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SEAL Blog. Combat Swimming

Saturday February 09th 2008 - 15:01 PM EST
Added by: Don Shipley

Smiling now. 10 minutes later the Seal attacks.

My buddy and I were attacking a Ship in San Diego Harbor late one night. Black from head to toe we were sliding down her side moving to a weak area of her hull to place our mines. She had a small floating barge along side of her and with us underwater just a couple feet we were moving between the Barge and the Ship.

I looked up and could clearly see a Sailor standing on the barge pissing in the water just above me. He could not see me in the dark water and being on a mission I should have just kept going and ignored him but I could not resist as I kicked hard coming half out of the water and grabbed his leg.

Even with my mouthpiece in I made a loud growling sound but his was louder as he screamed like he’d been harpooned and fell over kicking himself away from me with piss flying everywhere.

I slid back in the water, we placed our mines and extracted.

Combat Swimming was always where we earned our pay. In each Platoon we’d go through a 3-4 week diving course to get all the new faces working together. Tough and very challenging, there are few things worse in SEAL Team than putting on a wet wetsuit. During the courses, diving day and night the wetsuits never had a chance to dry out... Nice...

We had an Exchange Program with the German Kampfschwimmers and the Germans sent us Ralph. The courses started with pool work and Ralph became known for two thing running the courses, breath holding drills and more breath holding drills.

We started with the "Two Minute Drill." We enter the pool by a ladder and with a deep breath we’d slip to the bottom of the ladder and every thirty seconds Ralph would tap the ladder letting us know our time. Two minutes was the minimum.

Next we’d put on a weight belt and slide down the ladder. Once at the bottom we’d walk (run) to the other side of the pool, touch the wall, and return back to the ladder and ascend.

It was a long walk.

His final test was us in full cammies pants and shirts. We’d put on a weight belt and jump from the high dive and sit on the bottom. Once there we’d remove the weight belt and put it around our necks and take our pants off. With the pants off we’d put the belt around our legs and remove our shirt one button at a time. When finished we’d gather everything up and walk to the ladder and ascend to the surface.

Ralph was loads of fun.

In the pool we practiced "Buddy Breathing" and "Emergency Descents" along with many other skills. We’d do "Blind Swims" underwater by lining up on a pool line on the bottom we’d close our eyes and try to swim straight down the line. Opening your eyes, you’d see if you were left or right of the line when done. Very important, it showed your stronger kicking leg and without working on it, you were prone to diving left or right during long distance Ship Attacks throwing off navigation big time.

After a few days with Mr Fun (Ralph) we’d move to the harbor and do a "Hull Fam" of a Ship.

While gliding down the side of this big Ship we headed to the screws and rudder in full dive gear and sitting on the shaft that propelled the ship was Ralph 15 feet underwater just holding his breath with his arms folded watching the swim pairs go by. He was something...

We quickly advanced to what SEALs did, attack Ships and Subs with mines.

You do a couple 120 foot "Bounce Dives" in BUD/S to become qualified divers. In the Teams, unless you were diving for recreation and catching lobsters on your off time with SCUBA, 15 feet was about as deep as you ever needed to go with most dives lasting hours. 10-15 feet was standard.

The LarV Drager was our dive rig of choice. An oxygen re-breather, it left no bubbles and the Co2 gasses you expelled were re-circulated and scrubbed clean for breathing again. It used a small oxygen bottle and a good diver could get a few hours use before he emptied the bottle.

The reason for diving so shallow was also because going deeper for very long meant O2 Toxicity. 50 feet for 5 minutes maximum or you’d be in big trouble. The only time we’d go to 50 feet or deeper was when a Ship went over us and it has happened to every SEAL and terrifying.

We were moving along a group of piers one night getting ready to hit our final target and extract. Sounds are enhance underwater and you cant tell the direction they’re coming from, only that it’s coming closer as it gets louder. Very unnerving, louder and louder, you know its there somewhere Do we swim faster, slower, is it coming down our side or will it come over us?

We figured it out fast as a dark night got darker as She began to roll over top of us.

In the mud we went, sucking bottom as the bow slid over us. Laying still, wondering how big a Ship, how deep did she draw? We didn’t have to wonder long...

She went straight over top of us and as the propellers approached they felt like they would pull us off the bottom and suck us in. The blades churned the mud and silt all around us as we figured out fast the Ship was going to tie up at the pier and we buried our arms in the muck as far as we could go and sucking on the Drager hard as our heart rates jumped off the charts. I could not see my buddy even with him right next to me but I felt him as we bumped together in the prop wash.

The prop stopped turning. With my face in the muck and scared beyond words I slowly lifted my head and tried to gain my composure. I was thinking lets get the Hell outta here FAST when it started again and back my face went into the muck and I used the leverage of my arms to hold my body on the bottom.

It stopped, and it started again. When it stopped a third time my buddy and I grabbed each other at the same time and swam into the unknown as fast as we could.

The dive was over as far as we were concerned and we blew to the surface a few minutes later exhausted and drained.

Looking back, it was a Coast Guard Ship, not a huge one, big enough though and she was mooring. The Captain, I guess had been maneuvering back and forth for a better position and right over top of us. We inflated our life jackets and swam to the extraction on the surface...

