After Action Review following the pictures.
Tuesday, August 26, 16:20
I am going to embark on a GORUCK Heavy week. As of tomorrow, I will complete GORUCK Firearms Day (FAD).
Then, on Thursday, the fun starts. On Thursday afternoon, at 17:00, I will commence my GORUCK Heavy, which will last at least 24 hours and will cover at least 40 miles. Immediately following that, I will complete a GORUCK Challenge, which is another 12+ hours and 15+ miles. And following that, I will complete a GORUCK Light, which is 4+ Hours and 7-10 miles. Emphasis on the “+”.
Describing what I am about to do to anyone is nearly impossible. It will unquestionably be the hardest few days I have ever had in my life. The GORUCK Challenge I completed just two months ago was the hardest event I have ever completed And in just another day or so, I am going to quadruple it. More or less.
I have the same feeling I would have if I was being sent to death row. My fate is sealed, so I am at peace. I have no worries. I know what I am about to complete is going to be painful and hard – a beatdown for my body. And yet, I have no worries. Completing my mission is simple: I will not quit. That’s it. That’s my strategy. Things will hurt, things may bleed, but I will not quit. And I know that I will pass out before I die.
I can’t say I’m excited, because I’m not. I am going to suffer. I will borrow the words from two great men. The first, David Goggins, which is currently on my “Last Mile” page:
“How do you grow as a person by doing fun things? You grow by testing yourself, by testing your mind to go where it doesn’t want to go. If you take the easy road, you get easy results. You don’t expect anything out of yourself. If you take the hard road, and you make yourself get through it, you will expect more out of your everyday life. If you don’t achieve and let people keep you down, you will stay down. Not me… I choose to get back up. I choose to look the unwanted in the face. I choose to go after the unwanted with a smile. I choose to suffer. And from suffering I grow.” – David Goggins
And from Thom Shea, another Navy SEAL, in his book Unbreakable:
“When you pick your path in life, you will have times when you mentally, physically, and emotionally hit exhaustion. There is no way around hitting it, and there is no way out of this rite of passage. I can safely say you will clearly hit it when you are committed to whatever you are doing. You might be the best at your profession, or just progressing your way up. Yet, you will hit this wall…
The solution lies within you. Don’t run and don’t hide from the pain, the feat, or the exhaustion. Recognize you have created this path for yourself, and you need to be there. Those around you, too, need to be there as well. If you run and hide, they will, too. Or they will be forced to go without you. The loss may be enough to kill the whole effort. You count…’Do not fear dying. It only makes you weak.’…
I call this the language of ‘Committed Unattachment.’ In this language and way of being, you are fully committed to your goal and unattached to your emotions, pains, the whims of others, or even the occasional failure. Distractions don’t throw you off, rather don’t throw off your Internal Dialogue. Mastering Internal Dialogue is your unbreakable life.”
During the event, my goal is simple: I will be an excellent individual. I will be the best teammate, helping everyone I can, when I can. I will not quit. We will not quit.
Wednesday, August 27, 21:03
I completed GORUCK Firearms Day (FAD). It was awesome. It was crazy, because when I first arrived, I met a man named “Jason.” Of course, I sheepishly asked…”McCarthy?” He replied yes. I was in awe that he was even there. The average Hollywood celebrity means absolutely nothing to me. But meeting a great soldier and entrepreneur – I was starstruck. He’s humble as can be. But I digress.
I met the other instructors – The Machine (Israeli SF), Garrett (US Army SF) and Mocha Mike (US Army SF / Ranger), and they helped get us squared away. Just a brief bit of background – I have some comfort with my Glock 22 that I own, but I just learned to shoot a few months ago. So I am not particularly good and I know I have a lot to learn.
We started, as any firearms course does, with basics. Gun functioning, etc. We started with basic dry firing drills, basic live fire drills, and continually working our way up to shooting and moving, gun malfunctions, buddy drills, etc. After 9 hours and about 325 rounds fired, I felt like my knowledge, on a scale of 1-10, went from a 2 to an 8. It does not mean my skills are that high yet, but my confidence is higher and I feel like the rest is mastering the fundamentals, as well as learning additional techniques.
