Graduation photos have only been taken in front of the NSW training center in recent years especially with small classes (20 or so men). My class graduated 54 men (52 Americans), and was the largest single class to graduate up to that point in time. (I’m 3rd from the left on the front row.)
Our graduation photograph was taken on a set of quickly constructed block-and-plank risers behind the barracks with our backs to the Pacific. The view of the ocean was obscured by the big sand dunes that had been pushed up by bulldozers to keep the winter high tides from washing onto/through the barracks footings… although they are barely visible behind us in those pictures.
When the BUD/S training area was previously located on the main Naval Amphibious Base near Turner Field (and not alongside the SEAL Team compound on the Pacific shore), the graduation photos were taken in front of (or near) the quonset huts which served as barracks for trainees, or sometimes near the docks with San Diego Bay in the background. After the Coronado Bay Bridge was completed, later classes often secured from Hell Week along the bayside with the bridge in the background, and some classes had their graduation photos taken in the same spot months later.
Mine was the very first class to go through all three phases of training while living in the “new” barracks on the Pacific shore. In fact when I reported to BUD/S (16 Jul 1970) the new barracks building was still completely empty, and I was told to “go up to the 3rd floor and pick a bunk”. 1st Phase students would be housed on the top (3rd) floor, 2nd Phase students (at that time it was Class 58, which had begun training on the main base in quonset huts) would be on the middle (2nd) floor, and 3rd Phase students (at that time it was Class 57, which had almost completed its training while living in the quonset huts on the main base). I trotted up the stairs and picked the first bunk inside the first room on the 3rd floor. I thought I’d be the first one out the door in the morning, and the first one to get back to my rack at night. It was a HUGE personal mistake! I was the first one “dropped” to the leaning rest during daily morning inspections, and I generally remained at the leaning rest throughout the inspections until the entire class was called to “RECOVER!”
After Hell Week, when we moved into 2nd Phase, our entire class moved down to the 2nd floor… and everyone kept the same bunks/rooms that they’d had on the 3rd floor. Class 57 had graduated and cleared out of the ground floor, and Class 58 had completed their 2nd Phase and moved to the ground floor for their 3rd Phase). The only time anyone got to grab a different bunk was when someone in their room quit or got washed out, leaving any empty bunk and then the openings didn’t really come up for grabs until we moved down a floor in the barracks.
The inclusion of a select few foreign students – generally men who have already been deemed ‘elite’ by virtue of some special training at home – has been going on for decades at BUD/S. Because BUD/S is BASIC training, the completion of it does not make a person a “SEAL” or convey that status. It also takes the secondary/supplemental training to complete that process. The only SEALs are men of the US Navy. When they finish our BUD/S training those foreign student return home and pass along what they’ve learned to their fellows. That’s what is intended. Foreign nations may call their own warriors “SEALs”, my be partially trained by our own Team members, and may even use our own TRIDENT badge as an emblem on their uniforms… but the only true SEALs are those US Navy men who have completed ALL of OUR TRAINING, earned the Special Warfare Operator designation, and who serve on OUR Teams.
We had two Thailand UDT “frogs” in our class. Both are visible in the dress uniform photo on the front row, wearing their distinctive red aiguillettes and piping. We’d also had two Chinese students, but the cold water was too much for them. The first time they quit, they were given full wet suits (1/4″ thick, nylon lined inside and out) in an effort to maintain the diplomatic situation and allow them to stay. They quit again, with claims that the water was too cold, despite those wet suits, and they were not permitted a 3rd try. They went home without completing the training.
They were used to swimming in much warmer water. We convened on 14 Sep 1970 for 1st Phase. They quit before we even got to Hell Week… but were given the wet suits and diplomatically allowed to continue training. Our 5th week was HELL WEEK (Oct) and the water was NOT WARM even by California standards. I don’t recall if they quit during Hell Week or before it even started. I know they didn’t get into 2nd Phase (which was Land Warfare at that time). The first couple of weeks of 2nd Phase were classroom training… to give us a chance to recover from Hell Week, and to prepare us for all the stuff we faced out on San Clemente Island. We came home on 14/15 Dec and had 3 more days on the Strand running land warfare exercises in the mud down by Tijuana before going home for a short Christmas break on 18 Dec. We were back before New Year and commenced 3rd Phase (Dive Phase) and lost our last 3 guys to a Dive Physics and Medicine pass/fail test 3 weeks before graduation. We had our photographs taken (indiv and group) and our graduation party on Thurs 11 Feb, and our ceremony was on Fri 12 Feb 1971. The THAI guys were beside us all the way, and damned fine Frogs in their own right. Both men were assigned to the Personal Bodyguard unit for the Queen of Thailand, and returned to that tasking when they went home. I don’t even recall the names of the Chinese or the exact time they quit… for the second and final time!
For our “class gift” we had two KABAR combat knives plated in chrome and mounted on tall plaques… one had places below for small name plates with the names of HONOR MEN from each class that followed us. The other was for some other kind of list, but I’m damned if I can remember what it was at this time. We had about 30 small blank brass plates on each plaque… but since we were Class 59, and they are now up to Class 304 (currently nearing HELL WEEK if they haven’t already started), then our meager plaques were filled up decades ago!
Steve “Moose” Robinson