Luttrell’s SEAL team lands in Bagram in Afghanistan just after dawn. Before he writes anything more about his time in Afghanistan, Luttrell will explain a little about who the SEALs are, and “why we felt entitled to our own private brand of arrogance.”
Luttrell again emphasizes the peculiar combination of arrogance and humility in the SEALs—a kind of stoic “humility” that rests comfortably in the knowledge that they are the best.
On March 7, 1999, Luttrell decided to join the Navy SEALs. When he spoke to a SEAL recruiter, Luttrell bragged that there’d be no need for him to attend boot camp, since he was already plenty tough. Naturally, Luttrell was sent to boot camp, along with other recruits. The next eight weeks were the most miserable of his life. In the training camp in Illinois, he endured freezing-cold weather, all while training harder than he’d ever trained in his life. He did well in the swimming pool, but found it almost impossible to run in the cold, windy weather.
The SEALs are trained under exceptionally harsh conditions, the rationale being that, if the recruits can survive the training process, they’ll stand a better chance of surviving a real war. Luttrell was already rather arrogant before joining the SEALs, but as we’ll see, the SEAL training camp is harder than anything he’d previously imagined.
In his weeks of training, Luttrell was made to do thousands of pushups and other exercises. He learned how to handle an M16 rifle and sprint in the cold. One of his toughest challenges was the so-called Confidence Chamber. For this challenge, he was required to inhale tear gas while reciting his name and social security number. After nearly two months, Luttrell graduated from navy recruitment camp.
Luttrell’s exercises and drills were designed to simulate the harshest imaginable conditions that Luttrell might experience on the battlefield—for example, inhaling a mouthful of teargas, or having to keep his wits about him while being tortured.
Luttrell’s next step is Indoctrination, or Indoc—a two-week course designed to prepare him for BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEALs), the last and hardest part of SEAL training. The purpose of Indoc is to train recruits for BUD/S, without “turning up the pressure” too much. The key to Indoc—the one value the trainers emphasize above all the others—is teamwork. Luttrell works with a swim buddy, a partner designed to help him train harder. The swim buddy is a perfect example of the SEAL belief that “no man is ever alone”—the SEALs work together and help each other out.
The SEAL training process is all about individual achievement (individual recruits either pass the training process or they fail it). But at the same time, the process emphasizes the importance of teamwork, since SEALs stand the best chance of survival when they help each other out. This passage foreshadows the guilt that Luttrell feels after leaving his friends behind after the battle in Afghanistan.
During his BUD/S training, which takes place in Coronado, California, Luttrell suffers a major setback. While climbing a rope, he falls and hurts his thigh. The trainer asks him, “You want to quit,” and Luttrell immediately replies, “Negative.” Then the trainer makers Luttrell climb the rope again.
Luttrell refuses to give up on his dream of becoming a SEAL, even when he’s in agonizing pain.
In Indoc, Luttrell adjusts to the harshness of SEAL life. He wakes up at the crack of dawn and huddles with his fellow SEALs to conserve body heat. His main trainer is a man named Instructor Reno Alberto, a tough, intelligent man who puts on a daily “Attila the Hun” act. Reno likes to challenge his men to leave Indoc, which usually makes them work harder. By the end of the first portion of Indoc, Luttrell is in the best shape of his life.
The purpose of Indoc is to work the recruits extremely hard, thereby eliminating all “substandard” men. As a result, the instructor puts on an exaggeratedly aggressive, hostile attitude, effectively challenging the men to succeed under brutal and hostile circumstances.
One of the most challenging parts of Indoc is the four-mile beach run. In the middle of the run, Instructor Reno Alberto forces the men to stop and lie on the beach, so that their boots and clothes become cold and heavy with water. Reno is a tough trainer, but he does everything the recruits do—he can even do one-armed pushups without breathing hard.
Luttrell doesn’t always enjoy Reno’s harsh training techniques, but he also respects Reno for challenging him, especially since Reno can do everything he asks of his men.
For a later portion of Indoc, the recruits focus on water training. This is a welcome change for Luttrell, who excels at swimming. He can hold his breath for two minutes, and he leads the recruits in swimming.
Luttrell excels in the water—he’s been swimming since he was a child. This is a good example of how his father’s training prepares him for the SEALs.
As the training process goes on, Instructor Reno Alberto increases the workout load. The recruits proceed with the infamous O-course, an obstacle course designed to eliminate substandard recruits. One of the hardest parts of the O-course for Luttrell is climbing, since he weighs well over 200 pounds. With Reno’s help (and pressure), Luttrell learns how to maintain his balance during rope climbs.
As Luttrell’s experiences would suggest, Navy SEALs aren’t selected simply for their strength and bulk—they need to be agile and fast at the same time. This is one reason why the SEALs are the most elite members of the military—they have to have a broad set of skills.
Instructor Reno Alberto once told Luttrell, “The body can take damn near anything. It’s the mind that needs training.” With this in mind, Luttrell trains hard. As the days drag on, he and the other recruits learned how to paddle in boats, and they race against each other. Once, near the end of Indoc, Luttrell wins a boat race, and Reno congratulates him by shaking his hand. Luttrell notices that Reno has an incredibly strong grip. Reno is a small man, but Luttrell will always remember him being about fifteen feet tall.
Alberto’s advice isn’t just a motivational tool—many studies have confirmed the importance of willpower in acts of physical ability. And in many ways, Luttrell’s SEAL training is about strengthening his mind: he learns to ignore pain and fear and do his job as a SEAL against even the most daunting odds. If he can survive his own leaders treating him like an enemy, then he’ll be better able to survive anything his real enemies might throw at him.