Lessons from SEAL training


I only volunteered for two things before getting married. No. 1, I enlisted in the Navy. The draft was on then and I didn’t want to be an Army draftee. No. 2, I volunteered for Antarctic duty. The back of the Antarctic Service Medal says, “Courage, Sacrifice and Devotion.” Everybody called it “Courage, Sacrifice and Stupidity,” but that’s just Navy humor. It was absolutely one of the best adventures of my life.

One thing I wouldn’t have volunteered for was UDT training, the abbreviation for Underwater Demolition Training. It’s now known as Navy Seal Training.

“A man’s got to know his limitations,” as Clint Eastwood once said in Magnum Force. Seal training would have been one of those limitations for me. But I admire those who survive it and become SEALS. They are the country’s finest warriors.

There are some lessons from SEAL training for all of us, according to Adm. William H. McCraven, ninth commander of U.S. Special Operations Command. Ten Life Lessons from Navy Seal Training was used by the admiral for a commencement address in May at the University of Texas in Austin. An abbreviated version appeared in the May 24 Wall Street Journal.

I’ll shorten up it up even more. No. 1. Navy SEALS have to make their bed every day. No big deal; that’s part of boot camp anyway. “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.”

No. 2. In the winter, even with high surf in San Diego, the SEAL boat teams have to paddle several miles down the coast. “If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle.”  True words. You can’t run a newspaper or have a happy marriage if you don’t have someone to help you paddle.

No. 3. Winners are not necessarily the biggest and strongest. In the admiral’s SEAL class the shorter guys from a multi-ethnic crew “out-paddled, out-ran and outswam all the other boat crews.” So, “If you want to change the world, measure people by their heart, not the size of their flippers.”  In the more recent  past we’ve had the most ethnically diverse culture in El Dorado County, including a big black man who was our first photo editor and one of the most popular persons in the office, a Vietnamese woman who escaped on a boat and had her own newspaper shut down several times by the Saigon government and a Pakistani writer who always requested a day of for the Ramadan. Photo Editor Greg Clark went on to run a large call center in the Philippines, Thai Strom became the librarian for the Stockton Record and retired to a beach town in Oregon. I’m not sure where Imran Ghori went, but I’m sure he is successful wherever he is. We even have one writer who went on to be a correspondent in Beijing. He sent us a couple of interesting stories from there. No charge. He just remembered us with fondness in his heart.

No. 4. Sometimes things don’t go the way you think they ought to. In SEAL training they alway found a way to fail a person at uniform inspection, force them into the water and then roll around in the sand. “The effect was known as the ‘sugar cookie.'” Some couldn’t tolerate not passing uniform inspection. “It’s just the way life is sometimes. If you want to change the world, get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward.”

No. 5. SEAL training involved something known as “circuses,” where those who didn’t meet standard times and measures in other physical activities got a “circus,’ which was an additional two hours of calisthenics, but, “Over time those students who did two hours of extra calisthenics, got stronger and stronger.”

“Life is filled with circuses. You will fail. … At times it will test you to your very core. But if you want to change the world, don’t be afraid of circuses.”

No. 6. The SEAL obstacle course time record was set in 1977. One person in the admiral’s class instead of moving along a 200-foot-long rope hand-over-hand from the top of a tower just slid down it headfirst and broke the record.

“If you want to change the world sometimes you have to slide down the obstacle headfirst.”

No. 7. In land-warfare training the students have to do a night swim in an area off San Clemente Island that is a breeding ground for great white sharks. Trainees are told if a shark darts toward you “punch him in the snout and he will turn away.”

“So if you want to change the world don’t back down from the sharks.”

No. 8. This is where UDT work comes in. Using nothing but a depth gauge and a compass the trainees are dropped off two miles outside a harbor, where they are supposed to find a ship and presumably attach something under its keel, a place that is totally dark and can also be disorienting because of noise from the ship’s machinery.

“If you want to change the world, you must be your very best in the darkest moment.”

No. 9. During hell week trainees are kept in cold mud for eight hours as a way to get people to quit. But one person began singing and others joined in and the singing seemed to make it warmer.

“If you want to change the world, start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud.”

No. 10. If a person can’t handle the tough challenges of Navy SEAL training all he has to do is ring the brass bell and the pain stops.

“If you want to change the world don’t ever ring the bell.”

These are all maxims to live by. You don’t have to take Navy SEAL training. Adm. McCraven has distilled the lessons learned for the rest of us to benefit from his experience.

I’ve been at the Mountain Democrat 36 years. I liked working here from the beginning because I could take my own photos for features and do my own page design. I turned down a photography offer from Grass Valley back then because they weren’t going to let me design my own work. I just saw more opportunity here. I like designing the front page. Along the way I learned to like writing editorials. Sometimes they have an effect. You might say I can sometimes change the world because I didn’t ring the bell and once in a while I punch the shark in the snout, editorially speaking.


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