You are at the bottom of an eight foot pool with a tank, breather and fins. It is pool camp at BUDS or the pool competency segment of BUDS. The pool competency is to the dive phase what hell week is to the first phase. Hell week is five days – Sunday through Friday night. It is an incredible test of will, stamina, mental health and physical strength. The pool competency is only thirty minutes, yet insanely hard and the hell week of this phase. It has been said that water can make cowards of us all and this phase will easily break a phony façade of confidence. Water does not care of your athletic ability and is ignorant of rank.
So there you are at the bottom of this eight foot pool suited with 72 pounds of gear and you are about to find out what the ‘S’ in SEAL is all about. The tanks breather has an out dated regulator with a large hose coming over your right shoulder and continuing over left shoulder back to the pressure regulator. As you are poised on the floor of the pool you are doing your best to breathe normal and maintain your composure as you focus your mental energy on survival because you are on the edge of embarking on a panic inducing simulation of diving through the surf zone. This grueling test is meant to prepare you for the future when diving. If and when you successfully complete the pool competency you will have total confidence that you can handle surf zone because of your experience here.
Back at the pool, from the rim of the water your outline is visible to instructors monitoring the scene as you gently sway with the water. As you brace yourself for the battle to come you glance from the corner of your eye and you spy two sharks circling above. Well, in reality these are not sharks. This is a swimming pool with chlorine and cement walls at BUDS and the sharks are instructors situated to torment your position. Yet, your heart races just as if these were Great White Sharks. In an instant shark number one swoops down to you in a vicious attack. It is an attack geared to shake your concentration and promote panic. The instructor slams you to the floor to simulate the surf and then he swims up to tag the next instructor who tag teamed on cue will scurry down to rip off your face mask and fins. It is an attack engineered to discover if you can follow procedure under distress when death and frenzy are knocking on your door.
In an instant the waters around you have gone from friendly and placid to a fight for cool headedness. Just as you are searching for equilibrium of the situation the initial instructor swoops down and undoes your weight belt and pulls your regulator out of your mouth. You can no longer see the regulator that provides you the life sustaining oxygen because it is flapping in the current behind your head. In a few brief but intense moments you have calmly evaluated the situation and located the hose and secured it in your mouth for a much prized inhale. However, the test is not over and an instructor swims down and forces you once again to the floor of the pool. The shot by the instructor is a blow to the gut and it forces you to exhale. As the last bit of oxygen leaves your lungs your tube has been once again ripped from your mouth and this time tied in a knot behind your head.
At this juncture in pool competency you can no longer do what you have done so naturally all of your life and that is to simply breathe. Many swimmers will boast how long they can hold their breath – yet holding your breath during pool competency or on a mission as a SEAL is completely different to holding your breath at the local YMCA pool. The BUDS student or SEAL is being slammed to the ocean floor by the surf, taking hits from instructors or sharks and perhaps even dodging live ammunition while holding his breath and working to evaluate the situation to accomplish success of the mission or phase. Holding your breath under these circumstances is a challenge only met and passed by an elite few. In this environment, you must question yourself and run through the checklist of potential problems and above all else remaining unruffled.
So there you are with your tube tied behind your head and your oxygen exhaled. Your hands are searching for your regulator, yet it is tied behind your head and you can’t grab it. This requires you to remove the pack from your shoulders and place it on the floor of the pool. As you kneel your hands quickly and steadily remove the knot to regain the oxygen flow and obtain the reward of air. This procedure was completed without the luxury of air in your lungs. Some men have not been successful at unraveling the knot and have been known to rip the mouthpiece off and place the tube directly in their mouth as the survival instinct kicks in.
This is a timed evolution and is less than 30 minutes although can quickly turn into an eternity for a man unable to retain his stability of mind under fire. In this backdrop, confusion can rapidly become king if you allow it. Your success will hinge on if you were able to complete the task of untangling your mess and do that under the time frame of twenty minutes. As stated before, water has no regard for athletic ability and is ignorant of rank. The pool competency has been known to end the dreams of many athletic and senior sailors striving to become SEALS.
The pool competency is all about being able to pin point your malfunction and correct it under duress. This is a simulator to establish confidence in your dive ability and also to ensure you handle adversity properly. To the man experiencing this underwater wrestling match it can be miserable or as a SEAL might say, ‘The suck factor on this is extremely high.’ However that same SEAL will also tell you that acknowledging that it sucks right now will not help you and you are to feel that later. The only thought process that will benefit a SEAL in this circumstance is one that steadfastly evaluates the situation, questions the source of the malfunction and solves the challenge. The pool competency teaches or reinforces these truths to the BUDS student and they will be invaluable as a SEAL.
