The best and worst experience of my adult life occurred over a six month period in San Diego, California. 

I had heard that the weather in San Diego is amazing and the people are friendly. As a visitor, it delivers as advertised. However, if you’re going through the world’s toughest military training, your opinion of San Diego will never be the same. 

San Diego is where I discovered what I am made of, how amazing and resilient the mind and body are, and where the best of the best are selected for the world’s toughest, most rewarding job. San Diego is where I took my first steps to becoming a Navy SEAL.

My future as an NFL quarterback came to a screeching halt when I threw my shoulder out. No shoulder, no chance to play quarterback. 

A good friend thought I had what it took to be a SEAL and believed in my ability to accomplish anything I put my mind to. He showed me a BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL) training video and I was captivated by these warriors in the water. The challenge and mental fortitude required for completing BUD/S training appealed to me, and I knew the only way I wouldn’t become a SEAL was if I chose to quit.

I have never been colder, wetter, or happier to be voluntarily miserable than from Feb. 6, 1997 to Aug. 15, 1997 at BUD/S. 

People often ask what it’s like to endure BUD/S, and articulating an answer that adequately captures this milestone is difficult. It’s an experience one must undergo to truly understand and appreciate this transformation from boy to man. 

I didn’t know what BUD/S training would entail, but I knew quitting – choosing to forgo the opportunity to be part of an elite group – would be far worse than any pain I endured. 

Quitting for me was not an option. 

Of the 160 original class members, I was truly humbled to be one of only 18 classmates who survived the world’s most grueling selection process.

BUD/S tests men with two-mile swims, four-mile timed runs, two-hour physical training sessions, obstacle courses, conditioning runs on soft sand, and countless hours in a pool as well as the ocean. 

The selection phase of training reaches a crescendo with the infamous Hell Week, designed to destroy all physical and mental barriers — which is what BUD/S is truly about. BUD/S has perfected the harsh processes that weed out all but the most mentally tough, physically proficient, highly capable, intelligent, and motivated men to operate in every conceivable environment and situation as a Navy SEAL. 

Hell Week was a pivotal point in my life. I experienced extraordinary fear and pain while developing a quiet and intense passion. 

Once I broke my mental barrier to surviving Hell Week, I became a different person. 

It was an eye-opening epiphany when I realized that I had accomplished an ordeal that many never even attempt, much less finish. I developed a confidence I never had before, along with a deep seated self-assurance that I am capable of accomplishing anything I put my mind to. 

Even my mother noticed how much I’d changed. I now possessed this swagger and poise that she had always hoped I would one day find in myself.

African-Americans, like me, may not initially consider a SEAL career because they aren’t aware of the opportunity or think that Blacks don’t swim. Don’t believe the stereotypes. 

Being a SEAL is attainable for those who truly want it. Becoming a SEAL is the most rewarding and uncommon career choice young men can make. The “never quit” attitude and need to complete every task to perfection – no matter how difficult – are intrinsic qualities that set SEALs apart from other men. 

The ability to make critical decisions under the most stressful conditions defines SEALs as strategic and innovative problem-solvers. 

When you are part of a SEAL Team, you are surrounded by your brothers who share your laser focus determination and, like you, can’t bear mediocrity. We thrive on each other’s incredible energy to be 100 percent committed to everything we do. It is an expectation that transfers to our personal lives. 

On a professional level, to be the best of the best and to have the chance to contribute to something meaningful are what make a SEAL career so rewarding. On a personal level, the opportunity to uncover your full potential and rise to the man you imagine yourself to be and to have those around you be proud of you is what makes a SEAL career truly satisfying.

My time at BUD/S was the most memorable thing I’ve ever experienced and the pride and overwhelming sense of accomplishment have stayed with me for the past 15 years. 

I’m proud to be a Navy SEAL and even more proud to be an American continuing the tradition of the most accomplished special operations force the world has ever seen. 

When SEALs say, “earn your Trident every day,” it’s about proving yourself continuously in all aspects of life and facing new challenges with the kind of boundless determination and resolve learned from the realization that ultimately you have no limits.

Lieutenant Mark (complete name withheld for security purposes) has served as a Navy SEAL for fifteen years. He is a third generation military service member and a native of Ohio. To learn more about the U.S. Navy SEALs, visit www.sealswcc.com.