His next step, because underwater work will occupy a great deal of his time, is to pass a standard Navy diving physical. After that, another screening test. This time the novitiate has to swim 300 yards in seven and a half minutes — using any stroke except the overhead crawl. He also has to pass an extensive physical training test of pushups, pull-ups, and sit-ups, and has to run a mile in seven and a half minutes or less. Then more diving tests. The trainee is taken down to 160 feet to test his reaction to pressure and then up to 60 feet, where he is put on pure oxygen for 30 minutes to test his chemical tolerance.
If the candidate passes all these tests and gets acceptable marks on the GCT (General Classification Test) and ARI (Arithmetic) intelligence tests, then he is subjected to scrutiny by the Bureau of U.S. Navy Personnel. The bureau puts various factors in balance — and makes its decision.
The young man who is ultimately chosen to be a Navy SEAL (among roughly 40 percent of those who apply) has gone through a great deal, but he has really only just begun; three more phases of training await him. At one time not long ago only 33 percent made it through all phases, though the ratio is a little higher today. During phase one, the men are pushed to their mental and physical extremes. The notorious “hell week,” a torturous period of intense physical conditioning, takes place during this stretch. Those who survive move on to six intensive weeks of diving, perhaps the most critical training the students receive. The final phase, hand warfare, is conducted for five weeks in Coronado and three weeks on remote San Clemente Island. When the trainees finally complete this phase, they are hard; the baby fat is gone; the pinkness and puffiness have disappeared.
These graduates are now part of the “team,” the word used to describe all UDT/SEAL members. If that sounds fraternal and elitist, it is no accident. That is the way Navy wants it; the feeling of privilege is consciously fostered. But are the SEALs the suicidal lunatics, the steely, cold-blooded killers, the nonstop drinking, partying fanatics some accuse them of being? Ask any SEAL and he will say no — emphatically. Older SEALs will admit that during Vietnam there were indeed some raucous parties in Coronado and that a lot of SEALs hung out together in bars. But starting fights, pushing around innocent people, going on mad, murderous rampages? Most wonder where these stories started.
One of the older SEALs who remembers those days is Lt. Phil “Moki” Martin. A Hawaiian, born and raised on the island of Maui, Martin joined the Navy at 17. He had always been involved in water-related activities and going into the Underwater Demolition Team seemed the natural thing for him to do.
Between 1967 and 1972 Martin spent a total of 32 months in Vietnam, where he participated in more than 120 missions and on more than 25 occasions was involved in live-fire situations. He is one of the vintage Vietnam era UDT/SEALs. At 38 years of age he is one of the few old enough to look at the UDT/SEALs with some sense of historical perspective.
Today Martin has an office job, anathema to most SEALs. At the Amphibious School he is the “Special Warfare Logistics/Swimmer Delivery Vehicle, Diving Officer.” But he still remembers the old days, the days when the SEALs developed their redoubtable notoriety. Yet what Martin remembers is invariably not as sensational as some of the stories that circulate among younger SEAL trainees in Coronado. He is tired of the tales which graphically describe rabid SEALs throwing a juke box through a bar window with three guys still hanging on it. He thinks that the stories should concentrate more on the fact that Navy SEALs are complicated, that they are not all medal-hungry, amoral maniacs.
Martin, of course, does not deny that there were fights, lots of fights. Or that he was involved in some of them. But he has since settled down a bit; he doesn’t jump out of as many airplanes or take as many risks when he is scuba diving. And despite the fact that SEALs have the highest divorce rate in the Navy, he remains happily married. There was a time when he was younger, though, when the things he did were not risks so much as fully calculated acts with a high probability for success. Bar brawls were among them. If his memory serves him correctly, Martin cannot recall a SEAL ever losing a fight.
Probably the biggest fracas in which he was personally involved took place at Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam. He was a member of a squad of seven SEALs who went into a bar for a drink or two on the eve of an operation into the jungle. No sooner had they walked into the club than a melodramatic hush fell over everyone, “kind of the way it happens in the movies,” Martin said smiling.
The squad went to sit down, but before they were even in their chairs the Navy chief who ran the club asked them to leave. He was reasonably polite about it, but the time was only 10:15 and the bar wasn’t due to close until 11:00. The chief persevered, he pleaded, and the SEALs finally agreed to go. As they started to walk out the front door, the chief stopped them and asked them to leave through the back. To Martin this was simply uncalled for.
While the chief was “pushing” Martin and the others out the rear door, Martin recalled, “a punch came flying out of the air somewhere behind me. Some say I threw it but I don’t know…” Fights quickly broke out all across the room; basically it was the seven SEALs against the 20 regular Navy men who had been in the bar. It was the SEALs who ended up walking out, though, leaving an assortment of bodies scattered about. Martin remembers that not a soul was left standing. The SEALs left through the front door.