As a SEAL, your body is found in many unnatural circumstances that with a misstep can easily end with your heart pumping for the last time. One of these unnatural circumstances is when you enter a surf zone under many feet of water as the current bangs you to the sand. Another neighborhood that is just as unnatural for humans is that of flying through the sky with two neatly packed cloths as the sole source of survival. As your body is plummeting to the ground on cue you pull your parachute and this time something has gone horribly askew. It is obvious that your chute has not opened or possibly deployed. With the lessons learned in pool competency you robotically follow the procedures designed for this mishap. A look down at the ground is not an option, looking down blocks the hair from inflating your chute and your first move is to look up. This makes you smaller will allow air to flow past your body and into the chute if this is the challenge and this action also gives you a visual to examine if you have a full canopy.
The checklist has just begun. Did looking allow the increased air flow to give you a full canopy? Are your lines tangled? Or are all your lines clean? This checklist may lead you determine that your lines are tangled and you continue the procedure by checking your risers and separate or untangle them. In only a matter of a few brief moments your mechanical and unemotional actions have allowed you to surmise that your first chute will not get the job done and it is time to deploy reserve canopy. You pull your canopy cutaway and you begin to drop again at a faster rate. With a square parachute – you look down then grab your parachute cutaway and with other hand you deploy the reserve . Once again your eyes look skyward to access your situation and gain air in the canopy. The air was just waiting for you to get out of the way and you have a full chute. Although your actions have obtained a full chute and slower rate of decent there is no time for a mental vacation – the checklist continues.
At this point, your focus is earthward to gage your location and another checklist – Where are you going? Are you going in the direction of the trees? Which way is the wind blowing? The bearing of the wind is determined by the direction of the dust. Which direction is the dust flowing? It is not desirable to land with the wind at your back because it will become a challenge to slow down and land smoothly. Therefore, you maneuver yourself into a position for the softest landing possible and live to jump another day because panic is not in your vocabulary.
United States Navy SEALS are cool as cue cucumbers. The ‘Oh my God!’ looks are absent from their expressions. Yes, that is a real feeling – although they are keenly aware that that feeling will not benefit them right now and they have mastered the art of pushing it to the side. They only focus on the reality that they have a job to do and do it regardless of what may occur. It may be in the pool competency at BUDS or in the air over hostile territory when their chute has failed to deploy. The mentality is, ‘We got a job – just do it.’ That sense of certainty comes from training experience. This training and experience allows you to survive and succeed because you were able to maintain your composure and calmly locate your malfunction as you follow survival steps.
If it were easy to avoid panic when faced with distress everyone desiring to become a SEAL would do just that. Yet, when encountering a life or death environment only the mentally collected will pass this test of life. And it is just that – a test of life. Navy SEALS are not the only individuals to experience these tests of life. They are, however, the ones matter-of-factly mentally equipped to adroitly deal with these pass or fail exams of life. Whether you are a business executive, sales professional, administrative assistant or warehouse worker your life one day will find itself on the tracks strain, confusion and distress. The essential skills of a frog man that enable him to remain calm will be the only skills useful to you when this occurs.
In life, all too often when faced with panic inducing scenarios most will throw their hands up in despair or react in an emotional way that will only worsen the situation. When the waters of life are down your throat and you are choking on the events – routinely the worst course of action that you could follow is the one that seems the most natural. If your job description is that of a SEAL, business executive, administrative assistant or sales professional you must not respond in a way that seems or feels natural in the moment. Your mental outlook must be trained to respond in a manner that is unemotional, robotic and procedural.
Rudyard Kipling graced the earth a few years before the SEALS came into existence. However, he understood this principle keenly and expressed it in his poem, ‘If’ when he wrote,
‘If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
……Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!’
Thomas Jefferson expressed a similar thought when he said, ‘”Nothing gives one person so much advantage over another as to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstances.” Jefferson and Kipling were in agreement that you would face trouble in your life and both suggest your actions in dealing with the trouble will set you apart from the herd if you are able to remain in the words of Jefferson, ‘unruffled.’
For success in life when under duress and your back is against a wall – behave as a SEAL and act upon the advice of Kipling and Jefferson as you maintain your cool.
1. In the face of adversity keep your head. This is accomplished through training.
2. The first step in the checklist of a SEAL and life is to question – What is my malfunction? Responding emotionally is not on the checklist.
3. You must run through this check list before the moment of truth arrives, because under pressure is this list is clouded and feels miles away.
4. Remind yourself that your life has seen many challenges and you worked through each and are still standing today.
5. Remind yourself that you are not the first to encounter obstacles and others have made it – so can you.
6. Unless you are being attacked in a physical manner, never allow yourself to respond without knowing all the facts.
7. If the stress is not a live and death scenario or environment that requires immediate action – do not fear walking away from the table as you allow the issue to cool.
8. Do not shirk from asking for help. A team is always stronger than an individual.
Find out more in the MIND OF A SEAL CD PACKAGE