By Benjamin Lowry
One thousand yards of open ocean undulated gently between US Navy SEAL David Hall and the dim lights of the Haitian shoreline. Wearing little more than woodland cammies, a Boonie hat, and a modified hunting life jacket, Hall glanced at the luminescent display of his Luminox watch and slipped quietly into the temperate waters of the Caribbean Sea. While warm, the water was acrid, stinking of ammonia and decomposition. As he began finning, open fires burned suspiciously on the proposed invasion beaches, their faint glimmer visible in the eyes of the two other SEALs finning away to Hall’s right and left.
Hall and swim buddy, just before the Haiti operation.
A fortuitous low-lying fog hung over the water at the insertion point, making their approach virtually undetectable. After a military coup in 1991 ousted Haiti’s first democratically-elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a Clinton-led United States initiated Operation Uphold Democracy in 1994, a military and diplomatic intervention intended to restore order and democracy to the embattled island nation. Hall’s US Navy SEAL Team EIGHT was tasked with conducting detailed reconnaissance of several Haitian beachheads to ensure the safe landing of an impending US Marine Corps invading force.
Approximately 200 yards in, Hall’s swim buddy became entangled on a submerged fishing net that was being pulled in by an unseen dugout canoe. Hall closed in to assist his struggling swim buddy, miraculously freeing him while remaining unseen by the two Haitians in the boat. Once freed, Hall and two other SEALs swam to chest-deep water before being surrounded by several dugouts manned by Haitian civilians tasked with locating and reporting exactly this type of activity. In the kind of pitch blackness only offered by the sea on a moonless foggy night, one of the enemy dugouts drifted close enough to sense the presence of Hall’s three-man element.
Thanks to four years of high school French, Hall understood well enough when one of the fishermen whispered, “Homme, qu’est-ce que tu fais dans l’eau?” (“Man, what are you doing in the water?”) in a lazy blend of French and Creole. Hearing the selector switches of his teammates' silenced MP5s click from “safe” to “fire” and feeling their backs move against his own, Hall remembered their orders. Anyone who discovered the SEALs or otherwise endangered the mission was to be killed as quietly as possible. After a painfully-long pause from both parties, the civilian fishermen thought better of the engagement and silently paddled into the night without another word, the rapidly beating hearts of the SEALs still in their throats.
It turns out Luminox Original Navy SEAL watches were actually worn by SEALs.
With around six years in the Teams, Hall had already deployed to the Mediterranean as well as the Persian Gulf for Operation Desert Shield, but the brief Haitian conflict, and this near miss on a moonless Haitian beach, presented his first up-close taste of war. Throughout his initial SEAL training and qualification as well as thousands of training hours at SEAL Teams TWO and EIGHT, Hall crafted a visceral understanding of the relationship between mission success and having the right tool for the job. Watches were then and are now yet another essential tool, as important to the mission in many cases as an operator’s weapons. But for Hall, who quickly asked me to call him Dave when we met via Zoom, watches represent a lot more than that. I met Dave (@davehall1911) through my Instagram account, @SubmersibleWrist, when he reached out to share a few photos of his time in the Teams.
Afghanistan 2005, Casio Pathfinder on the wrist
When W.O.E. asked me to write something for the Dispatch, I immediately thought of Dave. As one of the world’s least tactical people, I would never compare my resume to Dave’s, but my experiences as a search and rescue team leader in the US Coast Guard as well as my time as a commercial diver mean we share an intimate understanding of tool watches in the maritime environment. Setting aside his decorated 20-year career in Naval Special Warfare for a moment, Dave is a dyed-in-the-wool watch enthusiast just like the rest of us. The first “real” watch Dave remembers acquiring was a Citizen Aqualand C023 he purchased with carefully-pinched pennies from a summer lifeguarding job in northern Illinois. Looking back, the humble depth-gauge-enabled Citizen stands as the first installment in a tale of service, adventure, and armed conflict, punctuated by some of history's most iconic watches.
BUD/S And An Improbable Tudor “Snowflake” Submariner, Ref 9401
Hall’s Tudor “Snowflake” Submariner, Ref 9401, SEAL Trident, USN Mk II Kabar
At BUD/S or Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training in 1987, Dave quickly made friends with a San Diego local and classmate. Dave’s friend, who would eventually serve as his dive buddy in what was then Third Phase, showed Dave around the area and also introduced him to his uncle, a dealer of military surplus. As graduation from one of the military’s most elite training programs loomed, Dave’s buddy’s uncle mentioned his recent purchase of 100 of the last of the West Coast Teams' issued Tudor Submariners in an unmarked cardboard box from a US Navy Defense Reutilization Marketing Office (DRMO) surplus auction. Thirty-three years later, Dave clearly remembers paying his friend’s uncle $300, no small sum for a junior enlisted sailor in 1988, for two of the well-worn Tudor Submariners, keeping one and gifting the other to a family member.
