Waggoner describes life as a Navy SEAL

Written by David Green.


Underwater. In the air. On the ground. A Navy SEAL is trained to operate in almost any environment, no matter how seemingly inhospitable.

Students learned about the life of a SEAL when lieutenant John Waggoner visited Gorham Fayette middle school last month for a question-and-answer session. The Sandusky native is a friend of Fayette teacher Brittan Bosco, who arranged for the visit. seal.color

Lt. Waggoner recently returned home from a tour of duty in Iraq, where he and his team carried out assignments in locations spanning the entire embattled country. He spoke much about his experiences in the Middle East, but as a 10-year armed forces veteran, he had tales to tell of serving on every continent except Antarctica. Some of his most interesting stories occurred on his home soil.

Lt. Waggoner first joined the Navy in 1996 at the age of 17, when he enrolled in the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. He told students he had considered serving in the armed forces throughout his youth, but knew that to get accepted to any of the nation’s three prestigious military colleges, he would have to excel in high school.

“I did very well in high school,” he said. “I finished close to the top of my class.”

In high school, Lt. Waggoner said, language arts was his least favorite topic. However, he warmed up to it when it became apparent how challenging the math and science courses were in the Naval Academy.

“For the first time in my life, I had encountered an academic subject I wasn’t good with,” he said of an engineering course. “It really opened my eyes.”

It was the first in a series of challenges he would have to overcome in his career in the Navy. Originally, Lt. Waggoner had planned to train as a Naval aviator, but later decided to try his hand as a SEAL—short for sea, air and land. However, the path to earning the designation of one of the nation’s most elite commandos included enduring one of the most severe and exhausting training programs in the world.

For instance, recruits were sometimes forced to physically train until 3 a.m., which wouldn’t have been too bothersome if they were not expected to report for duty at 5 a.m, Lt. Waggoner said.

He spoke of one episode in which he and a fellow recruit were at the brink of throwing in the towel. They were in the middle of a particularly exhaustive exercise, and neither aspiring soldier could stop making small procedural errors. As drill instructors assigned them more and more push-ups, Lt. Waggoner said he questioned his will to go on.

“Thankfully, we got through it and pulled ourselves together,” he said.

After serving as a SEAL for several years, Lt. Waggoner now understands why the training was so intensive, so physically and mentally draining.

He has endured three-month stints on submarines, where conditions were so cramped that he felt like he couldn’t move without jostling someone. He has gone 50 straight days without a shower. He has awoken from a slumber to find distressingly large camel spiders in his boots.

In Iraq, Lt. Waggoner saw many instances of violence, but he has not been injured in the line of duty.

“On the front line, there are a lot of bad guys there who love to shoot their guns,” he said.

During reconnaissance operations conducted via helicopter, Lt. Waggoner saw car bombs detonated in the distance.

When a student asked if Lt. Waggoner had shot anyone, the veteran replied hesitantly.

“I knew that question was coming and I said I would be honest and the answer is ‘yes,’” he said. “It is a thing we regret. Any veteran will tell you when you are called to do it that it is a difficult thing to do.”

“I would suggest not asking that of any other veterans,” he said.

After a decade in the military, Lt. Waggoner is now at a point where he can choose to go back to combat or retire from active duty. As a SEAL and a graduate of one of the best colleges in the country, he is in demand. Several private companies have offered him consulting positions. He is also considering attending medical or law school.

Lt. Waggoner acknowledged that he chose an uncommon path in life, and encouraged students not to shy away from the road less traveled.

“Enjoy yourselves,” he said, “don’t be afraid to get involved in different activities.”

    – June 13, 2007 
  • Front.cowboy
    A PERFORMER named Biligbaatar, a member of the AnDa Union troupe from Inner Mongolia, dances at Stair District Library last week during a visit to the Midwest. The nine-member group blends a variety of traditions from Inner and Outer Mongolia. The music is described as drawing from “all the Mongol tribes that Genghis Khan unified.” The group considers itself music gatherers whose goal is to preserve traditional sounds of Mongolia. Biligbaatar grew up among traditional herders who live in yurts. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.base Ball
    UMPIRE Thomas Henthorn tosses the bat between team captains Mikayla Price and Chuck Piskoti of Flint’s Lumber City Base Ball Club. Following the 1860 rules, after the bat was grabbed by the captains, captains’ hands advanced to the top of the bat—one hand on top of the other. The captain whose hand ended up on top decided who would bat first. Additional photos of Sunday’s game appear on page 12 of this week’s Observer. The contest was organized in conjunction with Stair District Library’s Hometown Teams exhibit that runs through Nov. 20.
  • Front.chat
    VALUE OF ATHLETICS—Morenci graduate John Bancroft (center) takes a turn at the microphone during a chat session at the opening of the Hometown Teams exhibit at Stair District Library. Clockwise to his left is John Dillon, Jed Hall, Jim Bauer, Joe Farquhar, George Hollstein, George Vereecke and Mike McDowell. Thomas Henthorn (at the podium) kicked off the conversation. Henthorn, a University of Michigan–Flint professor, will return to Morenci this Sunday to lead a game of vintage base ball at the school softball field.
  • Front.cross
    HUDSON RUNNER Jacob Morgan looks toward the top of the hill with dismay during the tough finish at Harrison Lake State Park. Fayette runner Jacob Garrow focuses on the summit, also, during the Eagle Invitational cross country run Saturday morning. Continuing rain and drizzle made the course even more challenging. Results of the race are in this week’s Observer.
  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.
  • Front.crossing
    Crossing over—Jim Heiney was given a U.S. flag to carry by George Vereecke (behind Jim in the hat), turning him into the leader of the parade. Bridge Walk participants cross over Bean Creek while, in the background, members of the Morenci Legion Riders cross the main traffic bridge on East Street South. Additional photos appear on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.hose Testing
    HOSE safety—The FireCatt hose testing company from Troy put Morenci Fire Department hose to the test Monday morning when Mill Street was closed to traffic. The company also checks nozzles and ladders for wear in an effort to keep fire fighters safe while on calls.

Weekly newspaper serving SE Michigan and NW Ohio - State Line Observer ©2006-2016