oxygen breathing apparatus, and move fire hoses around. The last part was the worst the Confidence Chamber. You get in there with your class and put on a gas mask. Then someone unleashes a tear-gas tablet, and you have to take off your mask, throw it in a trash can, and recite your full name and Social Security number. Every single recruit who joins the navy has to endure that exercise. At the end, the instructors make it clear: you have what it takes. Theres a place in the navy for you. The final task is called battle stations. Teams are presented with twelve situations, all of which have been addressed during the previous weeks. This is where they grade the recruits, individually and as teams. When youve completed this, the trainers present you with a U.S. Navy ball cap, and that tells the world you are now a sailor. You have proved you belong, proved you have the right stuff. The following week, I graduated, in my brand-new dress uniform. I remember passing the mirror and hardly recognizing myself. Standing tall, right there. Theres something about graduating from boot camp; I guess its mostly pride in yourself. But you also know a lot of people couldnt have done it. Makes you feel pretty good. Especially someone like me, whose major accomplishment thus far had involved hurling some half-drunk cowboy out of an East Texas bar and into the street on his ear. After I graduated, I flew immediately to San Diego, headed to Coronado Island and the navy amphibious base. I made my way there alone, a couple of weeks early, and spent my time organizing my uniforms, gear, and rooms, and trying to get into some sort of shape. Most of us had lost a lot of condition at boot camp because the weather was so bad. You couldnt just jog outside and go for a run because of the blizzards and the deep snow. Perhaps you remember that very brave guy who made the journey to the South Pole with the Royal Navy officer, Robert Falcon Scott, in 1912. He believed he was hindering the entire team because of his frostbite. Captain Oates was his name, and he crawled out into a raging blizzard one night with the immortal words, I am going outside now. I may be gone for some time. They never found his body, and I have never forgotten reading his words. Guts-ball, right? Well, going outside at Great Lakes would have been a bit like that, and almost as brave. Unlike the gallant captain, we stayed by the heater. And now we were going for runs along the beach, trying to get in shape for the first week of Indoctrination. Thats the two-week course known as Indoc, where the SEALs prepare you for the fabled BUD/S course (Basic Underwater Demolition/-SEALs). That one lasts for seven months and is a lot harder than Indoc. But if you cant get through the initial pretraining endurance test, then you ought not to be in Coronado, and they dont want you anyway. The official navy literature about the reason for Indoc reads: To physically, mentally and environmentally prepare qualified SEAL candidates to begin BUD/S training. Generally speaking, the instructors do not turn on the pressure during Indoc. Youre only revving up for the upcoming trial by fire. But they still make it very tough for everyone, officers and enlisted men alike. The SEAL programs make no distinction between commissioned officers coming in from the fleet and the rest of us. Were all in it together, and the first thing they instill in you at Indoc is that you will live and train as a class, as a team. Sorry. Did I say instill in you? I meant, ram home with a jack-hammer. Teamwork. They slam that word at you every other minute. Teamwork. Teamwork. Teamwork. This is also where you first understand the concept of a swim buddy, which in SEAL ethos is an absolutely gigantic deal. You work with your buddy as a team. You never separate, not even to go to the john. In IBS (that stands for inflatable boat, small) training, if one of you falls over the side into the freezing ocean, the other joins him. Immediately. In the pool, you are never more than an arms length away. Later on, in the BUD/S course proper, you can be failed out of hand, thrown out, for not staying close enough to your swim buddy. This all comes back to that ironclad SEAL folklore we never leave a man behind on the battlefield, dead or alive. No man is ever alone. Whatever the risk to the living, however deadly the opposing fire, SEALs will fight through the jaws of death to recover the remains of a fallen comrade. Its a maxim that has survived since the SEALs were first formed in 1962, and it still applies today. Its a strange thing really, but its not designed to help widows and parents of lost men. Its designed for the SEALs who actually do the fighting. Theres something about coming home, and we all want to achieve that, preferably alive. But there is a certain private horror about being killed and then left behind in a foreign land, no grave at home, no loved ones to visit your final resting place. I know that sounds kind of nuts, but nonetheless, its true. Every one of us treasures that knowledge: No matter what, I will not be left behind, I will be taken home. We are all prepared to give everything. And in the end it does not seem too much to ask in return, since we fight, almost without exception, on the enemys ground, not our own. That World War I English poet and serving soldier Rupert Brooke understood the Brits do not traditionally bring home their war dead. And he expressed it right: If I should die, think only this of me: / That theres some corner of a foreign field / That is forever England. Theres not a Navy SEAL anywhere in the world who does not understand those lines and why Brooke wrote them. Its a sacred promise to us from our high command. Thats why it gets drummed into us from the very first day in Coro-nado you are not going to be alone. Ever. And youre not going to leave your swim buddy alone. I suffered a minor setback in the early part of that summer when I was in Class 226. I managed to fall from about fifty feet up a climbing rope and really hurt my thigh. The instructor rushed up to me and demanded, You want to quit? Negative, I responded. Then get right back up there, he said. I climbed again, fell again, but somehow I kept going. The leg hurt like hell, but I kept training for another couple of weeks before the medics diagnosed a cracked femur! I was immediately on crutches but still hobbling along the beach and into the surf with the rest of them. Battle conditions, right? Eventually, when the leg healed, I was put back and then joined BUD/S Class 228 in December for phase two. We lived in a small barracks right behind the BUD/S grinder. Thats the blacktop square where a succession of SEAL instructors have laid waste to thousands of hopes and dreams and driven men to within an inch of their lives. Those instructors have watched men drop, watched them fail, watched them quit, and watched them quietly, with ice-cold, expressionless faces. Thats not heartless; its because they were only interested in the others, the ones who did not crack or quit. The ones who would rather die than quit. The ones with no quit in them. It was only the first day of Indoc, and my little room was positioned right next to the showers. Showers, by the way, is a word so polite its damn near a euphemism. They were showers, okay, but not in the accepted, civilized sense. They were a whole lot closer to a goddamn car wash and were known as the decontamination unit. Someone cranked em up at around 0400, and the howl of compressed air and freezing cold pressurized water forcing its way through those pipes sounded like someone was trying to strangle a steam engine. Jesus. First time I heard it, I thought we were under attack. But I knew the drill: get into my canvas UDT swim trunks and then get under those ice-cold water jets. The shock was unbelievable, and to a man we hated it, and we hated it for as long as we were forced through it. The damn thing was actually designed to power wash our sand-covered gear when we returned from the beach. The shock was reduced somewhat then because everyone had just been in the Pacific Ocean. But right out of bed at four oclock in the morning! Wow! That was beyond reason, and I can still hear the sound of those screaming, hissing water pipes. Freezing cold and wet, we reported to the training pool to roll and stow the covers. Then, shortly before 0500, in the pitch dark, we lined up on the grinder and sat in rows, chest to back, very close, to conserve body heat. There were supposed to be 180 of us, but for various reasons there were only 164 of us assigned. We had a class leader by now, Lieutenant David Ismay, a Naval Academy man and former Rhodes Scholar whod had two years at sea and was now a qualified surface warfare officer. David was desperate to achieve his lifelong dream of becoming a SEAL. He had to do this right. Officers only got one shot at BUD/S. They were supposed to know better than to waste anyones time if they werent up to it. The man we all awaited was our proctor. Thats the instructor assigned to guide us, teach us, torture us, observe us, and get rid of us, if necessary. He was Instructor Reno Alberto, a five-foot-six man-mountain of fitness, discipline, and intelligence. He was a ruthless, cruel, unrelenting taskmaster. And we all grew to love him for two reasons. He was scrupulously fair, and he wanted the best for us. You put out for Instructor Reno, he was just a super guy. You failed to give him your absolute best, hed have you out of there and back to the fleet before you could say, Aye, aye, sir. He arrived at 0500 sharp. And wed have a ritual which was never broken. This was how it went: Feet! shouted the class leader. Feet! An echoing roar ripped into the still night air as nearly 164 of us responded and jumped to our feet, attempting to move into ranks. Instructor Ree-no! called the class leader. Hooyah, Instructor Ree-no! we bellowed as one voice. Get used to that: hooyah. We dont say yes, or right away, or thanks a lot, or understand and will comply. We say hooyah. Its a BUD/S thing, and its origins are lost in antiquity. Theres so many explanations, I wont even go there. Just so you know, thats how students respond to an instructor, in greeting or command acceptance. Hooyah. For some reason, Instructor Reno was the only one who was unfailingly addressed by his first name. All the others were Instructor Peterson or Matthews or Henderson. Only Reno Alberto insisted on being called by his first name. I always thought it was good they didnt call him Fred or Spike. Reno sounded good on him. When he walked onto the grinder that morning, we could tell we were in the presence of a major man. As I mentioned, it was pitch dark and he was wearing sunglasses, wraparound, shiny black. It seemed he never took them off, night or day. Actually, one time I did catch him without them, and as soon as he saw me, he reached into his pocket and immediately put em on again. I think it was because he never wanted us to see the expression in his eyes. Beneath that stern, relentless exterior, he was a superintelligent man and he could not have failed to be amused at the daily Attila the Hun act he put on for us. But he never wanted us to see the amusement in his eyes, and that was why he never showed them. On this dark, slightly misty morning he stood with his arms folded and gazed at the training pool. Then he turned back to us and stared hard. We had no idea what to expect. And Instructor Reno said without expression, Drop. Drop! we roared back. And we all struggled down to the concrete and assumed a position for push-ups, arms extended, bodies outstretched, rigid. Push em out, said Reno. Push-ups, snapped the class leader. Push-ups, we responded. Down. One. Down. Two. We counted out every one of the twenty push-ups in the set then returned to the rest position, arms outstretched. The class leader called out, Instructor Ree-no. Hooyah, Instructor Ree-no, we roared. He ignored us. Then said quietly, Push em out. As he did twice more, at which point he left us with muscles on fire in the straight-arm, outstretched rest position. He actually left us there for almost five minutes, and everyones arms were throbbing. Eighty push-ups and now this new kind of agony, which ended only when he said, very slowly, very quietly, Recover. We all yelled, Feet! in response, and somehow we stood up without falling over. Then David Ismay called out the wrong number of men present. Not his fault. Someone had simply vanished. Reno was onto young Dave in a flash. I dont quite remember what he said, but his phrase contained the loud pronunciation of the word wrong. And he ordered Lieutenant Ismay and our leading petty officer student, Drop, and push em out. I remember that first day like it happened this week. We sat and watched Dave complete his push-ups. And when theyd done it, damn near exhausted, they called out, Hooyah, Instructor Reno! Push em out, said Reno softly. And, somehow, they set off on twenty more repetitions of this killer discipline. Finally they finished, doubtless wondering, like the rest of us, what the hell they had let themselves in for. But I bet they never called out the wrong number of men present ever again. I now understand that SEAL ethos every officer, commissioned or noncommissioned, must know the whereabouts of every single one of his men. No mistakes. At that early stage in our training, our class leader, David Ismay, did not know. Reno, whod only been with us for about fifteen minutes, did. Again, he surveyed his kingdom and then spoke flatly. Most of you arent going to be here in a couple of months, said Instructor Reno. And, as if blaming each and every one of us individually for the wrong head count, he added, If you guys dont start pulling together as a team, none of you will be here. He then told us we were again about to take the basic BUD/S screening test. I graphically recall him reminding us wed all passed it once in order to make it this far. If you cant pass it again this morning, he added, youll be back in the fleet as soon as we can ship you out. At this stage, no one was feeling.well.wanted. In fact, we were beginning to feel abandoned in this world-renowned military coliseum a coliseum where someone was about to bring on the lions. Before us was the five-point screening test: 1. A 500-yard swim, breaststroke or sidestroke, in 12 minutes, 30 seconds 2. A minimum of 42 push-ups in 2 minutes 3. A minimum of 50 sit-ups in 2 minutes 4. A minimum of 6 dead-hang pull-ups 5. A 1.5-mile run in 11 minutes, 30 seconds, done while wearing boots and long pants Only one guy failed to complete. In fact, most of us did markedly better than we had the first time. I recall I managed close to eighty push-ups and a hundred sit-ups. I guess the apparition of Billy Shelton was standing hard by my shoulder, trying to frighten the life out of me and ready to throw me out of the navy if I blew it. More important, Instructor Reno was watching us with eyes like a fighter jets radar. He told me several months later he knew I was putting out for him. Made up his mind about me right then and there. Told me hed never changed it either. Good decision. I give it everything. On time. Every time. Might not always be good enough, but its always my very best shot. Looking back, Im not sure that early test showed very much. There were a lot of heavily muscled, bodybuilding types who looked pretty ferocious. I remember they were among the very first to go, because they just couldnt hack it. Their legs and upper bodies were just too heavy. The SEALs do place a premium on brute strength, but theres an even bigger premium on speed. Thats speed through the water, speed over the ground, and speed of thought. Theres no prizes for a gleaming set of well-oiled muscles in Coronado. Bulk just makes you slow, especially in soft sand, and thats what we had to tackle every day of our lives, mile after mile. On this first morning of Class 226, we immediately learned another value peculiar to BUD/S. We dont stroll, walk, or even jog. We run. We actually run like hell. Everywhere. All day. Remember that great Tom Hanks line in A League of Their Own, Theres no crying in baseball? Well, we have a line in Coronado: Theres no walking in BUD/S. Our first encounter with this cruel and heartless rule came when it was time for breakfast. The chow hall was a mile away, so we had to run two miles there and back for a plate of toast, eggs, and bacon. Same for lunch. Same for dinner. For anyone mathematically challenged, thats six miles every day just to find something to eat, nothing to do with our regular daily training runs, which often added up to another eight miles. That morning we ran in formation all the way across the naval amphibious base to the Special Warfare Center. And there Instructor Reno, after about a thousand push-ups and God knows what else, finally had us seated and paying attention in a manner which satisfied him. This was not easy, because he had eyes like a sea eagle