The diving we do is in Harbors where the Ships are. No coral reefs, no schools of Red Snapper. Dark, black, dirty Harbor water, visibility in most cases was a couple feet at best. At night, it was ZERO and everything was done by touch.

Not so in Alaska where we did one of the hardest, most challenging training evolutions in SPECWAR. Polk, Dive, Polk.

The Polk was a sled the was attached to a skier and loaded with equipment. The idea was that as a 16 man platoon, that one squad of 8 men would pull all the dive gear for the other 8 men who would be the divers. We’d insert a few miles away from our targets and ski to cover near the waters edge. The divers would get out of their warm clothes and into a frozen drysuit with the help of the other guy, get a dive rig and a Limpet Mine on, and attack a Target. When done with the "hit" the evolution was done in reverse as the 8 men would dress down the frozen divers, pack the gear and we’d ski away. Painful, very painful evolution...

Drysuit diving is the worst. A bulky suit and a very heavy weight belt was needed to hold you under. When the suit leaked, it was bad... The dive hood was a regular wetsuit hood just thicker and allowed water to enter around your head. The result was an "Ice Cream Headache" like you’ve never experienced before.

I spoke to a local when we arrived in Seward, Alaska for our dive training and asked if there was any good fishing we could do in our off time. He replied the water was too cold for the fish this time of year.

Great, too cold for a fish and were here for dive training... Only in SEAL Team... Damn

We did a day administrative dive to shake out our gear and work out any bugs before the dreaded Polk, Dive, Polk. My buddy and I sat in the snow laughing waiting to enter the water and thinking "This is really going to Suck." The dive began and we swam out a bit into deeper water and let the air out of our life jackets slowly sinking to the bottom and getting acclimated to the cold water.

A smooth sandy bottom and at 20 feet the water was crystal clear. While getting settled we noticed we had company, a beautiful female Seal and very curious. On our knees at the bottom we watch as she moved closer, a small gal with big black eyes and long eyelashes she floated around us doing slow turns getting within arms reach seeming to flirt with us. One of those rare moments in SEAL Team and we just enjoyed watching her for several minutes.

Without warning and with a flick of her flippers she was gone. Damn, that was cool...

What wasn’t cool was why she left as we discovered a few seconds later as the water got noticeably darker as her boyfriend showed up and he was a monster. We froze watching as he glided effortlessly toward us. He was a big boy, a real fat bastard, and better than eight feet long.

Closer and closer he came toward us very slowly showing no emotion on his scared face just a slow, smooth glide. When he was arms length away and looking right into our eyes he opened his mouth full of teeth quickly making a terrible roar and expelling a lung full of bubbles right in our faces.

We freaked, Ooooo it scarred the shit out of us. His timing was perfect to achieve maximum scare in us and we also blew bubbles back stroking frantically and headed for the surface fast.

The rest of the training was more of the same except they would bite us. Swimming along at night, face looking into the compass and swimming a straight line, deep concentration, when all of the sudden out of nowhere you’d get a nip on the head or leg and it FREAKED you straight OUTTTT...

Much of our dives were what we called "Turtleback" where we swam on the surface in the darkness getting closer to our targets before submerging in an attempt to conserve O2 as our dives are very long, 3000-6000 meters, and running dry in the middle of an Operation was a bad thing.

I was sneaking past a pier one night in the Philippines and we could see a few guys throwing something off the pier over and over into the water. Whatever, and we finished the dive extracting at our Detachment HQ. It was all the talk of the other swim pairs when we found out what they were doing. Yep, a few fisherman chumming for Sharks on a beautiful night.


Extracting at the Detachment there was always a dog the Boat Guys had as a mascot waiting for us and he’d bark constantly as we’d get out of the water.  At Quarters each morning all the SEAL Platoons would fall into formation in neat rows and the Boat Guys formed at the far side with their dog. He’d break ranks every morning and stand in front of the SEAL Platoons barking and snarling at us. The dog could tell the difference between a SEAL and a Boat Guy easily and his dislike for SEALs showed.

We fell in one morning and the dog assumed his position in front of us barking and painted down his side were the words "I HATE SEALS."

Combat Swimming in the Teams was never much fun but it was the one mission we did that always challenged you to your very limits each time and that made it very satisfying knowing that you had penetrated a target undetected, placed your mine, and extracted safely. A thousand things had to go right to be successful but only one had to go wrong spelling disaster. The ultimate test is underwater with just you and a Badass dive buddy making all the decisions.

Those critical decisions are made at your most exhausted, cold and miserable time. A true test for a SEAL Warrior is made at night, underwater, placing a mine on a Ship.



Comment by: Joseph Carreiro
Wednesday February 13th 2008 - 14:57 PM EST

Great Stories! The website is on the money, I frequently check it out to see if you have put up any new pixs. Saw the "You Tube" pixs; very nice! Looking forward to April.

If anybody from Michigan is head down to anyone of the courses and you want to BS or get in some PT let me know. I am in Clinton Twp.

Sinior Chief keep up the Good Work!

Reply By: Don Shipley

Thanks Joe. I'll be adding new stories of my old beatings often. Looking forward to getting you down here soon.

Kick some ass... Don

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