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2 September 1998
The silver-colored Chevy pickup truck that climbed the highway in the Southern California mountains was more gray than silver. The accumulation of road dust and dirt on the pickup indicated it bad been on a long trip, one that would soon end.
For five days, U.S. Navy Master Chief (SEAL) Jeremy White had been literally crossing the country. He was driving from Little Creek, on the Atlantic coast just next to Norfolk, Virginia, to his new assignment at the Naval Special Warfare Training Command in CoroDado, on the shores of the Pacific and just across the bay from San Diego. His personal possessions were in the covered bed of the pickup. The bulk of his limited household goods were being shipped courtesy of the U.S. Navy, and he expected to be at his new assignment well before they arrived.
Following Route 8 from Phoenix, White had spent a night in Yuma before setting out early on the last leg of his trip. As he climbed up the mountain pass, he noted that he was passing through the Cleveland National Forest, a place he had last seen twenty-five years before, during his training days at Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL school. Every hopeful frogman and SEAL had to successfully complete BUD/S in order to join the Teams, which was what the men in the SEALs called the Navy SEAL Teams. The huge national forest was one of the places where White had been afraid he would fail to complete that grueling course.
During the last phase of BUD/S training -- Third Phase, where the students learned land warfare and demolitions -- compass courses had been laid out by the instructors in the national forest. At each of anumber of different points, the students would find an ammunition can containing a slip of paper with a set of grid coordinates, directing them to another point on the course. Following a map and using a compass, White and his partner had to locate the first coordinate, and the box, on their own.
It had been a long, harrowing hour of traveling through the forest, over trails and through brush, only to have to search for over another hour to locate that precious first ammunition can. Until they found the coordinates, they couldn't go on to the next objective. Both White and his partner were certain they would be dropped from the class for performing so poorly -- a terrible fate, within weeks of finally graduating the twenty-six-week course.
White laughed as he remembered how panicked the two of them had been so long ago. They must have looked like desperate idiots, he thought, crawling around and searching for that damned can. But they finally found it, and the next, and the next, completing the compass course in satisfactory if less than record time.
Coming over the final mountain pass, White had his first view of San Diego some miles in the distance, and the wide, blue Pacific stretching far off to the horizon beyond it. It would still be an hour or so of driving to get to the base at Coronado, but in spite of a rising haze, he could make out the white curve of the Coronado Bay Bridge, which connected San Diego to its small suburb to the west.
The gray ocean haze made the city appear as if it was rising up from a storm cloud. But his view was soon blocked by a turn in the road. He liked the mountains; it was one of the reasons he'd wanted to drive across the country. And he was sure he would be back up in them soon enough.
The morning traffic wasn't too bad, and White made good time as he drove down into the San Diego area. On the outskirts of the city, he turned off Interstate 8 and eventually onto southbound I-5. The gray haze he'd noted earlier was thicker now that he was closer to the cold Pacific water. In fact, most of his view of the city was blocked by the low-lying blanket of moisture. But the haze usually burned off quickly from the heat of the sun, giving way to the blue skies and sunny days Southern California was so famous for.
A few miles after getting onto southbound I-5, he saw the exit for the Coronado Bay Bridge. The ramp was a long twisting turn that climbed up to the bridge, which connected the city with the island of Coronado on the Pacific side of San Diego Bay. The bridge arched high above the blue waters of the bay, high enough so the largest oceangoing ships could easily pass under it.
Usually, the view from the top of the bridge of the surrounding sea and city was spectacular. But the panoramic view of the San Diego skyline was partially blocked by the ocean haze as White drove his truck across, though the towering buildings downtown rose above the haze. He could see the Pacific beyond Coronado, but Point Loma on the north shore of the bay was only a dark line against the gray. Navy warships, also gray, lined the San Diego shore. And in the waters below the bridge, tugboats moved civilian traffic to berths at the piers or started them on their way out to sea.
Passing the crest of the bridge and beginning the descent to Coronado, White saw the Naval Amphibious Base (NAB) past Glorietta Bay, to the south. The Coronado shore to either side of the bridge was lined with brightly colored civilian boats and yachts, and the yacht club at Glorietta Bay contained row upon row of them. But Navy ships could still be seen off to the north.
To the north of the BUD/S compound and Special Warfare Command, the Coronado skyline was dominated by a dozen multi-story condominiums. The orange roof tiles of the famous Hotel del Coronado could be seen north of the dull glass and steel condos.Hell Week. Copyright © by Dennis Chalker. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.