When do Sailors trek through the desert? When they train at Naval Air Facility, EICentro, Calif. The school is Desert Environment Survival Training (DEST) [*], and All Hands sent PH2 Aaron Ansarov to go through it.
His mission - learn the techniques it takes to survive.
DAY ONE - MONDAY
5:45 A.M. -- Arrive at Fleet Aviation Specialized Operation Training Group Pacific (FASOTRAGRUPAC) headquarters at Naval Air Station North Island. I walk in the classroom, backpack in hand and camera belt on my waist. The other 24 Sailors going through the class give me a funny look. "You're going to carry all that," says one of the other students as I unsnap my camera belt and sit down at the table. "Yep!" I reply excitedly. "I'm going through as a student and doing a story on this class."
"Good luck," he says as he chuckles and walks away, glancing back at my 25 pounds of gear.
"It's pretty light," I think to myself, "But what else can I get rid of? All I packed was extra shirts, socks, toothbrush, space blanket, knife, sunglasses, flashlight and camel back full of water. Then there's the camera gear: one camera body, four lenses, flash and a bag of film. I take a look around the classroom and notice I stand out like the one-legged man in a kicking contest.
I'm in a room filled with pilots, SEALs, Special Warfare Combatant Craft Crewmembers and others whose survival in the field may rely on what they are about to learn in the next week.
6:15 A.M. -- An instructor walks in the room with list in hand and pairs us off into navigation teams of two. "PH2 Aaron Ansarov and HM2 Dan Garner, you guys are NayTeam Delta 2." I get up and move to where Garner is sitting and introduce myself. He gives me a quick look over.
"Have you done this before?" he asks with a curious look on his face.
"Nope," I reply curiosly.
I wait for him to say good luck like the other people. He says nothing.
6:45 A.M. -- Our bus finally arrives. We load in and try to get ourselves comfortable. We have a three-hour drive ahead of us to Naval Air Facility, El Centro. The instructor says firmly, "I suggest you guys stay awake and get to know your partner. After all, you will be living together for the next week."
As soon as the instructor leaves, everyone simultaneously turns their head and closes their eyes. I follow suit. After all, we'll probably need as much sleep as possible.
10 A.M. -- We arrive …