I was born the son of Walter and Lucia Swetala on October 28, 1973, in Omaha Nebraska. My father was enlisted in the Air Force and my mother was a bartender for my grandfather's nightclub. My grandfather was well known in the Omaha area for his stand up comedy acts and hot ticket entertainers. My mom enjoyed her status as his daughter and lived a lavish lifestyle until it was time to be a wife and mother. My dad received orders to Alaska for his duty station and mom did not want to leave Omaha, so they divorced. I was 3 at the time.
My mother soon married another guy and they worked in my grandfather's nightclubs together until I was 15. They had a child together when I was 5 and so my little brother Nick became the baby of the family. At the time it did not matter because this guy was a good man and treated me like I was his biological son.
Fast forward to age 15 when my mom and Nick's dad got a divorce. This was devastating to me because Nicks dad (Terry) and his whole family disowned me and would not even talk on the phone to me. They did not pick me up during the holidays and only picked up my little brother. The people who I called grandma and grandpa and dad all left my life. I felt abandoned and angry at my mom for making this happen again.
Age 16, I started putting my life back together and started doing better in school. I began to think about my future and what I would do with myself after graduation. My biological father had been a part of my life but I did not want to be a part of his. I felt he had started a new family and I was more of a burden of his past mistakes. He encouraged me to join the Air Force as he did, but I was thinking Navy like my grandfather.
Age 18, I graduated high school and was ready to start college. I moved about an hour from Omaha and started community college and got a server job at the local Pizza Hut. Life was going pretty good and then I get this phone call from my mom in a panic. She tells me a recruiter called her and told her I had enlisted in the Navy and I was to be on the bus the next morning or I would be put in jail for breach of contract. I was floored by what she had said, but then I remembered recruiters coming to the high school when I was only a Junior and putting on an exhibition of strength and stamina and challenged some of us, students, to take part. At the end of the exhibition, I sat down with a friend of mine to hear about the Navy from one of the recruiters. I remembered signing an interest sheet to get more information but not enlisting. Apparently, the form I had signed was a delayed entry contract. So off I went.
September 9th, 1992 I shipped off to San Diego California for basic training.
I wish I could say that boot camp was an easy experience, and that I loved my time there. But that's not true...I was angry most of the time because I did not want to be there. My transition came much slower than the rest of my company, and I was disciplined often for it. I remember I was pulling barracks security one late night and I saw a cigarette butt that my company commander had left in the bathroom. There was a pack of matches right next to it. So I lit it up and started to smoke it and by my second puff, the master at arms was in my face. Wow, did I get in trouble for that....YES. You see when some recruits would get in trouble they would send them to a place called marching party and they would do physical training for almost 6 hours straight, and then be sent back to their company. Not me they sent me to a special place where I had met 2 other recruits that was in trouble. I do not know what they called this place but I can tell you what it was like to go there. We were awoke at 0500 and rushed to chow before anyone else was up, we ate and was sent to this little building to get our gear. We were instructed to put on this old heavy civil war helmet that weighed like 15 pounds. We were given old civil war rifles that also weighed like 15 pounds and sent to our 12" by 12" painted red boxes on the deck outside. We were lined up next to each other, with an unknown company commander in front of us. He had told us he was there to show us what discipline is all about. That he was one of the seal teams training instructors forced to be there and he did not like it. By 0600 we were instructed to start doing jumping jacks in place and to not leave the red boxes that we stood on. If we had gone off our red box, he would hit us with the butt of his rifle in the back of our helmets . That was painful, but nothing compared to what I was about to endure for the next 4 days.
During that first day we learned that if one of us fell out that we would all return the next day to do it all over again. The first day, the guy next to me fell out at 1400 hrs due to his leg cramping and we were sent back to our company and told to report again the next day. And so it went on for three more days until we could all support one another with encouragement and strength. That 4 days brought the most pain I had ever experienced in my life, even up until today 25 years later.
From the moment we all completed that discipline, Bootcamp became a breeze. Physical training was like eating cheesecake in the park, and I passed all my physical tests with flying colors. I even had some of the best times in the company for the mile run, push ups and pull ups. Upon graduation, I was fit and ready to go to war.