One Morning in the Life of a NAVY SEAL
It's three hours after midnight. The sky is moonless by now. The water is warm and crystal-clear by day, but tonight, 20 feet below the surface, it's pitch black. Some nights we are blessed with comet-like, bright green showers of bioluminescence streaming off the leading edges of our hands as they grasp the attack board, a one-square-foot neutrally buoyant plastic "kickboard" that houses nothing more than a compass, depth gauge and stopwatch. But not tonight. Only pure darkness. Nothing to indicate our movement through the water but the pressure on our fins as we kick out a practiced beat that generates 100 yards every three minutes. Silently, we breathe pure oxygen through a compact, chest-slung re-breather. Not a trace of this two-man SEAL team on the surface.
Each leg of the dive is measured, then broken down into timed segments at a particular compass heading that is corrected for current. The times and bearings are memorized, and the driver of our pair focuses on our 20 foot depth and the compass. Tonight he has it pressed up against his mask to make out the faint glow of the numbers in the darkness. He turns to the next bearing when I squeeze his arm twice just above the elbow. Tonight we are diving into a harbor. There are five legs, the last of which should end with our heads bumping into the hull of a massive warship. Our compass should spin wildly out of control a few seconds before the thump. The steel from the hull drives it crazy, but it is a welcome sign that the target is very near.
On our backs we carry a bomb housed in a round, black, Styrofoam casing that makes it neutral in seawater. It looks like a large, chocolate-frosted birthday cake complete with a candle of sorts. Magnets lace the bottom of the mine. We carefully place it with fingers against the hull, lest the magnets make a deadly clanking noise. Then we light the fuse. The mine gives us an hour and a half before it blows a basketball-size hole in the warship's engine room. The bomb will snap the shaft just forward of the starboard screw.
We find the engine room by running our fingers along the weld seam, like a long Braille line, from the back of the hull forward along the keel, counting the perpendicular welded intersections that indicate spars. Blueprints of the target have told us how far to go, then whether to turn to port or starboard to find the sweet spot. The mine is placed. The candles are burning. We press our backs flat up against the side of the ship, then push off and try to drift straight out away from the massive magnetic anomaly before we even think about trusting our compass. Then we reverse the headings and times to find our way out of the harbor and back to the sub that waits with its escape hatch light shining like a Motel 6.
Time to get some sleep.