Howard E. Wasdin was 21 and newly married when he enlisted in the Navy. He had planned to return to college. Instead, he embarked in an extraordinary career, becoming a SEAL (the Navy’s elite sea, air, and land fighter) and ultimately joining the legendary SEAL Team Six — which, Wasdin writes, is “tasked with counterterrorism and counterinsurgency, occasionally working with the CIA.”
Wasdin is the first SEAL Team Six sniper ever to tell his story. Here, in an excerpt from his bestselling memoir, he describes his training.
Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training began with a physical screening test at the NavySpecial Warfare Center in Coronado, California. We swam and did push-ups, sit-ups, chin-ups, and a run. One guy failed; he hung his head as the instructors sent him packing.
That evening, SEAL instructor Lieutenant Moore* told us we could quit if we wanted to by walking outside and ringing the bell three times.
I thought he was bluffing, but some of my classmates rang the bell.
One of our first training evolutions included the obstacle course (O-course). One night, a SEAL might have to exit a submerged submarine, scale a cliff, hump through enemy territory, scale a three-story building, do his deed, and get the hell out. The O-course has broken more than one trainee.
When my turn came, I took off like a cruise missile. Partway through, I noticed someone stuck behind me on the three-story tower.
There stood Mike, who had played football at the University of Alabama, tears of frustration streaming down his face. Instructor Stoneclam yelled, “You can run up and down a football field, but you can’t get to the top of one obstacle. You sissy!” (Mike eventually became an outstanding SEAL officer.)
A number of the “racehorses” were the biggest crybabies. They’d probably been No. 1 much of their lives, and now when they had their first taste of adversity — BUD/S style — they couldn’t handle it.
Instructor Blah’s jungle boot stepped on a 13-foot-long black inflatable boat resting on our classroom floor. “This is the IBS. Some people call it the Itty-Bitty Ship, and you’ll probably have your own pet names, but the Navy calls it the Inflatable Boat, Small. You will man it with six to eight men who are about the same height.”
He drew a primitive picture of the beach, the ocean, and stick men in the water. “This is you guys after a wave has wiped you out.”
He drew a stick man on the beach. “This is one of you after the ocean spit you out. Guess what. The next thing the ocean is going to spit out is the boat. Now the 170-pound IBS is full of water and weighs about as much as a small car, and it’s coming right at you. What are you going to do? Try to outrun it? Of course not. You’re going to run parallel to the beach. Some of you look sleepy. All of you drop and push ‘em out!”
After push-ups and more instruction, we went outside and stood by our boats. Bulky orange life jackets covered our battle dress uniforms. “Ones in!” our boat leader called.
Our two front men jumped into the boat and started paddling.
I ran in water almost up to my knees.
Two more jumped in and started paddling.
I jumped in with the man across from me, and we paddled. In front of us, a seven-foot wave formed. I saw another boat clear it. We weren’t so lucky. As the ocean swallowed us, I realized, This could kill me.
Eventually, the ocean spit us out onto the beach along with most of the other crews. The instructors greeted us by “dropping” us. With our boots on the boats and our hands in the sand, we did push-ups.
Then we went at it again — with more motivation and better teamwork. This time, we cleared the breakers.
Back on shore, a boyish-faced trainee picked up his paddle off the beach. As he turned to face the ocean, a passengerless boat raced at him.
Instructor Blah shouted into the megaphone, “Get out of there!”
Boy-Face ran away from the boat, just like the instructors told us not to. Fear has a way of turning Einsteins into amoebas.
“Run parallel to the beach! Run parallel to the beach!”
Boy-Face continued to try to outrun the boat. It sped out of the water and hacked Boy-Face down, breaking his leg at the thighbone.
Later, instead of landing our boats on the sand under the sun, we’d land on boulders at night while ocean currents cut at us from two directions. Legend had it that the boulders used to be one rock before BUD/S trainees cracked it with their heads.