BUD/S Graduation 1988, Tudor Submariner on the wrist.
Dave remembered seeing similar watches often worn with a brass W.C.C. survival compass on simple nylon straps on the wrists of legendary SEALs around BUD/S. One such operator who left an impression was RJ Thomas, a Vietnam SEAL who famously repelled two hundred VC fighters from his downed helicopter with an M1911 pistol, racking up 37 confirmed kills between 3 and a staggering 150 yards and injuring countless others.
Hall's Tudor Submariner along with a few other relics from the Vietnam Era.
For a young Dave Hall, his “Snowflake” Submariner could not have been any cooler and synonymous with the legendary operators the fledgling frogman hoped to emulate. Dave wore the Tudor for his graduation from BUD/S and throughout his career for lighter duty and the types of ceremonies and events that call for a dress uniform. All these years later, Dave still has the watch and wears it alongside a brass W.C.C. compass on a simple nylon strap, just as God and the SEAL Teams intended.
Seiko Automatic Dive Watches, Stacks Of Casio G-Shocks, Pathfinders, & A Luminox
Hall graduating SEAL Sniper School with a handshake from legendary Marine Scout Sniper, Carlos Hathcock. Seiko on the wrist.
With the Rolex and Tudor Submariners of old all but phased out and either retained by crafty SEALs like Dave or sold at DRMO auctions, the SEAL Teams of the 80s and 90s issued a mix of Seiko automatic dive watches including the 6309 and later the 7002 as well as several generations of the venerable Casio G-Shock and Pathfinder. Dave remembers all of these utilitarian watches fondly, though he makes note of the sheer volume of G-Shock watches he went through in his career, often wearing one on his attack board and another on the wrist during combat dives. When the battery died or something failed, he simply tossed it and grabbed another from his unit’s supply officer.
Hall dive training in 1991 in Scotland. Citizen Aqualand on the wrist.
Along with the Citizen Aqualand of his youth, which he often wore operationally, Dave favored the utilitarian automatic Seiko divers of the era. Dave reached for his Seikos in situations that did not require the perfect stopwatch timing and self-illuminating capabilities offered by digital watches, opting for the legendary Japanese brand on the range, when parachuting, or for other land-based training evolutions.
Chesapeake, VA, Range training, 1995. Seiko on the wrist.
For the nerds in the room, which I assume is all of you, Dave mentioned that the strap of the 90s East Coast SEAL Teams was a simple velcro model with a depth-compensating spring-loaded buckle that once accompanied a Tekna diving wrist compass. Despite the legendary status of Seiko and G-Shock within the Teams, when Dave made the aforementioned big swim into Haiti in ‘94, he was wearing the then-brand-new Luminox Original Navy SEAL he had privately purchased. And while enthusiasts may snicker at the often-corny Luminox Navy SEAL marketing, Dave remembers enjoying the brightness of the tritium illumination on that particular mission while admitting the watch was more fragile compared to the Seiko, Citizen & Casio models upon which he normally relied.
The OMEGA Seamaster Chronograph 2598.80
Hall's OMEGA Seamaster Chronograph.
In 1996, Dave purchased his first luxury watch, an OMEGA Seamaster Chronograph reference 2598.80, in celebration of the birth of his first child. When asked, Dave indicates it was this very watch that he wore the most operationally, with hundreds of jumps, combat dives, and real-world combat missions and gun fights to its name. The Seamaster Chronograph of the era paired the iconic design language established by the Pierce Brosnan Bond Seamaster with its distinctive wave-engraved dial and added chronograph functionality by way of the robust but thick Valjoux 7750. Intriguingly, the watch made the first of two appearances by Dave’s watches in popular media, starring in the final scene of an episode of Navy SEALs: In Harms Way, a documentary series produced by Gordon Forbes for the Discovery Channel. And while Dave lists the OMEGA, now most often worn by his wife Tracey, as the number one operator watch of his career overall, the evolution of combat following the 9/11 terrorist attacks would call for new tactics and equipment, including a GPS-enabled Suunto Dave wore on a day of intense combat that would change his life.
Freefall training in Spain, 1997. Omega Seamaster Chronograph on the wrist.
An Early Suunto GPS Watch & A Very Long Day In Baghdad
In 2004, with the Global War On Terror (GWOT) in full effect, Dave was stationed at SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team TWO (SDVT-2). Envisioned in the Second World War, the modern SDV is a miniature wet submersible capable of deploying from ships or submarines and carrying small teams of US Navy SEALs far greater distances than even a Navy SEAL can swim. For a particular SDV mission upon which Dave opts not to elaborate, he and a few other SEALs were issued an early watersports-themed Suunto watch offering rudimentary but useful GPS functionality at the cost of needing regular recharging. Given the growing intensity of combat operations in Iraq’s major cities, experienced SEALs from SDVT-2 and elsewhere were often sent to augment other SEAL Teams deployed in the Middle East. Transitioning from 10 to 15-hour dives in shark-infested water to the heat, chaos, and urban combat of Baghdad’s streets is no small task but is the kind of thing a senior operator like Dave was accustomed to after 15 years in the Teams. On one particular mission, Dave and three other SEAL snipers were attached to a regular US Army unit and tasked with providing overwatch for an intersection known as a launch point for insurgent mortar teams. The mission seemed simple enough. When the insurgent mortar team showed up, the SEAL snipers would do what they do best from the relative safety of their urban hide.
