Handing him back that cup of hot chocolate was the hardest thing I’d ever done.
Thursday night, we’d had three to four hours total sleep since Sunday evening. The dream world started to mix with the real world, and we hallucinated. In the chow hall, an instructor said, “Wasdin, I want you to take this butter knife and kill that deer in the corner.”
Slowly rising from my oatmeal daze, I looked over, and sure as hell, there was a buck in the chow hall. I stalked up on it with my Rambo knife and got ready to make my death leap.
Instructor Stoneclam yelled, “Wasdin, what are you doing?”
“Getting ready to kill this buck.”
“Look, that’s a tray table. It’s what they haul trays in and out of the kitchen with.”
What the …?
“Just sit your dumb ass down and finish eating.”
The instructors had a big laugh.
On Friday, we sat in the frigid ocean with our arms linked, trying to stay together. Instructor Stoneclam stood on the beach talking to our backs. “This is the sorriest class we’ve ever seen. We have just received permission from Captain Bailey to extend Hell Week one more day.”
Somebody said he wasn’t going to do an extra day. He’d rather quit. Fortunately, he didn’t have to. “Turn around and look at me when I’m talking to you!” Instructor Stoneclam said.
Like a platoon of zombies, we turned about-face.
There stood our commanding officer, Captain Larry Bailey. “Congratulations, men. I am securing Hell Week.”
Some men jumped for joy — I was hurting too bad for that. One man had walking pneumonia and went directly to the infirmary. They screened the rest of us. Some of the guys had infections deep inside the skin from cuts. Others had damaged the bands of tissue over their pelvis, hips, and knees. All of us were swollen. The next day, I rolled over the top of my bunk and jumped off the way I always did, but my legs weren’t working. My face hit the deck, giving me a bloody nose and lip. I tried to call my wife collect, to let her know I’d made it through Hell Week, but when the operator came on, my voice wasn’t working. It took hours for it to return.
BUD/S prepared us to believe we can accomplish the mission — and to never surrender. No SEAL has ever been held as a prisoner of war. Even when we’re outnumbered and outgunned, we still tend to think we have a chance to make it out alive — and be home in time for dinner.
Nevertheless, sometimes a SEAL must make a choice between fighting to the death and surrendering. For many brave warriors, it’s better to roll the dice on surrendering in order to live to fight another day — SEALs have incredible respect for those POWs. As SEALs, though, we believe surrender would be giving in, and giving in is never an option. I wouldn’t want to be used as some political bargaining chip against the United States. I wouldn’t want to die in a cage of starvation or have my head cut off for some video to be shown around the world on the Internet. My attitude is, If the enemy wants to kill me, they’ll have to kill me now.
Wasdin served in Operation Desert Storm. Then, at 30, he applied for a spot on the elite — and secretive — SEAL Team Six. After six months of the daunting “selection course,” he was chosen for SEAL Team Six’s red team — and was determined to go even further.
Now I belonged to a “cover” organization with an official commander, address, and secretary. Nobody breathed SEAL Team Six.
So if, for instance, I was applying for a credit card, I gave out the information for my cover organization. I showed up to work in civilian clothes rather than a uniform.
Although I was the new guy, I had my eyes on the next challenge: becoming a sniper. In 1992, my team allowed me and “Casanova” to train at Marine Corps Base Quantico, in Virginia. The first day of the ten-week course, a few men failed the physical fitness test and were sent home.
The next day, we sat in a cinder block building with blacked-out windows. A gunny sergeant stood in front of us. “A sniper has two missions,” he said. “The first is to support combat operations by delivering precision fire on selected targets from concealed positions. His second mission, which will take up much of the sniper’s time, is observation. Gathering information.”
Out on the range, Casanova and I alternated between spotter and shooter. A lot of guys failed the range. They just couldn’t shoot well enough.
We also did field sketches. The instructors took us out and said, “Draw the area from the left wood line to the water tower on the right. You’ve got 30 minutes.” We drew as many important details as we could, in perspective. On the bottom, we wrote what we saw. The instructors graded us for neatness, accuracy, and intelligence value. Later, we would have only 15 minutes.
We played Keep in Memory (KIM) games. The instructor would pull back a tarp on a table and expose a dozen small items. In 10 to 15 seconds, we had to memorize everything. Then we went into the classroom and drew the items. Finally, we had to verbally describe them.
