Here is the second edit from ESE’s very first winter SCUBA course in beautiful Puerto Rico!
We have finally made it to Friday, the final day of the class. This afternoon the students will graduate and celebrate this past week, an accomplishment that will make them proud the rest of their lives.
There is no PT this morning, as the “Monster Mash” is scheduled. This consisted of a run from the river to the lake, a swim across the lake, flutter kicks, more running, pull-ups, dips, more running, more swimming, and ending with even more running across the field to the finish line, where ice cold Gatorade awaited them. The men started today by loading up their swim gear and getting on the bus for a short drive to the river. Shortly after we arrived, the helicopters made their entrance, ready to give each student a ride he’ll remember forever, ending with a 25′ drop off the skids into the river and a swim to shore.
The men loaded each helicopter two at a time and had a brief, invigorating ride closely following the twists and turns of the river with exciting bank turns often triggering warning lights and alarms. There were times where the skids almost touched the water. The pilots also maneuvered very closely together during strait-aways as well as coordinating bank turns for us to get the best shots highlighting their skills. Out of all of the helicopter flights that the SwaggerJack crew has taken, these were certainly the most daring, brave, and talented pilots. At one point, near the end of the flight, the heli banked through turn after turn after turn, then continued strait towards the treeline, making everyone think we would crash. At the very last second, the pilot pulled the craft up and over, gluing us to our seats, then pointed the nose down as we crested the peak to create a zero-g effect, often making ourselves and the students float out of our seats, or at least feel weightless. The pilots really were amazing.
Shortly after the zero-g thrill, the pilot would shout “Stand by!” to the men, signalling them to unbuckle their seat belts, refasten them behind their backs, and step out onto the skids while holding a support bar. This was their ready position to drop into the river.
When the heli was hovering over the correct area, the pilot would shout “Bust ‘em, bust ‘em, bust ‘em!”, signalling the men to step off of the skids and drop into the water. Even though this was the first time in a helicopter for many of the men, not a single one hesitated when he was instructed to drop. Once they resurfaced, they swam to shore to be greeted by Chief Fuch and Senior Cheif, then enjoyed a short break before beginning the Monster Mash.
The men completed their grueling Monster Mash within 45 minutes, and each had a quiet celebration for their completion. This signified the end of their course, they had passed their final test. They were ready to graduate EXTREME SEAL EXPERIENCE. It was a simple ceremony, with a few special acknowledgements of standout students, and beautiful thank you for the camera crew, and each student receiving his graduation certificate and letter of recommendation for the BUD/S training course. Now it was time to celebrate, reminisce, and for the men to enjoy their last day with their new found brothers.
Thursday morning’s PT started with a warm-up of basic moves, then transitioned to a fun touch-football scrimmage between the shirts and skins. Once again, the men split into their teams and took turns playing each other on the field. Once one team scored, the other team would take over to play the winner. This was a good way for the guys to get in some PT and have some fun, all while relieving some of the week’s stress with the game.
After PT, there was a brief break before loading up the bus to travel to a local air soft field with a 48’ rappel tower and generous firing range. Today’s activities included rappelling, fast roping, and shooting a wide variety of weapons, all while the heat index climbed to 114°F.
For the men on their second week of class, they started lessons on all the different artillery the instructor’s had available. The men on their first week were briefed on rappelling, issued gear, and climbed to the top of the tower.
Luckily for the camera crew, Senior Chief Don Shipley was more than willing to let us get in some of the action too, setting us up with harnesses so we could rappel and film while going down the tower. Not only did we get some awesome footage, but we all got to share in the same experience as the men, conquering our own nervousness by rappelling strait down this 48’ foot tower, even “Aussie Style!” After the rappel lesson and practice, it was time to shoot the .50 caliber Barrett from the top of the tower. Once again, Senior Chief was kind enough to allow the camera crew get a piece of the action, each getting their turn to shoot, even allowing the first shot to be done “ladies first” by our own camerawoman, Stefanie.
