It all started in the average size town of Auburn. I was born on a spring day in the morning. My parents were normal, middle class people. My father was career Army and my mother had started out as an executive secretary for Aerojet General in California where they met at an USO function and eventually married before dad was shipped to Vietnam.
I remember my father in his old style olive drab 'fatigues', his class A dress uniform, and the newer style battle dress utilities. He kept his hair short and wanting to emulate him, so did I. One day, when he was home for a change and not deployed, he and I sat down and discussed what my future was going to be. I was about seven years old.
From the time I had learned to walk, it was ramrod straight and I often stood at attention without knowledge of it. We lived on an Army post in the cookie cutter housing that often permeates such installations. After a nice game of catch, we sat on the back steps and had that father son talk. He asked me what I wanted most out of life and what my goals were. Of course having been around him and put on his helmet numerous times, his boots and his field gear, my answer was I wanted to be like him.
For the first time in my young life, I saw his eyes get watery. He reached out and hugged me tight and we went inside to dinner. I can't remember what we talked about over dinner; I was too full of pride. At the end of summer, my dad and I had grown close and mom was really happy that he had been able to spend more time with us. About two weeks before school started, dad came to me in his uniform, beret in hand, and showed me some paperwork. It was enrollment forms to the Randolph Macon Academy in Front Royal Virginia. He sat me down and explained to me that I going to attend this academy because he had taken what the army likes to call a 'hardship tour' and he wouldn't be home for over a year. Mom was going to go to Washington and stay with her parents, my grandparents. He explained to me how it would work and that I could come home for the Christmas holidays. I jumped at the chance to do this.
My first year at Randolph Macon, was incredible. I took to it like a fish to water. Formations, marching, and everything that goes along with that made me feel like I had finally found my place in the great scheme of things.
On my second Christmas holiday break; I was at my grandparent's house for the holidays. My grandfather, a tall, thin man, had served proudly in the Marines during World War II. He had been drafted at age 32. My grandmother, a shorter woman of mixed European descent, was an excellent cook. I had flown home in my cadet dress uniform and had received many comments during the flight. Dad was supposed to be home soon as he was currently involved in a field training exercise or FTX. I had asked my grandfather on numerous occasions about the war as he had been in the Pacific Theater and seen some heavy action. All I could ever get him to say about it was that it was a nightmare and he was glad it was over. Dad finally showed up Christmas day after dinner. He looked tired and worn out from the FTX and still wearing his field uniform. We sat and talked by the fireplace after everyone else had gone to bed. We talked about the sacrifices you had to make, the split second decisions, the camaraderie, the mind numbing tasks. This talk made me more determined to be a professional soldier. He left again just before the New Year and I went back to the academy on the 3rd.
When dad got transferred to Fort Lewis, Washington, mom was ecstatic because her parents didn't live that far from there. During the summer break of my sixth year in the academy, I was able to spend the entire summer home because I had become a mid classman and as they say, rank has its privileges. Dad was finally going to be home more often and not take long deployments. It was during this summer that dad told me that I would no longer be able to attend Randolph Macon. I was crestfallen. This was my chance to become what I had thought of as the best of the best and now it was being taken away. I didn't know how to react. I wanted to scream, cry, hit him, I really didn't know what to do. He calmed me down and explained that because this was his last duty station. He planned to retire here and we wouldn't be moving from post to post anymore. It was best for me to get some roots here and enter the public school system. So the family bought a moderate sized piece of acreage and we moved out into the country.
The summer flew by, as we were all busy moving in and setting up. My grandparents would be on the other half of the property as they were getting on in years and I think maybe mom and dad wanted them there for when I got home from school. Mom had decided to go back to work as she felt I was old enough to take care of myself, and of course grandpa was there to keep me in line.
My first day at public school was a nightmare. I was starting what was called junior high and showed up wearing dress shoes, slacks, dress shirt, tie and carrying a briefcase containing my school supplies. The looks I got walking in said enough. This was a small farming/logging town and I was the outsider. These kids were wearing jeans, tee shirts, tennis shoes, very casual compared to me. In class, when attendance was called, I popped tall next to my desk and answered in a loud, precise voice, "Sir, yes, Sir!" and then sat back down. Of course, the giggling started.
I realized right then that it would be best to refrain from such activity. This was the first time that I would be having female teachers as the academy hadn't had any when I left with exception to the elderly librarian. When answering questions I would have to make sure what sex the person was so as not to offend them with a 'sir' response. From the first day on until my junior year, I was the brunt of every conceivable joke and prank.
