Jumping into freezing water is just part of the legacy of being a Navy SEAL. During World War II, the U.S. Navy Combat Demolition Units were just a handful of guys equipped only with a pair of shorts, a knife, and maybe some explosives. But those amphibious roots are still close to the hearts of the Navy special warfare community — that's why they still call themselves "Frogmen."
Some 74 years ago, in the English Channel during the predawn hours of June 6, 1944, these Navy Combat Demolition Units braved the freezing waters — not to mention the thousands of Nazi guns pointed at the water's edge.
They were trained for this.
They weren't necessarily trained to be the secret first wave of invaders up against some of the most fortified positions in the world. No, instead they were trained to win against any and all odds or obstacles. These men were the precursor to modern day SEALs, moving to do their part on the beaches before the D-Day Landings.
That's how SEAL training works to this day. Recruits are taught to overcome the things they think can't be done. Now, in tribute to those few who landed at occupied France well before the rest of the Allies, 30 current and former Navy SEALs, as well as some "gritty" civilians, will recreate those NCDU landings.
Today's SEAL reenactors will do a seven-mile swim to land at Normandy, where they'll scale the cliffs of Omaha Beach to place a wreath in memorial. At that point, they'll gear up with 44-pound rucks to do a 30-kilometer march to Saint-Lô.
Why? To raise awareness (and funds) for the Navy SEAL Heritage Museum in Fort Pierce, Florida — and the wide range of programs they offer to support family members of SEALs who fell in combat, doing things only the U.S. special operations community would ever dare.
"The greatest barrier to human performance is your own mind," says Kaj Larsen, a Navy SEAL veteran who is also a seasoned journalist and television personality (among other things). "... what [BUD/S training] is really doing is putting guys into the [SEAL] community who aren't going to quit in combat." Larsen will be among the SEALs hitting the beach on D-Day 2018.
Larsen with Nigerian troops while covering the fight against Boko Haram for Vice News.(Kaj Larsen)
The goal is to keep the 2018 mission as close as possible to the original mission of the D-Day Frogmen.
The night before D-Day, an ad hoc team of underwater demolition sailors, along with Navy divers and Seabees, led by Ensign Lawrence Stephen Karnowski, rigged the mine fields, obstacles, and other impediments set up by the Nazi defenders to explode so the main invasion force could make it to the beach.
Karnowski (center) with his UDC team.(U.S. Navy)
It was 2 a.m. when the NCDU units slipped into the water, wearing little more than diver's shorts and carrying satchels of explosives. The water temperature at that time of year peaks at just below 58 degrees Fahrenheit (for reference, water freezes at 32 degrees).
This is why today's SEALs get that mental training: they need it.
Be sure to listen to this episode of the Mandatory Fun podcast to find out more about "The Murph" workout (Larsen was a close friend of SEAL and Medal of Honor recipient Michael P. Murphy for whom the exercise is named), to learn about a "Super Murph," how SEALs are dealing with their fame in the wake of the Bin Laden Raid, and why veterans might be the future of American journalism.
Larsen on assignment in Peru with Vice camerawoman Claire Ward while embedded with Peruvian Special Forces.(Kaj Larson)
You can also find out how to follow Kaj and his work, as well as what comes next for the veteran journalist.
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About Mandatory Fun
Mandatory Fun is hosted by:
- Blake Stilwell: Air Force veteran and managing editor
- Orvelin Valle (aka O.V.): Navy veteran and podcast producer