Under the desert camouflage netting, rock music plays. The beer keg pours, the food table groans, the talk and the laughs are loud. It's the post-parachute drop party held on the very sands where so many of seals suffered during early training.
"The equipment we had, compared with what these young people have today, is like Model-T versus a Rolls-Royce," says Bill O'Brien, an elderly ex master chief from Underwater Demolition Team (udt)-11. (The class graduating this August weekend is number 212.) "We've all done many stupid things in our lives, but I tell you. These boys they produce today are top-drawer. In the field, you can rely on them. Yes, we bond when training. If you look at the word 'team,' you'll see there is no 'I' in it."
Charlie Free, an ex-seal who did two tours in Vietnam, says he recognizes that moment Brown and Turner had reached, when you've almost finished your basic training and have made it through. You're fitter, tougher, badder than anyone you know - and bursting to show it off. "I remember [almost] doing the exact same thing. I came home from training one night. I'd just learned that particular chokehold. My brother sat on the hassock in front of my dad, and I proceeded to demonstrate it and knocked him out flat on the floor. My mother screamed and went hysterical. My dad didn't even put his paper down. He just looked over the corner and said, 'He'll come to in a minute.' "
Free thinks you have to be a little crazy to want to join the seals to begin with. "If this kid had a prior criminal record and he had a screw loose - in the old days, those are the guys they looked for! Because nobody in their right mind would go through that training voluntarily. You had to have a screw loose, to be on the edge."
But Bill Salisbury, 58, spells out what he says are continuing trends of sadism within the ranks of seal instructors. "I think there is a culture of cruelty that has grown up during the past 30 years or so," he says.
Salisbury was for 17 years a seal officer himself, also with two tours of Vietnam behind him. "This culture goes beyond what's required for the missions that these young men have to go on. Like surf torture." Salisbury remembers being sent with his platoon to sit in freezing water at 4:00 in the morning. "You can't imagine how cold that is. The water comes in, breaks over your back. Then it recedes and the wind is blowing, and it's like razor blades cutting into your skin. The instructors are up on the beach with a fire going and rock and roll playing on their radio. And they say to us, 'You are going to stay in there till somebody quits!' We were in for over a goddamn hour, with our back to the surf. Until one young man got up. I can't tell you the relief I felt. But what does it prove? They [accidentally] killed a kid in 1988 because of this kind of treatment. They use that cold water not just to punish, but sometimes to play out, I think, the sadistic urge of individual instructors."
Instructors filling rubber inflatables with sand and making trainees carry them or demanding "incredible numbers of push-ups with people standing on your back" is just as senseless, Salisbury believes. "Instructors urinating on trainees' heads if they mess up, plain disgusting. And pool harassment," he says, also called pool competency, "has always been one of the worst rites of passage. There's the Missouri Hog-Tie; there is the Puerto-Rican Double Whammy." Both involve pulling out mouthpieces, tying up air hoses, turning off air till often the trainee ends up "anoxic" - on the verge of blackout from lack of oxygen - on the pool bottom.
Then there's the Island. "People talk about Hell Week being bad. It's nothing compared to the final phase - five, six weeks on San Clemente. As one instructor said, 'Out there, they can't hear you scream.' " Salisbury says he suspects these traditions arose from the places where officers' ideas were formed: Most are "Frat Rats," he says, "raised in college fraternity cultures with their hazing traditions...inculcated with elitist ideas of 'Muscular Christianity' cherished by Eastern establishments like Annapolis."
But the point, he says, is these methods don't make for better seals in action.
"Other elite training groups, like the Australian sas [Special Air services], have a selection phase where they make people go without sleep, do a lot of calisthenics, but it's only a few weeks, and then they say, 'Okay, you're selected for the course.' Then the focus is on how you shoot, move, and communicate in small units. So you're always being given exercises that will exhaust you and require you to think and act while you're exhausted and under pressure. But what you don't have...are these sadistic instances of punishment, which I think do brutalize certain trainees. If you kick a dog, you'll make him mean. And if anybody's a sociopath going in or is borderline, the chances are increased that he's really going to be one coming out."
A 1990 study by San Diego's Naval Health Research Center backs Salisbury's conclusions, saying bud/s graduates leave the course feeling physically invincible but saddled with lingering anger and tension.
Salisbury, who says he saw some of the toughest, most brutal instructors fall apart in Vietnam, says others feel the same. "They just are not in a position to come out and say this. I would say the newer leadership doesn't agree with me. I make them look bad. I think they'd like to see me go away."
"Clearly," says Lt. Commander Jim Fallin, spokesman for the Naval Special Warfare Command in Coronado, "the program is designed to test each man's mettle, both his physical strength, his mental fortitude, and his ability to operate in stressful environments.... At the same time, each and every student is given classroom training in good citizenship. They're reminded of their responsibilities as good citizens in our nation. There's a balance struck here. Let me say it in one sentence: There is no nexus between bud/s training and any criminal act."
Fallin says the Naval Special Warfare community remains "shocked and stunned" by the events that led to the death of Jennifer Evans. "Our heartfelt prayers continue to go to the Evans family."
Asked if the Navy had ever contacted her or her husband following the murder of their daughter, Delores Evans says no. "I haven't heard anything from the Navy throughout all of this.."
After contacting colleagues on the East Coast, Fallin says he can't verify "how or if there were any official communications between the Navy and the family."