In The Newport Buzz, Former Navy SEAL and congressional candidate Dave Rogers takes readers through the “evolutions” at BUD/S training “Hell Week.” A key point Rogers focuses on, and one that should be remembered by all, even those who aren’t attempting to join the most elite teams in America’s Special Forces, is “The anticipation of misery and pain is a far more powerful force than misery and pain themselves.” Rogers writes:
Hell week breaks you. Hell week breaks everyone. Hell week is five straight days and nights of constant physical activity, constant meaning save for a medically necessary two and half hour nap at the end of day four, you don’t don’t stop, and don’t sleep.
It’s been more than twenty five years since I went through Hell Week, and that time has given me plenty of perspective about what it takes to survive it and why it is so important. However when Hell Week was looming like a storm front on my life, ambitions and self-worth, my judgement was far too clouded for any kind of detachment. I was just flat terrified. Not only I was I likely to fail, but it would happen painfully. Every experience up to this point had successively set the record for my personal pain threshold. Now as the instructors were all too happy to point out, all those records were about to be shattered. Fear had driven me, but now it was running me over. Fear of failure. Fear of pain. Fear of embarrassment. Fear of final confirmation that I was a failure, and I had spent all this time and effort on a foolish lark for which I had told every disbelieving family member and friend that I was good enough. I had surely been bullshitting everyone, trying to seem different, have a ‘plan’, be special when the truth was I wasted everyones time and would now be shown the door by members of the very club I wished to join. ‘Just ring the bell, you know you don’t belong here’. I could hear the words and picture the moment.
In truth, to one extent or another we all felt it. Whatever demons any of us had were chirping in full song as the weekend prior to Hell Week drew to a close. A quiet resignation fell over the collective members of BUD/S class 150, each of us left alone to do battle with our own fears. Thank God for Ensign Magua-sani. True to form he seemed to take everything seriously, and his role as the leader of boat crew six was no exception. He had told us all to come over to his BOQ (Bachelors Officers Quarters) room that Friday night, the last full night before Hell Week was to begin. He said he wanted to have a chat and make sure we were all on the same page. Some chat.
Once all six of us had arrived and we all had eaten some pizza and had a beer or two, there was small talk of how each of us planned to spend the next 24 hours and some meaningless talk about what was to come, Magua stood up.
“OK guys, I wanna get a few things straight between us before tomorrow night”.
He started pacing around the small room, looking down and his words increasingly choppy and gaining volume.
“OK, this is how it is. This is still the fucking Navy, and I am still your fucking officer no matter what bullshit any asswipe instructor says”.
He most definitely has the floor. No one is even chewing at this point.
“Some of you guys are gonna think about quitting out there, some of you, hell they say all of us are gonna think about quitting hell week. Well, I’m gonna fucking tell you right now that they don’t know shit about me and I .. ain’t ..fucking ..quitting.”
He looked each of us in the eye during those last three words. Great, now I’m scared of HIM too. Getting even louder.
“Ya know what else? Huh? You know what else? You.. Williams, Mabry, Rogers…” he pointed at all six of us, “you fuckers work for me. I am YOUR officer and you are MY FUCKING MEN. I got room on my back for all you motherfuckers so lemme tell you this….. ANY of you even THINK about quitting, you gotta ..GO ..THROUGH ..ME. You having trouble? You having a hard time? You come SEE ME FIRST and we’ll ALL get through this TOGETHER”.
What I think I said was something like ‘yes, sir’ with appropriate conviction. Inside however I was screaming “FUCK YEAH!” This is MY GUY and now he has said the magic words. He’s got room on his back for me? Well I am SOOOO there! Im with you sir! We’re doing it together. This guy, who I have hero worshipped from afar for almost as long as I had been in the Navy, just bought me a ticket on his ride. I was ready to start Hell Week right then and there, and perhaps secretly cognizant that this adrenaline fueled confidence would wane in the hours, and days, to come. Right now though it was exactly what I needed to hear. Most of all, I felt like I had a plan. When the going got bad, there would be somewhere to go before facing the prospect of The Bell. And he would do it again then too. He’d kick my ass and say “Dave, get back in form fuck face, I need you! You’re my best guy!” or at least thats how I imagined it might go in my wildest fantasy.
What was coming was no fantasy however, and it wasn’t a homecoming game against the big rival school either. Professional killers intensely motivated to weed out those who didn’t have what it took to serve right next to them, to BE them, were waiting. They were waiting for me. In eighteen hours Hell Week would begin, and that was no fantasy. Eighteen hours after that, I would find my beaten frozen body shuffling over to the same officer who had just gotten my heart racing, desperate for him to do it again.
Ask any SEAL and he will tell you that his Hell Week was the hardest one ever. Of course it was, and mine was too. Class 150’s Hell Week however does have one distinction that to my knowledge hasn’t been beaten to this day, the coldest Hell Week ever recorded. BUD/S training as a whole and Hell Week in particular are all about being cold. Water is cold, and we are training to be warriors of the water. The entirety of SEAL training is a succession of events performed while soaking wet, freezing cold and covered from head to toe in sand. Cold is the great equalizer. It doesn’t matter who you are, when you are cold to the bone, shivering uncontrollably and dripping wet, the only priority you have is to stop being that way. This is one of the great secrets of BUD/S. Mother nature does most of the work, and she is a bitch who hates you.
Hell Week begins after sunset on a Sunday night, and the class is told to be in their racks (beds) fully dressed and ready three hours beforehand. What any of us might have known had we been smart enough to watch the weather was that during that three hours a record cold front moved over Southern California. While we were safe inside the barracks, the temperature outside dropped to 30 degrees. Now, thirty degrees might not sound that bad, but when you are about to be swimming, flopping, crawling and paddling in the 48 degree ocean (the water off San Diego is notoriously cold) for five straight days and nights, thirty is deadly.
By lunchtime on the first full day of Hell Week, eighteen hours in, I found that I was only capable of gross motions with my hands. I could grab the paddle to my IBS with my fists, but I would stare at my fingers as I tried to manipulate the plastic spoon of my MRE (Meal, Ready to Eat) while sitting up against the IBS out on the grinder. I had been shivering since the night before, and the muscles in my back had spasmed to the point where I had a very hard time getting my hands to come together in front of me to scoop some of the pureed turkey tetrazini vomit in the little plastic MRE pack. I resorted to holding the pack by my nose and trying to shake the food down into my mouth. Just then one of the instructors, who hadn’t shut up since Hell Week started, announced that Log PT (the telephone poles) would be the next evolution. This dreaded announcement of the worst possible ‘next thing’ was a punctuation of the incessant reminders that we were only a few hours into this nightmare and we were still “days away from halfway baby!”.
We were given almost an hour to sit there an eat, and to think, and this was no mistake. There are no mistakes at BUD/S. As chaotic and improvised as things sometimes seemed, BUD/S is a tightly choreographed series of events, each building on a previous misery to break the trainee. While we sat there to eat, outside, beyond cold, the instructors occasionally would yell some announcement or miserable reminder, but for the most part we were left on our own, and most importantly to our own thoughts. This is when it happens.
The anticipation of misery and pain is a far more powerful force than misery and pain themselves. Given enough time, a weakened mind and with proper prodding, your own imagination can do far worse things to you than the instructors ever could. This isn’t just an effective tool to weed guys out, it truly is combat training. Combat is about being at your absolute best during the moment you are in. Sitting around mulling over your chances for survival or even whats gonna happen five minutes from now is defeatist. Just get through now, and worry about then, then. I know this now and of course our instructors knew it then, as the Bell started to ring, and ring.
Read more here.
E.J. Smith - Your Survival Guy
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