and some kind of a high-flying business degree from USC. He knew precisely what was required, and he missed nothing. And right here I needed to remember a lesson drummed into me from an early age by Billy Shelton: when a special forces commander makes even a slight reference to an issue that may be helpful, listen and then do it. Even if it was an aside, not a proper command, maybe even starting with I think it might be a good idea . . . Always pay attention and then carry out the task, no matter how minor it may seem. Billys point was that these SF instructors were looking for the best, and it might be only small things that separate guys who are very good from guys who are absolutely excellent, outstanding. Listen, Marcus, Billy told me, always listen, and always jump all over anything your instructor tells you. Get out in front. Fast. Then make sure you stay there. Well, that morning, Instructor Reno pulled himself up to his full height of about fifteen feet, in my eyes, and told us he wanted to talk to us briefly, and we better pay attention. Better yet, take notes. I was into my zipper bag instantly, getting hold of a dry notebook and a couple of pencils, the lesson of Billy Shelton ringing in my ears: even an aside, even a suggestion, do it. I looked around the room, and a few others were doing the same as I was, but not everyone, by no means everyone. Some of them just sat there gazing at Instructor Reno, who suddenly said, mildly, How many of you have pencil and paper? I stuck my hand up, along with the other guys who had them. And suddenly there was a look like a storm cloud on Renos face. Drop! All of you! he bellowed. And there was an unbelievable commotion as chairs were scraped back and we all hit the floor in the straight-arm rest position. Push em out! he snapped. And we made the twenty then were left in the rest position. He stared at us and said, Listen. You were told to have a pencil and paper with you at all times. So why dont you? Why the hell dont you! The room went stone silent. Reno glared. And since I was not able to write while I was prostrate on the floor supporting myself with the palms of my hands, I cant say verbatim the exact words he said, but I bet I can come damn close. This is a school for warriors, understand? This is the most serious business there is. And if you dont want to do it, then get the hell out right now. Christ. He was not joking, and I just hoped to hell he knew who had pencil and paper and who didnt. Months later I reminded him of that day and asked him. Of course I knew, he said, adjusting his sunglasses. It was your first test. I had the names of the guys who paid attention written down before youd done your first twenty. And I still remember you were on that list. Anyway, that first morning, we did another couple of sets of push-ups and somehow gasped out a loud Hooyah, Instructor Reno! And then he let us sit down again. What followed was probably the most stern lecture in SEAL ethos and ethics Ive ever attended. I did take notes, and I recall everything he told us, and Ill try to relate it as I believe Reno would wish. This is high-risk training. And we define that as anywhere there is potential for serious injury or loss of life. Any of you see anything unsafe, or any situation where you may be in unnecessary danger, speak up immediately. We do not like mistakes, understand me? Hooyah! Always remember your own accountability, to yourselves, your superiors, and your teammates. The chain of command is sacred. Use it. Keep your boat-crew leaders and your class leaders informed of any digression from the normal. And stay with your swim buddy. I dont care if youre going to the head, you stay right with him. Understood? Hooyah! Respect. I expect you to show complete respect for the instructor staff, the class officers, and the senior petty officers. You are in the military. You will be courteous at all times. Understood? Hooyah! Integrity, gentlemen. You dont lie, cheat, or steal. Ever. You lose an item of gear, you put in a chit and report it. You do not take someone elses gear. I wont pretend that has not happened here in the past. Because it has. But those guys were instantly finished. Their feet never touched the ground. They were gone. That day. You will respect your classmate. And his gear. You do not take what is not yours. Understood? Hooyah! Im your class proctor for the next two weeks. And Ill help you, if you need help, over matters of pay, family, and personal concerns. If you get injured, go to medical and get it fixed and get back into training. Im your proctor. Not your mother. Im here to teach you. You stay in the box, Ill help you. You get outside the box, Ill hammer you. Understood? Hooyah! Finally, reputation. And your reputation begins right here. And so does the reputation of Class Two-two-six. And thats a reflection on me. Its a responsibility I take very personally. Because reputation is everything. In life, and especially right here in Coronado. So stay focused. Keep your head right in the game. Put out a hundred percent at all times, because well know if you dont. And never, ever, leave your swim buddy. Any questions? Negative! Who could ever forget that? Not me. I can still hear in my mind the sharp crack as Instructor Reno snapped shut his notebook. It sounded to me like Moses, hammering together the granite slabs which held the 10 Commandments. That Reno was a five-foot-six-inch giant. He was some presence in our lives. That day we bailed out of the classroom and went for a four-mile run along the beach. Three times he stopped us and told us to get in the surf and get wet and sandy. Our boots were waterlogged and each passing mile was murder. We never could get the sand out of our shorts. Our skin was chafing, and Reno didnt give a damn. At the end of the run, he ordered us to drop and start pushing em out. He gave us two sets of twenty, and right toward the end of the first set, I noticed he was doing the exercise with us. Except he was using only one arm, and he didnt even look like he was breathing hard. That guy could have arm wrestled a half-ton gorilla. And just the sight of him cruising through the push-ups alongside us gave us a fair idea of the standard of fitness and strength required for us to make it through BUD/S. As we prepared to make the mile run to the chow hall around noon, Reno told us calmly, Remember, theres just a few of you here who wed probably have to kill before youd quit. We know that, and Ive already identified some of you. Thats what I am here to find out. Which of you can take the pain and the cold and the misery. Were here to find out who wants it most. Nothing more. Some of you wont, some of you cant and never will. No hard feelings. Just dont waste our time any longer than necessary. Thanks a bunch, Reno. Just cant understand why you have to sugarcoat everything. Why not just tell it like it is? I didnt say that, of course. Four hours with the pocket battleship of Coronado had slammed a very hefty lid on my personal well of smart-ass remarks. Besides, hed probably have broken my pelvis, since he couldnt possibly have reached my chin. We had a new instructor for the pool, and we were all driven through the ice-cold jets of the decontamination unit to get rid of the sand on our skin. That damn thing would have blasted the scales off a fresh haddock. After that, we piled into the water, split into teams, and began swimming the first of about ten million lengths we would complete before our years of service to the navy were complete. They concentrated on buoyancy control and surface swimming for the first few days, made us stretch our bodies, made us longer in the water, timing us, stressing the golden rule for all young SEALs you must be good in the water, no matter what. And right here the attrition began. One guy couldnt swim at all! Another swore to God he had been told by physicians that he should not put his head underwater under any circumstances whatsoever! That was two down. They made us swim without putting our heads up, taught us to roll our heads smoothly in the water and breathe that way, keeping the surface calm, instead of sticking our mouths up for a gulp of air. They showed us the standard SEAL swim method, a kind of sidestroke that is ultra-efficient with flippers. They taught us the technique of kick, stroke, and glide, the beginning of the fantastic SEAL underwater system that enables us to gauge distances and swim beneath the surface with astounding accuracy. They taught us to swim like fish, not humans, and they made us swim laps of the pool using our feet only. They kept telling us that for other branches of the military, water is a pain in the ass. For us, its a haven. They were relentless about times, always trying to make us faster, hitting the stopwatches a few seconds sooner every day. They insisted brute strength was never the answer. The only way to find speed was technique, and then more technique. Nothing else would work. And that was just the first week. In the second, they switched us to training almost entirely underwater throughout the rest of the course. Nothing serious. They just bound our ankles together and then bound our wrists together behind our backs and shoved us into the deep end. This caused a certain amount of panic, but our instructions were clear: Take a huge gulp of air and drop to the bottom of the pool in the standing position. Hold it there for at least a minute, bob up for new air, then drop back down for another minute, or more if you could. The instructors swam alongside us wearing fins and masks, looking like porpoises, kind of friendly, in the end, but at first glance a lot like sharks. The issue was panic. If a man was prone to losing it under the water when he was bound hand and foot, then he was probably never going to be a frogman; the fear is too deeply instilled. This was a huge advantage for me. Id been operating underwater with Morgan since I was about ten years old. Id always been able to swim on or below the surface. And Id been taught to hold my breath for two minutes, minimum. I worked hard, gave it all I could, and never strayed more than about a foot from my swim buddy. Unless it was a race, when he remained on shore. I was leader in the fifty-yard underwater swim without fins. I already knew the secret to underwater swimming: get real deep, real early. You cant get paid for finding the car keys if you cant get down there and stay down. At the end, they graded us underwater. I was up there. Throughout this week we took ropes with us underwater. There was a series of naval knots that had to be completed deep below the surface. I cant actually remember how many guys we lost during that drownproofing part of the Indoc training, but it was several. That second week was very hard for a lot of guys, and my memory is clear: the instructors preached competence in all techniques and exercises. Because the next week, when phase one of the BUD/S course began, we were expected to carry it all out. The BUD/S instructors would assume we could accomplish everything from Indoc with ease. Anyone who couldnt was gone. The Indoc chiefs would not be thanked for sending up substandard guys for the toughest military training in the world. And while we were jumping in and out of the pool and the Pacific, we were also subjected to a stringent regime of physical training, high-pressure calisthenics. Not for us the relatively smooth surface of the grinder, the blacktop square in the middle of the BUD/S compound. The Indoc boys, not yet qualified even to join the hallowed ranks of the BUD/S students, were banished to the beach out behind the compound. And there Instructor Reno and his men did their level best to level us. Oh, for the good old days of twenty arm-tearing push-ups. Not anymore. Out here it was usually fifty at a time, all interspersed with exercises designed to balance and hone various muscle groups, especially arms and abs. The instructors were consumed with abdominal strength, the reasons for which are now obvious: the abdomen is the bedrock of a warriors strength for climbing rocks and ropes, rowing, lifting, swimming, fighting, and running. Back there in Indoc, we did not really get that. All we knew was the SEAL instructors were putting us through hell on a daily basis. My personal hell was the flutter kick: lie on your back, legs dead straight and six inches off the sand, point your toes, and then kick as if you were doing the backstroke in the pool. And dont even consider putting your legs down, because there were instructors walking past at all times, like they were members of a firing squad under the orders of the Prince of Darkness. One time early on, the pain in the nerves and tendons behind my thighs and back was so intense, I let my feet drop. Actually, I dropped them three times, and youd have thought Id committed murder. The first time, there was a roar of anguish from an instructor; the second time, someone called me a faggot; and the third time, there was a roar of anguish and someone else called me a faggot. Each time, I was ordered to go straight into the ice-cold Pacific then come out and roll in the sand. It wasnt until the third time I realized that nearly everyone was in the Pacific and then rolling in the sand. We all looked like creatures from the Black Lagoon. And still they drove us forward, making us complete those exercises. It was funny really, but within four or five days, those flutter kicks were no problem at all. And we were all a whole lot fitter for them. All? Well, most. Two or three guys just could not take it and fluttered their way right out of there with smiles on their faces. Me? I hung in there, calling out the exercise count, doing the best I could, cursing the hell out of Billy Shelton for getting me into this nuthouse in the first place, even though it was plainly not his fault. I completed the exercises with obvious motivation, not because I was trying to make a favorable impression but because I would do nearly anything to avoid running into the freezing ocean and then rolling in the sand. And that was the consequence of not trying. Those instructors never missed a slacker. Every couple of minutes some poor bastard was told, Get wet and sandy. Wasnt that bad, though. Right after we finished the PT class and staggered to our feet, Instructor Reno, god of all the mercies, would send us on a four-mile run through the soft sand, running alongside us at half speed (for him), exhorting us to greater effort, barking instructions, harassing, cajoling. Those runs were unbelievably hard, especially for me, and I labored in the second half of the field trying to force my long legs to go faster. Reno knew damn well I was trying my best, but in those early days hed call out my name and tell me to get going. Then hed tell me to get wet and sandy, and Id run into the ocean, boots and all. Then Id have to try and catch up with boots full of water. I guess he knew I could take it, but I cannot believe he was not laughing his ass off behind those black sunglasses. Still, eventually it would be lunchtime, and it was only another mile to get something to eat. And all the time they were telling us about diet, what to eat, what never to eat, how often to eat. Jesus. It was a miracle any of us ever made it to the chow hall, never mind study our diets. There was also the obstacle course, known to us as the O-course, and a place of such barbaric intensity that real live SEALs, veteran combat warriors from the teams, came over to supplement their training, often preparing for overseas deployment to a theater of war: jungle, mountain, ocean, or desert. The Coronado O-course was world famous. And if it tested the blooded warriors of the teams, imagine what it was like for us, ten-day wonders, fresh out of boot camp, soft as babies compared to these guys. I stared at the O-course, first day we went there. We were shown around, the rope climbs, the sixty-foot cargo net, the walls, the vaults, the parallel bars, the barbed wire, the rope bridges, the Weaver, the Burma Bridge. For the first time I wished to hell Id been a foot shorter. It was obvious to me this was a game for little guys. Instructor Reno gave a couple of demonstrations. It was like hed been born on the rope bridge. It would be more difficult for me. All climbing is, because, in the end, I have to haul 230 pounds upward. Which is why all the worlds great climbers are tiny guys with nicknames like the Fly, or the Flea, or Spider, all of them 118 pounds soaking wet. I assessed rightly this would be a major test for me. But there were a lot of very big SEALs, and theyd all done it. That meant I could do it. Anyway, my mindset was the same old, same old. Im either going to do this right, or Ill die trying. That last part was closer to the reality. There were fifteen separate sections of the course, and you needed to go through, past, over, or under all of them. Naturally they timed us right from the get-go, when guys were tripping