BRISTOL – The U.S. Navy’s primary special operations force demonstrated Saturday what they do best, and a large crowd of onlookers lived to tell about it.
Two Navy SEALs parachuted from a helicopter into Newfound Lake, while a four-man team and a Navy SEAL dog skipped the parachutes and instead jumped out of a hovering chopper and plunged into the water. They were picked up by a waiting inflatable boat and roared back to the beach.
The event was part of Swim with a Mission, an open-water swim festival founded to both honor and support veterans.
“The feedback that we have gotten and the amount of people we have helped has been amazing,” said Julie Taub, who co-founded the event with her husband, Bedford attorney Phil Taub.
“The mental toughness, the teamwork and other things that they have taught us can be applied to all parts of your life,” Julie said of being able to listen and learn from some of the nation’s most elite warriors.
Retired Master Chief Rick Kaiser said the modern-day SEALs can trace their roots to World War II. In their 75-year history, there have been just 16,000 Navy SEALs. Currently, about 100 to 125 men annually earn the coveted trident. The training is so rigorous that the dropout rate remains at 70 percent.
During a question-and-answer session with the crowd, Kaiser, a winter warfare specialist, recounted that during his training he was dropped in Greenland and skied for two weeks to get off the ice cap, ran out of food and then had to perform a mission before being extracted.
“The instructors try to get you to quit in training because they don’t want you to quit in combat,” he said.
Fellow retired Master Chief Steve “Mato” Matulewicz is now a part-time resident of New Hampshire and works for Sig Sauer. He said the training taught him four things: never quit, lead, follow or get out of the way.
“The training changed my life. Regardless of the task, it continues until done,” he said.
Kaiser serves as executive director of the SEAL Museum in Fort Pierce, Fla., where the first Amphibious Scouts and Raiders School was established in 1942.
“It’s our turn to be there for them,” Gov. Chris Sununu told the thousands of people who lined the beach at Wellington State Park to watch both the swimmers and later, the SEALS.
Josh Wright of Manchester, who swam the 5K course in 1 hour and 29 minutes, said Newfound Lake is ideal.
“It’s calm, the temperature was perfect and to hear people cheering for you? It’s awesome,” he said.
During the swim, Wright said, when his body was exhausted and his spirts flagging, his thoughts turned to the SEALs.
“These guys do these swims wearing heavy equipment in the ocean at night,” he said. “It’s every kid’s dream. They do some really cool stuff.”
Taylor Hough, 15, of Laconia, and a student at Northfield Mount Hermon, turned in the winning time in the individual 5K swim of 1 hour and 26 seconds.
“I know I got beat by a girl, but at least she is half my age,” Wright said.
Organizers said they had more swimmers participate this year and that they were hoping that the crowd size had doubled from the 2,000 tallied in 2017. Last year, Swim with a Mission raised more than $370,000.
“People have been really excited about it, and the SEALs have made themselves very accessible. They don’t like to talk about themselves but rather the SEALs in general,” Julie Taub said.
“They are the nicest, most gentle, kindest and amazing people that we have ever met, and now they are our friends,” she said.
Proceeds from the event will benefit the Navy SEAL Museum, Veterans Count, Children of Fallen Patriots, the Dan Healy Foundation and other Lakes Region veterans organizations.
By Bea Lewis, Union Leader Correspondent
This article was originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader.