For decades, as Navy SEALs have graduated from the notoriously rigorous Navy SEAL selection and training, classes have kept a tradition of presenting a class gift to their instructors and staff at the school. Coffee or Die Magazine recently got an inside look at class gifts at the training center on US Naval Amphibious Base Coronado.
SEAL candidates have always had to complete Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL, or BUD/S, training and, in recent decades, SEAL Qualification Training before pinning on the trident pin that marks them as a fully qualified Navy SEAL. The process takes over a year, and those who make it are bonded together as a class. And each class leaves a piece of itself behind with a class gift. Most of the gifts include a plaque or etchings with the names of the men who graduated, proof for each member that they completed the legendary rigors of SEAL selection and training.
Some are statues, figures ranging from 6 feet tall to a more miniature scale. Others are simply plaques with iconic mantras from SEAL training written across them, sculptures, or even furniture. The school’s infamous bell — which at one time candidates had to ring to quit training — was a class gift. Nearly all carry their class numbers and a class roster, proof for each graduate that they made it.
I recently met two retired SEAL chiefs at the Basic Training Command on Coronado for a tour and quickly realized that a SEAL class gift is one of the first things you see when you arrive in the parking lot. Two “students” — wooden figures — hold a log in the chest carry position, a notorious evolution at BUD/S known as Log PT. Hanging below the log and attached by chains is a wooden placard that declares: “SOFT SAND MAKES A HARD MAN CLASS 307.”
Inside the center’s class and administrative buildings, numerous SEAL artifacts from World War II to the present fill every room, hallway, and open area. Picture frames cover the walls, displaying team photos and historical artwork. One wall is dedicated to depicting the seven SEALs awarded the Medal of Honor between the Vietnam War and the Global War on Terrorism.
One of the more memorable class gifts was presented in July 2021 by SQT class 343 — a number that matched the number of New York City firefighters whose deaths are officially attributed to the 9/11 attacks. The class left behind a 4-foot-tall monument topped by a metal rendering of the World Trade Center twin towers, a forged SEAL trident emblem, and the class number — dedicated to the 343 FDNY firefighters. The steel for the renderings came from the World Trade Center wreckage.
“SQT class 343 honors their resolve and sacrifice with this monument, forged from the steel from the Twin Towers,” a description on the monument reads. “Their courage and selflessness serve as a humbling reminder: ‘The deed is all, not the glory.’”
Pictures around the facility include many of the “frogmen” of the underwater demolition teams of World War II and the Korean War and the “men with green faces” of Vietnam.
An oversized movie poster of the 1951 film The Frogman leaned against another wall, tall enough to nearly touch the ceiling. The Hollywood connection between SEALs and combat swimmers is a long one. Many of the SEALs of today and the last 20 years admit they were motivated to join the Navy because of movies like Navy SEALs with Charlie Sheen. But the most notable Hollywood artifact in the BUD/S collection might be a class gift of an original “creature” from the 1954 movie Creature From the Black Lagoon.
“The Creature” traditionally overlooks the infamous “grinder,” where students do PT sessions, though the scaly figure — and most of the other Navy SEAL class gifts — are currently at the Basic Training Command during construction at the BUD/S training center.
Although Navy SEAL class numbers are now in the mid-300s, gifts remain creative and honorable, with relevant meaning. Shortly after President John F. Kennedy created SEAL Team 1 on the West Coast and SEAL Team 2 on the East Coast in January 1962, the SEALs adopted mascots. The all-green Freddie (sometimes spelled Freddy) the Frog honors predecessor frogmen units and wears a signature sailor’s cap, has a cigar tucked between his lips, and holds a stick of dynamite in his hand. He is also on the logo of the US Navy Parachute Team, the “Leap Frogs.”
Perhaps the most intimidating gift is one of the simplest. When class 245 graduated, they built a simple platform, with telephone poles for legs, and a short run of steps to climb on top. It is now the platform on which instructors stand as they put students through punishing PT sessions — a class gift that keeps on giving.