The Experience of Coronado and Graduation of 288
What separates these bearded ghosts from any other is their insignia; their badge is of specialized importance. It is single grade, worn equally by officer and enlisted man. It is single grade because in the elimination process, officers and enlisted men are side by side, earning their individual right together. All ghosts wear the same emblem, a Trident, which consists of four parts:
1) An old anchor, the connection to the service of the United States Navy. It is the remembrance of the teams that came before them as part of the Navy’s Combat Demolition Units and Underwater Demolition Teams and World War II joint Army/Navy special operators Scouts and Raiders.
2) Intersecting the anchor, at a 90˚ angle, is the Trident of Neptune, King of the Seas. These ghosts are most skilled where others are not, in the water.
3) A cocked flintlock pistol transects the anchor and the spear. The pistol represents the readiness of the ghosts and their equal adeptness at land and sea warfare.
4) Presiding over the anchor, Trident, and pistol – clutching the Trident in the right talon and the flintlock in the left talon – is the eagle. The symbol of their nation’s self-determination also represents the ability of these ghosts to be injected into any situation by air. Unlike any other eagle on military emblems, this eagle’s head is bowed in reverence to the nation, symbolizing the humility these ghosts possess.
On April 27th, 2012, the 288th class of sailors since 1962 received their Trident. A 61 week job interview, with an attrition rate of 80% culminated on the epicenter of special warfare preparation – Naval Special Warfare Command at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado in the heart of San Diego Bay. Fittingly, the graduation took place on the Grinder, the concrete courtyard that claimed the physical, psychological, and emotional aptitude of the 192 that did not make it. The Grinder is a cold, stark cue of what failure, but also success brings. It is lined with the helmets of those who dropped from the program by ringing the bell, and no doubt stained with the blood, sweat, and tears of those who wear the Trident as well as those sent back to the fleet.
Over a sand dune from the Grinder is Coronado Beach, its miles of sand, packed under ruck and boot, and the colliding waves of the Pacific portray a definitive landscape. The expanse of the Pacific Ocean’s 64 million square miles is the greatest on Earth, landfall does not occur for another 6,600 miles. To the south, the Naval Special Warfare “O” Course is a harsh aide-mémoire of what it takes to join this brotherhood and across the bay is the United States Pacific Fleet.
SEAL Class 288 started as Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL Training Class 288 in the middle of February 2011 with 240 sailors. After 24 weeks, the remaining men graduated BUD/S Class 288 and became SEAL Qualification Training Class 288. After 26 weeks of SQT, only 48 (11 officers, 37 enlisted) of the 240 became SEAL Class 288. Even more impressive is the “original eight.” On September 5th, 2010, Naval Station Great Lakes welcomed 229 men into Division 823 for basic training – the only special warfare division in basic training and designated 800. Eight of the 229 earned their Trident with one opportunity on the the Navy’s most textbook timetable.
The most impressive element of all was the brotherhood of these men. SEALs came back to see new SEALs pinned. Heroes ascended upon Coronado that day. The ceremony was presided over by Vice Admiral Robert Harward the US Navy Deputy Commander of United States Central Command. Vice Admiral Harward wholeheartedly thanked parents for their commitment in raising these men to pass the most grueling test mankind knows.
After being pinned and saluting Vice Admiral Harward, the second salute went to four star admiral William McRaven, Commander of US Special Operations Command. From March 2008 to August 2011 he was Commander of the Joint Special Operations Command. JSOC is comprised of three special missions units – Army Special Forces Operational Detachment (Delta Force), Naval Special Warfare Developmental Group and USAF 24th Special Tactics Squadron. Precisely 52 weeks prior, as Class 288 was preparing for Hell Week, Admiral McRaven had organized and was preparing to execute Operation Neptune’s Spear which ended with one of military history’s most famous radio calls, “For God and country, Geronimo, Geronimo, Geronimo, KIA,” confirming the mission objective and death of Osama bin Laden.
The awe-inspiring presence of the ceremony was that of the Naval Special Warfare recipients of the Medal of Honor. One of the Medal of Honor attendees on hand was selected as a founding member of the original SEAL Team Six. The most overwhelming presence was that of the Navy’s two most recent Medal of Honor recipients, posthumous – Lt. Michael Murphy and Master-at-Arms Second Class Michael Monsoor. Both are honored centrally at Naval Special Warfare Command.
The ceremony was also attended by Texas Governor and former presidential candidate Rick Perry, who, whether one agrees with or not politically, is a Patriot. He was gracious and during a photo op even took the time to personally thank Momma Panko for the service of her youngest, even after her ill-fated attempt to master technology for a picture with her oldest. The ceremony culminated with the newest BUD/S Class, 295, in the middle of Phase One, giving a “hooyah” to SEAL Class 288. Vice Admiral Harward welcomed Class 288 to the SEAL Teams, and graduated Class 288, in tradition, ordered Class 295 to hit the beach.
These men will finish their requirements, move to their teams, and defend against those who would do America harm. Never take for granted the commitment they make, and appreciate their sacrifices in upholding the American way of life. As they can attest, it pays to be a winner. Many dream of being able to wear the Trident. Most have not had what it takes to earn it. In seeing those men with the pin of their destiny above the bars of their rank, one could not help but be reminded of Benjamin Franklin’s immortal phrase, “All men die. Very few ever live.” Blessed are the peacemakers.
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