Recently, Swaggerjack took a vacation. We traveled abroad to majestic Germany to visit family and had a truly spectacular time! The full crew did not go on this trip, and the video cameras barely got any use, but we kept the Nikon going to share Swaggerjack’s German adventure with you!
Our main purpose for visiting Germany was to see and spend time with family, as well as celebrate Davy Crockett’s 50th birthday with style. We were fortunate enough to stay in a beautifully crafted home built on a mountainside in 1979 by a skilled carpenter, who then passed it on to his son. The front door greets you with classic iron-knockers and stained glass windows decorating the front entry wall. Looking up as we walk towards the door, we see a magnificent set of antlers proudly displayed on the outdoor deck above the front door.
Inside, the floors are a blend of classic marble and durable tile. The carpenter must have spent months on the living room alone, as every pane of wood along the ceiling sports a different, intricate, hand-carved design. In fact, even the door frame has its own elaborate designs. The living area opens into a large, full outdoor deck overlooking cherry trees and fields of wildflowers leading into dense, inviting woods. This served as an amazing home-base during our travels in Germany, and offered many tranquil moments listening to the birds and watching the wind make the flowers dance.
No trip to Germany is complete without a visit to a castle, and our first was the Auerbach Castle. Beautifully set on a mountaintop with many hiking trails for access, the Auerbach was an excellent introduction to German culture. This castle does not offer interior tours, but you can easily walk around the property and through various turrets and courtyards. We had a fun time exploring the remains, trying to climb the turrets, and enjoying our time with family.
One day, we had made a trip up to the Netherlands for business purposes, and on the way back we made a detour to the world-famous Nürburgring Race Track. This track is nearly a half-century old and is known as “The Green Hell” amongst racers. Featuring smooth asphalt, clean bank turns, and over 20 kilometers of track to race, Nürburgring holds up to its world-known reputation as one of the greatest tracks out there. Described as “a country road with no oncoming traffic,” the course winds you up and down, left and right through whimsical German countryside, offering spectacular views of wide open fields, towering windmills, and healthy thickets of trees. There are limited days during the year when non-professional racers are allowed to race, as well as limited times. Miraculously, we arrived and purchased our ring pass just minutes before the track was open to the public. When informed that any street-legal vehicle could drive on the track (during the allotted times), we asked multiple times to ensure that the extra-large SUV Nissan Armada would be allowed, not believing them at first. Keep in mind that we are on our way back from an overnight trip to the Netherlands. We are accompanied by my nine and ten year-old brothers as well as their Mom, AND all of our luggage for the trip. As soon as we purchased our ring pass and walked back to the SUV to re-organize some things, other racers began to examine “The Beast.” These drivers had arrived in a Porsche, a Lotus Elise, and a beautiful BMW sports car, all gutted and re-built as racing cars. They exchanged comments, checked the tires, rubbed their chins, and eventually gave us a smile of approval. Surely they were just as interested as we were to see how this gigantic vehicle would handle one of the World’s most famous and dangerous tracks.
Well, it handled well! We only got passed by one motorcycle and a group of three cars (the original drivers inspecting us in the parking lot). After watching the motorcycle zoom by, we managed to keep up with him during several of the following turns. As we blazed through the track, periodic groups of onlookers guffawed and dropped their jaws as they saw the Nissan Armada drive by, with two young boys waving in the backseat. After the car trio had passed us, we even managed to tail them through a few turns before falling behind in the final straightaway. When we all pulled back into the parking lot, we parked The Beast in the lineup with the other race cars. Having won their approval and respect on the track, we were greeted with warm laughter and high-fives. Unfortunately, no passenger cameras are allowed on the track, but we did manage to get some pictures to share with you:
We also made our way onto several American military bases for the basic comforts of home and to learn a bit more about what these soldiers are constantly working towards for us. I had the opportunity to climb on a retired tank and take some fun pictures. We also got to crawl through an Army Stryker, in the garage for maintenance. It was fortunate for us to be able to walk around a military base over Memorial Day weekend, saluting elder soldiers who have served their time as well as young soldiers just starting their tours of duty. Swaggerjack Productions wholeheartedly thanks all men and women serving our country in their own individual ways.