For those first years, fights after school with the bullies were a matter of course. I was still the outsider and had to prove myself on a weekly basis. In my eighth grade year, I decided to join the Boy Scouts. It was a kind of relief to be wearing a uniform again. This made my time in school more bearable and I eventually achieved the rank of Eagle Scout.
I enlisted in the Navy to see the world. Later, I volunteered for the SEALs without ever really hearing about Naval Special Forces. It was purely by accident or design that I got in. I was just finishing up my A school in Damnet Virginia when I first saw the position listed on the 'Dream Board'.
The board was just outside the in-service detailer, basically a military recruiter for those already in the service. I watched as fellow sailors looked at the board, grabbed the postings or just read them and walked off. This particular posting was read a lot and left behind. I had read it until I could almost recite it verbatim. This posting was for an Intelligence Specialist at Special Warfare Group Two, San Diego, California. With two weeks to go until the school was finished, this was one of the few listings left on the board. I walked to the board and yanked it loose and strode determinedly into the detailers office. At the first empty desk I sat down and thrust the paper at the petty officer sitting there. He read it, looked at me and then read it again. He asked over and over if this is what I wanted.
Of course, I said yes. He then went on to explain to me that no one ever volunteered for this position and the command normally 'voluntarily assigned' someone for it. I had my mind set for that job and told him so in no uncertain words. He nodded, shrugged, stood and got coffee, offered me some, smoked a cigarette and then finally started typing my request. He told me he was going to add a waiver so if I got there and didn't like it I could come back and try for another listing.
I was wary of that waiver. Never had I heard of someone getting something like that and I immediately thought bullshit but accepted it anyway as he tucked it into my transfer file.
My first experience meeting Chief Petty Officer Kanaka, known as Pineapple to his friends, was when I reported for duty at Group 2. I rolled up to the quarterdeck in an airport cab, skipped up the stairs to the front door and there he was at the desk. Kanaka was Samoan and quite the imposing figure. I doffed my cover and presented him with my file. He slowly put down his Navy Times and flipped through my transfer paperwork. He dropped the file back on his desk and told me to give him fifty.
OK, I thought, must be the new guy tradition, new command, whatever, pay the chief of the boat a fee to enter the unit. I pulled out my wallet and let him know that I only had five and two tens so could he spot me until payday. He bellowed out loud and stood up to his six five height and informed me that it was fifty pushups not fifty bucks. I dropped and knocked out the pushups, popped tall and was told to take my shit and go to a different building. I hastily retreated back to the cab and went to the directed building where I was met by a petty officer dressed in utility greens. He sat me down at his desk and reviewed my file. I saw him read the waiver, which he chuckled at, removed, wadded up and threw in his trash. He told me to go to another building get a set of greens, a haircut and report for class on Monday.
I asked him if this was my B school and he chuckled again and said no it wasn't. I asked what class it was and he told me BUD/S. I explained to him that I was IS and not an operator. He then informed me that because I wasn't first class or better, and currently there were no openings in the Intel section for non-coms, I was attending BUD/S. I explained again that I was IS and was assigned to the head shed Intel section and of course that got me nowhere. He informed me again that the teams were short on IS and Corpsman so I had no choice but go through the next 25 weeks of training. He went on to say that I would be deployed with the teams and gather intelligence first hand from the field where I would turn it over to the intel section that I had assumed I would be in.
My journey into special warfare began.
To say BUD/S was easy you would have to be mentally challenged. Officially class didn't start until it was determined that you were in a physically fit state that would allow you to handle the evolutions. What wasn't talked about is the pre-BUD/S/INDOC training that could last up to two months until a class opened up or enough candidates were rolled back from injuries that they needed to form another class. If you believe Hollywood and their interpretations of SEALs, then we're all hard-core, programmed killing machines. Far from it in the real world. Most of the candidates are very patriotic, some extremely religious, and very few are muscle bound weight lifters. Although the Navy has tried to keep most of the training a secret, they do allow visitors to view it.
Arrangements have to be made at least six months in advance and technically, you can't be related to anyone currently going through the process. Visitors are allowed to watch some of the exercises but not all due to the content and length. I must admit, I did envy the few visitors that were there when I was going through Hell Week. At least they got a warm meal and warm shower. Hell Week, the sixth week of first phase, is the most intense training that you will ever experience. Continuous evolutions for an entire week and the average sleep time is forty-two minutes per day. Of course that's not at one time or in a quiet place.