Awesome day. I left much more competent and confident, tired, and wishing I could do that every day. Now, though, I have refueled, rehydrated, and am preparing for the HCLS.
Saturday, August 30, 07:32
I completed Heavy 045 yesterday. And now, as I write this, I just finished 12 hours of sleep, a big breakfast, and just enough time to process some of what went on yesterday. My body is in pain just about everywhere – my hands are scraped, my legs are chafed, my feet have a few hotspots, and my shoulders…don’t get me started on my shoulders. And yet… and yet, I just completed the toughest 24 hours of my life.
I had the pleasure of hanging out at HQ a bit beforehand, relaxing and just chatting with a few members of the GORUCK Team. Then the time came. At 17:00, we were all in formation. Our rucks were weighed. Then, the PT test.
This is my first “tip” for participating in a GORUCK Heavy:
SHL TIP #1 If you’re not in decent enough shape to pass the PT test, don’t sign up for a Heavy. Many of the people who struggled during the PT test struggled during most of the event. I wish they had just quit.
PT test over, we had our first team leader assigned and then moved to the beach for our 12 mile timed ruck. The ruck was to be completed in 3.5 hours, in silence, on Jacksonville Beach. The sun was setting as we began the ruck. It was by far the most peaceful part of the day for me. We headed south down the beach. To the east, the ocean. To the west, some of Jacksonville’s most beautiful homes.
During our ruck, we lost our first team member to a seizure. It was a bit surreal. It was dark, and people jumped into action quickly. We had to clandestinely cross very expensive private property in the middle of the night to figure out exactly where we were and get the ambulance in the proper spot.
It felt like it took 20-30 minutes before we got back to the ruck. I remember at some point making a water stop before continuing on the ruck. It was 90+ degrees when we started, probably low eighties / high seventies during the ruck, and the ocean was just 10 feet away. All I could think of was how good it would feel to just take a nice dip in the water. But that pleasantness would not come for a long while. Eventually, definitely more than 3.5 hours later, it was over. (I also think it was more than 12 miles, but I could never prove it.)
Then the fun began. Our welcome party, if you will. I take intense pleasure in getting beat down, much more so than rucking. I love the beatdowns – it’s like going to the gym with Special Forces guys. They’ll smoke you until they get bored, do it again, then it’s over and you’re just that much stronger. Finally, a smokeshow, I remember thinking. Cadre Mocha Mike was there waiting for us. I had met him the previous day at FAD. In terms of the few Cadre I have met, I respect him the most. He just has something about him – he’s one of those guys I just like. Simultaneously the meanest motherF and nicest guy I know. He actually reminds me of my dad in that way.
But I digress. Cadre Mocha Mike informed us we had received the worst 12 mile ruck time in the history of GORUCK. I actually think he was probably correct. We were in some shady parking lot, and all I remember is getting beat down in the dark. Over and over. Lots of bear crawls. Amongst other things. All I remember is the flesh on my hands tearing apart despite wearing gloves. My hands would be in pain for the next 20+ hours, and there was not much I could do about it. I remember our team’s frustrations. The first people losing some of their mental strength. Someone quitting shortly thereafter. Me? I was loving it.
I don’t remember exactly what happened next. I remember more rucking and more beatdowns throughout the night. I remember those who had done Heavies before saying that this was the worst one by far. I remember seeing many miserable faces.
I know that at some point during the night, I was selected team leader by the Cadre. The good, first; after my leadership term was up, and after the Heavy, I received a lot of positive feedback from both the Cadre and my team about my term as leader. That’s the good. The bad: I fucked our team a few times with my leadership decisions, which really, really sucks. My first decision: estimating how much time we would need to make a 3 mile ruck with a lot of sandbags on sand. I guessed 55 minutes, thinking an 18 minute pace really wouldn’t be too tough. Cadre Jesse all but laughed in my face, and “encouraged” me to pick a higher number. I did: 1 hour 20 minutes, and off we went.
