The following is an exclusive interview with Seaman Jeff Winters, bestselling author of The Only Easy Day Was the Day After BUD/S. I met Winters, who has been incessantly harried by various media outlets since his overnight fame, at a Starbucks in Coronado — just a few miles from the very heart of SEAL training.
For some, success is wrought through hard work, perseverance and a never-quit attitude. For Seaman Jeff Winters, success was met through underwhelming performance and complete and utter failure.
Winters' New York Times Bestseller was written shortly after his departure from Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training, and quickly joined the ranks of countless SEAL memoirs published over the past few years. James Frey, author of A Million Little Pieces, praised the book’s “keen and honest portrayal of the human spirit in the face of adversity” and “unfiltered documentation of the first hour of Navy SEAL training.”
"It's not easy being a BUD/S dud. I wanted to tug at the heartstrings of uninformed civilians who couldn't possibly fathom what I endured," Winters solemnly states while in line, waiting to order. "I was in a real dark place after I blew out my shoulder at the island. That's during Third Phase, in case you don't know. I came here every day from open 'til close for a week after BUD/S, pouring my soul into this book."
Winters gazes longingly at the menu for added effect. The normally cordial barista rolls her eyes. "My boyfriend's a Team Guy. How far into training were you?"
"I made it to Wednesday morning of Hell Week, but then I got med[ically]-dropped for pneumonia. I'll have a Venti Caramel Frappuccino. You're buying, right?" Winters asks me.
"That's the first thing he's ordered since he started squatting here," mutters the barista.
While we wait for our drinks, I size up Winters. The writing wunderkind looks remarkably sickly and unfit, never mind a Naval Special Warfare candidate. His pock-marked and ghastly complexion are in stark contrast with the sun-bronzed locals, and at 5'7" and 120 pounds, I can't help but to envision his gangly frame violently snapping under the weight of a log.
Winters continues, "I've wanted to be a Navy SEAL for as long as I can remember. Actually, I wanted to be a Marine before that, because they have all those sweet commercials, but then I played SOCOM and I was hooked. I went on to read every every Dick Couch book there is, turning myself into a certifiable expert on maritime badassery and the extinguishment of human life. I watch Act of Valor at least three times a week, to keep things in perspective. Everyone always says 'BUD/S is all mental,' so I never wasted any time with physical preparation."
A young guy in his early twenties enters, whom Winters wastes no time approaching. "Hey man, I couldn't help but to notice your buzz cut and G-Shock [wristwatch]. You must be in BUD/S. Hang in there, brother, and don't quit."
"I'm sorry, do I know you?" the guy replies in utter confusion.
"It's cool, man, I was in Second Phase with Class 304 and got dropped during Pool Comp[etency]," Winters presses.
"Dude, I'm in Class 304, and we're still in orientation."
I begin to suspect that something's amiss, so I politely take my leave and drive a few miles down the Silver Strand to the Naval Amphibious Base. I track down a former classmate of Winters', Petty Officer Third Class Mike Park.
"What can you tell me about Jeff Winters?" I probe.
I decide to try my luck with the SEAL cadre, and crossed paths with Rex Shelton, Winters' class proctor.
"Winters... Winters... Oh, I remember. That little Bradley Manning fuck, right? Yeah, that guy was a turd. Total turd. Couldn't do a pull up to save his life. He didn't even make it through the first day of orientation."
"How'd he even wind up here? I mean, everything you hear about SEAL training is about how arduous the screening process is," I counter.
"Yeah, it's true, we've damn near perfected the system to where only the fittest, best-looking candidates show up here to BUD/S. From there, we let training decide who's cut out to be a team guy. But every once in a while, you get an anomaly like Winters, and it's our job to ensure they don't make it through training and tarnish our reputation. I mean, seriously. That kid fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down. The fact that he's made a fortune on that damn book is sheer dumb luck."
Satisfied with the truth and determined to brutally expose Winters, I rendezvous once again with the fraud, who is immersed in his second work, The Only Stupid Day Was Yesterday: Memoirs of an Undesignated Seaman.
"Thank you for your service," I tell him.