The first sleep session I remember quite fondly, I was sitting chest deep in a mud pit, no less than three bullhorns set on different squelch levels and the volume turned as high at it would go. Very refreshing.
After BUD/S comes SQT or SEAL Qualification Training, which is another 18 months and teaches you all the ins and outs of how SEALs operate, and how to function within a team environment.
The first time I went on any kind of an operation after being assigned to the teams, Chief Kanaka was the instructor. After Hell Week, where he had made his presence known on several occasions, it was with hesitation when I found out that I was assigned to him for a four-day Escape and Evasion (E&E) exercise. He gathered us together and checked our gear, making sure that we didn't have any unauthorized food and then formed us up and away we went. He pushed us hard the first day and well into the night before he stopped us on a ridge. We formed a perimeter and he gave us instructions. Pointing out a river, which looked like a small creek from our elevation, he told us that we were going to cross it and establish a RON site.
He watched as we got out the rope and rappelling gear before telling us to 'put that shit away, real SEALs didn't need that crap'. I looked at Clint, my swim buddy from BUD/S and he just shook his head. He told us it was a free rappel and easy as a walk in the park. I walked to the edge and looked down, couldn't see much in the dark but he was the NCOIC.
He walked over to the edge, turned and told us to grab his arms as he was going first. We held onto him as he got a good grip and then lowered ourselves to the edge to keep him in view. We heard several small rocks fall and he kept telling us it was OK. As he slipped further and further into the shadows he kept saying it was OK, come on down. We heard more rocks fall than his yell followed by a loud thump and moan. I cupped my hands around my mouth and yelled down to him several times. I finally got an answer and he yelled back that it was OK come on down. His voice sounded a little strangled and hoarse but I figured it was because he didn't want to shout too loud and give our position away.
I looked around at the guys and nobody stepped forward to go next so I said screw it I'm going. Following Chief's path, I lowered myself down, awkward with a sixty-pound rucksack, and felt with my toes for footholds. I made pretty good progress and looking up couldn't see the top anymore. I stopped for a second to find my next foothold and didn't feel the cliff face to my right. Moving my foot back to a good hold, I moved my other foot around to find a one on that side. Again nothing. OK, I'll just lower myself down a little further and find one. I slowly edged down, still feeling for a foothold and again nothing, I was soon hanging by just my hands. I moved my legs around desperately seeking something to stand on, when Chief's voice came from below in a hoarse whisper. 'It's OK. Come on down.' I thought, what the hell and let go.
I hit with a heavy thud, the frame of the ALCE ruck digging painfully into my kidneys and the wind knocked out of me. Chief grabbed me by my shoulders, stood me up, slapped my face a few times, and pointed me in the right direction. I half stumbled and nearly fell as I made my way to the RON site. Training took over as I got to the site and secured the perimeter in front of me. In a short time the rest of the squad staggered in for the night.
The next morning, I could barely move. Chief came around and kicked us loose just after dawn. I crawled over to Clint and together we were able to get each other to stand up by sitting back to back and using our legs to push up. I grabbed him as he bent over to grab his ruck and handed it to me. I backed myself against a tree and he backed into the ruck then turned and repeated the same routine for me. I think we all pissed blood for a week after that. On the last day of the E&E, Pineapple was pushing us hard, telling us because we were wimps; the other squads were beating us. Here it was, pouring down rain, visibility down to maybe fifty feet, mud sucking at our boots and we're double-timing across a sodden pasture.
We stopped at a four-strand barbed wire fence and were about to split the wires to slip through but chief would have none of that. He grabbed this old, wooden beat to shit fence post that the wire was connected to and started climbing it. If we weren't so tired and completely soaked, it would have struck me as comical to see a 6'5" 300+lbs Samoan climbing this little post.
He got to the top and was about to jump off when his bootlace snagged on the top strand and he went over face first into the mud and cow shit that littered the field. He lay there, sputtering, his ruck over the back of his head, holding him into the muck and kicked his feet and hands like an upturned turtle.
We scrambled over the fence and helped him to his feet where he wiped the muck off his face and grumbled about he was getting too old for this shit before pushing onward.
Even after all that, most of us wanted to emulate him.