When Class 143 finally began BUD/S Indoctrination (Indoc) I found out that we would be taking the physical screen test again. I nearly panicked hearing that those who failed would be dropped on the spot. But the fear must’ve motivated me because I passed while others were sent packing.
From that point on, it took everything I had to get through the calisthenics of Indoc without being targeted by the instructors for not keeping up. During the pool swims, I always finished dead last. Guys already started to ring the bell—quitting.
The beach runs hammered me. Soft sand sucked the energy out of my legs, but waves assaulted me on the hard packed sand. Some guys dropped way behind and others stayed in front with the group. I ran with the guys strung out in the middle.
One day, Instructor Benelli ran alongside me. “Do you want to fall behind with the guys walking in the back or keep up with the guys running in front?”
I gasped. “Front.”
“Run with your thighs and not your lower legs, then. Just pick up your thighs and put them down. Keep your arms loose, so you don’t waste energy. And breathe.”
I followed his advice and somehow managed to make my way forward. My former shipmate, Rudy, stayed strong like Clint Eastwood and was almost always up front, giving me someone to catch up to. Other guys, like Howard E. Wasdin, who I met and became friends with in Indoc, fell behind on one run and received personal attention from the instructors while the rest of us hit the showers. In Howard’s case, he never made that mistake again. In contrast, Claude seemed to fall farther behind on every run. I couldn’t understand why. Claude and I had run together before BUD/S, and he’d never had trouble before. But I noticed he didn’t smile anymore. One day he rang the bell, and I never saw him again.
After one particularly tough day of training, Howard walked around the barracks asking, “Who wants to go with me for a run on the beach?”
I thought he was nuts. “You’re in BUD/S. Isn’t that enough?” What seemed even nuttier to me was that some of the guys actually went.
Eventually, even Howard had enough, though, so we’d party in Tijuana on Saturdays. Then, on most Sundays, Ensign Tom Gordon, a SEAL from Team One, and his wife would pick up Howard and me in their old van and take us to church. And so it went.
Howard set a positive example for me in BUD/S and was a great friend to me. But when I injured a leg muscle trying to swim with my hands and feet tied while preparing for “drownproofing,” that was the end of our training together.
The doctors pulled me out of Class 143. The bad news was that I had to start Indoc all over from the very beginning. But the good news was that I was still in the game. I’d gotten a taste of BUD/S, and I was determined to hook up with Class 144 and kick some ass.
You can read the rest of my story in Navy SEAL Training Class 144: My BUD/S Journal.
Note: Years later, in 1993, in Mogadishu, Somalia, Howard and three other snipers from SEAL Team Six, along with Delta and others, snatched some of warlord Mohamed Aidid’s top cadre. Aidid’s militia used rocket propelled grenades to shoot down two Black Hawk helicopters. Howard and his buddies fought a hellish battle to get out of the city.
The rest of Howard’s story appears in SEAL Team Six: Memoirs of an Elite Navy SEAL Sniper.