by Randy Piper
In October of 2003, Pat Broderick and I were at the BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition SEAL) graduation of Class 246. This was 35 years and 200 classes after we had graduated from Class 46 in 1968 and 11 out of 18 of my classmates were there to cheer on the new SEAL's and reacquaint ourselves with Teammates from that era long past. While passing the time reminiscing, Pat and I were talking about some of the people who hadn't been able to make it and one person stuck in our minds. Pat and I wanted to go up to Alaska and go diving with Bill Morterud, (Morty to the guys from class 46). Bill is a commercial diver in Alaska, who also did extensive diving in the North Sea after leaving the Navy. My dream was for Pat and I to go to Alaska and go diving with Bill.
Back in January of 2004, my wife, Sara was watching the Discovery Channel when an advertisement for a new reality TV show came on. This program will air on Sunday nights in October and is going to be called Discovery No Opportunity Wasted (NOW). It's all about fulfilling one of your fantasies.
That was the dream I applied for and embellished upon that premise to reach the acronym and heart of being a SEAL. The 'SEA'? portion is obvious, the 'A'? for air and the 'L'? for land. So I added in skydiving, kayaking, hiking and snowsleding. I guess I'm still a little bit of an adrenaline junkie. If I were chosen, I would then surprise Pat with the dream and we would both surprise Morty. The people at Discovery couldn't pull off this big surprise by themselves so they solicited some conspirators. They had these conspirators sign secrecy agreements that said if the participants found out about this from them, it would cost those contacts millions of dollars. The following account is what happened to us, as we went along.
My manager, one of the conspirators, was in on it for a month before it ever transpired. He set up a 'meeting' to increase business with my clients. He then called a lot of my friends and customers to get them to come to the meeting. This included Garth Brooks, who I certified last year. When we all sat down in the classroom, it was somewhat normal for the type of meeting he wanted. I don't like people messing with my dive gear and had noticed that morning that someone had packed it for me. I chewed on my manager, who said he understood and could I be patient for a short time. I also thought that it would be too early in the season to do most of the things I had scheduled for this adventure, so I was flabbergasted when they surprised me. My manager wasn't allowed to tell my wife, so when the camera crew and Phil Keogh came in, she was surprised as much as I was. I was right about it being too early, but we were able to change some of the events on the fly and make it work.
When the camera crew and Phil Keogh came in to surprise me, I had two and half-hours to pack and get to the airport. Phil is the host for The Amazing Race reality TV show. He had two cameramen with him; Scotty and Dan, a soundman; Brian, two executive producers; Peter and Ernie and two drivers from Channel 2 for the Tulsa segment. In the middle of this melee, I had to call Pat Broderick and surprise him with the trip. The executive producer had been talking with his girlfriend Jennifer and she also knew what was about to happen. He was getting ready to eat lunch with her when his cell phone rang and he didn't recognize the number. She said, 'answer that'? and he looked at her strangely. He answered the phone and I told him the deal. He also had only two and a half hours to pack and drive 60 miles to the Ft. Walton airport to catch the plane. He just barely made his plane due to the traffic in Florida. He also sat on the tarmac for over an hour in Fort Walton Beach and just barely made his next connection. The cameras followed me home and filmed me packing. They were filming my medals and one of them said to Sara that I was a bit quiet. She said, "he's a little reticent"?. "Reticent, he can't be reticent;"? she was told, "he's going to be on TV"?. Then Sara took a cameraman and I to the airport, where I embarked upon this adventure. The premise of the program is, the dreamer (me) has 72 hours and $3000 to fulfill his dream.
Halfway between Dallas and Seattle the Executive Producer told me I had $380.00 left to spend on rooms, transportation and food for the next three days. I had spent all of the other money allocated to me on the airline, sky and scuba diving. He also informed me that Pat and I had to find a way from Anchorage to Wasilla, Alaska by 7:00 A.M. the next morning.
As soon as the plane landed in Seattle, the camera crew and I got some food. I had brought along a bag full of pictures, addresses and phone numbers of guys I was in the teams with, so we could reminisce for part of the trip. I called up Ricky Hinson's (with whom I was in Underwater Demolition Team 13) sister, in Anchorage to see if she could help and she said for me to get back with her when we landed in Anchorage. Phil got upset that I had called without getting audio of the call, but if I had waited for them to set things up, it would have taken forever, as I found out very shortly. They took me over to a block of phones and started to set up audio, but didn't like the scenery outside, so we moved to another set of phones. Then I called the jumpmaster in Wasilla to see if there was a bus, train or another mode of transportation to go 60 miles north of Anchorage. I tried to call Pat, but his plane was in the air and I left a message asking if he knew anyone in Anchorage who could help us. By that time, I was due on the plane, so he couldn't call me back.