Our last full day in Germany was spent wandering the streets of downtown Heidelberg, admiring the architecture and the ancient castle looming above the quaint city. The whole family made its way through the cobblestone streets exploring different shops, outdoor markets, and historical landmarks. We were fortunate enough to enter a beautiful Catholic Church with amazing cathedral ceilings, artistic sculptures, a live organist, holy water, confessional booths, and even a punching bag! I had never even heard of a punching bag in a cathedral, but there it was, right in front of the rows of pews, hanging just to the Priest’s right as he would be delivering a sermon. After taking some holy pictures, we had lunch with the family at the Schnitzel Haus. Featuring 100 different ways to enjoy your schnitzel as well as many delectable German beers on tap, the Schnitzel Haus was a very appropriate final family meal in Heidelberg. We concluded the day with a lightning-fast train ride up the mountain to explore the beautiful Heidelberg Castle. Even while undergoing restoration projects, the castle was still a sight to behold. The centuries-old rocks and stone formed elegant, stoic walls and turrets surrounding the inner courtyards and buildings. On the east end of the castle, one turret is slowly fading into the hillside and you can see bits of crumbling brick lying dormant at its base. Here you can pay for tours to explore the inner depths of the castle, but we enjoyed our walk along the outer courtyard and surrounding nature trails. Please look for our next post, which will cover Swaggerjack does Amsterdam!
For Thursday, we ventured to the other side of the island to experience some different dive spots and a whole new perspective of Puerto Rico. The Sea Ventures crew had driven the boat to the different marina and had the gear ready to go. While the crew boarded the boat, the grey skies above released some refreshingly cool rain, a big change from the weather we had been experiencing. The students reached for their long-sleeve shirts and sweaters, ready to go out into the Atlantic for some more amazing SCUBA. Since they had completed all the necessary skills for their certifications, these two dives were considered “fun dives.” Students enjoyed some new scenery as well as some more lionfish hunting.
Today, not only did the students get to catch many lionfish, but a spiny lobster was also brought aboard. This was an excellent treat and was later cooked up by Mama Shipley and served poolside by candlelight.
Several students also got to swim through a school of beautiful moon jellyfish. While they are almost hypnotic to look at, they do pack a punch with their stinging tentacles. Nothing a little urine can’t help with though, and the boys were more than happy to offer their assistance to anyone stung.
The waters on this side of the island were much more blue than the other side and the students enjoyed having a free-dive where they weren’t concerned with practicing any skills and could simply enjoy the dive.
These were the last two dives of the trip, so even our cameraman pushed himself to the extremes to film every minute he could.
A huge thanks to the crew from Sea Ventures for facilitating quite possibly the best week of diving possible in Puerto Rico! The boys got a nice afternoon to relax and reflect before their intense PT in the morning. No week of SEAL camp in complete without a monster mash! Plus, after the intense PT, they have a very relaxing reward in store, stay tuned!
The morning came quick with an 06:00 PT in the hotel resort’s gym, led by Chief Fuch. The students challenged themselves to run just a little further, bench just a little more, and work just a little harder than they had the day before. His goal seems to be encouraging each student to reach their fullest potential and push themselves that extra bit to surpass their best from the previous workout. The students were having fun in the gym and genuinely enjoying the challenge, proud of what they had accomplished.
PT ended with a trip poolside to enjoy another delicious spread of breakfast foods before departing the resort for the the marina, where the students would get on the dive boat and get to put the skills learned previously in the pool to use in the wild, untamed ocean. The divemasters had all of their gear ready to go and the students got their first tastes of saltwater while exploring the beautiful reefs under the Caribbean sea.
While diving, the students got a short lesson in Lionfish hunting from the divemaster. Lionfish are native to to Pacific ocean, not the Atlantic, so they have no natural predators here. They are considered an invasive species because of this and the fact that they eat the native fish.
Sunday morning at the Puerto Rico EXTREME SEAL EXPERIENCE SCUBA Camp started with an intense PT session by Chief Fuch- just what the guys needed after the New Year’s celebration! They did nearly an hour of exorcises in an outdoor field with the intense Puerto Rican sun beating down on them, followed by a quick 3-lap run including some steep, challenging inclines.
They then got to enjoy a rich breakfast before some poolside dive instruction and training from the awesome dive masters, Luis and Joel. The divemasters first made sure that the students were capable of swimming by having them do 20 laps in the pool, timed, as well as a 10 minute float. After confirming their swimming ability, it was time for some basic gear instruction and to get suited up to dive the treacherous pool.
After practicing the skills they would need to be safe and competent divers in the open ocean, the students had a brief break before heading to the dive shop for the in-class instruction necessary for not only their safety, but for the safety of their fellow divers and ocean life.
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.