Updated: Apr 8, 2019
“Guarantee it Unclebach! I will make you quit!” Carlos said to me. Not with a yell, not with a whisper, but with a voice that preceded a man having no shortage of power to bring his personal will to fruition. If you’re one of the few reading this who went through BUD/s roughly between Class 270-300, you know who Carlos is. I’ll call him only by his first name.
Carlos was one of my first phase instructors in BUD/s training, and he was referred to as the “instructor hammer.” Amidst a myriad of other mighty warriors, all with their own individual ability to separate the weak from the strong, Carlos was known for destroying even the most stubborn weaklings.
What is a stubborn weakling you ask? If you read some of my other blogs/articles you might have heard me say it before, BUD/s is pretty cut throat. If you are identified as weak its not just the instructors coming after you, but your own peers. The Instructors use group punishment purposefully to help drive out those not qualified from the inside out. A stubborn weakling is an individual identified by the class through his behaviors and performances to be not qualified. Though sometimes the group gets it wrong, it’s rare. And usually, once a class turns on an individual they don’t have the self-assurance to stay in it. Which even further proves they aren’t fit for the job. However, once in a while, there is a student that won’t quit from the peer pressure, but their performance is weak. Cue Carlos.
Carlos wasn’t just there for the stubborn weaklings though, he was there for something more important. He made a practice of picking people out, and he would focus solely on one individual for a day or two at a time. Funny how many people knew that was his practice but couldn’t just make it through the day.
It just so happens that I was one of the fortunate few that got to be his best friend for a day (or two). I remember it was week two of 1st phase and we had a pool day. Sounds fun right? All your friends will be there, but there’s no fun on the schedule.
Pool day consists of a bunch of stress-inducing water-based activities. One, in particular, was an exercise where you fill your mask up with pool water. You have to keep your mask full of water while doing a bunch of exercises like bear crawls around the pool, pushups, and flutter kicks. Well, I could do all that just fine except when we were doing flutter kicks they would make you tilt your head back. With my head tilted back my mask would slowly drain down my nose. I could keep positive pressure on my nasal cavity except for every time I took a breath a little bit of water would go down my nose.
When Carlos found me, we had been doing flutter kicks for about 10 minutes, and I hadn’t had a chance to refill my mask. It was only about half full. You try to avoid eye contact, it never works. Then he stands over me. If I didn’t look up at him, I was .5 seconds from a kick in the ribs. And as soon as I look up at him, he yells out, “Oh look, Unclebach doesn’t want to keep his mask full, I'll help him.” He walks away, then comes back dragging a giant water hose.
For the rest of the time at the pool, the mouth of that water hose was about 5 inches off my face, either spraying right into my nose or mouth. I could barely breath ( always looking at the bright side, the fresh water from the hose was better than all the chlorine in the pool). There was so much water in my face. I hardly even knew what was going on until the guy next to me screamed loud enough that I knew the exercise had changed.
Carlos backed off me for a brief second, using the hose he had just drowned me with to get a sip of water in a perfectly poised instructor power move (haha), then spoke up loudly enough for the whole class to hear, giving one of his most famous quips “Its very simple gentleman, you will either meet the standard, or you will go away.”
A few weeks later, post Hell Week, we were about to be done with 1st phase which meant we would move on to new training and new instructors, no more Carlos. There was much more ahead of us, but no more 1st phase. We were a much smaller group now, down to less than 50 from 160 just seven weeks before. He caught up with the class during a quick downtime to make a speech, a soliloquy of sorts. You know how in theatre or in a movie sometimes the actor turns towards the audience and speaks directly to you? Well, this was like that, except, instead of talking to us as students, he broke down that wall for a brief second and spoke to us as men. This was his farewell to us and a semi-seal of approval.
I won’t repeat the whole speech, but I’ll never forget how he closed, “We are the gatekeepers. Not the Navy, not the 4 mile timed run, just me and all the other instructors. This isn’t just some job. A year from now I could be standing right next to you at a team and expecting you to guard my back. If you’ve made it this far, then some of you standing here will join the brotherhood. You may think this was the hardest part, but I assure you, it only gets harder from here. BUD/s is what it is for a reason. There is no, and there never will be any compromise. Run/swim times may change,
Commands will change (the guy in charge), but there will always be a SEAL standing here, guarding the gate, to ensure that only the most qualified men walk through it.”
If you want to know why the SEAL teams are what they are, that’s where it starts. The Gatekeepers. A group of men guarding their legacy like their depends on it because it does. Standards are necessary, but what's more important are the lengths you’ll go to uphold them.
No profound lesson today, just a story and a question.
What's guarding the gate of your legacy?