You learn a lot about being team leader with a group of almost 50. You need very good systems to ensure people move in formation, that weight is shifted around frequently, and we move in the most efficient manner possible. One of the girls in our class provided an excellent suggestion for moving weight around, but I fucked up the implementation of the system. We also missed our time hack due to breaks and such. If I had to give myself a rating, it would be a C+, which is a failure. A- rounds down in the GORUCK world.
We eventually got to our next point, which is where another beatdown commenced. The Machine and Cadre Garret delivered us some fun. One team member quit. But my proudest moment of the day came here.
One of the guys in the group who had done some Heavies said this sucked the most of any GORUCK event he had done, and he told the Cadre he was going to quit. I remembered one piece of advice I had heard from a SEAL, which is never to quit at night: once the sun comes up, everything is OK again. So, I had a chat with my teammate and soon-to-be friend, and I told him exactly that. Something like, “Hey, this sucks. I know. You know. But whatever happens, you are not allowed to quit at night. If the sun comes up and you feel the same way, then so be it. But just make it through the night.”
The sun came up. And I couldn’t have had a bigger smile on my face when he received his patch later that evening.
But there were a lot more beatdowns and rucking during the night. It was anything but pleasant, and it felt like it would never end. Our team, quite simply, did not work together very well. There was a very combative energy. We knew it. The Cadre knew it. We were punished for it. Repeatedly.
I remember seeing the sun rise. Lights turning on in the houses. Some people fishing, others preparing for a day at the beach. I was carrying a 45 pound ruck and another 40# sandbag, having been rucking and getting smoked by former SF for the past 12 hours. What else could be better?
Most of what happens after this is pretty fuzzy. I remember rucking along the beach and seeing three very muscular dudes in the distance. I remember thinking it was strange that three big guys would be up so early on a Friday morning. It wasn’t any three dudes: it was Cadre Aaron, Cadre Jesse and another Cadre (it all blurs together at this point). Time for Beach PT. Not pleasant.
I think some more rucking. Some getting into the water. Lots of complaining, and still what my father would say, “piss poor” teamwork.
SHL TIP #2: Don’t fucking complain. Work as a team, complete the task as efficiently as possible. Life will be much easier in GORUCK. Otherwise you’ll just keep suffering.
Lots of people on the beach. The Cadre found the craziest tree log I have ever seen. It had been uprooted and looked just like something out of a horror film. Naturally, we carried it. At one point, through a few feet of ocean water. Dangerous, and also unpleasant. Lots of stares from bystanders.
I remember we did 50 thrusters to earn the opportunity to stop carrying the tree. Easy sell.
At some point, probably before the tree, someone had to do a “half gallon challenge” – drink a half gallon of milk in under 5 minutes, so we could get rid of 2/3rds of our sandbags. Our teammate succeeded. We were happy.
I felt the shittiest during this part of the day. I was never going to quit, but I was a borderline useless teammate. I carried my ruck and occasionally a light sandbag. I thought I would pass out. Well, I knew I wouldn’t pass out, but I was hoping I would. I had never felt that bad, and it was getting into my head. Everything was hurting. Everything.
I remember we crossed over to “the pier.” We were given our first mission. Three giant rocks were a pilot and co-pilot, as well as equipment. The lightest rock was about 175#. The heaviest rock was about 300#. We had a few pieces of rope, and we had to figure out how to move the rocks an unknown distance and direction. We had in total around 20-30 minutes to work as teams and get the idea executed. We did, although it was not pleasant. We carried the rocks maybe a half mile on some back streets near the beach. Rock carrying aside, you really appreciate concrete after being on sand all day.
