Justin Rigg

Year of Graduation: 
Justin Rigg '23 stands with his classmates in the Naval Special Warfare Orientation Course.

"The skills I developed and the people I met will stay with me for a very long time."

Justin Rigg’s what-I-did-on-my-summer-vacation essay is a page-turner.

For two weeks in June, the rising upper from Dallas extended himself to his limits at the Naval Special Warfare Orientation Course, specialized training for highly qualified cadets in the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps. Rigg took part in the Navy SEAL segment of the course that includes things like scuba-diving navigation, amphibious infiltration tactics, vessel boarding and leadership development, all built around grueling physical and mental tests.

Rigg is a petty officer second class within the Sea Cadets, a youth organization sponsored by the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard with 380 units in 47 states. His father, Bryan Rigg '91, served as a visiting instructor at NSWOC and lectured the cadets on the history of amphibious warfare, U.S. history and military history. We caught up with Justin to ask about his arduous two weeks — including the notorious “Hell Night”:

How did you become interested in the Sea Cadets?
When I was around 12 years old, I had the opportunity to tour the battlefield of Iwo Jima (many would recognize the famous WWII photo of the flag raising atop Mount Suribachi). This was a guided tour, and many veterans from the very battle accompanied us. Along with the veterans, there were several older boys, probably around 17 and 18 years old, dressed in Marine Corps uniforms. Later, I found out that these young men were a part of the Young Marines, a military youth group similar to the Sea Cadets. Upon my return home, I found a local unit, the Tarrant County Young Marines, and enlisted. After spending a little over a year in this program, I was unsatisfied with it and the opportunities it provided. My father and I had noticed what appeared to be a Navy youth organization operating on the same base as the YM unit (“drills” took place on a Joint Reserve Base in Fort Worth, Texas). We began asking around and eventually were invited to attend the annual Sea Cadet Banquet to get a feel for the organization and its opportunities. After learning about the many trainings (roughly two-week programs dedicated to certain topics, i.e. combat medical training), I was hooked and immediately enlisted into the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps (rather a mouthful, so we simply say Sea Cadets). After attending a lovely two-week boot camp in California on the Marine Base Camp Pendleton, I was officially a Seaman in the USNSCC.
Justin Rigg '23 (right) poses with his classmate after graduating from Naval Special Warfare Orientation Course SEAL training this summer.
What is it you like most about the program?
The best part about the Corps is the opportunities offered during the summer. One can work with SWAT, Navy Pilots, Marine Recon (Special Forces), even spend weeks aboard active duty naval vessels. The program offers medical training and scuba certification programs. The programs are very affordable as well, as we are supported by the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard. These trainings are what make the program great.
The physical and mental rigor required to be a SEAL is legendary; what kind of training regimen did you keep to prepare?
My training regimen leading up to the two-week program was rather unconventional, as I was training with Dallas United Crew to row at Youth Nationals (the event was held about 5 days before NSWOC started). I had to work around a vigorous rowing schedule. A typical day would start for me at 4 a.m. I would wake up, quickly fix a breakfast for the road (usually a 500-calorie shake), get in the car, and make the trip down to the lake. Practice started at 4:45 a.m. and usually I was at the lake until 7:30-8 a.m. After that, I would return home and be sure to eat plenty. Come afternoon, I would make my way to the gym to spend at minimum an hour in the pool or running. After that, it was rest and recovery until 4 the next morning.
Can you describe a typical day at NSWOC?
A typical day would see us waking up at 0500 — 5 a.m. We would have around 30 minutes for hygiene and to get our gear prepped for the day. By 0530, we had to be out on the grinder, a concrete slab dedicated for all things exercise, ready to begin morning PT. After we finished our PT, we would change and head to breakfast. By 0730, it was time to start the day's evolution. These evolutions consisted of things like Weaponry Training, Jungle Reconnaissance and Close Quarters Battle. We would aim to get done with two evolutions a day, one right after breakfast and one after lunch. Usually, after dinner, we would continue to expand upon the previous evolution until lights out at 2200. This was our daily schedule, save for a few minor modifications.
Which parts of NSWOC were most rigorous?
The most rigorous part of NSWOC was, by far, INDOC. INDOC is, in essence, a physical beatdown. The goal of the instructors is to get you to quit. They do not want you to be there unless you are absolutely serious about being there. And the highlight of INDOC is Hell Night.
And dare we ask: What was Hell Night like?
It was roughly 1800 — 6 p.m. — and the instructors informed us that all our gear, cots and personal belongings needed to be packed up and loaded onto the bus that had just pulled into the compound. It was as if someone had kicked an anthill. The NSWOC class leader, Chief Kent, and I (the LPO, leading Petty Officer) immediately began barking orders. Soon, everyone was scrambling to get everything squared away in the time allotted to us. As we boarded the bus, our medical officer warned us, “You boys would do good to get some shut-eye on that ride to Tindale.” Tindale was the local Air Force base, around 30 minutes away. A recommendation for rest could mean only one thing: Upon arrival the instructors were going to bring the pain.