Hall in Iraq before his injury. Note the Suunto GPS watch on the wrist.
A few hours after being locked into the eighth floor of an urban high-rise by a sketchy local source, the team observed four insurgent pickups in the alleyway below loaded with RPGs and fifteen armed men clad in black. Soon after, a massive vehicle-borne improvised explosive device or VBIED exploded down the street, ripping the front of an Iraqi police station to shreds and igniting an intense, multi-stage ambush. With rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire erupting in every direction in the street below, Dave and his team made for the roof to bring the fight to the enemy and give the dozens of wounded Iraqi police officers at least a fighting chance of survival. A former instructor at Naval Special Warfare’s sniper school, Dave remembers engaging the enemy fighters from the rooftop along with the other SEALs and soldiers in their small element, doing enough damage for the insurgent force to switch its focus from the badly-damaged police station to killing Dave and his team. Impressively, despite their small numbers, the accuracy of the SEAL snipers and soldiers on Dave’s team kept an enormous insurgent force at bay for a tense two and a half hours. Eventually, an enterprising enemy fighter emerged from an adjacent rooftop and threw a perfectly-aimed Russian hand grenade into the midst of the SEALs and soldiers on the rooftop.
Baghdad, Iraq. View from the Baghdad rooftop where Hall was injured.
In a reflexive attempt to get clear of the explosion, Dave jumped in the general direction of a lower tier of the roof, barely missing a ladder on the way down. Landing awkwardly, Dave felt his right knee crumple under his body weight and a combat load of over 65 lbs of gear. Despite also hitting his head in the fall, the image of looking down and seeing the bottom of his dusty Merrell hiking boot looking up at him from his almost completely amputated lower leg is as clear for Dave today as it was in 2004. With several other members of the team also injured, including a soldier who had his foot completely severed, the team retreated under fire to the eighth floor. Dave vividly remembers crawling on his stomach over the roof using the wounded soldier’s blood like a slip and slide. Eventually making his way to a corner of the 8th floor, Dave put his back to the wall and covered the stairs, well and truly pissed and still in the fight. With the enemy well aware of the team’s position, RPG explosions rocked the seventh and eighth floor of the concrete building from all sides, piling concussive brain injuries one after another for Dave and his team in the enclosed space as the building filled with thick black smoke from burning enemy trucks. Dave’s Suunto was also still in the fight, something he remembers well because he checked the time often in the ensuing two-and-a-half hours before rescue ultimately came in the form of armored vehicles. Incredibly, after several surgeries and extensive physical therapy, Dave returned not only to the Teams but to war less than a year later to deploy to Afghanistan, ultimately retiring from a storied career in 2007.
Hall as a junior Team Guy, wearing a Citizen Aqualand.
Dave’s history, which I have only begun to touch on in this abbreviated format, is truly incredible, spanning the breadth of the transition between the US Navy SEALs of the 70s, 80s, and 90s that were still heavily influenced by the Vietnam War and the development of the modern operator we associate with the SEALs of today. But what surprised me most about Dave was the total lack of ego and openness with which he approached the idea of talking to someone like me about his life, war, and watches.
Today, Dave remains deeply connected to the SEAL Teams and the special operations community at large, spending much of his time volunteering as the president of the Silent Warrior Foundation, a not-for-profit that provides funding for mental health services, emergency financial help, scholarships, and hyperbaric oxygen treatment for injuries that are often related to TBIs in particular.
Ian Brown (@tacshot1) wearing Dave's Tudor on the set of SEAL Team on Paramount Plus
Traumatic brain injuries, which are often related to mental health issues and veteran suicides, are close to Dave’s heart. Thanks to one of his friends who works on the show, Dave’s focus on TBIs ultimately led to yet another appearance in film for one of Dave’s watches in a recent episode of SEAL Team in an episode dealing with TBI-related stigma in the SEAL community. In the episode, an old-timer frogman prominently wears Dave’s Tudor Submariner, an incredibly accurate move by the prop department and further evidence that beyond his laurels as an elite special operator, Dave is also a watch guy (almost) just like you and me. Just don’t ask him how much he wants for his Tudor Sub.
If you’d like to support Dave’s efforts with the Silent Warrior Foundation, please check out their website.
About The Author: Benjamin Lowry is a US Coast Guard veteran and commercial diver turned watch writer. These days, Ben splits his time between writing and video production in the watch industry and managing @SubmersibleWrist, a watch spotting account dedicated to military and commercial divers.
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