up, falling off, falling down, getting stuck, or generally screwing up. As I suspected, the bigger guys were instantly in the most trouble, because the key elements were balance and agility. Those Olympic gymnasts are mostly four feet tall. And when did you last see a six-foot-five, 230-pound ice dancer? It was the climbing which put the big guys at the most disadvantage. One of our tests was called slide for life, a thick eighty-foot nylon rope attached to a tower and looped down to a vertical pole about ten feet high. You had to climb up the tower hanging on to the rope then slide all the way back down or pull yourself, whichever was easier. For the record, on the subject of Instructor Reno, when we had to climb various ropes, he would amuse himself by climbing to the same height as us while using two ropes, one in each hand, never losing his grip and never letting go of either one. To this day, I believe that was impossible and that Reno was some kind of a mirage in sunglasses on the sand. I struggled through the rope loop, making the top and sliding down, but one guy lost his grip and fell down, straight onto the sand, and broke his arm and, I think, his leg. He was a pretty big guy, and there was another one gone. The other discipline that sticks in my memory was that cargo net. You know the type of thing, heavy-duty rope knotted together in squares, the kind of stuff that has come straight from a shipyard. It was plainly imperative we all got damn good at this, since SEALs use such nets to board and disembark submarines and ships and to get in and out of inflatable boats. But it was hard for me. It seemed when I shoved my boot in and reached upward, the foothold slipped downward, and my intended handhold got higher. Obviously, if Id weighed 118 pounds soaking wet, this would not have been the case. First time I climbed the net, ramming my feet into the holes, I got kind of stuck about forty-five feet off the ground, arms and legs spreadeagled. I guess I looked like Captain Ahab trapped in the harpoon lines after a trip to the ocean floor with Moby Dick. But like all the rest of our exercises, this one was completely about technique. And Instructor Reno was there to put me straight. Four days later, I could zip up that net like a circus acrobat. Well.okay, more like an orangutan. Then Id grab the huge log at the top, clear that, and climb down the other side like Spider-Man. Okay, okay.like an orangutan. I had similar struggles on the rope bridge, which seemed always to be out of kilter for me, swinging too far left or too far right. But Instructor Reno was always there, personally, to help me regain my equilibrium by sending me on a quick rush into the ocean, which was so cold it almost stopped my heart. This was followed by a roll in the sand, just to make the rest of the day an absolute itching, chafing hell until I hit the decontamination unit to get power washed down, same way you deal with a mud-caked tractor. Naturally, the newly clean tractor had it all over us because no one then dumps it into the deep end of a swimming pool and more or less leaves it there until it starts to sprout fins. It was just another happy day in the life of a fledgling student going through Indoc. Understandably, Class 226 shrank daily, and we had not even started BUD/S. And you think it was a great relief finally to get through the day and retire to our rooms for peace and perhaps sleep? Dream on. Theres no such thing as peace in Coronado. The place is a living, breathing testimony to that Roman strategist who first told the world, Let him who desires peace prepare for war (thats translated from the Latin Qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum Flavius Vegetius Renatus, fourth century). Or, as a SEAL might say, You want things to remain cool, pal? Better get your ass in gear. I knew I was close. That old Roman knew a thing or two. His military treatise De Rei Militari was the bible of European warfare for more than 1,200 years, and it still applies in Coronado, stressing constant drilling, training, and severe discipline. He advised the Roman commanders to gather intelligence assiduously, use the terrain, and then drive the legionnaires forward to encircle their objective. Thats more or less how we operate in overseas deployment against terrorists today. Hooyah, Flavius Vegetius. Coronado, like New York, is a city that never sleeps. Those instructors are out there patrolling the corridors of our barracks by night into the small hours. One of them once came into my room after Id hot mopped it and high polished the floor till you could almost see your face in it. He dropped a trickle of sand onto the floor and chewed me out for living in a dust bowl! Then he sent me down to the Pacific, in the company of my swim buddy and of course himself, to get wet and sandy. Then we had to go through the decontamination unit, and the shrieking of those cold hydraulic pipes and the ferocious jets of water awakened half the barracks and nearly sent us into shock. Never mind the fact that it was 0200 and we were due back under those showers again in another couple of hours. I think it was that time. I cant be absolutely sure. But my roommate quit that night. He went weak at the knees just watching what was happening to me. I dont know how the hell he thought I felt. One time during Indoc while we were out on night run, one of the instructors actually climbed up the outside of a building, came through an open window, and absolutely trashed a guys room, threw everything everywhere, emptied detergent over his bed gear. He went back out the way hed come in, waited for everyone to return, and then tapped on the poor guys door and demanded a room inspection. The guy couldnt work out whether to be furious or heartbroken, but he spent most of the night cleaning up and still had to be in the showers at 0430 with the rest of us. I asked Reno about this weeks later, and he told me, Marcus, the body can take damn near anything. Its the mind that needs training. The question that guy was being asked involved mental strength. Can you handle such injustice? Can you cope with that kind of unfairness, that much of a setback? And still come back with your jaw set, still determined, swearing to God you will never quit? Thats what were looking for. As ever, I do not claim to quote Instructor Reno word for word. But I do know what he said, and how I remember it. No one talks to him and comes away bemused. Trust me. Thus far Ive only dealt with that first two weeks of training on the land and in the pool, and I may not have explained how much emphasis the instructors put on the correct balanced diet for everyone. They ran classes on this, drilling into us how much fruit and vegetables we needed, the necessity for tons of carbohydrates and water. The mantra was simple you take care of your body like the rest of your gear. Keep it well fed and watered, between one and two gallons a day. Start no discipline without a full canteen. That way your body will take care of you when you begin to ask serious questions of it. Because theres no doubt in the coming months you will be asking those questions. This was an area, I remember, where there were a lot of questions, because even after those first few days here, guys were feeling the effects: muscle soreness, aches and pains in shoulders, thighs, and backs where there had been none before. The instructor who dealt with this part of our training warned us against very strong drugs like Tylenol, except for a fever, but he understood we would need ibuprofen. He conceded it was difficult to get through the coming Hell Week without ibuprofen, and he told us the medical department would make sure we received a sufficient amount to ease the pain, though not too much of it. I remember he said flatly, Youre going to hurt while youre here. Thats our job, to induce pain; not permanent injury, of course, but we need to make you hurt. Thats a big part of becoming a SEAL. We need proof you can take the punishment. And the way out of that is mental, in your mind. Dont buckle under to the hurt, rev up your spirit and your motivation, attack the courses. Tell yourself precisely how much you want to be here. The final part of Indoc involved boats the fabled IBS (inflatable boat, small) or, colloquially, itty-bitty ship. These boats are thirteen feet long and weigh a little under 180 pounds. They are unwieldy and cumbersome, and for generations the craft has been used to teach BUD/S students to pull a paddle as a tight-knit crew, blast their way through the incoming surf, rig properly, and drag the thing into place in a regimented line for inspection on the sandy beach about every seven minutes. At least thats how it seemed to us. At that point we lined up in full life jackets right next to our boats. Inside the boat, the paddles were stowed with geometric precision, bow and stern lines coiled carefully on the rubber floor. Inch perfect. We started with a series of races. But before that, each of our teams had a crew leader, selected from the most experienced navy personnel among us. And they lined up with their paddles at the military slope-arms position, the paddles resting on their shoulders. Then they saluted the instructors and announced their boat was correctly rigged and the crew was ready for the sea. Meanwhile, other instructors were checking each boat. If a paddle was incorrectly stowed, an instructor seized it and hurled it down the beach. That happened on my first day, and one of the guys standing very near to me raced off after it, anxious to retrieve it and make amends. Unhappily, his swim buddy forgot to go with him, and the instructor was furious. Drop! he yelled. And every one of us hit the sand and began to execute the worst kind of push-up, our feet up on the rubber gunwales of the boats, pushing em out in our life jackets. The distant words of Reno sung in my ears: Someone screws it up, the consequences affect everyone. We raced each other in the boats out beyond the surf. We raced until our arms felt as if they might fall off. We pulled, each crew against the rest, hauling our grotesquely unstreamlined little boats along. And this was not Yale versus Harvard on the Thames River in Connecticut, all pulling together. This was the closest thing to a floating nuthouse youve ever seen. But it was my kind of stuff. Boat drill is a game for big, strong guys who can pull. Pull like hell. Its also a game for heavy lifters who can haul that boat up and run with their team. Let me take you through one of these races. First, we got the boat balanced in the shallows and watched the surf roll in toward us. The crew leader had issued a one-minute briefing, and we all watched the pattern of those five- to six-foot breakers. This part is called surf passage, and on the command, we were watching for our chance. Plainly, we didnt want to charge into the biggest incoming wave, but we didnt have much time. The water was only a fraction above sixty degrees. We all knew we had to take that first wave bow on, but we didnt want the biggest, so we waited. Then the crew leader spotted a slacker one, and he bellowed, Now! Now! Now! We charged forward, praying to God we wouldnt get swept sideways and capsize. One by one we scrambled aboard, digging deep, trying to get through the overhanging crest, which was being whipped by an offshore breeze. Dig! Dig! Dig! he roared as we headed for two more incoming walls of water. This was the Pacific Ocean, not some Texas lake. Close to us, one of the nine boats capsized, and there were paddles and students all in the water. You could hear nothing except the crash of the surf and shouts of Dig! Stroke! Portside.starboard.straighten up! Lets go! Go! Go! I pulled that paddle until I thought my lungs would burst, until we had driven out beyond the breakers. And then our class leader yelled, Dump the boat! The bow-side men slipped overboard, the others (including me) grabbed the strap handles fixed on the rubber hull, stood up, and jumped over the same side, dragging the boat over on top of us. As the boat hit the water, three of us grabbed the same handles and climbed back on the upturned hull of the boat. I was first up, I remember. Weightless in the water, right? Just give me a chance. We backed to the other side of the hull and pulled, dragging the IBS upright, flipping it back on its lines. Everyone was aware that the tide was sweeping us back into the breakers. Feeling something between panic and frenzy, we battled back, grabbed our paddles and hauled out into flatter water and took a bead on the finish line. We paddled like hell, racing toward the mark, some tower on the beach. Then we dumped the boat again, grabbed the handles, carried it through the shallows onto the beach, and hauled it into a head carry. We ran up the dunes around some truck, still with the boat on our heads, and then, as fast as we could, back along the beach to the point where we had started, and the instructors awaited us, logging the positions we finished and the times we clocked. They thoughtfully gave the winning crew a break to sit down and recover. The losers were told to push em out. It was not unusual to complete six of these races in one afternoon. By the end of Indoc week two, we had lost twenty-five guys. The rest of us, somehow, had managed to show Instructor Reno and his colleagues we were indeed fit and qualified enough to attempt BUD/S training. Which would begin the next week. There would be just one final briefing from Reno before we attacked BUD/S first phase. I saw him outside the classroom, and, still with his sunglasses on, he offered his hand and smiled quietly. Nice job, Marcus, said Reno. He had a grip like a crane. His hand might have been bolted onto blue twisted steel, but I shook it as hard as I could, and I replied, Thank you, sir. We all knew hed changed us drastically in those two weeks in Indoc. Hed showed us the depth of what we must achieve, guided us to the brink of the forthcoming unknown abyss of BUD/S. Hed knocked away whatever cocksure edges we might still have possessed. We were a lot tougher now, and I still towered over him. None-theless, Reno Alberto still seemed fifteen feet tall to me. And he always will. 4 Welcome to Hell, Gentlemen Battlefield whistle drills were conducted in the midst of high-pressure water jets, total chaos, deafening explosions, and shouting instructors.Crawl to the whistle, men! Crawl to the whistle! And keep your goddamned heads down! We assembled in the classroom soon after 1300 that last afternoon of Indoc. Instructor Reno made his entry like a Roman caesar, head held high, and immediately ordered us to push em out. As ever, chairs scraped back and we hit the floor, counting out the push-ups. At twenty, Reno left us in the rest position and then said crisply, Recover. Hooyah, Instructor Ree-no! Give me a muster, Mr. Ismay. One hundred and thirteen men assigned, Instructor Reno. All present except two men at medical. Close, Mr. Ismay. Two men quit a few minutes ago. All of us wondered who they were. My boats crew members? Heads whipped around. I had no idea who had crashed at the final hurdle. Not your fault, Mr. Ismay. You were in the classroom when they quit. Two-two-six will class up in BUD/S first phase with a hundred and eleven men. Hooyah! I realized we had been losing guys fairly steadily. But according to these numbers, Class 226 had had 164 men assigned on the first day, and wed lost more than fifty of them. I know a few never showed up at all, mostly through sheer intimidation. But the rest had somehow vanished into the void. I never saw any of them leave, not even my roommate. And I still cannot work out quite how it happened. I guess they just reached some type of breaking point, or maybe they anguished for days over their own inability to cut the mustard. But gone is gone in this mans navy. I did not entirely comprehend it at the time, but me and my 110 cohorts were witnessing the ruthless elimination process of a U.S. fighting force that cannot tolerate a suspect component. Instructor Reno now spoke formally. Youre on your way to first phase BUD/S. And I want each and every one of you to make me proud. Those of you who survive Hell Week will still have to face the pool competency test thats in second phase and then the weapons practicals in third phase. But I want to be at your graduation. And right there I want to shake your hand. I want to think of you as one of Renos warriors. The Hooyah, Instructor Ree-no! with our clenched fists in the air could have lifted the roof off the classroom. We loved him, all of us, because we all sensed he truly wanted the best for us. There was not a shred of malice in the guy. Neither was there a shred of weakness. He repeated the orders he had been giving us for two weeks. Stay alert. Be on time. And be accountable for your actions at all times, in and out of uniform. Remember, your reputation is everything. And you all have a chance to build on that