More complaining ensued. Discord amongst the team. Some folks grey manned it as we carried heavy rocks. Finally made it to the objective, which was a pretty shitty undeveloped lot next to a restaurant. We received new orders from there, and we were supposed to move again. Unable to form up in time, we had to do several rounds of pushups in fire ant infested grass. Not pleasant, but apparently forming two lines is a very difficult task.
We carried the rocks again, this time to the beach under the pier. It took waaaay too long to get about 100 meters. More complaining. Under the pier, we got another stern talking to, and moved over to the water to get wet. After that, we did buddy drags, wheelbarrow, and other hard yet sort of fun beach exercises. Mostly, though, it was just miserable. We were 24 hours in or so at this point, and the punishment, which was all due to poor teamwork, would not stop.
Even though we knew the 24 hours were up, we had not finished moving our rocks, so we were anticipating more punishment. We got about knee deep in the water to form a tunnel of love. I was the first person through, and once a wave came, you simply couldn’t breathe because the water was pretty deep. They moved us closer to the beach so no one would drown.
At the end of the tunnel, the light. The Cadre Mocha Mike with our Heavy patch.
Some reflections on the Heavy, starting with my top 3 tips:
-If you’re not fucking in decent enough shape to pass the PT test, don’t fucking sign up for a Heavy. It’s not easy.
-Don’t fucking complain. Work as a team, complete the task as efficiently as possible. Life will be much easier in GORUCK. Otherwise you’ll just keep suffering.
-Prepare mentally. It’s going to hurt either way, so make it fun. Worst case scenario, you’ll pass out.
Most importantly, though, is that we are capable of far more than we give ourselves credit for. When you enter a 24 hour suckfest like the Heavy , don’t limit yourself to what you think you can do. Just do. It’s that simple. Don’t think “Well, I’ve only done one challenge before, and this is 2x as long.” Don’t think you can only carry Y amount of weight over Z distance. Just take each evolution one step at a time. Don’t worry about what has passed, or what you might have to do next. Just do that moment, and you’ll get through it. Thrive through it. And with a smile on your face.
Sunday, August 31, 18:27
At this point, I have finished my GORUCK weekend.
The Challenge. I skipped the challenge. Meaning, I failed. As Cadre Mocha Mike said, the time most people quit during Ranger school is the moment they have to re-lace up their boots and go out again. My story is quite simple. After the Heavy, I had bloody chafing all over my inner thighs. I had never chafed before and had nothing to fix it. And the palms of my hands were bleeding and and becoming painfully pussed. That, and having completed my main mission of the Heavy, I took an 11 hour nap. Excuses, excuses, excuses. I should have just done it.
Do I regret not doing the challenge? A little. But I learned some valuable lessons – I’ll do another HCL / HCLS one day.
The Light. I did make it to the Light. I don’t have a long AAR to write, because from my understanding, it was very different from most Lights. It was a pirate themed party and we searched for treasure. There was some relatively easy beach PT, and lots of Zodiac fun in the ocean. The highlight – our team won the treasure hunt.
The best part, actually, was after the Light. I’m not sure what time the Light ended, but as the evening waned down, drinking with the Cadre for several hours was awesome. Not having a watch, I was at HQ drinking until almost midnight.
SHL TIP# 4 – If you have the opportunity to talk to Cadre when they are not beating you down, DO IT. The Cadre are some of the most inspiring people I have ever met. It is an honor just breathing the same air as them.
The Scavenger. At this point, I have few words to write. We had a fun team comprised of HCLS / HLS-ers. We drank a lot. Bribed people. Dressed silly. Drank more. Had some fun.
To the GORUCK Community: It has been an honor and a pleasure joining the community this past weekend. It was only my second event, and I was in awe after the first one. Jason McCarthy wrote, “We have two grades, A and F and A- rounds down. Excellence is the standard and please hold us to it.” Well Jason, you received an A. And I’m a tough grader.
To the Cadre: If I died tomorrow, I would die with a smile on my face just knowing you all exist. Words cannot express how grateful I am to have interacted with you this weekend.
See you all again soon.