On their last afternoon of Indoc, Instructor Reno Alberto reports that 111 men are left in training; more than 50 have reached a breaking point and left.
SEAL training is incredibly rigorous, as evidenced by the massive portion of recruits who drop out.
Instructor Reno Alberto announces that the recruits are about to enter Phase One of BUD/S. Reno tells the recruits that he wants to shake hands with every one of them at their graduation. Even though Reno works his men hard, the recruits love him—they sense that he wants the best for them.
The recruits’ new Instructor is a man named Sean Mruk. Mruk is a tough Instructor, and from the very beginning he works his men harder than Reno did. He forces the men to run along the beach and “get wet and sandy”—i.e., lie down in the surf. Luttrell wakes up at dawn every day, and before seven am he’s done hundreds of pushups. Every muscle in his body aches.
As Luttrell’s physical training proceeds under Mruk, he learns how to strengthen his mind under even more hostil circumstances, preparing him for the experience of fighting in a real battle.
The recruits proceed with “log PT.” For this torturous task, the recruits have to move enormous logs while they’re “wet and sandy.” After the recruits’ first soul-crushing morning with log PT, the instructor tells them they’ve done a “damn nice job” and orders them to go eat. This sudden bit of praise surprises Luttrell. The next day, however, the instructors discipline the recruits for keeping their barracks sloppy.
The instructors are ruthless, but at the end of the day they’re trying to make the recruits into the best SEALs they can possibly be. This explains why the instructor pivots so suddenly from harshness to praise—he’s only harsh with Luttrell because he wants Luttrell to succeed.
During his time in training, Luttrell meets Captain Joe Maguire, a legendary commanding officer on SEAL Team 2. Maguire later becomes deputy commander of the U.S. Special Operations in Pacific Command. During Luttrell’s training, he gives Luttrell and the other recruits some valuable advice: “Don’t let your thoughts run away with you, don’t start planning to bail out because you’re worried about the future and how much you can take … Just get through the day.”
Maguire is a hero to Luttrell and many of the other recruits: he already has a distinguished record, and he radiates confidence and decency. Again, notice that Maguire emphasis the mental aspect of training, echoing Reno’s advice to Luttrell in the previous chapter.
By the end of the first week, more than twenty men have quit, some in tears. Every time someone quits, the instructors ring a bell. Luttrell often wonders if the bell will ring for him.
Luttrell is an ambitious recruit, but he’s sometimes unsure if he has what it takes to become a SEAL, meaning that as the days go on, he’s afraid that he’ll drop out.
In the third week of training, the recruits learn how to paddle and land a boat on rock outcrops. In order to do so, one man on Luttrell’s team has to act as “a human capstan” and make sure the boat doesn’t drift back into the water. After their first attempt, Luttrell and his teammates succeed in landing their boat on the rocks, but the Instructor tells them they’re too slow and orders them to do it again.
Luttrell and his teammates have to perform the same rigorous drills again and again until they can do them perfectly. The stakes of landing a boat are so high that it’s imperative that he learn how to do so without so much as a hiccup.
By the end of the first month of BUD/S, many recruits have left. They’ve spent their entire lives wanting to become SEALs, but they don’t have what it takes. Luttrell later speaks to instructors who tell him how hard it is for them to break the news to ambitious young recruits that they’re not tough enough. After the first month, there are only fifty-four recruits left.
The instructors genuinely want to help their recruits succeed, which is why it’s painful for them to ruin their recruits’ dreams of becoming SEALs. The fact that so many ambitious recruits have to give up only emphasizes the immense difficulty of becoming a SEAL.
The recruits assemble to listen to Captain Maguire, who tells them that they’re about to embark on Hell Week, the hardest part of BUD/S training. Maguire says he hopes to shake hands with every one of the recruits at the end. Maguire also tells the men to eat as much as they can leading up to Hell Week. In the days leading up to Hell Week, the recruits are quiet. They know they’re about to begin the hardest week of their lives.
This passage conveys something like the calm before a storm: Luttrell doesn’t quite know what he’s about to experience, but he knows it’ll be more painful and stressful than anything he’s ever done before.
Hell Week begins late at night with a ritual called Breakout. An instructor rushes into the recruits’ barracks, firing a machine gun (hopefully with blanks, Luttrell notes). Luttrell wakes up to Instructor Mruk’s voice saying, “Welcome to hell, gentlemen.”
Hell Week begins with a (literal) bang, emphasizing the harsh, often dangerous nature of the days to come.
Right away, the recruits are informed of the rules of Hell Week: at any time, they can opt out of training by ringing a bell. Hour after hour, men ring the bell and leave Hell Week. The recruits proceed with log PT, rock portage, and other backbreaking challenges. During breakfast on the first day of Hell Week, the men look shell-shocked. Luttrell, however, is just hungry. After a couple minutes of eating, the instructors burst into the room and order the men back outside for more training. Hell Week, Luttrell now knows, is every bit as tough as it’s supposed to be.
It’s crucial that the recruits themselves have to ring the bell symbolizing their departure from Hell Week (whereas in a previous passage the instructors rang the bell). Hell Week is about willpower and personal responsibility. When a recruit leaves, it’s because he’s given up, not just because Hell Week itself has proven too rigorous for him.