I wrote an article here a few weeks back about former Navy SEAL and BUD/S instructor Terry Patstone that made me start thinking about all of my BUD/S instructors, from First through Third Phases of the training. I was mentally trying to make a list of them and grasping on to any details I could muster. It was actually hard, probably because it was over 20 years ago that I graduated from the program, in Class 227, and I haven’t seen or heard from a single one of them since, with the exception of Patstone in the Class 234 Discovery Channel documentary.
As background, a Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) class goes through three phases of training: First Phase is physical conditioning, small boat handling, Hell Week, etc; Second Phase is dive phase; Third Phase is land warfare, tactics, weapons, etc. Each phase has an instructor cadre assigned to that phase. So, for example, when Class 300 is in First Phase with that instructor cadre, Class 299 would be in Second Phase with the Second Phase cadre, and Class 298 would be in Third Phase with that cadre.
Each class, then, gets full exposure to all of the BUD/S instructors at various points in the training. What ends up happening, at least for me, is that certain instructors stick out for all kinds of reasons. You end up graduating and after the years pass, you have a hazy memory of some of them, and/or some of the things they did to, and, or for you. And some of the memories aren’t hazy at all, even after 20 years, because the trauma they inflicted was real (I’m only halfway joking)!
With that said, here are the standout instructors for this one guy who went through the training, as well as the reasons they still stand out in my mind. With the exception of Patstone, I will use only last name initials since I don’t know if these guys want their names out there. And a couple of their names, sadly, I do not remember.
You can read my article about the quintessential BUD/S instructor, Terry Patstone. Enough said on that front.
K was a First Phase instructor and probably the one who made me laugh the most out of all of them, mainly because of his absolute brutal sense of humor and the diabolical delight he took in verbally abusing us trainees. Instructor K would get on a bullhorn during runs, for example, and torment the students at the back of the pack. One of his favorite taunts was to tell us all that we did not need to be there, that we should quit, and that we should just do the online correspondence BUD/S course (spoiler: there is not one).
Instructor K would also tell us that “Gunny Torpedo” was at our houses with our wives and girlfriends while we were there in training, so again, we should quit and get home quickly. I would just chuckle under my breath and think, “this dude is hilarious.” During Hell Week, his taunts and offers of hot chocolate and hot pizza for anyone who quit actually worked on a few occasions, and caused some trainees to drop.
R was our First Phase proctor. A proctor in BUD/S is like the one instructor who is supposed to sort of be on the class’ side, and keep them out of trouble. Well, R did not do that particularly well for us. He was kind of a dick — in my memory — and allowed us to be punished mercilessly in First Phase. He liked to tell us we were the worst class he’d ever seen (every class eventually hears this declaration, but still, it hurt to hear from our proctor), and he acted like he kind of really believed it. Our First Phase sucked.
Batman was not his real name, of course, but this guy liked to wear a Batman belt buckle (no kidding) and often referred to himself as “Instructor Batman.” You can’t make this stuff up. He was a Second Phase instructor, and at first, came across as an evil bastard. He had that wild look in his eyes and particularly enjoyed tormenting us underwater while we tried to learn closed-circuit diving. He would dive down with glee and try to drown us by removing gear and generally screwing with us in the pool.
Over time, though, Batman turned out to be a pretty chill dude, kind of a sweetheart, and he even bought three of us dinner one night when he saw us out eating during Third Phase. He was with his wife having dinner and we thought for sure we’d pay the next training day for seeing him out, but instead he got our check without a word. Class Act.
E was physically a bear of a man, and was our Third Phase proctor. We were his first class to proctor and he did a great job. He took care of us, maintained good camaraderie while still being tough, and had a great sense of humor. We always made it a point to make him laugh, and keep him happy, so that he would’t have reason to punish us.
You did not want to screw up on his watch. Instructor E administered probably our single worst beating in all of BUD/S, when our watch-stander fell asleep at his post, which included so many leg exercises we could hardly walk in the following days. We deserved it, though, so he gets a pass. Overall, he was a great guy.
A “mustang” who rose from the enlisted ranks to become a SEAL officer, Ensign B was a total nightmare of a man. He was a sadist in our eyes, and pure evil, and absolutely flayed our class during Hell Week. I am convinced he caused at least 5-6 dudes to quit just based on his beatings. I shiver now even thinking about him. Looking into his eyes was like staring across the fiery abyss at Satan himself. Have I conveyed fully enough how much he scared us as trainees? Good.
Instructor W was a pretty cool guy, in the California chill sense of the word, in that he was laid back and relaxed for a BUD/S instructor. I remember him most for that, more so than for any sadistic punishment he meted out to the class. I remember him enjoying pitting Petty Officer Adam Brown and me against each other during Third Phase in this kind of downhill combat sprint he created. It was like a foot race combined with King of the Hill. We went at it pretty hard, and he laughed hysterically while we did so, trying to beat each other without hurting each other (and thus causing one of us to have to roll back). Good times.
For the life of me, I cannot remember this First Phase instructor’s name, but his face stands out clear as day. He had bleach blond, short curly hair, was thin, a damn fast runner, and had a wicked mean streak that came out quite a bit during Hell Week. He also loved to tear gas us at San Clemente Island during Third Phase, which makes me think he might have moved to Third Phase before we got there. Or, maybe he was just there helping out for our Island portion of Third Phase. I don’t remember. At any rate, we had to complete the obstacle course on the island, and he relished using CS pellets and gas on us when we did it. What’s worse than a timed O-course evolution at BUD/S? A timed O-course evolution while being tear gassed.
Finally, there was Instructor T, who was a First Phase cadre, and from what I remember, a real stand-up guy. He just seemed to exude integrity and poise, and even when he was trying to be a hard-ass, it came off as less threatening, because you knew he would never cross a line. It was like being tormented by Jimmy Stewart: yea, it sucked, but you never feared he would actually kill you.
Instructor T went on to have a long 30-plus year career, and did some work in Hollywood. He was handsome and tanned and a SEAL straight out of central casting. I always liked that guy, and would have loved to have had him as a platoon Chief.
Being a BUD/S instructor is just a minor career step for some guys in the Teams, if not for most of them, but they surely all realize the outsized impact they have on the new SEALs who pass through during their tenure. It really is an impactful tour for a SEAL and an instructor’s influence can be felt decades down the road.