Wednesday, January 24, 2018
News Roundup

For friend of SEAL killed in Benghazi, Tampa Bay Frogman Swim is a tribute

The September assault on a U.S. consulate in Libya was a terrifying incident with international repercussions.

For Bouke Noordzij, it was a personal tragedy.

His lifelong friend, Navy SEAL Glen Doherty, was among four killed in the Benghazi attack.

"I was devastated," said Noordzij, who met Doherty in the fifth grade and maintained a brotherly friendship for decades.

He wanted to do something to honor his friend.

On Sunday, the 43-year-old Boston man will join nearly 150 swimmers from around the country who will hit the chilly waters at Gandy Beach, then swim 3.1 miles to Picnic Island on the Tampa side of the bay.

The annual Tampa Bay Frogman Swim honors the memory of fallen Navy SEALS.

"I'm a little nervous," said the high school math teacher, a father of four. "But I know if Glen was around he would be here doing it with me. He was that kind of guy . . . always ready to go."

The open-water swim attracts triathletes, lifeguards and a variety of active and former military personnel. Each swimmer pledges to raise $1,000 for the Navy SEAL Foundation, a charity that helps the families of SEALS wounded or killed in action.

Doherty, 42, had joined the SEALs relatively late in life.

He was a ski bum, river guide and self-claimed "high priest" of "The Cult of Recreationalism," according an obituary in the Daily Beast two days after Doherty's death on Sept. 11, 2012.

Noordzij remembers the night Doherty told him he was joining the Navy. They were at a bar in Boston. Doherty said he wanted to "buckle down and do something big."

"I knew right then and there that he was going to make it," Noordzij said. "He was in good shape, but he had mental toughness, the kind that enables someone to endure pain, cold, sleep deprivation. He was a natural."

The two men spent most of their formative years in Winchester, Mass., where Doherty was the ringleader of what Noordzij decribes as a "band of misfits."

"He was a total free spirit," Noordzij said. "He wasn't your typical military type. He had a very strong personality."

The "misfits'' spent a lot of time at the home of Doherty's mother, Barbara, who was always willing to open her pantry.

"We loved Momma B.," Noordzij said. "She treated us all like we were her own children."

After high school, Noordzij, Doherty and the others drifted apart but would get together on holidays and often schedule wilderness hiking and camping trips.

Doherty served in various combat zones in the Middle East. He spent nine years on active duty before returning to the region as a military contractor, working for the State Department.

On Sept. 11, 2012, militants attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, killing Ambassador Christopher Stevens and computer specialist Sean Smith. Doherty and another former SEAL, Tyrone Woods, died a few hours later during a fierce firefight a few miles away as militants laid siege to their compound.

News of Doherty's death traveled fast among the close circle of friends.

"Life goes by so fast," Noordzij said.

Back home in Boston, Noordzij wondered how he could pay tribute to Doherty's memory when he heard about the Frogman. Now in its fourth year, the swim has quickly gained a national reputation as a challenging and rewarding event.

Noordzij sent an email to his family and friends and asked for their support.

Over the years, participants in the Frogman Swim have had many great stories to share, none more compelling than Noordzij's.

"This will be good therapy," he said. "With every stroke I take, I will be thinking about all those good times we had. This swim is for Glen."

Terry Tomalin, who has been an organizer and participant in the Tampa Bay Frogman Swim, can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8808.

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