As soon as I took my seat, I put in earplugs, pulled my neck gator over my eyes, and passed out. I awoke to the gentle drone of the engine and 24 silent teenage boys. Everyone was completely passed out. I looked over at Kent, he stirred awake and I asked him for the time (earlier that day, they had taken all our watches except for Kent, as he was class leader). He replied with 2145 — 9:45 p.m. We’d been driving for nearly three hours. They weren’t taking us to Tindale.

Justin Rigg '23 (front, bottom left) and his fellow Sea Cadets perform flutter kicks during Hell Night of Naval Special Warfare Orientation Course.

When we arrived at an undisclosed location (we found out later that it was the 300-acre compound of a military contractor), it was pitch black outside. One of our instructors boarded the bus, handed out a waiver that we were required to sign (the waiver was in essence, “in the event of severe bodily harm, we are not responsible.”), and as soon as we were finished, began yelling at us to get off the bus and get changed into working uniform pants and our boots. After scrambling to unload the bus and get changed we formed up in front of the compound gate. Suddenly, the gate was yanked open to reveal a blinding light. The instructors had faced their cars toward the entrance and turned on their brights. Out of the light came our gunnery sergeant. He was not happy. He yelled at us to follow him and took off running. As we came into the courtyard, explosions started going off, small-arms fire broke out and a conveniently placed fire engine, began drenching us with its hose. This is what is known as breakout, the beginning of Hell Night.

They led us to the grinder for push-ups and flutter kicks. The instructors began throwing smoke grenades in our general direction and dropping concussion grenades in old oil drums (note: at no time in this evolution, or any other evolution for that matter, was our safety and well-being jeopardized. This was a well-controlled evolution designed to stress us and get us to give-up, not injure us) to disorient us. After many hundreds of push-ups and flutter kicks, we were led to a bunch of old telephone poles laying on the ground. We did what is known as Log PT. If you’ve ever seen Navy SEALs holding logs over their heads, that is what we were doing. We were to pick it up off the ground, hoist it to our shoulders, stand up, push over our heads, put it down on the opposite shoulder and then down to the ground again. We did this until about 0200 — 2 a.m. After this, we began to run laps with the log. Whoever pushed the hardest, got to rest and watch the others continue to run. After a few laps, they marched us to the firing range and had us run up and down the berms. While we were doing this, the sky opened up and it began to downpour. After around an hour or so, they had us stop, march back to the trucks, and climb into them. Before this however, they made sure to spray us down so we were soaking wet, although it was still raining at this time. We then headed to the beach. We were told to “sugar cookie” ourselves, in essence, roll around in the sand until you are completely covered in sand.

By the end, we had endured a 40-hour period without sleep and little to no rest. Though these 40 hours were awful, it was one of my favorite parts of the training. It provided me with an opportunity to test my physical and mental grit. And do it alongside my brothers.