I got to Anchorage about 11:30 PM (2:30 AM Tulsa time) and picked up my bags. Phil signed an autograph for a little girl. Then I called Karel (Rick's sister) after the crew had set up audio and she told me her roommate had a friend who would take us up to the DZ (Drop Zone) at 5:30 the next morning. What I didn't know until then is that Karel was shot with a 45, six times (five in the back) by an ex-boyfriend. He went on to kill himself. She's confined to a wheelchair, goes to work everyday and makes her own way. She said her roommate would come pick us up when Pat rolled in. I told her to let her roommate go to bed and we would take a taxi to her house. One of the cameramen and I waited for Pat and pulled into Karel's about 2 am where we met Karel and Debbie, her roommate. The cameraman walked right in with us and we introduced ourselves about five times in her bedroom. After that, we settled in for the night, or what was left of it. We still had a lot of adrenaline coursing through our veins and got up about 4:45 to grab a little coffee. Debbie's friend Al came over at 5:15 and we waited for the camera crew until 6:00. Punctuality did not seem to be in their vocabulary. We arrived in Wasilla at 7:10 am and little did I know that the jumpmaster had set the refresher course to start at 6:30. He had already called my wife in Tulsa, but she had no idea where we were either.
So, we did the paperwork and ground school, then a practice jump over Wasilla. I could see the base of Mt. McKinley from 4,000 feet and the whole area was gorgeous. It was also covered in snow. Now I found out that the airport you jump out of has to be within 25 miles of the DZ in Alaska. The jump crew (Brad, Cameron, Edge and Tara from Skydive Alaska) took Pat and I to the airport, where we got on an 8-passenger Piper Navajo with the film crew. The jump crew took their plane (Cessna 206) and started off for Homer 125 miles away, then we followed in the larger plane and took pictures of them in this beautiful but rugged landscape, with the jump plane in the background. After landing in Homer, we waited for the camera crew to drive over and get set up at the DZ. We took off and jumped into 3 feet of snow about a mile from Morty's house at Anchor Point. I found out a square parachute reacts very quickly to your commands and is a blast to stand up with. I haven't jumped since about 1976 and this was a very welcome and easy transition.
We then walked over to Morty's cabin, with our jumpsuits on, parachutes and helmets in our arms. We walked across the porch and Pat knocked on the door, listening to Morty's three dogs barking. Monica, his wife had told him that her mother was coming to visit, so Morty yelled for her to open the door. Pat stuck his head in the door and yelled, "is anyone homeâ€?. I saw Morty through a picture window that overlooks a drop-dead view of the mountains. I knocked on the picture window and he looked up. His jaw dropped open because he recognized me but common sense dictated there was no way I was standing there. I hadn't seen him since 74' at Mardi gras. After he got over his initial shock, he came to the door and I said, "we just dropped in to see youâ€?. He put on his shoes and got an overnight bag for the plane ride to Seward. The whole time his wife was apologizing for lying to him about the weekend. She let me borrow a pair of wool socks, since mine were a little wet from the snow. Did I mention that I was in such hurry packing that I had forgotten my toilet kit, so I had been using Pat's toothbrush and razor. My boots were also sitting on my bedroom floor, along with my long underwear bottoms. Oh well, too late now I thought, my tennis shoes would work just fine. Monica then drove us to the airport in Homer, where we took off for Seward, with the Navajo.
As we flew through the Pass, I saw avalanches all around us. The weather cleared nicely and when we landed in Seward it reminded me of the small towns by Zurich Lake in Switzerland. The scenery was only getting prettier as we went along.