reputation, beginning right here on Monday morning, zero five hundred. First phase. For those of you who make the teams, remember youre joining a brotherhood. Youll be closer to those guys than you ever were to friends in school or college. Youll live with them.and, in combat, some of you may die with them. Your family must always come first, but the brotherhood is a privileged place. And I dont want you ever to forget it. And with that, he left us, walked away and slipped out of a back entrance, leaving behind a very long shadow: a bunch of guys who were revved up, gung ho, and ready to give everything to pass the challenging tests ahead. Just the way Reno wanted it. Enter Instructor Sean Mruk (pronounced MUR-rock), ex-SEAL from Team 2, veteran of three overseas deployments, native of Ohio, a cheerful-looking character we had not encountered during Indoc. He was assistant to our new proctor. We heard him before we saw him, his quiet command, Drop and push em out, before he had even made his way to the front of the classroom. In the following few minutes he ran through the myriad of tasks we must complete after hours in first phase. Stuff like preparing the boats and vehicles, making sure we had the right supplies. He told us he expected 100 percent at all times, because if we did not put out, wed surely pay for it. He made sure we had all moved from our Indoc barracks, behind the grinder, over to the naval special warfare barracks a couple of hundred yards north of the center. Prime real estate on the sandy beach, and its all yours just as long as you can stay on the BUD/S bandwagon and remain in Class 226, the numbers of which will shortly be blocked in stark white on either side of your new green phase one helmet. Those numbers stay with you as long as you serve in the Navy SEALs. My classs three white-painted numbers would one day become the sweetest sounds I ever heard. Instructor Mruk nodded agreeably and told us he would be over to the new barracks at 1000 Sunday to make sure we knew how to get our rooms ready for inspection. He gave us one last warning: Youre an official class now. First phase owns you. And so to the cloudless Monday morning of June 18, all of us assembled outside the barracks two hours before sunrise. It was 0500 and the temperature not much above fifty degrees. Our new instructor, a stranger, stood there silently. Lieutenant Ismay reported, formally, Class Two-two-six is formed, Chief. Ninety-eight men present. David Ismay saluted. Chief Stephen Schulz returned the salute without so much as a Good morning or How ydoing? Instead, he just snapped, Hit the surf, sir. All of you. Then get into the classroom. Here we went again. Class 226 charged out of the compound and across the beach to the ocean. We floundered into the ice-cold water, got wet, and then squelched our way back to the classroom, freezing, dripping, already full of apprehension. Drop! ordered the instructor. Then again. Then again. Finally, Ensign Joe Burns, a grim-looking SEAL commander, took his place in front of us and informed us he was the first phase officer. A few of us flinched. Burnss reputation as a hard man had preceded him. He later proved to be one of the toughest men I ever met. I understand you all want to be frogmen? Hooyah! I guess well see about that, said Ensign Burns. Find out how bad you really want it. This is my phase, and these are my staff instructors. Each of the fourteen introduced himself to us by name. And then Chief Schulz, presumably terrified wed all go soft on him after an entire two minutes of talk, commanded, Drop and push em out. And again. And again. Then he ordered us out to the grinder for physical training. Move! Move! Move! And finally we formed up, for the first time, on the most notorious square of black tarmac in the entire United States Armed Forces. It was 0515, and our places were marked by little frog flippers painted on the ground. It was hardly worth the visit. Hit the surf. Get wet and sandy! yelled Schulz. Fast! Our adrenaline pumped, our legs pumped, our arms pumped, our hearts pumped. Every goddamn thing there was pumped as we thundered off the blacktop, still dressed in our squelching boots and fatigue pants, went back down to the beach, and hurled ourselves into the surf. Jesus, it was cold. The waves broke over me as I struggled back into the shallows, flung myself onto the sand, rolled over a couple of times, and came up looking like Mr. Sandman, except I wasnt bringing anyone a dream. I could hear the others all around me, but Id heard Schulzs last word. Fast. And I remembered what Billy Shelton had taught: pay attention to even the merest suggestion.and I ran for my goddamned life straight back to the grinder, right up with the leaders. Too slow! bellowed Schulz. Much too slow.drop! Schulzs instructors roamed among us, berating us, yelling, harassing us as we sweated and strained to make the push-ups.Like a goddamned fairy. Get a grip on yourself. For Christs sake, look as if you mean it. Cmon, lets go! Go! Go! You sure you wanna be here? You wanna quit right now? I learned in the next few minutes there was a sharp difference between get wet and sandy and just plain get wet. Parked at the side of the grinder were two of the inflatable boats, laden to the gunwales with ice and water. Get wet meant plunge over the bow, under the water, under the rubber seat struts, and out to the other side. Five seconds, in the dark, in the ice, under the water. A killer whale would have begged for mercy. Now, Id been cold before, in the freakin Pacific, right? But the water in that little boat would have frozen the balls off a brass monkey. I came out of there almost blue with the cold, ice in my hair, and blundered my way to my little frogmans marker. At least Id gotten rid of the sand, and so had everyone else. Two instructors were going down the lines with freezing cold power hoses, spraying everyone from the head down. By 0600 I had counted out more than 450 push-ups. And there were more, I just couldnt count anymore. Id also done more than fifty sit-ups. We were ordered from one exercise to another. Guys who were judged to be slacking were ordered to throw in a set of flutter kicks. The result of this was pure chaos. Some guys couldnt keep up, others were doing push-ups when theyd been ordered to do sit-ups, men were falling, hitting the ground facedown. In the end, half of us didnt know where the hell we were or what we were supposed to be doing. I just kept going, doing my absolute best, through the roars of abuse and the flying spray of the power hoses: push-ups, sit-ups, screwups. It was now all the same to me. Every muscle in my body ached to hell, especially those in my stomach and arms. And finally Schulz offered us mercy and a quiet drink. Hydrate! he yelled with that Old World charm that came so naturally to him, and we all reached for our canteens and chugged away. Canteens down! bellowed Schulz, a tone of pained outrage in his voice. Now push em out! Oh, yes. Of course. Id forgotten all about that. Id just had a nine-second break. Down we all dropped again and went back to work with the last remnants of our strength, counting the push-ups. We only did twenty that time. Schulz must have been seized by an attack of conscience. Get in the surf! he bawled. Right now! We floundered to the beach and darn near fell into the surf. We were now so hot, the cold didnt even matter. Much. And when we splashed back to the beach, Chief Schulz was there, ranting and yelling for us to form up and run the mile to the chow hall. Get moving, he added. We dont have much time. When we arrived, I was just about dead on my feet. I didnt think I had the energy to chew a soft-boiled egg. We walked into that chow hall like Napoleons army on the retreat from Moscow, wet, bedraggled, exhausted, out of breath, too hungry to eat, too battered to care. It was, of course, all by design. This was not some kind of crazed Chinese fire drill arranged by the instructors. This was a deadly serious assessment of their charges, a method used to find out, in the hardest possible way, who really wanted to do this, who really cared enough to go through with it, who could face the next four weeks before Hell Week, when things got seriously tough. It was designed to compel us to reassess our commitment. Could we really take this punishment? Ninety-eight of us had formed up on the grinder two hours earlier. Only sixty-six of us made it through breakfast. And when that ended, we were still soaked, boots, long pants, and T-shirts. And once more we set off for the beach, accompanied by an instructor who showed up from nowhere, running alongside us, shouting for us to get moving. We had been told what awaited us. A four-mile run along the beach, going south, two down and two back. Thirty-two minutes on the stopwatch was allowed, and God help anyone who could not run eight-minute miles through the sand. I was afraid of this, because I knew I was not a real fast runner, and I psyched myself up for a maximum effort. I seem to have spent my whole life doing that. And when we arrived at the beach, I knew I would need that effort. There could not have been a worse time to make the run. The tide was almost full, still running in, so there was no appreciable width of drying hard sand. This meant running in either shallow water or very soft sand, both of which were a complete nuisance to a runner. Our instructor Chief Ken Taylor lined us up and warned us darkly of the horrors to come if thirty-two minutes proved to be beyond some of us. And sent us away, with the sun now climbing out of the Pacific to our right. I picked the line I would run, right along the high point of the tide, where the waters first receded and left a slim strip of hard sand. This meant Id be splashing some of the time, but only in the shallowest surf foam, and that was a whole lot better than the deep sand that stretched to my left. Trouble was, I had to stick to this line, because my boots would be permanently wet and if I strayed up the beach, Id have half a pound of sand stuck to each one. I did not think I could lay up with the leaders, but I thought I could hang in there in the group right behind them. So I put my head down, watched the tide line stretching in front of me, and pounded my way forward, staying right on the hardest wet sand. The first two miles were not that awful. I was up there in the first half of the class, and I was not feeling too bad. On the way back, though, I was flagging. I glanced around and I could see everyone else was also looking really tired. And right then I decided to hit it. I turned up the gas and thumped my way forward. The tide had turned during the first twenty minutes and there was just a slight width of wet sand that was no longer being washed by the ocean. I hit this with every stride, running until I thought Id drop. Every time I caught a guy, I treated it as a personal challenge and pulled past him, finally clocking a time well inside thirty minutes, which wasnt half bad for a packhorse. I forget who the winner was, probably some hickory-tough farm boy petty officer, but he was a couple of minutes better than I was. Anyway, the guys who made the time were sent up into the soft sand to rest and recover. There were about eighteen guys outside thirty-two minutes, and one by one they were told, Drop! Then start pushing em out. Most of them were on their knees with exhaustion, and that kinda saved them a step in the next evolution, which was a bear crawl straight into the Pacific, directly into the incoming surf. Instructor Taylor had them go in deep, until the freezing cold water was up to their necks. They were kept there for twenty minutes, very carefully timed, I now know, to make sure no one developed hypothermia. Taylor and his men even had a pinpoint-accurate chart that showed precisely how long a man could stand that degree of cold. And one by one they were called out and given the most stupendous hard time for failing to achieve the thirty-two-minute deadline. I understand some of them may have just given up, and others just could not go any faster. But those instructors had a fair idea of what was going on, and on this, the first day of BUD/S training, they were ruthless. As those poor guys came out of the surf, the rest of us were now doing regular push-ups, and since this was now second nature to me, I looked up to see the fate of the slow guys. Chief Taylor, the Genghis Khan of the beach gods, ordered these half-dead, half-drowned, half-frozen guys to lie on their backs, their heads and shoulders in and under the water with the rhythm of the waves. And he made them do flutter kicks. There were guys choking and spluttering and coughing and kicking and God knows what else. And then, only then, did Chief Taylor release them, and I remember, vividly, him yelling out to them that we, dry and doing our push-ups up the beach, were winners, whereas they, the slowpokes, were losers! Then he told them they better start taking this seriously or they would be out of here. Those guys up there, taking it easy, they paid the full price, he yelled. Right up front. You did not. You failed. And for guys like you theres a bigger price to pay, understand me? He knew this was shockingly unfair, because some of them had been doing their genuine best. But he had to find out for certain. Who believed they could improve? Who was determined to stay? And who was halfway out the door already? Next evolution: log PT, brand-new to all of us. We lined up wearing fatigues and soft hats, seven-man boat crews, standing right by our logs, each of which was eight feet long and a foot in diameter. I cant remember the weight, but it equaled that of a small guy, say 150 to 160 pounds. Heavy, right? I was just moving into packhorse mode when the instructor called out, Go get wet and sandy. All in our nice dry clothes, we charged once more toward the surf, up and over a sand dune, and down into the water. We rushed out of the waves and back up the sand dune, rolled down the other side, then stood up like the lost company from the U.S. Navys Sandcastle Platoon. Then he told us to get our logs wet and sandy. So we heaved them up, waist high, and hauled them up the sand dune. We ran down the other side, dumped the goddamned log in the ocean, pulled it out, went back up the sand dune, and rolled it down the other side. The crew next to us somehow managed to drop their log on the downward slope. You ever, ever drop one of my logs again, the instructor bellowed, I cant even describe what will happen to you. All of you! He used the enraged, vengeance-seeking tone of voice that might have been specially reserved for You guys ever, ever gang-rape my mother again . . . Rather than just dropping the stupid log. We all stood there in a line, holding our logs straight-arm, above our heads. They try to make the teams a uniform height, but my six foot five inches means Ill always be carrying at least my fair share of the burden. More and more guys were accused of slacking, and more and more of them were on the ground doing push-ups while me and a couple of other big guys on the far end were bearing the weight. We must have looked like the three pillars of Coronado, sandstone towers holding up the temple, eyes peering grittily out at a sandscape full of weird, sandy, burrowing creatures fighting for breath. Right after this they taught us all the physical training moves we would need: squats, tossing the log overhead, and a whole lot of others. Then, still in formation, we were told, Fall in on your logs, and we charged forward. Slow! Too slow! Get wet and sandy! Back down to the surf, into the waves, into the sand. By this time, guys really were on their last legs, and the instructors knew it. They didnt really want anyone to collapse, and they spent a while teaching us the finer points of log teamwork. To our total amazement, they concluded the morning by telling us wed done a damn nice job, made a great start, and to head off now for chow. A lot of us thought this was encouraging. Seven of our number, however, were not to be consoled by these sudden, calming words uttered by guys who should have been riding with Satans cavalry in Lord of the Rings. They went straight back to the grinder, rang the hanging bell outside the first phase office, and handed in their helmets, placing them in a line outside the COs door. Thats the way its done in first phase: the exit ritual. There were now a dozen helmets signifying resignation, and we hadnt even had lunch on day one. Most of us thought they were a bit hasty, because we knew a certain part of the afternoon was taken up by the weekly room inspection. Most of us had spent all day Sunday getting into order, cleaning the floor with a mop and then high polishing it. Somehow I had found myself way down the waiting list to use one of the two electric buffers. I had had to wait my turn and did not get finished before about 0200. But the time had not been wasted. Id fixed my bed