Chapter 5: Rigorous Training
Michael was not to be dissuaded. In 1998, he graduated with a pair of bachelor's degrees from Penn State - in political science and psychology. And exactly as his father had done more than 30 years earlier, he put on hold his plans for law school.
If there was any consolation to the senior Murphy, it was knowing that the odds against his son being accepted as a SEAL were enormous. Of the nearly 1.4 million people serving in the U.S. military, only 2,270 men are SEALs. The SEAL training program was so rigorous that more than three in four who won admission to BUDS - the Naval Special Warfare Command's Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL school - quit before they finished.
But the long odds didn't deter Murphy. While still a Penn State student, Murphy, who was slightly built at 5-10, began attending SEAL mentoring sessions at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point with the goal of getting himself ready for BUDS. Drew Bisset, a retired Navy captain and former SEAL, had designed the program after an admiral suggested lowering the strength requirements for SEAL candidates because so many were failing to make the grade.
To earn his recommendation to the SEAL school in San Diego, Bisset's charges had to far exceed the Navy's requirement to complete sets of at least 42 push-ups and 50 sit-ups - each in two minutes - plus six un-timed pull-ups.
They also had to eclipse the Navy's requirement to swim a silent side stroke for 500 yards in under 12 minutes and 30 seconds, then run a mile and a half in just over 11 minutes - while wearing long pants and combat boots.
Candidates in Bisset's program who failed in any one exercise had to wait a month before completing the entire regimen again. Bisset routinely fails applicants for splashing too loudly during the swim.
Murphy began testing under Bisset on Jan. 16, 1999, completing the swim in 9 minutes, the run in 9 minutes, 22 seconds and executing 90 push-ups, 58 sit-ups and 18 pull-ups in the allotted time.
"This is an intensely motivated individual who has the focus, determination and perseverance to carry him through the rigors of Basic Underwater Demolition SEAL (BUDS) training," Bisset wrote in his recommendation of Murphy.
On a personal note, Bisset added, "I would be most eager to have this individual serve in my wardroom."
Murphy continued to participate in the monthly strength-testing meetings even after winning Bisset's recommendation. He posted his last strength test on Sept. 11, 1999, gutting out 102 push-ups, 87 sit-ups and 22 pull-ups. He had cut his swim time by 13 percent, to 7:47. He ran a mile and a half in boots in 8:55.
He was well above the Navy's minimum in all categories. But even with his improvement, he still fell short of Bisset's more rigorous prep regimen.
"We want to see 100 sit-ups in two minutes," Bisset said. "But because he was strong across the board, we recommended him."
With Bisset's recommendation virtually assuring him acceptance into SEAL training, Murphy enlisted in the Navy's Officer Candidate School at Pensacola,
Fla., in September, 1999. He was commissioned as an ensign that December.
Now, only BUDS stood between Murphy and membership in the Navy's elite SEAL corps.
Her feelings had changed, too. At a party she organized to celebrate Murphy's acceptance into BUDS, she told him for the first time that she loved him.
Still, she wasn't ready to follow him. She had been accepted in a graduate program for school counseling at Long Island University.
"This will sound horrible, but I didn't want a military life," Duggan recalled. "I wanted to get my master's degree and wasn't prepared to live the kind of life he was asking me to live."
Murphy said goodbye to Duggan. In San Diego, Hell Week awaited him.
MICHAEL P. MURPHY
BORN: May 7, 1976
HIGH SCHOOL: Graduated from Patchogue-Medford High School in 1994
COLLEGE: Graduated from Penn State University, 1998