The .50 caliber Barrett has a specially designed muzzle which projects the pressure through special vents, making the recoil much less than what one would expect from such a large gun. In turn, this causes a shockwave which damages hollow organs, shakes the ground, and causes nosebleeds and headaches after several shots by one shooter. The bullet is capable of travelling over 5 miles and the longest recorded accurate shot was clocked over a mile away.
While that team was rappelling and shooting the .50 cal., the other was practicing shooting a variety of firearms including M-4’s, M-14’s, 9mm pistols, .308 sniper rifles, and a .40 caliber Glock. They were practicing double-taps and shooting balloons at a variety of distances. They also had pre-mixed containers of explosive material which they shot, being quickly rewarded for hitting their target with a loud explosion.
Once each group had completed that area of training, they switched. The ones rappelling were now shooting and those shooting were now rappelling. The men now rappelling were on their second week and had previously rappelled the week before, so they practiced more advanced techniques, such as swinging directly in and out of windows while performing a controlled drop down the building. This was a particularly fun challenge, as the men were directed that the proper technique included yelling “weeeeeee” while swinging in and out of the windows. Also, Senior Chief added another element of danger by shooting his flamethrower through the windows and the men rappelled down. As one would imagine, there were also many crashes into the window frames, provided some entertainment for men.
Before leaving, the mean each got to “fast rope,” a technique where they grab the rope with their hands and slide down it as if it were a fire-pole, without using their feet for stabilization. This technique is also considered a controlled fall.
Time for one last explosion before leaving…
By the end of the afternoon, everyone was exhausted and ready to hit up the local rope swing. So after getting back to camp and unloading equipment, the men enjoyed a good dinner and a fun evening at the local rope swing at the lake. Tomorrow morning is going to be their last physical challenge, the “Monster Mash,” as well as their heli-casting training.
Wednesday started bright and early with some PT including a nice jog through a wooded trail. Shortly after finishing, the men were issued gear and loaded up the bus. They were on their way to a beautiful farm field with two amazing large, decrepit abandoned houses for some CQC training with live air soft rounds.
The men split into teams, one to defend the house and one to seize it. They practiced shooting in the door with shotguns, then using explosive charger devices. Once the main entry door was breeched, the men would form a train and meticulously work their way through the house, room by room, clearing each area and shooting any opposition.
After several runs where they simply “killed” whoever was defending the house, they transitioned to a capture mission, where they would detain those defending the house rather than just shoot them. This is where the men really started to have some fun with choke holds and body slams, doing whatever they felt necessary to detain the “terrorist.”
Each team did several runs before loading the bus back up and driving back to camp for an afternoon break before coming back to these farm houses for some night runs.
For the night runs, the men switched from a one-story house to a two-story house, adding the danger element of a stairwell. Once again, they split into teams and one would defend the house while the other would seize. On some runs, the men seizing the house would also be on a rescue mission, trying to save one of their own from the “terrorists.” They did several runs into the night, each becoming progressively smoother and more intense. The night ended on a high note, with a well-executed run initially breeching two doors with both the 12-guage shotgun and explosive charger.
The men were eager to rinse off and get to bed, as tomorrow was another early morning with PT starting at 0700.
Today started at 0500 hours, waking, readying the camera equipment, and heading to the beach to film the team’s sunrise PT session. The sun rose at 5:59am, just as expected, with all of its beautiful glowing coral glory, all while the men were transitioning between pushups, flutter kicks, and many other PT exercises. After watching the men lunge, run, and bear-crawl up and down the beach, they were led in a long run by their instructor. Our cameraman Ryan decided to get in some PT too, running with the team almost all the way, with video camera in hand.
After a quick clean up, the men turned their attention to packing up their gear and supplies for the move back inland for the rest of training. I must say, it’s very impressive how quickly a huge house can be packed up and cleaned when 21 dedicated men all work together to achieve their goal. After the ride back to camp, they unloaded and enjoyed a short bit of rest time before beginning the afternoon’s activities.
Training this afternoon consisted of close quarter combat (CQC) training with live air soft rounds. The men started by practicing formations in separate groups. After gear issue, they proceeded to shoot each other with the air soft rifles from increasing distances to test both their accuracy and ability to take a shot during training. Once the men had completed these exercises, they were off to another local compound with abandoned buildings to practice seizing a compound and defeating the enemy.