gear, pressed my starched fatigues, and spit-shined my boots. I looked better, not like some darned sand-encrusted beachcomber, the way I had most of the day. The instructors arrived. I cannot remember which of them walked into my room. But he gazed upon it, this picture of military order and precision, and at me with an expression of undiluted disgust. Carefully he opened my chest of drawers and hurled everything all over the room. He heaved the mattress off the bed and cast it aside. He emptied the contents of my locker into a pile and informed me that he was unused to meeting trainees who were happy to live in a garbage dump. Actually, his words were a bit more colorful than that, more.well.earthy. Beyond the confines of my room, there was absolute bedlam; stuff was hurled all over the place in room after room. I just stood there gaping as the entire barracks was ransacked by our own instructors. Outside in the corridor, I could hear someone bawling out Lieutenant David Ismay, the class leader. The soft, dulcet tones of Chief Schulz were unmistakable. What kind of rathole are you running here, Mr. Ismay? Ive never seen rooms like these in my life. Your uniforms are a disgrace. Hit the surf.all of you! There were, by my count, thirty rooms. Only three of them had passed muster. And even those guys were not exempt from our first ocean plunge of the afternoon. In our shiny boots and pressed fatigues, we pounded back down to the beach, leaving a scene of total chaos behind us. We raced into the water, deep, right into the waves. Then we turned and floundered back to the beach, formed up, and headed back to the BUD/S area. Chief Taylor was back in our lives with a major rush, obviously preparing for the last evolution of the day, on the beach or in the water. We did not know which. All day long we had been wondering precisely who he was, but our inquiries had yielded little save that the chief was a true veteran of the teams who had seen combat in overseas deployment four times, including the Gulf War. He was a medium-sized man but immensely muscular; he looked like he could walk straight through a wall without breaking stride. But you could see he had a sense of humor, and he was not averse to telling us we were doing okay. Sweet of him, right? Half of us were hanging in there by willpower alone. And we needed all the willpower we had, because in a few moments we were preparing to take the boats into the water again. I have never forgotten that surf drill on that first day because Chief Taylor made us paddle the boats out backward, facing aft. When we returned through the surf to the beach, we faced aft again, but now we were paddling forward. When we first started, the journey out beyond the breakers seemed impossible to do while facing the beach and holding the oar so awkwardly, but we got better. And somehow we got it done. But not before all kinds of chaos had broken out. We capsized, flipped over, crashed backward trying to drive head-on into a big wave. And there was a lot of spluttering and coughing when we attempted Chief Taylors finale, which was to dump boat, right it again, stow the oars correctly, and then swim the boat back in through the surf and onto the beach. Before we left, we were taken through an exercise called surf observation, in which two-man teams observe the condition of the sea and make a report. I paid strict attention to this, which was good, since from now on, every morning at 0430, two of our number would go down to the waters edge and come back to make that report. Chief Taylor, smiling, as he was prone to do, dismissed us with the words And dont screw up that report. I want no discrepancies about sea conditions, or therell be hell to pay. We sharpened up our rooms that evening, and on day two were under way with the normal morning grind of push-ups, running, and getting wet and sandy. Our first classroom involved meeting our leading petty officer instructor, Chief Bob Nielsen, another Gulf War veteran of several overseas deployments. He was tall, slim for a SEAL, and, I thought, a bit sardonic. His words to us were packed with meaning, edged with menace, but nonetheless optimistic. He introduced himself and told us what he expected. As if we didnt know. Everything, right? Or die in the attempt. He gave us a slide presentation of every aspect of first phase. Before the first picture had been taken off the screen, he told us to forget all about trying to put one over on the instructors. Guys, he said, weve seen it all. You can try it on, if you like, but it wont do anyone any good. Well catch you, and when we do, watch out! I think everyone in the room made a mental note not to try it on. We all listened carefully while Chief Nielsen ran quickly through the first four weeks and what we could expect more running, log PT boats, and swimming, the full catastrophe. Purely to find out how tough we really were. Conditioning, he said. Conditioning and a whole lot of cold water. Get used to it. The next month represents a hard kick in the crotch. Because were going to hammer you. I still have my notes of Bob Nielsens speech. You fail to meet those standards, youre out. Of course most of you will end up being dropped. And most of you will not be back. You must make that four-mile thirty-two-minute run, and you must make the two-mile swims in an hour and a half. Youll get a tough written test. Theres pool standards, theres drownproofing. With and without the fins kick, stroke, and glide. You may be thinking, What does it take? What must I do to make it through? The cold truth is, two-thirds of you sitting right here will quit. I remember him standing next to my row and saying, Theres seven rows of you sitting here. Only two rows will succeed. He seemed to look straight at me when he said, The rest of you will be gonzo, history, back to the fleet. Thats the way it is. The way its always been. So try your best to prove me wrong. He issued one further warning. This training does not suit everyone. We get a lot of very good guys through here who just decide this is not for them. And thats their right. But they will walk away from here with dignity, understand? We catch one of you laughing or making fun of a man who has requested DOR, well hammer you without mercy. Big time. You will regret those moments of ridicule for a long time. I advise you not even to consider it. He closed by telling us the real battle is won in the mind. Its won by guys who understand their areas of weakness, who sit and think about it, plotting and planning to improve. Attending to the detail. Work on their weaknesses and overcome them. Because they can. Your reputation is built right here in first phase. And you dont want people to think youre a guy who does just enough to scrape through. You want people to understand you always try to excel, to be better, to be completely reliable, always giving it your best shot. Thats the way we do business here. And remember this one last thing. Theres only one guy here in this room who knows whether youre going to make it, or fail. And thats you. Go to it, gentlemen. And always give it everything. Chief Nielsen left, and five minutes later we stood by for the commanding officers report. Six instructors filed into the room, surrounding a navy captain. And we all knew who he was. This was Captain Joe Maguire, the near-legendary Brooklyn-born Honor Man of Class 93 and onetime commanding officer of SEAL Team 2. He was also the future Rear Admiral Ma-guire, Commander, SPECWARCOM, a supreme SEAL warrior. He had served all over the world and was beloved throughout Coronado, a big guy who never forgot a fellow SEALs name, no matter how junior. He talked to us calmly. And he gave us two pieces of priceless advice. He said he was addressing those who really wanted this kind of life, those who could put up with every kind of harassment those instructors at the back of the room could possibly dish out. First of all, I do not want you to give in to the pressure of the moment. Whenever youre hurting bad, just hang in there. Finish the day. Then, if youre still feeling bad, think about it long and hard before you decide to quit. Second, take it one day at a time. One evolution at a time. Dont let your thoughts run away with you, dont start planning to bail out because youre worried about the future and how much you can take. Dont look ahead to the pain. Just get through the day, and theres a wonderful career ahead of you. This was Captain Maguire, a man who would one day serve as deputy commander of the U.S. Special Operations in Pacific Command (COMPAC). With his twin-eagles insignia glinting on his collar, Captain Maguire instilled in us the knowledge of what really counted. I stood there reflecting for a few moments, and then the roof fell in. One of the instructors was up and yelling. Drop! he shouted and proceeded to lay into us for the sins of one man. I saw one of you nodding off, right here in the middle of the captains briefing. How dare you! How dare you fall asleep in the presence of a man of that caliber? You guys are going to pay for this. Now push em out! He drilled us, gave us probably a hundred push-ups and sit-ups, and he drove us up and down the big sand dune in front of the compound. He raved at us because our times over the O-course were down, which was mostly due to the fact that we were paralyzed with tiredness before we got there. And so it went on, all week. There was a swim across the bay, one mile with a guy of comparable swimming ability. There were evolutions in the pool, in masks, wearing flippers and without. There was one where we had to lie on our backs, masks full of water, flippers on, trying to do flutter kicks with our heads out over the water. This was murder. So was the log PT and our four-mile runs. The surf work in the boats was also a strength-sapping experience, running the boats out through the waves, dumping boat, righting boat, paddling in, backward, forward, boat being dragged, boat on our heads. It never ended, and by the close of that first week we had lost more than twenty men, one of them in tears because he could not go on. His hopes, his dreams, even his intentions had been dashed to bits on that Coronado beach. That was more than sixty rings on the big bell right outside the office door. And every time we heard it, without exception, we knew wed lost an essentially good guy. There werent any bad guys who made it through Indoc. And as the days wore on and we heard that bell over and over, it became a very melancholy sound. Could I be standing there outside the office door, a broken man, a few days from now? It was not impossible, because many of these men had had no intention of quitting a few hours or even minutes before they did. Something just gave way deep inside them. They could no longer go on, and they had no idea why. Ask not for whom the bell tolls, Marcus. Because the son-ofabitch might toll for thee. Or for any one of the sixty-odd others still standing after the brutal reality of week one, first phase. Every time we crossed the grinder, we could see the evidence right there before our eyes, a total of twenty helmets on the ground, lined up next to the bell. Each one of those helmets had been owned by a friend, or an acquaintance, or even a rival, but a guy whom we had suffered alongside. That line of lonely hard hats was a stark reminder not only of what this place could do to a man but also of the special private glory it could bestow on those who would not give in. It drove me onward. Every time I looked at that line, I gritted my teeth and put some extra purpose into my stride. I still felt the same as I had on my very first day. Id rather die than surrender. The third week of first phase brought us into a new aspect of BUD/S training, called rock portage. This was dangerous and difficult, but basically we had to paddle the IBS along to an outcrop of rocks opposite the world-famous Hotel del Coronado and land it there. I dont mean moor it, I mean land it, get it up there on dry land with the surf crashing all around you, the ocean swell trying to suck that boat right back out again. I had to figure pretty big in this because of my size and ability to heave. But none of my crew was quite ready for this desperate test. It was something we just had to learn how to do. And so we went at it, paddling hard in from the sea, driving into those huge rocks, straight into waves which were breaking every which way. The bow of our boat slammed into the rocks, and the bowline man, not me, jumped forward and hung on, making the painter firm around his waist. His job was to get secure and then act like a human capstan and stop the boat being swept backward. Our man was pretty sharp; he jammed himself between a couple of big boulders and yelled back to us, Bowline man secure! We repeated his call just so everyone knew where they were. But the boat was now jammed bow-on against the rocks. It had no rhythm with the waves and was vulnerable to every swell that broke over the stern. In this static position, it cannot ride with the waves. Our crew leaders cries of Water! were little help. The surf was crashing straight at us and then through the boat and up and over the rocks. We had on our life jackets, but the smallest man among us had to hop over the bow, carry out all of the paddles, and get them safely onto dry ground. Then we all had to disembark, one by one, clambering onto the rocks, with the poor old bowline man hanging on for his life, jammed between the rocks with the boat still lashed to his torso. By now we were all on the rope, trying to grab the handles, but the bowline man had to move first, heading upward into a new position, with us now taking the weight. He set off. Bowline man moving! I hauled ass down in the engine room, pulling with all my strength. A wave slammed into the boat and nearly took us all into the water, but we hung tough. Bowline man secure! And then we gave it everything, knowing our crewmate could not come catapulting backward right into us. Somehow we heaved that baby onward and upward, dragged it clean out of the Pacific, cheated the Grim Reaper, and manhandled it right up there onto the rocks, high and dry. Too slow, said our instructor. And then he went into a litany of details as to what wed done wrong. Too long in the opening stages, bowline man not quick enough up the rocks, too long on the initial pulls, too long being battered by the waves. He ordered us onto the sand with the boat, gave us a set of twenty push-ups, then ordered us straight back the way wed come up and over the rocks, boat into the water, bowline man making us secure while we damn near drowned.get in, get going, shut up and paddle. Simple really. That first month ended much like it had begun, with a soaking wet, cold, tired, and depleted class. At the conclusion of the four weeks, the instructors made some harsh decisions, assessing the weakest among us, guys who had failed the tests, perhaps one test, maybe two. They looked hard at very determined young men who would rather die than quit but simply could not swim well enough, run fast enough, lift heavy enough, guys who lacked endurance, underwater confidence, skills in a boat. These were the hardest to dismiss from the program, because these were guys who had given their all and would go on doing so. They just lacked some form of God-given talent to carry out the work of a U.S. Navy SEAL. Years later I knew several instructors quite well, and they all said the same about that fourth week first phase assessment, the week before Hell Week We all agonized over it. No one wants to be in the business of breaking a kids heart. But neither could they allow the weak and the hopeless to go forward into the most demanding six days of training in any fighting force in the world. Thats not the free world, by the way, thats the whole world. Only Great Britains legendary SAS has anything even comparable. The results of the four-week assessment meant there were just fifty-four of us left; fifty-four of the ninety-eight who had started first phase. And Class 226 would start early, as all Hell Week classes do, Sunday at noon. Late that last Friday, we assembled in the classroom to be formally addressed once more by Captain Maguire, who was accompanied by several instructors and class officers. Everyone ready for Hell Week? he asked us cheerfully. Hooyah! Excellent, he replied. Because you are about to experience a very searching and painful test. Each one of you is going to find out what you are really made of. And every step of the way, you will be faced with a choice. Do I give in to the pain and the cold, or do I go on? It will always be up to you. Theres no quotas, no numbers. We dont decide who passes. You do. But Ill be there on Friday when Hell Week ends, and I hope to shake the hand of each and every one of you. We all stood in some awe for the exit of Captain Maguire, the quintessential Coronado man, who understood the pride of achievement at having scaled the heights