SO3 Frederick C. Warneke,  SEAL always knew he wanted to be one

By SUSAN LEMERANDE/For The Valley Chronicle

“As long as I can remember, Fred wanted to be a SEAL,” Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Bill Warneke wrote about his brother via e-mail. “I never thought he would ring out because I know how much he wanted it and he would never forgive himself if he did. It was his dream.”

Indeed, it was his dream, a dream that became a reality last Friday on Coronado Island, as Frederick C. Warneke became one of the U.S. Navy’s newest SEALs.

Warneke, a 2002 graduate of Hemet High School, was immersed in the Air Force Jr. ROTC program while in school, but he was interested in becoming a member of the Navy’s elite tactical force long before.

“Fred was about 10 years old,” his mother, Kathie Purkey, said, “when he told me ‘I’m going to be a Navy SEAL.’ He and Billy were always up in the hills, rock climbing, having paintball wars, hiding in the bushes, wearing camo clothes. I thought they’d outgrow it one day. They didn’t.”

SEAL (for sea, air, land) training is more than just rigorous. The class Warneke finished with started with nearly 300 sailors, then added about 15 more, Warneke included. Last Friday’s graduation, at Naval Special Warfare Center Coronado, honored the 43 men who toughed it out.

“It was the best time I never want to have again,” said one graduate.


The ceremony was held at the training compound where the legendary bell is always visible. When a trainee decides he has had enough, he rings the bell, then places his helmet on the sidewalk near the bell before leaving the area. Last Friday, the long line of helmets was conspicuous.

“During Hell Week there were times when we’d hear the bell ring and ring, one right after the other,” Warneke said. “For me, it was motivating. When I heard the bell ring, I’d think, ‘I’m still here.’”

In the early weeks of training at Basic Underwater Demolition School, Warneke broke his foot. He recalls being scared – scared it would be the thing that got him tossed out – so he didn’t do anything about it till after Hell Week, which comes in week four and is so grueling it sees a lot of prospective SEALs give up.

“Actually, by then, everything else hurt more – I hardly noticed the foot. But I figured I’d go through Hell Week before going in for treatment. I felt they’d be less likely to kick me out if I made it that far.”

According to Warneke, some of the workouts included having seven men carrying a 200-pound log for two to three hours, or holding the log while doing lunges or sit-ups. Training was conducted in every temperature extreme – from the cold of Alaska to the heat of the California deserts.

“They have us do an exercise until we experience muscle failure, then they pick another one,” he said of the motivators whose responsibility it is to prepare them for the treacherous conditions and situations they are sure to encounter in their service.

Other routines included swims that lasted so long in water so cold that hypothermia set in or running in heavy boots carrying unwieldy equipment for hours on end. It was often at the end of such exercises that the group would pause as the bell was being rung by one or several shipmates.

Master Sgt. Edward Brackins, Hemet High ROTC instructor since Warneke’s freshman year, remembers Warneke and his brother as doing everything to the extreme.

“Both Billy and Fred had the mentality of being part of special operations, no matter what branch of the military they went into. They’re scrappy – they don’t quit. My hat’s off to their parents who made them strong-minded and physically strong.”

The pin is a montage of four elements: the anchor to represent the Navy, an eagle with its head bowed to honor fallen comrades, the trident to symbolize the SEALs’ home in the sea, and the half-cocked pistol indicating they are always at the ready.

It is an insignia that Warneke will now wear knowing he has to earn it every day.

“I have to meet the standards at all times. If I don’t, they take my Trident away. Even though I made it this far, I’m now the new guy,” Warneke said of his place on SEAL Team 5. “They’re pretty big shoes to fill. What we say all the time is true: ‘The only easy day was yesterday.’”

Citing his family’s support and steadfast belief in his ability as his motivation, Warneke said, “They expected nothing less of me.”

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