We went straight to the boat and started loading our diving gear on board. Pat hadn't had a chance to pick his up in Florida, since he had been a little rushed, so he used what the boat brought for him. Morty couldn't dive due to a neck injury a couple of years ago. He probably has more time underwater than Pat and I put together, from diving Saturation in the North Sea. The injury didn't matter, since we were all together and having a ball. We sat down for a briefing with the Executive Producer, where he told us they had rented a cabin for the camera crew a two-hour boat ride away in Resurrection Bay. The three of us were to camp out in the snow. Now, keep in mind that part of my dream was to stay in â€˜said' cabin with Pat and Morty. So when he finished talking I said, "I have no desire to sleep outsideâ€?. The boat captain (Scott Anderson, from Dive Alaska) spoke up and said he was glad to hear that, because this was against every fiber in his body. Morty had tried to bring his prospecting gear with him, but was told by the film crew that it was too much weight for the plane. We could have done it with that, as long as you realize that wood has to thaw out before it can ignite and that takes days up there. He also told me in confidence that he doesn't camp out without his gun. Bears are curious and hungry creatures you know. Especially coming out of hibernation. Anyway, they asked me where we were going to stay and since I had spent very little money so far, I said I had seen a motel on the way into Seward that looked just fine. We met back at the boat after a late dinner to reminisce about days gone by. All of us got to bed about 12:30 A.M. and were up at 6:00 A.M. to depart from the dock.
We were supposed to meet at the dock at 6:30 to load the boat for an early morning departure at 7:00, but that was delayed for an hour. Working with film crews does require a lot of patience. We had a two-hour ride to the site at Resurrection Bay and part of the film crew was with us, while part was on a second boat, an aluminum LCP (Landing Craft Personnel) complete with a bow ramp that was filming us on our trip out. They brought in John Brooks, a professional underwater photographer from the east coast for this segment and I found out that he was also a cave diver. I've been a cave diver since 1984 and they are a lot of fun to dive in. Anyway I digress, they didn't set up the U/W (underwater) housing until we got to the site and they had to clean the salt water out of their $125,000 camera from filming us on the way over. It took them 2 more hours to get the camera set up in the housing. Later, I asked one of the cameramen why the U/W photographer hadn't done it the night before. That would have precluded saltwater getting into the camera and the additional wait for the transfer to the housing. Oh well, nobody ever said that you had to be speedy to be on TV. The photographer got in the water, while we're on the stern waiting to start the dive for another half an hour in our dry suits. We were starting to ripen out there in the sun, as it was another gorgeous day. When we simultaneously jumped in and started our dive, Pat's alternate air source started to free flow and Phil put air in his Buoyancy Compensator to bring him up. That was not a cool thing to do. Bill, the Divemaster and myself floated around for another half an hour, cooling our heels in 32-degree water while they changed out Pat's regulator. When Pat got back in the water, he said, "I don't think these guys dive very oftenâ€? to which I replied, "I think you're rightâ€?. Meaning that the amount of time it took to get ready doesn't lend itself to more than one dive a day. We then started the dive, I was having fits getting my ears cleared with the AGA mask. It took me 15 minutes to figure out where to squish my nose to finally get them fully cleared. We didn't know we were going to be wearing them until the boat ride out. I had been a commercial diver with Morty in the early 70's and had worn full-face masks many times before, so little did I know this one didn't have a nose rest to allow equalization, but I should have asked. The visibility was about 30 feet and we went through an overhang for about 35 feet. There were starfish everywhere and a few anemones scattered about. I was told that visibility and the big pelagics would increase in a few weeks. We went down to 63 feet for 37 minutes and then did a 3-minute safety stop. I was toasty in my Weezel thermals, with my Dive Rite Dry suit. Pat said he was just fine, but the photographer's hands and feet got cold, so he got out of the water early. Pat does over 200 dives a year for the U.S. Navy and doesn't have a civilian certification card. He spent 30 years in the Navy, part of that time as Command Master Chief at BUD'S and retired as a Warrant Officer CWO4. He is now in charge of testing the SEAL Delivery Vehicles throughout the Navy. He didn't know we were going to do safety stops and thought we needed to keep a better eye on the divemaster, since we came up a little before him. Whenever I divemaster, I usually hang at 15 feet, waiting for the people on the surface to get on the boat before I ascend and he thought we should be a little tighter knit group than that. The whole situation could have been avoided by a more complete dive briefing. After the dive, I asked the photographer if he got some good footage. He said, "we moved too fastâ€?, so I asked Pat if he thought that we had been speeding along. Neither of us thought we had and we hadn't traveled more than 100 feet from one direction to the other, during our dive. We then had a two-hour boat ride back to the dock.
