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Chris Gieszl's first job after college was coaching a local swim club and teaching diving in Phoenix, Ariz. "I was hoping to use the PADI [Professional Association of Diving Instructors] certification to party for Club Med," jokes Gieszl, a star in the breaststroke event for the Colby Swim Team. "It never worked out."
Not even close. Today Gieszl is a U.S. Navy SEAL (Sea, Air, Land) Hospital Corpsman--a super-paramedic for the elite Navy commandoes. His job is to save lives on the battlefield. He can perform surgery and administer drugs. While doing that, he is the arm that implements U.S. foreign policy.
Gieszl helped evacuate the U.S. ambassador to Albania when intelligence analysts thought the government there was going to collapse. He boarded a Russian tanker smuggling oil out of Iraq. On September 11, 2001, Gieszl was on a deployment at a German Army base where General Rommel once kept his tanks. Although Gieszl's team of SEALs was not sent to Central Asia (another SEAL team based in Europe went instead), the terrorist attack on the U.S. put his team on alert. This article was withheld for a year for security reasons at Gieszl's request.
He grew up in a military family. His father and grandfather were officers. Gieszl tried for more than a year to get a direct commission as a Navy officer but was denied. On October 31, 1994, he committed, to his father's chagrin, to a four-year enlistment plus a one-year extension to be trained as a medic.
Gieszl says that Colby did not lead him to a military career, although he was part of the loosely organized Military Affairs club. "It definitely bothered me that Colby gave little support for the military," he said. "Just to join ROTC, you had to travel up to Orono."
Moreover, though he admits to not talking politics much at Colby, he holds very conservative political views. "Colby was very liberal, especially coming from Arizona where former Senator Barry Goldwater is an icon," Gieszl said.
Yet Colby and the SEALs are not altogether dissimilar. Both are small, closely knit communities. "There are about 3,000 SEALs and 250 SEALs per team," Gieszl said. "I like that and it's what I liked about Colby too." Since enlisting, Gieszl has made it through boot camp, SEAL training, jump school at Ft. Benning, Ga., and medical training.
Just how tough is SEAL training? "Not to degrade the SEAL community, but you don't have to be a great swimmer. It's all about desire," Gieszl said. "There were quite a few people who did not know how to swim before SEAL training."
During SEAL training, instructors tied Gieszl's wrists and ankles together to test his ability to stay above water in a pool. They made him tread water holding a 20-pound brick. And while practicing diving with SCUBA gear, Gieszl says, instructors would rip off trainees' air hoses to test ability to function without oxygen.
Gieszl says that even though Colby does not encourage military service, Colby did provide him with something far more important than career advice. "Colby taught me to get beyond stereotypes," he said. "And it gave me the ability to work with a lot of different people and to take the time to meet people and understand their backgrounds."
Several months after September 11, he accepted orders to train potential SEALs for the next three years in San Diego. By doing so, he turned down admission to medical school at Tulane University. That September day changed the military's job--and Gieszl's future. Still, he looks forward to developing future Navy SEALs. "I really do enjoy my job--not because I am sadistic or enjoying torturing students," he wrote in an e-mail. "It is just great seeing new students learn what it takes to become a SEAL."
--Jonathan Kaplan '94
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College Colby Magazine 4181
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