A chance meeting in Culver Family Camp two years ago led to the Culver Military Academy football players, coaches, and faculty and staff members having the opportunity to experience a simulated BUD/S training session August 10. The program, designed as a leadership and team-building session, came about after Michael O’Connell ’89 met two former Navy SEALs at Family Camp two years ago.
Family Camp includes Culver Supporting Our Troops, a program supported by alumni that gives wounded veterans and active duty personnel time to relax with their families. That is how O’Connell met the two former SEALs. After meeting them, he started reading about the SEALs program and eventually went through a special five-day simulated BUD/S training session.
“It changed my life,” he told the players, coaches, and others gathered at a debriefing after the players’ six-hour session. It taught him the value of teamwork and how to “stay in the moment.” It changed how he interacts with others, how he works, and how he spends time with his family.
O’Connell said he contacted head coach Andy Dorrel last year about developing a similar program for the football team, which begins practice while family camp is underway. After several planning sessions and working with two Navy SEALs with Culver connections, the players, coaches, and faculty members went through the program in preparation for the upcoming school year.
The session started with a 4:50 a.m. wake-up call, a line-up by 5:45, and finished shortly before noon. The players sat in Lake Maxinkuckee in the dark, ran from the Vaughn Equestrian Center to the Culver Town Park while carrying 25-pound sandbags in their packs, pulled and carried teammates up and down the beach, did synchronized sit-ups while holding a log, and flipped tractor tires.
It was designed to show each participant that they have the capability to push themselves further physically and mentally than they originally thought possible. It also showed everyone the importance of working as a unit and taking care of each other.
“It was a great effort,” O’Connell told everyone at the debriefing. “And you made a great effort to take care of the guy next to you.”
While talking about the morning session,O’ Connell asked the players if they realized the instructors were talking less as the day progressed. “That was by design,” he explained, so players would naturally take over the responsibility of encouraging each other.
Being accountable to your teammates and responsible for the person next to you were common themes during the day. Understanding that a cohesive unit must include leaders and followers was another (“You can’t have 47 alpha males” was one leader’s comment.). And building on “milestone” moments – no matter how small they are or how tired you are – is what leads to accomplishing your goals as an individual and as a team was another leader’s comment.
For doing the exercise for first time, O’Connell was pleased with the results. He would like to repeat the exercise on a regular basis, he said. How often, though, would depend on the availability of qualified instructors.