During the boat ride the Executive Producer told me I needed to find a way back to Anchor Point. Pat, Morty and I talked and decided that when we got in range, Morty would call his wife to drive over and pick us up. Well, that was unacceptable, because they wanted us to spend more of the money I had been assigned. So, I hired a taxi for $300 to drive us over there on Easter Sunday. Another part of the dream had been to climb Mt. Marathon and snowsled down. The mountain was just behind the dock in Seward and on 4th of July, it takes some people 45 minutes to run up and down the 4,000-foot peak. At this time of year however, it had 10 feet of snow and what looked like 50 mile per hour winds at the top. I could see where small avalanches had been coming down the mountain recently. So, that was obviously out of the question. We also couldn't kayak, since the rivers still had ice in them and the whitewater would have been Titanic tricky. Morty said he had a sled and there was a hill close to his house so we decided to substitute that hill for Mt. Marathon.
It took the film crew an extra hour to offload their equipment, before we were allowed to get on our way. They had two drivers from a local TV station to drive them from place to place. Then we would slow down and speed up along the way to allow filming of a good scenic spot with us in the foreground. We got to Morty's cabin after a lengthy drive and took snowmobiles out for a spin on Knob Hill. Then we used Morty's sled, which looked more like a plastic bucket used to mix concrete in, to slide down the hill. That was a crackup literally, because most of us fell out on the way down, except for Dan who ran into the trees and Phil who almost took out Monica while zooming along. A good time was had by all.
Monica then drove us to the grocery store where I spent my remaining $25 on food. It was 11:30 PM and the store was about to close for the night, so we just made it. From there we went to Morty's workboat where we talked for a while and then went to bed. We were up again at 6:00 AM to get back to Morty's cabin where this escapade was to end. We had accomplished all of this in 72 hours. A group of Morty's neighbors and friends were there to meet us and Phil did separate interviews with each of the three of us. The crew from NOW gave us their flag to hold up and we did a commercial that we accomplished in about 5 takes. Then Pat and I were flown back to Anchorage in the Navajo. The pilot told us a story about a number of prospectors he had flown into the bush twenty years before. He expected these hard and grizzled miners to board his plane. It turns out that one of them had been Morty and he had been in great shape, while all the others had potbellies and looked out of shape. They stayed in the bush for thirty days every time they went out. This area might be beautiful, but Mother Nature is unforgiving up there and lack of good judgment gets people hurt and killed every year.
After we landed in Anchorage and were taxiing down the tarmac, it was the first time I ever remember stopping at a traffic light for cars while still in a plane. We then drove the cars over to the main terminal and everyone said their good-byes. The executive producer gave us our tickets home and said they had to catch a flight in two hours.
While standing there, someone yelled my name out, so I turned around to; low and behold it was Brad our jumpmaster. He had stopped out there to drop off a notebook that one of camera crew had inadvertently left in Wasilla. He asked where Pat and I were going and if we had a place to stay. We had been trying to contact Laddie Shaw, another teammate who lives in Anchorage. But he's running for State Legislator and was out â€˜kissing babies', so we didn't reach him until later. Brad invited us over to his apartment, so off we went. We drank a couple of bottles of wine that afternoon and then he took us to a restaurant and bar that he frequents. We had a couple of more drinks, while talking to the waitress who used to jumpmaster in Florida. She said it was great fun with her bikini top on putting all these frat boys out of the plane. Pat looked up and asked what DZ she worked out of. He then asked if she remembered one of his friends, because they used to jump at that DZ and she had started his friend skydiving. Pat called the guy up (they work together) and gave his cell phone to the waitress. It sure is a small world. They have a big skydiving foray up in Wasilla every 4th of July and both of us were invited to attend. The land of light in the summer, you know. Laddie then called and drove his motorcycle over to talk for a couple of hours. After we left the restaurant, we went back to Brad's apartment and packed to go. Brad and I then drove Pat over to the airport for his redeye flight. Brad woke me up at 5:30 A.M. the next morning to make my flight back to the lower 48.
That's my story and I'm sticking to it. The people in Alaska were cordial and friendly. I couldn't have had a better time and the scenery was spectacular. Thanks again to all of the people who made this journey happen. It's been two weeks and I'm just getting back into my routine. I leave for Cozumel next weekend, so it's off to more sunny places and drinks with little umbrellas in them.