Welcome to Navy SEAL Hell Weeks

Bienvenue dans la Hell Weeks des Navy SEAL - PhilTeam

3 km night swim in the ocean, stun grenades and a "Florida Man"

"Oleg, are you baiting the fuckin' sharks?! You're putting the whole class at risk of a shark attack right now," says instructor Deek Gammin.

Gammin is a lean, stone-cold killer from Hollywood, Florida, or "Hollyweird" as the other instructors remind him daily.

He was the very type of Florida redneck, wearing a mullet, stomping alligators, wearing a half jersey, who found his way into the steel cage when he was a troubled teenager.

This cage was the octagon of the UFC. He was a rising MMA star at welterweight and then all of a sudden after an MMA friend gave him a copy of The Red Circle, which he was listening to on audio during his training, he read anything he could find on the SEALs. Then one day he found out about religion and figured he'd just have to go to hell and go to the mall where the local Navy recruiting office was and sign up to become a SEAL.

"Are you sure you want to do this? No one makes it through practice," the chain-smoking scout told him. Despite having a big beer belly and inhaling Marlboros like it was a tank of oxygen and his life depended on it, Deek sensed a global dimension in this guy and signed up on- immediately with a "Yes sir, the SEALS are for me".

The recruiter took a long breath and exhaled a long puff of smoke.

"Alright son, you want SEALs, you got SEALs. I can guarantee you a shot at it, but the rest is up to you and 90% don't make it," he said, patting the cheap frame that has a picture of his wife and large Filipino family on his desk.

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The SEALs training was just what the unfocused young Deek needed. He went through the BUD/S training as a man on a mission, but had some difficulty with the academic part. To compensate, he stayed late every night to make the extra effort of learning the physics of diving and underwater topography.

Two combat tours in Iraq with SEAL Team Seven. Twenty-eight confirmed kills: one with his bare hands, two with a knife, and the rest with his SR-25 sniper rifle.

He would have continued to be deployed forever, the fight suited him perfectly, and he loved the adrenaline. However, the SEAL Admiral at WARCOM Headquarters began to require the SEALs to rotate ashore to "re-adjust" and normalize.

So he was assigned to be an instructor at BUD/S and now he's making students suffer, like a five-card dealer in Vegas, while completing a bachelor's degree in philosophy at the University of San Diego.

"It's a total f*** buffet," he liked to remind his mostly married fellow instructors every minute he could. "If you don't have any pictures to share, keep them to yourself, you hick, squirrel-eater, son of a f***," Jackson said with a grin.

"Hooyah Instructor Gammin," Olga said.

It was dark and it was difficult to interpret if it was a "F**k you Hooyah" or not, but in any case, Gammin let it go. Olga was a badass. She had outlived more than 140 of her male comrades, all of whom had rung the bell and quit since the first week.

His pad had shamefully dislodged in the surf area as the whole class was punished with cold surf for some reason no one could remember. It was Tuesday night of the week from hell and the class already numbered only 64 students. The hallucinations from lack of sleep had started.

"It's my goddamn luck that I have heavy periods during Hell Week. Oh well, who cares about periods," Olga thought to herself.

She and JJ had become what BUD/S students call "The Gray Man". They were just above the middle of the pack, did everything right, and most of the time the instructors forgot that there were two women among the rest of the mostly male class.

Hell's Week was like a game of psychological chess, except the instructors started and maintained a positional advantage for the entire game, with no chances for the students.

The SEAL instructors threw everything they could at the class the first three days to create a sense of desperation within the class: "How can I finish a whole week of this?". It was a finely crafted recipe that worked.

The first day started on Sunday evening. The students gathered on the beach in two army green tents and were told to sleep, an impossible task with the whole class' nervous energy like fire in a bottle. Just as some were beginning to fall asleep, the M60 machine gun fire began, accompanied by loud bangs from stun grenades.

The week from hell.

“Give me a count now, class leader,” barks instructor Andretti, an Italian-American giant.

JJ looks around; it's total chaos. Smoke, gunshots, stun grenades and instructions pour into him from all corners of the SEAL beach compound.

After several hours of trying to get the class together, they finally got a significant number of people and were told to take their swimming gear.

A few weren't ready for the nighttime swim in the ocean, especially when one of the Phase One instructors started playing the Jaws soundtrack through a megaphone.

Two gave up, then three more.

A large white diesel Ford truck contained medical equipment and the portable copper bell that abandonments were forced to ring, in a long tradition dating back to World War II frogmen of Underwater Demolition Teams (UDTs).

The truck also contained a large thermos of hot coffee. As soon as a student dropped out, they were given a steaming cup of coffee and sent to the medical department for an exit examination.

JJ winked at Olga as they put on their green swim belts with knives and water canisters.

"It's piece of cake, girl."

"You know that," Olga said.

"I'll guide, you watch the sharks," JJ said.

“Damn sharks,” Olga replied.

“I would follow Olga to the gates of hell,” JJ thought to himself.

That's when instructor Gammin came over to inspect the swimmers to make sure their knives were sharp and all gear was in place.

After the inspection, they swam across the dark surf line to the boat which marked the start of their two-mile night swim.

JJ had no idea what awaited her and Olga tonight.

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