and who knew what really counted, in the SEALs and beyond. He was the everlasting chief. They briefed us about what to bring to class on Sunday our gear, equipment, change of clothes, dry clothes, and some off-duty clothes, which would be placed in a paper bag so the successful guys would have something to wear when it was all over. Guys who went DOR (dropped on request) would also have dry clothes available anytime during the week when they prepared to leave. Our instructor told us to eat plenty, right through the weekend, but not to worry about sleep gear on Sunday afternoon, during which time we would be incarcerated in the classroom. Youll be too keyed up to sleep, he added brightly. So just get in here and relax, watch movies, and get ready. On the notice board was the official doctrine of the U.S. Navy SEALs, week five, first phase: Students will demonstrate the qualities and personal characteristics of determination, courage, self-sacrifice, teamwork, leadership, and a never-quit attitude, under adverse environmental conditions, fatigue, and stress through-out Hell Week. Thats laying it on the line, right? Almost. Hell Week turned out to be a lot worse than that. We spent the weekend organizing ourselves, and we assembled in the classroom at noon on Sunday, July 18. Two dozen in-structors from all over the compound, guys wed never even met before, were in attendance. It takes that many to get a class through Hell Week, plus attending medics and support and logistics guys. I guess you need a full staff to march men into the ultimate physical tests of the navys warrior elite. This is known as the Hell Week Lockdown. No one leaves; we sit and wait all afternoon; we have our seabags; and the paper bags with our dry clothes are lined up, our names written on the outside in black marker. They served us pizza, a whole stack of it, in the late afternoon. And outside you could sense it was quiet. No one passed by, no patrols, no wandering students. Everyone on the base knew that Hell Week for 226 was about to begin. It was not exactly respect for the dead, but I guess you understand by now more or less what I mean. I remember how hot it was, must have been ninety degrees in the room. Wed all been goofing off, wearing Sunday casuals most of the day, and we all knew something was going to happen as the evening wore on. Some movie was running, and the hours ticked by. There was an atmosphere of heightened tension as we waited for the starters pistol. Hell Week begins with a frenzy of activity known as Breakout. And when it came for us, there were a lot more guns than the starters. I cant remember the precise time, but it was after 2030 and before 2100. Suddenly there was a loud shout, and someone literally kicked open the side door. Bam! And a guy carrying a machine gun, followed by two others, came charging in, firing from the hip. The lights went off, and then all three gunmen opened fire, spraying the room with bullets (blanks, I hoped). There were piercing blasts from whistles, and the other door was kicked open and three more men came crashing into the room. The only thing we knew for sure right now was when the whistles blew, we hit the floor and took up a defensive position, prostrate, legs crossed, ears covered with the palms of the hands. Hit the deck! Heads down! Incoming! Then a new voice, loud and stentorian. It was pitch dark save for the nonstop flashes of the machine guns, but the voice sounded a lot like Instructor Mruks to me Welcome to hell, gentlemen. For the next couple of minutes there was nothing but gunfire, deafening gunfire. They were certainly blanks, otherwise half of us would have been dead, but believe me, they sounded just like the real thing, SEAL instructors firing our M43s. The shouting was drowned by the whistles, and everything was drowned by the gunfire. By now the air in the room was awful, hanging with the smell of cordite, lit only by the muzzle flashes. I kept my head well down on the floor as the gunmen moved among us, taking care not to let hot spent cartridges land on our skin. I sensed a lull. And then a roar, plainly meant for everyone. All of you, out! Move, you guys! Move! Move! Move! Lets go! I struggled to my feet and joined the stampede to the door. We rushed out to the grinder, where it was absolute bedlam. More gunfire, endless yelling, and then, again, the whistles, and once more we all hit the deck in the correct position. In barrels around the grinders edge, artillery simulators blasted away. I didnt know where Captain Maguire was, but if hed been here hed have thought he was back in some foreign battle zone. At least, if hed shut his eyes, he would have. Then the instructors opened fire for real, this time with high-pressure hoses aimed straight at us, knocking us down if we tried to get up. The place was awash with water, and we couldnt see a thing and we couldnt hear anything above the small-arms and artillery fire. Battlefield whistle drills were conducted in the midst of high-pressure water jets, total chaos, deafening explosions, and shouting instructors.Crawl to the whistle, men! Crawl to the whistle! And keep your goddamned heads down! Some of the guys were suffering from mass confusion. One of em ran for his life, straight over the beach and into the ocean. He was a guy I knew really well, and hed lost it completely. This was a simulated scene from the Normandy beaches, and it did induce a degree of panic, because no one knew what was happening or what we were supposed to be doing besides hitting the deck. The instructors knew this. They understood many of us would be at a low ebb. Not me. Im always up for this kind of stuff, and anyway I knew they werent really trying to kill us. But the instructors understood this would not be true of everyone, and they moved among us, imploring us to quit now while there was still time. All you gotta do is ring that little bell up there. Lying there in the dark and confusion, freezing cold, soaked to the skin, scared to stand up, I told one of them he could stick that little bell straight up his ass, and I heard a loud roar of laughter. But I never said it again, and I never let on it was me. Until now, that is. See that? Even in the chaos, I could still manage the smart-ass remark. By now we were in a state of maximum disorientation, just trying to stay on the grinder with the others. The teamwork mantra had set in. I didnt want to be by myself. I wanted to be with my soaking wet teammates, whatever the hell it was we were supposed to be doing. Then I heard a voice announcing we were a man short. Then I heard another voice, sharp and demanding. I dont know who it was, but it was close to me and it sounded like the Biggest Bossman, Joe Maguire, with a lot of authority. What do you mean? A man short? Get a count right now. They ordered us to our feet instantly, and we counted off one by one, stopping at fifty-three. We were a man short. Holy shit! Thats bad, and very serious. Even I understood that. A party was dispatched immediately to the beach, and thats where they found the missing trainee, splashing around out in the surf. Someone reported back to the grinder. And I heard our instructor snap, Send em all into the surf. Well sort em out later. And off we went again, running hard to the beach, away from the gunfire, away from this madhouse, into the freezing Pacific in what felt like the middle of the night. As so often, we were too wet to worry, too cold to care. But when we were finally summoned out of the surf, something new happened. The whistles began blasting again, and this meant we had to crawl toward the whistles all over again, but this time not on the smooth blacktop. This time on the soft sand. In moments we looked like sand beetles groping around the dunes. The whistles kept blowing, one blast, then two, and we kept right on crawling, and by now my elbows were really getting hot and sore, and my knees were not doing that great either. All four joints felt red-raw. But I kept moving. Then the instructors ordered us back into the surf, deep, so we could stay there for fifteen minutes, maximum immersion time in water hovering just under sixty degrees. We linked arms until we were ordered out to more whistles and more crawling. Then they sent us down to the surf for flutter kicks, heads in the waves. Then more whistles, more crawling, and back into the water for another fifteen minutes. Right next to me, one of the top guys in the class, an officer and a boat-crew leader, great runner, good swimmer, quit unconditionally. This was a real shaker. Another officer in his crew went running up the beach after him, imploring him not to go, telling the attending instructor, on his behalf, the guy did not mean it. No, sir. The instructor gave him another chance, told him it wasnt too late and if he wished he could go right back into the water. But the mans mind was made up, closed to all entreaties. He kept walking, and the instructor told him to get in the truck right next to the ambulance. Then he asked the guy doing the pleading if he wanted to quit too, and we all heard the sharp Negative, and we saw the guy running like a scalded cat down the beach to join us in the water. The temperature seemed to grow colder as we jogged around in the freezing surf. And finally they called us out and the whistles blew again. We all dived back onto the sand. Crawl-ing, itching, and burning. Five guys quit instantly and were sent up to the truck. I didnt understand any of that, because we had done this before. It was bad, but not that bad, for chrissakes. I guess those guys were just thinking ahead, dreading the forthcoming five days of Hell Week, the precise way Captain Ma-guire had told us not to. Anyway, right now we were ordered to grab the boats and get them in the surf, which we did without much trouble. But they made us paddle hundreds of yards, dig and row, lift and carry, dump boat and right boat, swim the boat, walk the boat, run the boat, crawl, live, die. We were so exhausted it didnt matter. We hardly knew where we were. We just floundered on with bloody knees and elbows until they ordered us out of the water. I think it was just before midnight, but it could have been Christmas morning. We switched to log PT in the surf. No piece of wood in all of history, except possibly the massive wooden Cross carried to Calvary by Jesus Christ, was ever heavier than our eight-foot hunk of wood that we manhandled in the Pacific surf. After all of our exertions, it was a pure backbreaker. Three more men quit. Then the instructors came up with something new and improved. They made us carry the boats over the O-course and manhandle them over the goddamned obstacles. Another man quit. We were down to forty-six. Right then we switched to rock portage and charged back down the beach to get the IBS into the water. We crashed through the light incoming waves like professionals and paddled like hell, using the remnants of our strength, to the rocks opposite the Hotel del Coronado. My swim buddy, Matt McGraw, was calling the shots in our boat by now, and we drove forward, crashed straight into the rocks, and the bowline man leaped for his life and grabbed on to the painter. We steadied the boat with the oars, and I thought we were doing real good. Suddenly the instructor, standing up on the top of the rocks right there at damned near two oclock in the morning, bellowed at our crew officer, You! You, sir. You just killed your entire squad! Stop getting between the boat and the rocks! We hauled the boat out of the water, over the rocks, and onto the sand. The instructor gave us two sets of push-ups and sent us back the way we came. Twice more we assaulted the rocks, slowly and clumsily, I suppose, and the instructor never stopped yelling his freakin head off at us. In the end we had to run the boat back along the beach, drop it, and get right back into the surf for flutter kicks with heads and shoulders in the water, then push-ups in the surf. Then sit-ups. Two more men quit. These DORs happened right next to me. And I distinctly heard the instructor give them another chance, asking them if they wanted to reconsider. If so, they were welcome to press on and get back in the water. One of them wavered. Said he might, if the other guy would join him. But the other guy wasnt having it. Im done with this shit, he said, and Im outta here. They both quit together. And the instructor looked like he could not give a flying fuck. I later learned that when a man quits and is given another chance and takes it, he never makes it through. All the instructors know that. If the thought of DOR enters a mans head, he is not a Navy SEAL. I guess that element of doubt forever pollutes his mind. And puffing, sweating, and steaming down there on that beach on the first night of Hell Week, I understood it. I understood it, because that thought could never have occurred to me. Not while the sun still rises in the east. All the pain in Coronado could not have inserted that poison into my mind. I might have passed out, had a heart attack, or been shot before a firing squad. But I never would have quit. Soon as the quitters had gone, we were put right back to work. Lifting the boats into a head carry for the run over to the chow hall, only another mile. When I got there I was as close to collapse as Id ever been. But they still made us push em out, lift the boat, to work up an appetite, I suppose. Eventually they freed us to get breakfast. We had lost ten men during the nine hours that had passed since Hell Week began; nine hours since those yelling, shooting gunmen had driven Class 226 out of their classroom, nine hours since we had been dry and felt more or less human. They were nine hours that had changed the lives and perceptions of those who could stand it no more. I doubt the rest of us would ever be quite the same again. Inside the chow hall some of the guys were shell-shocked. They just sat staring at their plates, unable to function normally. I was not one of them. I felt like I was on the edge of starvation, and I steamed into those eggs, toast, and sausages, relishing the food, relishing the freedom from the shouts and commands of the instructors. Just as well I made the most of it. Seven minutes on the clock after I finished my breakfast, the new shift of instructors was up and yelling. Thats it, children up and out of here. Lets get going. Outside! Right now! Move! Move! Move! Lets start the day right. Start the day! Was this guy out of his mind? We were still soaked, covered in sand, and wed been up half killing ourselves all night. Right then I knew for certain: there was indeed no mercy in Hell Week. Everything wed heard was true. You think youre tough, kid? Then you go right ahead and prove it to us. 5 Like the Remnants of a Ravaged Army We helped one another back over the sand dunes, picking up those who fell, supporting those who could barely walk.The baptism of fire that had reduced Class 226 by more than half was over.No one had ever dreamed it would be this bad. We lined up outside the chow hall and hoisted the boats onto our heads. It was now apparent we would go nowhere without them. As bankers carry their briefcases, as fashion models walk around with their photograph portfolios, we travel around with our boats on our heads. Its a Hell Week thing. I have to admit that after the first straight thirty hours, my memory of those five days begins to grow a little hazy. Not of the actual events, but of the sequence. When youre moving on toward forty hours without sleep, the mind starts playing tricks, causing fleeting thoughts suddenly to become reality. You jerk yourself awake and wonder where the hell you are and why your mom, holding a big, juicy New York sirloin, is not pulling the paddle right next to you. Its the forerunner to outright hallucination. Kind of semi-hallucinations. They start slowly and get progressively worse. Mind you, the instructors do their level best to keep you awake. We were given fifteen minutes of hard physical training both when we reached the chow hall and when we left. We were sent into the surf fast and often. The water was freezing, and every time we carried out boat drills, racing through the breakers with the four remaining teams, we were ordered to dump boat, pull that sucker over on top of us, then right it, get back in, and carry on paddling to our destination. The reward for the winners was always rest. Thats why we all kept trying so hard. Same for the four-mile run, during which we got slower, times slipped below the thirty-two-minute standard, and the instructors feigned outrage as if they didnt know we were slowly being battered to hell. By that first Monday evening, wed been up for thirty-six hours plus and were still going. Most of us ate an early dinner, looking like a group of zombies. And right afterward we were marched outside to await further orders. I remember that three guys had just quit. Simultaneously. Which put us down to six officers out of the