Splitting into groups, one playing the enemy defending home base and the other playing the SEAL team defeating home base, the men practiced formations and tactics they had just learned. With one squad stationed in a series of buildings, the other would infiltrate the compound and work their way through the structures, clearing each one as they went. Leaders of the SEAL squad would split their group in two, commanding each smaller group though the specific movements and steps of approaching and taking down an enemy building with their stealth and weaponry. The squad playing the enemy would set up to defend their base and readily attack their opposition with their air soft weapons. Naturally, the SEALS always won.
After several hours of training exercises within the abandoned compound, the team packed up their gear and headed back to camp for the night. They’re going to need their rest, as tomorrow begins at 0700 with PT and quickly moves on to 0900 CQC training.
We got to the SEAL house at 0800, ready to film the men have an early morning PT session, ending with a long run down the beach. After their run, the men prepped their zodiac boats and mounted their engines. While one team practiced with the zodiac boat engines, breaking through the waves and beaching the boat again with the motor safely risen, the other team was sent on a long swim training session learning how to maneuver through the sea wearing the gear, boots and all. After the grueling PT and training sessions, it was rest time for the men and for us film crew.
After a few hours’ break, the men readied their zodiac boats once again for a mission to storm the beach in front of a nearby restaurant, a well-deserved treat for the men. The students split into two groups- one rode the boats to the restaurant while the other half rode in the bus.
Tonight’s meal was a great break and reward for all of their hard work. Tomorrow morning is an 0600 sunrise PT/run, looking forward to seeing the dolphins with the sun rising in the background.
We arrived Sunday morning right on time to find the students already awake and roaming the house. Senior Chief had given them orders to prepare for at 0900 hours, and they were scrambling to get dressed properly and ready. We filmed them going through some rigorous PT, running on the beach, doing flutter kicks while laying in the break of the waves, getting wet-n-sandy, and many other training activities. The students were dedicated- sprinting into the water, running back on land to drop in the sand and roll around like dogs. When instructed to get sand in their hair, they eagerly rubbed fistfuls of sand into their scalps, then jumped to attention awaiting their next command. The team learned how to operate zodiac boats by paddle, working like a well-oiled machine to make it through the breaking waves and back on shore without dropping anyone overboard or losing control. These young men are pushing their preconceived notions of their own limits and performing in ways they never thought they could.
The afternoon was spent learning close-quarter-combat maneuvers and techniques. The students teamed up and practiced seizing the house, clearing rooms and controlling their weapons. We followed them through their drills before some brief break-time leading up to the night ops, where the fun began. The students teamed up and practiced drills on the beach before running a mission with the zodiacs boats over three miles down the coast. By the end of the night, we were all exhausted from the day’s events, and we were due back at 0800 the next morning.
We left Gainesville at about 8:30pm after some minor time delays and drove straight through the night, arriving at the EXTREME SEAL EXPERIENCE at roughly 8am. The drive was fairly uneventful, with the highlight being a 3am meal in a podunk Steak-n-Shake with the absolute best little ol’ lady waitress, taking good care of us and still busting our chops. The sun began to rise as we drove through North Carolina, showering the tobacco fields with a beautiful golden glow. Once we pulled up to the training compound, the Shipley’s gave us a warm greeting and even labeled us as a “motley crew.” It didn’t take long for the work to begin as within 20 minutes, everyone had a camera in hand and we were following the students around as the instructors coached them through their morning chores. There was no time to rest! From the training compound we drove to Sandbridge Beach to track down a hotel and film the students unload gear and do some PT. Saturday was a day of rest for the students, so the afternoon was spent relaxing and conducting interviews. After an eventful evening (and still no sleep since we woke Friday morning), we drove to the hotel to prep our gear for the next day and get some much needed rest. We were due back at 8:30am.
The crew is packed, camera gear is loaded, and we’re ready to hit the road to Virginia and start filming the EXTREME SEAL EXPERIENCE!