When is it going to start?
Here I was in a racquetball court with 83 other midshipmen anxiously anticipating the start of the Naval Academy’s SEAL screener. After entering the racquetball court at 1630, we had no idea if we would be waiting for five minutes or five hours. That was the point; the cadre running the screener wanted to build up our nerves. Waiting inside those racquetball courts elicited different responses from different midshipmen. Some lied down and tried to sleep (though I doubt anyone actually could). Some sat down and adjusted their ruck sacks. And others tried to keep their spirits up by saying funny movie quotes.
How long will they keep us waiting? Have all the power bars and energy gels already worn off?
With a loud siren blasting from the megaphone, the screener officially kicked-off. We had been waited in that racquetball court for three hours. After forming up into boat crews and gaining accountability, we ran over to the Severn River and jumped in for the first- but certainly not the last- time. Then, we organized ourselves into boat crews and raced (on land) against the other boat crews while carrying Zodiac inflatable boats on our heads. After the race and a short ruck run, we did some log PT- completing overhead presses as a boat crew with heavy, fifteen-foot long logs.
Just like at BUD/S, we had to have our swim buddy with us at all times, except during the individual races. Fortunately for me, my swim buddy and good friend, John McDonough, was a physical beast. An ironman finisher and ultra-marathon runner, John had been preparing for this screener since I-day, the first day of plebe summer. No matter how bad things got, I always knew John would put out 110%.
After another ruck run, complete with 200 meters of bear crawling, we completed back to back physical screening tests (PST). These tests consisted of pull-ups, push-ups, a mile run, and a 350 meter swim (they shortened the distances for us). Next, we went on another short ruck run, jumped in the Severn…again, and completed more basic PT. At around 0530, the cadre told us that we would get a two hour break. I immediately grabbed all my gear and walked back to company area with John. Some of the underclass from my company helped us out during this break, and I cannot thank them enough. They had Gatorades, food, and hot chocolate waiting for us. Most importantly, they dried all our camis and gear.
Lying down on this sofa in dry clothes sure does feel good. Are you sure you want to go back?
After quickly reading the St. Crispin’s Day Speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V, I reported back to the designated location. The cadre did not leave us in dry clothes for long, as we kicked off the morning by running to the river and jumping in. We then loaded the Zodiacs boats into the water and raced against the other boat crews to various point in the river. Finally, the cadre told us to paddle to Naval Station Annapolis- across the river from the Academy. After bringing the boats ashore, we threw on our ruck sacks and prepared for a long ruck run. Naturally, the cadre didn’t tell us how long the run would be.
See that guy in front of you- catch up to him! Will this be the last lap? I sure hope it is. Just keep running.
After finally completing the ruck run (it ended up being about 4.5 miles), we did various teamwork exercises. As always, it paid to win. Next, we went back to our boats (and the Severn) and paddled back to the Academy. Once again, we raced the other boat crews to the different waypoints.
After paddling back to the Yard, we competed against one another in a 250 meter Severn River swim. Swimming is my forte, but swimming in open water, against the current, on a cold November day tested that strength. My swim buddy and I completed the swim, and immediately began more boat crew races (on land) with the zodiacs over our heads. Breaking shortly for dinner, we ran over to the pool for some more swim PT. For me, the worst part of swim PT was executing flutter kicks and push-ups with a charged mask. Charging your mask means you fill it up with water. Before the screener, I didn’t think this part would be that difficult. Granted, you wouldn’t be able to see a darned thing with a charged mask, but how could it be that bad? I didn’t factor in that the water from the mask would trickle down into the back of your throat.
Don’t you dare take that mask off! You just threw up all over the pool deck. Will this go on for another day?
During this pool phase, we had to jump off the ten-meter tower. Jumping off this tower used to be a requirement for all midshipmen, but the higher-ups changed that requirement starting with my class. I was secretly very happy when they made that change. Walking up the tower, or rather bear crawling up, I realized that I wasn’t nervous at all about jumping off. In fact, compared to the other evolutions, this jump was easy.
After leaving the warm pool, we did some more PT, and jumped into the Severn…again. Looking back on it, I can’t remember not being wet during the screener. Upon exiting the water, the cadre said, “Fall-in on your gear and get out your mask and fins. Up next is another open-water swim.”
Not again…just do it. You promised yourself a million times you wouldn’t quit. Then again, those promises weren’t made when you were cold, wet, tired, and miserable.
Here 56 men out of the 83 who started this screener expected to swim half a mile in 57⁰ degree water at night. After we donned our fins and mask, the OIC said, “Group one prepare to enter the water. Ready…You’re secured.”
No way? It can’t really be over. It is over. Finally, we did it!
After a full night and day of being wet and cold, we finished. Everyone broke into cheers, mids hugging fellow mids who, 30 hours ago, were complete strangers.
The OIC made it extremely clear that this screener, while tough, was nothing in comparison to BUD/S training. Even though less than a third of the finishers will receive a Naval Special Warfare billet, each participant pushed his mental and physical limits and thus gained valuable experience for any Navy or Marine Corps community.