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  • Drownproofing
  • Matthew Blumenthal (bio)

The name of the game is: get your head above water. We play it with the candidates during the first two weeks, and officially it’s called “drownproofing.” That’s not really accurate though, because if the pool were twice as deep half the candidates would drown. Really, it’s fear-proofing. We tie their hands behind their backs and their ankles together and throw them in the pool, and they bob up and down like that party trick with the raisin in the champagne, pushing off the bottom of the pool with the balls of their feet and gasping quick breaths of air at the top. The pool is nine feet deep, and if I’m underwater acting as an evaluator I can predict the ones who will fail by the wide-eyed looks of panic in their faces. They bob up and down for five minutes. Then they float for five minutes, and then we make them swim a hundred meters, and they wriggle like wingless butterflies across the pool. They bob for another two minutes, and then do some forward and backward flips. Then masks start appearing in the water, sinking lazily to the pool floor. That’s the last sticking point, where you find out who’s going to make it. They have to go to the bottom and pick a mask up with their teeth, bob five more times, and then they’re done. It’s not that hard. If you control your fear, you pass. If you can’t, you don’t.

That’s the way most of it is. People tell me all the time, “I could never do what you do.” I think: Maybe you could. I never tell people this. Lots of people could do what we do. All those guys killing themselves in the gym: if they actually focused on being fit instead of looking good for girls or each other or whatever, they could probably swim with gear, or hump with a pack, or do a lot of other things you have to do to be a SEAL. We teach you everything. The thing is, they don’t do it. Because to do what we do, you have to want it. Bad, more than anything. And you can never, ever quit.

I want this. I always wanted it. I remember sitting in high school, in Mr. Donahue’s office, and staring at the poster on the wall. Mr. Donahue was my Spanish teacher, but before he was Mr. Donahue he was Senior Chief Donahue, leading a platoon hunting the Vietcong in the jungles of Vietnam. The poster had a guy in tricolor [End Page 465] camo, wearing a boonie hat and cammie paint, looking over the sights of his M4 carbine. “Think you’ve got what it takes?” it said, “Think again.” In the corner was a golden eagle with a trident in its claws, and to have that thing pinned on my chest someday was all I wanted in the world. I’ve been a frogman for twelve years, and I’ve loved every minute of it, even the ones where I’ve hated it more than anything. That’s something you can never understand if you haven’t been there. What they don’t tell you is that even after you get your trident, you’ve got to keep wanting it, every day.

I took this billet because Alice wanted me to. I’d rather be out with my boys, knocking down doors and rolling up bad guys in some sandy corner of the earth. But there comes a point in your marriage when you realize that you’ve spent half of the past seven years wearing your wedding band around your watchband instead of your finger, eight thousand miles away from her warm body sprawled across the California king that the two of you picked out at Frank’s Mattress Warehouse in Chula Vista on predeployment leave ten years ago. You realize you love your wife, and you’d better spend some time with her if you don’t want to lose her. And so I take solace in the fact...


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pp. 465-482
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