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Depths of Endurance

Business major Travis Thompson joins an elite group.
By Mike Greife

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Meeting the challenges offered by life often can test a person's determination, especially when tempered with the survival instinct. For University of Central Missouri junior Travis Thompson, the true test was spending seven weeks during the summer of 2011 testing his determination and honing his own survival instincts at the U.S. Army Special Forces Underwater Operations School in Key West, Fla.

Thompson, a business management major in UCM's Harmon College of Business and Professional Studies, also is a member of UCM's U.S. Army ROTC program. He returned to classes last fall as a member of a select group of only several hundred elite U.S. Army specialists who have completed the rigorous training.

The numbers tell the story. Thompson arrived in Key West to join a class of 80 who had been selected for the combat diving training. Among his classmates were West Point cadets and decorated Green Berets with several deployments under their belts. That number was reduced to 60 after the first day. Of those 60, 31 completed the seven-week course.

Thompson was one of 24 college ROTC cadets who qualified to attend and one of four of the who completed the course. Of the original class of 80, 40 were special forces troops. Seventeen of them graduated. The class also included 15 West Point cadets, and 10 of them graduated.

"The first day, they told us that this was no game, and they would eliminate 20 of us by the end of that day," Thompson said. "A Green Beret quit after 30 minutes in the pool. Another 13 guys quit that same day. You can take the strongest, toughest guy you know, put him in the water and take him out of his comfort zone, and you can break him in a few minutes."

Thompson admits those first few days of the course were intimidating, but he was determined to complete the course. What followed were weeks of intense physical training and classroom instruction that prepared him to survive underwater. Over a period of time, he proved he was capable of dealing with situations where he may be left without oxygen in pitch darkness underwater while in full combat dress and full equipment. He received his certification as an Army combat diver, as well as his certification as a civilian master diver.

"Every bit of this school is 100 percent mental," Thompson said. "Every guy there is in the best physical shape of his life. They are physically capable of finishing the school, but it's what's between the ears that makes the difference. My grandpa used to tell me that, and now I know what he means."

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