original twelve. Judging by the one guy I knew, I didnt think any of the ones who quit were in much worse shape than they had been twelve hours before. They might have been a bit more tired, but we had done nothing new, it was all part of our tried-and-tested routines. And in my view, they had acted in total defiance of the advice handed to us by Captain Maguire. They werent completing each task as it came, living for the day. They had allowed themselves to live in dread of the pain and anguish to come. And hed told us never to do that, just to take it hour by hour and forget the future. Keep going until youre secured. You get a guy like that, a legendary U.S. Navy SEAL and war hero, I think you ought to pay attention to his words. He earned the right to say them, and hes giving you his experience. Like Billy Shelton told me, even the merest suggestion. But we had no time to mourn the departure of friends. The instructors marched us down to an area known as the steel pier, which used to be the training area for SDV Team 1 before they decamped for Hawaii. It was dark now and the water was very cold, but they ordered us to jump straight in and kept us treading water for fifteen minutes. Then they let us out back onto dry land and gave us a fierce period of calisthenics. This warmed us a bit. But my teeth were chattering almost uncontrollably, and they still ordered us straight back into the water for another fifteen minutes, the very limit of the time when guys start to suffer from hypothermia. That next fifteen minutes were almost scary. I was so cold, I thought I might pass out. There was an ambulance right there in case someone did. But I held on. So did most of us, but another officer climbed out of the water early and quit. He was the best swimmer in the class. This was a stunning blow, both to him and the rest of us. The instructor let him go immediately and just carried on counting off the minutes the rest of us were submerged. When we were finally back on shore, I was not really able to speak and neither was anyone else, but we did some more PT, and then they ordered us back into the water for another period, I forget how long. Maybe five, ten minutes. But time had ceased to matter, and now the instructors knew we were right on the edge, and they came around with mugs of hot chicken broth. I was shaking so much I could hardly hold the cup. But nothing ever tasted better. I seem to remember someone else quit, but hell, I was almost out of it. I wouldnt have known if Captain Maguire had quit. All I knew was, there were half as many still going as there had been at the start of Hell Week. The hour was growing later, and this thing was not over yet. We still had five boats in action, and the instructors reshuffled the crews and ordered us to paddle over to Turners Field, the eastern extension of the base. There they made us run around a long loop, carrying the boat on our heads, and then they made us race without it. This was followed by another long period in the water, at the end of which this member of the crew of boat one, a tough-as-nails Texan (I thought), cracked up with what felt like appendicitis. Whatever it was, I was absolutely unreachable. I didnt even know my name, and I had to be taken away by ambulance and revived at the medical center. When I regained consciousness, I got straight out of bed and came back. I would not discuss quitting. I remember the instructors congratulating me on my new warm, dry clothes and then sending me straight back into the surf. Better get wet and sandy. Just in case you forget what were doing here. Starting at around 0200, we spent the rest of the night running around the base with the goddamned boat on our heads. They released us for breakfast at 0500, and Tuesday proceeded much like Monday. No sleep, freezing cold, and tired to distraction. We completed a three-mile paddle up to North Island and back, at which time it was late in the evening and wed been up for more than sixty hours. The injury list grew longer: cuts, sprains, blisters, bruises, pulled muscles, and maybe three cases of pneumonia. We worked through the night, making one long six-mile paddle, and reported for breakfast again at 0500 on Wednesday. Wed had no sleep for three days, but no one else quit. And all through the morning we kept going, swim-paddle-swim, then a run along the beach. We carried the boat to chow at noon, and then they sent us to go sleep. Wed have one hour and forty-five minutes in the tent. We had thirty-six guys left. Trouble was, some of them could not sleep. I was one. The medical staff tried to help the wounded get back into the fray. Tendons and hips seemed to be the main problems, but guys needed muscle-stretching exercises to keep them supple for the day ahead. The new shift of instructors turned up and started yelling for everyone to wake up and get back out there. It was like standing in the middle of a graveyard and trying to wake the dead. Slowly it dawned on the sleepers: their worst nightmare was happening. Someone was driving them forward again. They ordered us into the surf, and somehow we fell, crawled, or stumbled over that sand dune and into the freezing water. They gave us fifteen minutes of surf torture, exercises in the waves, then ordered us out and told us to hoist the boats back on our heads and make the elephant walk to chow. They worked us all night, in and out of the surf; they walked us up and down the beach for God knows how many miles. Finally, they let us sleep again. I guess it was about 0400 on the Thursday morning. Against many pessimistic forecasts, we all woke up and carried the boats to breakfast. Then they worked us without mercy, had us racing the boats in the gigantic pool without paddles, just hands, and then swimming them, one crew against the other. Wednesday had run into Thursday, but we were in the final stages of Hell Week, and before us was the fabled around-the-world paddle, the last of the major evolutions of the week. We boarded the boats at around 1930 and set off, rushing into the surf off the special warfare center and paddling right around the north end of the island and back down San Diego Bay to the amphibious base. No night in my experience has ever lasted longer. Some of the guys really were hallucinating now, and all three of the boats had a system where one could sleep while the others paddled. I cannot explain how tired we were; every light looked like a building dead in our path, every thought turned into reality. If you thought of home, like I did, you thought you were rowing straight into the ranch. The only saving grace was, we were dry. But one guy in our boat was so close to breakdown, he simply toppled into the water, still holding his paddle, still stroking, kicking automatically, and continuing to row the boat. We dragged him out, and he did not seem to understand hed just spent five minutes in San Diego Bay. In the end, I think we were all paddling in our sleep. After three hours, they summoned us to shore for medical checks and gave us hot soup. After that we just kept going, until almost 0200 on Friday, when they called us in from the beach with a bullhorn. No one will ever forget that. One of those bastards actually yelled, Dump boat! It was like taking a kick at a dying man. But we kept quiet. Not like an earlier response from a student, who had earned everlasting notoriety by yelling back the most insubordinate reply anyone had ever given one of the instructors. Never mind Hooyah, Instructor Pat-stone! (Because Terry Patstone was normally a super guy, always harsh but fair.) That particular half-crazed paddler bellowed, Ass-h-o-o-ole! It echoed across the moonlit water and was greeted by a howl of laughter from the night-shift instructors. They understood, and never mentioned it. So we crashed over the side of the boat into the freezing water, flipped the hull over and then back, climbed back in, soaking wet, of course, and kept paddling. I locked one thought into my brain and kept it there: everyone else who ever became a U.S. Navy SEAL completed this, and thats what were going to do. We finally hauled up on our home beach at around 0500 on Friday. Instructor Patstone knew we just wanted to hoist boats and get over to the chow hall. But he was not having that. He made us lift and then lower. Then he had us push em out, feet on the boat. He kept us on the beach for another half hour before we were loosed to make the elephant walk to breakfast. Breakfast was rushed. Just a few minutes, and then they had us right out of there. And the morning was filled with long boat races and a series of terrible workouts in the demo pits thats a scum-laden seawater slime, which we had to traverse on a couple of ropes, invariably falling straight in. To make everything worse, they kept telling us it was Thursday, not Friday, and the entire exercise was conducted under battle conditions explosions, smoke, barbed wire while we were crawling, falling into the slime. Finally, Mr. Burns sent us into the surf, all the time telling us how slow we were, how much more there was to accomplish this day, and how deeply he regretted there was as yet no end in sight for Class 226. The water almost froze us to death, but it cleaned us off from the slime pits, and after ten minutes, Chief Taylor ordered us back to the beach. We now didnt know whether it was Thursday or Friday. Guys collapsed onto the sand, others just stood there, betraying nothing but in dread of the next few hours, too many of them wondering how they could possibly go on. Including me. Knees were buckling, joints throbbing. I dont think anyone could stand up without hurting. Mr. Burns stepped forward and shouted, Okay, guys, lets get right on to the next evolution. A tough one, right? But I think youre up for it. We gave out the worlds weakest hooyah. Hoarse voices, disembodied sounds. I didnt know who was speaking for me; it sure as hell sounded like someone else. Joe Burns nodded curtly and said, Actually, guys, there is no other evolution. All of you. Back to the grinder. No one believed him. But Joe wouldnt lie. He might fool around, but he would not lie. It slowly dawned on us that Hell Week was over. We just stood there, zonked out with pure disbelief. And Lieutenant Ismay, who was really hurting, croaked, We made it, guys. Sonofabitch. We made it. I turned to Matt McGraw, and I remember saying, How the hell did you get here, kid? Youre supposed to be in school. But Matt was on the verge of exhaustion. He just shook his head and said, Thank God, thank God, Marcus. I know this sounds crazy if you havent gone through what we went through. But this was an unforgettable moment. Two guys fell to their knees and wept. Then we all began to hug one another. Someone was saying, Its over. Like the remnants of a ravaged army, we helped one another back over the sand dunes, picking up those who fell, supporting those who could barely walk. We reached the bus that would take us back to base. And there, waiting for us, was Captain Joe Maguire, the SEAL commanding officers, and the senior chiefs. Also in attendance was the ex-SEAL governor of Minnesota, Jesse Ventura, who would perform the official ceremony when we returned to the grinder. But right now, all we knew was the baptism of fire that had reduced Class 226 by more than half was over. It hadnt beaten thirty-two of us. And now the torture was completed. In our wildest imaginations, no one had ever dreamed it would be this bad. God had given us justice. We lined up on that sacred blacktop, and Governor Ventura formally pronounced the official words that proclaimed we never had to tackle another Hell Week: Class Two-two-six, youre secured. We gave him a rousing Hooyah! Governor Ventura! Then Instructor Burns called us to order and said, Gentlemen, for the rest of your lives there will be setbacks. But they wont affect you like they will affect other people. Because you have done something very few are ever called upon to achieve. This week will live with you for all of your lives. Not one of you will ever forget it. And it means one thing above all else. If you can take Hell Week and beat it, you can do any damn thing in the world. I cant pretend the actual words are accurate in my memory. But the sentiment is precise. Those words signify exactly what Instructor Joe Burns meant, and how he said it. And it affected us all, deeply. We raised our tired voices, and the shout split the noontime air above that beach in Coronado. Hooyah, Instructor Burns! we bellowed. And did we ever mean it. The SEAL commanders and chiefs stepped forward and took each one of us by the hand, saying, Congratulations, and offering words of encouragement about the future, telling us to be sure and contact their personal teams once we were through. Tell the truth, it was all a bit of a blur for me. I cant really recall who invited me to join what. But one thing remains very clear in my mind. I shook the hand of the great SEAL warrior Joe Maguire, and he had a warm word for me. And thus far in my life, there had been no greater honor than that. We probably devoured a world-record amount of food that weekend. Appetites returned and then accelerated as our stomachs grew more used to big-sized meals. We still had three weeks to go in first phase, but nothing compared to Hell Week. We were perfecting techniques in hydrology, learning tide levels and demographics of the ocean floor. Thats real SEAL stuff, priceless to the Marines. While theyre planning a landing, were in there early, moving fast, checking out the place in secret, telling em what to expect. There were only thirty-two members of the original class left now, mostly because of injury or illness sustained during Hell Week. But theyd been joined by others, rollbacks from other classes whod been permitted another go. This applied to me, because I had been on an enforced break when I had my broken femur. And so when I rejoined for phase two, I was in Class 228. We began in the diving phase, conducted in the water, mostly under it. We learned how to use scuba tanks, how to dump them and get em back on again, how to swap them over with a buddy without coming to the surface. This is difficult, but we had to master it before we could take the major pool competency test. I failed my pool competency, like a whole lot of others. This test is a royal bastard. You swim down to the bottom of the pool with twin eighty-pound scuba tanks on your back, a couple of instructors harassing you. You are not allowed to put a foot down and kick to the surface. If you do, youve failed, and thats the end of it. First thing these guys do is rip off your mask, then your mouthpiece, and you have to hold your breath real quick. You fight to get the mouthpiece back in, then they unhook your airline intake, and you have to get that back in real fast, groping around over your shoulder, behind your back. Somehow you find yourself able to breathe in pure oxygen, but the only way you can breathe out is through your nose. A lot of guys find the cascade of bubbles across their faces extremely disconcerting. Then the instructors disconnect your airline completely and put a knot in it. And you must try to get your inhalation and exhalation lines reconnected. If you dont or cant even try, youre gone. You need a good lungful of air before this starts, then you need to feel your way blind to the knot in the line behind your back and start unraveling it. You can more or less tell by the feel if its going to be impossible, what the instructors call a whammy. Then you run the flat edge of your hand across your throat and give the instructor the thumbs-up. That means Im never going to get that knot undone, permission to go to the surface. At that point, they cease holding you down and let you go up. But you better be right in your assessment of that knot. In my case, I decided too hastily that the knot in my line was impossible, gave them the signal, ditched my tanks over my shoulder, and floated up to the surface. But the instructors decided the knot was nothing like impossible and that I had bailed out of a dangerous situation. Failed. I had to go and sit in a line in front of the poolside wall. It would have been a line of shame, except there were so many of us. I was instructed to take the test again, and I did not make the mistake the second time. Undid the sonofabitch knot and passed pool comp. Several of my longtime comrades failed, and I felt quite sad. Except you cant be a SEAL if you cant keep your nerve underwater. As one of the instructors said to me that week, See that guy in some kind of a panic over there? Theres confusion written all over him. You might have your life in his hands one day, Marcus, and we cannot, will not, allow that to happen. Pool comp is the hardest one of all to pass, just because we all spent so much time in the water and right now had to prove we had the potential to be true SEALs, guys to whom the water was always a sanctuary. It must not be a threat or an obstacle