Those who succeeded entered the stalking phase. We learned to make our own ghillie suits and camouflage our M-49 scope, binoculars, and other gear. The location of each stalk varied, and we had to change our color schemes and textures to blend in.
The closer a sniper gets to the target, the more slowly he moves. At two miles away, the sniper stalks smoothly and quickly from cover to cover for a mile. He becomes stealthier for the next half mile. Within the last half mile, the sniper’s movement becomes painstakingly careful — crawling low to the ground.
In training, if the Observer spotted us with his scope before we got within 200 yards, we got only 40 points out of 100 — failure.
Upon reaching 200 yards of the Observer, we had to fire a blank at him. If snipers couldn’t properly ID the Observer, give correct windage or elevation, or shoot from a stable platform, we scored 60 points — failure. If we could do all of that but the Observer spotted the muzzle blast, we’d get 70 points — a minimum pass.
If the Observer didn’t see the shot, a Walker in the field shouted to the area where he believed the sniper to be, “Fire the second shot!”
Most people got busted because the Observer saw brush movement on the second shot. Eighty points.
The final part of the stalk was to see if the sniper could observe a signal from the Observer. “Target is patting himself on the head,” I said.
The Walker radioed the Observer, “Sniper says you’re patting yourself on the head.”
“Yep, good stalk. Go to the bus.” One hundred points. We needed at least two perfect stalks out of ten, and at least 70 percent overall, to pass.
Regardless of how well we did, we still had to pass the final three-day op. Under cover of night, Casanova and I made our sniper hide. First, we dug down four to six inches, carefully removed topsoil and grass, and laid it to the side. Next, we dug a pit six by six feet wide and five feet deep. At the bottom, Casanova and I dug a sump to drain any rainwater and for any unwanted grenades. Then we cleared an area where we could rest our elbows. After that, we covered our hole with logs, rain ponchos, rocks, dirt, and the sod we had placed to the side. Finally, we created a rear exit hole, camouflaging it with fallen tree branches. Inside the exit hole, we placed a claymore mine to welcome any guests.
We kept a log of everything that went on at the target area, a house in the middle of nowhere. A patrol walked over us but couldn’t see us. At one-hour intervals, Casanova and I alternated between spotting and sniping. We ate, slept, and relieved ourselves in the hole. The hard part was keeping one of us awake while the other slept. At night, we had to get out and look at the back of the house. Listening to our radio at the designated time, we heard: “The man in the red hat will appear at 0200 on November 8. Take him out.” A man with a blue hat showed up. Wrong target.
Before the op, Casanova and I had prepared a range card, shaped like a protractor, of the target area. We divided the card into three sectors: A, B, and C. Using prearranged arm and hand signals, Casanova motioned that our target had arrived in Sector B, 1200 on a clock face, 500 yards away.
I acknowledged with a thumbs-up. My crosshairs rested on the chest of the mannequin with a red hat standing in front of a window. If I missed, I wouldn’t graduate. I calmly squeezed the trigger. Bull’s-eye.
Back at the schoolhouse, Casanova and I gave a brief about what we saw on the way in and on the way out and when we saw it, using photographs and sketches. When the major told us, “You two gave an excellent brief,” we breathed a sigh of relief. One Marine was an excellent marksman, but he and his partner were caught sleeping at the same time. Their briefing showed no delivery skills. If a sniper can’t communicate, his information is useless. He and his partner failed.
Dressed in our battle dress uniforms, those of us who passed had an informal graduation. One at a time, our names were called to receive the diploma and the patch our class had designed: a skull with a hood and sniper crosshairs in the right eye — silver on black.
The script on the bottom read: The decision is mine.
Less than a year after graduation, Wasdin nearly had his legs blown off in an attempt to kill a Somalian warlord. He was awarded the Silver Star and medically retired in 1995. He went back to school and became a chiropractor. He has a clinic in Jesup, Georgia.
*Some names, places, times, and tactics have been changed or omitted in order to protect operators and their missions.
SEAL TEAM SIX: MEMOIRS OF AN ELITE NAVY SEAL SNIPER, BY HOWARD E. WASDIN AND STEPHEN TEMPLIN, COPYRIGHT © 2011 BY HOWARD E. WASDIN AND STEPHEN TEMPLIN, IS PUBLISHED AT $26.99 BY ST. MARTIN’S PRESS, 175 FIFTH AVENUE, NEW YORK, NY 10010.