but a place where we alone could survive. Some of the instructors had known many of us for a long time and desperately wanted us to pass. But the slightest sign of weakness in pool competency, and they wouldnt take the chance. Those of us who did stay moved on to phase three. With a few rollbacks coming in, we were twenty-one in number. It was winter now in the Northern Hemisphere, early February, and we prepared for the hard slog of the land warfare course. Thats where they turn us into navy commandos. This is formally called Demolitions and Tactics, and the training is as strict and unrelenting as anything we had so far encountered. Its a known fact that phase three instructors are the fittest men in Coronado, and it took us little time to find out why. Even the opening speech by our new proctor was edged with dire warnings. His name was Instructor Eric Hall, a veteran of six SEAL combat platoons, and before we even started on Friday afternoon, he laid it right on the line. We dont put up with people who feel sorry for themselves. Any problems with drugs or alcohol, youre gone. Theres four bars around here that guys from the teams sometimes visit. Stay the hell out of all of em, hear me? Anyone lies, cheats, or steals, youre done, because thats not tolerated here. Just so were clear, gentlemen. He reminded us it was a ten-week course and we werent that far from graduation. He told us where wed be. Five weeks right here at the center, with days at the land navigation training area in La Posta. There would be four days at Camp Pendleton on the shooting ranges. Thats the 125,000-acre Marine Corps base between Los Angeles and San Diego. We would finish at San Clemente Island, known to SEALs as the Rock and the main site for more advanced shooting and tactics, demolitions, and field training. Eric Hall finished with a characteristic flourish. Give me a hundred and ten percent at all times and dont blow it by doing something stupid. Thus we went at it again for another two and a half months, heading first for the group one mountain training facility, three thousand feet up in the rough, jagged Laguna Mountains at La Posta, eighty miles east of San Diego. Thats where they taught us stealth, camouflage, and patrolling, the essential field craft of the commando. The terrain was really rough, hard to climb, steep, and demanding. Sometimes we didnt make it back to barracks at night and had to sleep outside in the wild country. They taught us how to navigate across the land with maps and compass. At the end of the week, we all passed the basic courses, three-mile journeys conducted in pairs across the mountains. Then we headed back to the center to prepare for Camp Pen-dle-ton, where we would undergo our first intensive courses in weaponry. No time was lost. We were out there with submachine guns, rifles, and pistols, training for the not-too-distant days when we would go into combat armed with the M4 rifle, the principal SEAL weapon of war. First thing was safety. And we all had to learn by heart the four critical rules: 1. Consider all weapons to be loaded at all times. 2. Never point a weapon at anything you do not want to put a bullet through. 3. Never put your finger on the trigger unless you want to shoot. 4. Know your target and whats behind it. They kept us out on the shooting range for hours. In between times we had to dismantle and assemble machine guns and the M4, all under the eyes of instructors who timed us with stopwatches. And the brutal regime of fitness never wavered. It was harder than second phase, because now we had to run carrying heavy packs, ammunition, and guns. We also had a couple of weeks at the center to study high explosives and demolition. This mostly involved straightforward TNT and plastic, with various firing assemblies. The practical work happened only on the island of San Clemente. And before we got to do that, we had another rigorous training schedule to complete, including one fourteen-mile run along the beach and back. This was the first time we had run any race without being wet and probably sandy. Just imagine, dry shorts and running shoes. We floated along, not a care in the world. It was mid-March before we decamped to San Clemente for four weeks of training, long hours, seven days a week until we finished. This rugged moonscape of an island is situated off the California coast, sixty miles west of San Diego, across the Gulf of Santa Catalina. For almost fifty years, the U.S. Navy has been in command here, using the place as an extensive training area. There are no civilians, but parts of the island are an important wildlife sanctuary. There are lots of rare birds and California sea lions, who dont seem to care about violent explosions, shells, and naval air landings. Up in the northeast, right on the coast, you find SEALs. And there we learned the rudiments of fast and accurate combat shooting, the swift changing of magazines, expert marksmanship. We were introduced to the deadly serious business of assaulting an enemy position and taught how to lay down covering fire. Slowly, then faster, first in daylight, then through the night. We were schooled in all the aspects of modern warfare we would one day need in Iraq or Afghanistan ambushes, structure searches, handling prisoners, planning raids. This is where we got down to all the serious techniques of reconnaissance. We moved on to really heavy demolition, setting off charges on a grand scale, then hand grenades, then rockets, and generally causing major explosions and practicing until we demonstrated a modicum of expertise. Our field training tasks were tough, combat mission simulations. We paddled the boats to within a few hundred yards of the shore and dropped anchor. From that holding area, we sent in the scout recon guys, who swam to the beach, checked the place out, and signaled the boats to bring us in. This was strict OTB (over the beach), and we hit the sand running, burrowing into hides just beyond the high-water mark. This is where SEALs are traditionally at their most vulnerable, and the instructors watch like hawks for mistakes, signs that will betray the squad. We practiced these beach landings all through the nights, fighting our way out of the water with full combat gear and weapons. And at the end of the fourth week we all passed, every one of the twenty trainees who had arrived on the island. We would all graduate from BUD/S. I asked one of our instructors if this was in any way unusual. His reply was simple. Marcus, he said, when youre training the best of the best, nothings unusual. And all the BUD/S instructors want the very best for you. They gave us a couple of weeks leave after graduation, and thereafter for me it was high-density education. First jump school at Fort Benning, Georgia, where they turned me into a paratrooper. I spent three weeks jumping out of towers and then out of a C-130, from which we all had to make five jumps. That aircraft is a hell of a noisy place, and the first jump can be a bit unnerving. But the person in front of me was a girl from West Point, and she dived out of that door like Superwoman. I remember thinking, Christ! If she can do it, Im definitely gonna do it, and I launched myself into the clear skies above Fort Benning. Next stop for me was the Eighteenth Delta Force medical program, conducted at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Thats where they turned me into a battlefield doctor. I suppose it was more like a paramedic, but the learning curve was huge: medicine, in-jections, IV training, chest tubes, combat trauma, wounds, burns, stitches, morphine. It covered just about everything a wounded warrior might need under battle conditions. On the first day I had to memorize 315 examples of medical terminology. And they never took their foot off the high-discipline accelerator. Here I was, working all day and half the night, and there was still an instructor telling me to get wet and sandy during training runs. I went straight from North Carolina to SEAL qualification training, three more months of hard labor in Coronado, diving, parachute jumping, shooting, explosives, detonation, a long, intensive recap of everything I had learned. Right after that, I was sent to join the SDV school (submarines) at Panama City, Florida. I was there on 9/11, and little did I realize the massive impact those terrible events in New York City would have on my own life. I remember the pure indignation we all felt. Someone had just attacked the United States of America, the beloved country we were sworn to defend. We watched the television with mounting fury, the fury of young, inexperienced, but supremely fit and highly trained combat troops who could not wait to get at the enemy. We wished we could get at Osama bin Ladens al Qaeda mob in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, or wherever the hell these lunatics lived. But be careful what you wish for. You might get it. A lot of guys passed SEAL qualification training and received their Tridents on Wednesday afternoon, November 7, 2001. They pinned it right on in a short ceremony out there on the grinder. You could see it meant all the world to the graduates. There were in fact only around thirty left from the original 180 who had signed up on that long-ago first day of Indoc. For myself, because of various educational commitments, I had to wait until January 31, 2002, for my Trident. But the training never stopped. Right after I formally joined what our commanders call the brotherhood, I went to communication school to study and learn satellite comms, high-frequency radio links, antenna wavelength probability, in-depth computers, global positioning systems, and the rest. Then I went to Sniper School back at Camp Pendleton, where, unsurprisingly, they made sure you could shoot straight before you did anything else. This entailed two very tough exams involving the M4 rifle; the SR-25 semiautomatic sniper rifle, accurate to nine hundred yards; and the heavy, powerful 300 Win Mag bolt-action .308-caliber rifle. You needed to be expert with all of them if you were planning to be a Navy SEAL sniper. Then the real test started, the ultimate examination of a mans ability to move stealthily, unseen and undetected, across rough, enemy-held ground where the slightest mistake might mean instant death or, worse, letting your team down. Our instructor was a veteran of the first wave of U.S. troops who had gone in after Osama. He was Brendan Webb, a terrific man. Stalking was his game, and his standards were so high they would have made an Apache scout gasp. Working right alongside him was Eric Davis, another brilliant SEAL sniper, who was completely ruthless in his examination of our abilities to stay concealed. The final battleground was a vast area out near the border of Pendleton. There was not much vegetation, mostly low, flat bushes, but the rough rocks-boulders-and-shale terrain was full of undulations, valleys, and gullies. Trees, the snipers nearest and dearest friends, were damn sparse, obviously by design. Before they let us loose in this barren, dusty no-mans-land, they subjected us to long lectures stressing the importance of paying attention to every detail. They retaught us the noble art of camouflage, the brown and green creams, the way to arrange branches in your hat, the dangers of a gust of wind, which might ruffle your branches alone if they werent set tight, betraying your position. We practiced all the hours God made, and then they sent us out onto the range. Its a vast sweep of ground, and the instructors survey it from a high platform. Our stalk began a thousand yards from that platform, upon which the gimlet-eyed Webb and Davis stood, scanning the acres like a pair of revolving radars. The idea was to get within two hundred yards of them and then fire through the crosshairs at the target. We had practiced doing this alone and with a partner, and boy, does this ever teach you patience. It can take hours just to move a few yards, but if the instructors catch you as they sweep the area with high-powered binoculars, you fail the course. For the final test I was working with a partner, and this meant we both had to stay well concealed. In the end, he finds the range and calls the shot, and I adhere to his command. At this stage the instructors have installed walkers all over the place, and theyre communicating by radios with the platform. If the walker gets within two steps of you, youve failed. Even if you get your shot off unseen and hit the target, if they find you afterward, you still fail. Its a hard, tough, thinking mans game, and the test is exhaustive. In training, an instructor stands behind both of you while youre crossing the forbidden ground. Theyre writing a constant critique, observing, for example, that my spotter has made a wrong call, either incorrect distance or direction. If I then miss with the shot, they know the mistake was not mine. As ever, you must operate as a team. The instructor knows full well you cannot position, aim, and fire the rifle without a spotter calling down the range, and Jesus, he better be right. There was just one day during training where they walked on me, which I thought was pretty damned nervy. But it taught me something. Our enemy had a damn good idea where we might head before we even started, a kind of instinct based on long experience of rookie snipers looking for cover. They had me in their sights before I even got moving, because they knew where to look, the highest probability area. Thats a lifetime lesson for the sniper: never, ever go where your enemy might expect you to be. My only solace on that rueful occasion was that the instructors walked on every single one of us that day. In the final test, I faced that thousand-yard barren desert once again and began my journey, wriggling and scuffling through the dusty ground, my head well down, camouflage branches firm in my hat, groveling my way between the boulders. It took me hours to make the halfway point and even longer to ease my way over the last three hundred yards to my chosen spot for the shot. I was not seen, and I moved dead slowly through the rocks, from gully to gully, staying low, pressing into the ground. When I arrived at my final point, I scuffled together a little hide of dirt and sticks, and tucked down behind it, my rifle carefully aimed. I squeezed the trigger slowly and deliberately, and my shot pinged into the metal target, right in the middle. If that had been a mans head, hed have been history. I saw the instructors swing around and start looking for the place my shot had come from. But they were obviously guessing. I pressed my face into the dirt and never moved an inch for a half hour. Then I made my slow and careful retreat, still lying flat, disturbing not a twig nor a rock. An unknown marksman, just the way we like it. It had taken three months, and I passed Sniper School with excellent marks. SEALs dont look for personal credit, and thus I cannot say who the class voted their Honor Man. The last major school I attended was joint tactical air control. It lasted one month, out in the Fallon Naval Airbase, Nevada. They taught us the basics of airborne ordnance, five-hundred-pound bombs and missiles, what they can hit and what they cant. We also learned to communicate directly with aircraft from the ground getting them to see what we can see, relaying information through the satellites to the controllers. I realize it has taken me some time to explain precisely what a Navy SEAL is and what it takes to be one. But as we are always told, you have to earn that Trident every day. We never stop learning, never stop training. To state that a man is a Navy SEAL communicates about a ten thousandth of what it really means. It would be as if General Dwight D. Eisenhower mentioned hed once served in the army. But now you know: what it took, what it meant to all of us, and, perhaps, why we did it. Okay, okay, we do have our own little brand of arrogance. But we paid for every last drop of that sin in sweat, blood, and brutally hard work. Because above all, were patriots. We will willingly carry the fight to whoever may be the enemies of the United States of America. Were your front line, unafraid and ready to go in against al Qaeda, jihadists, terrorists, or whoever the hell else threatens this nation. Every Navy SEAL is supremely confident, because were indoctrinated with a belief in victory at all costs; a conviction that no earthly force can withstand our thunderous assault on the battlefield. Were invincible, right? Unstoppable. Thats what I believed to the depths of my spirit on the day they pinned the Trident on my chest. I still believe it. And I always will.

  • Toy Story /   (Disney, 2012)    Toy Story /
  • Dumbo /  (Disney, 2012) -   Dumbo / (Disney, 2012)
  • Assimil.    . Anthony Bulger, 2005. - 640 . + Audio Assimil.
  • The Wheel of Time /   (Robert Jordan) -   The Wheel of Time /

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