Sunday, March 25, 2012

The GORUCK Family: What is a GORUCK Challenge?

What is a GORUCK Challenge?

It's a "team event and never a race," if you go by the site's vague descriptors. "Inspired by Special Forces training and led by Green Berets, the Challenge builds teams and solves problems."

That's it. That's all it tells you. And, as participants and those seeking more info will tell you, any further details are NOT forthcoming.

So, let's start over. What is a GORUCK Challenge? Well, I've done two of them, and I don't have a gawdamn clue. I've tried to explain it to people, but I can't do better than those two sentences above. They just breed more questions, though.

"Did you win?"
Um... only in life. You compete against your internal fears and mental demons, not each other. You come out stronger, as a team and an individual.

"I run... I could probably do it."
"I lift weights... I could probably do it."
Probably. But, tell that to the 6-time Ironman that dropped out shortly after the Okinawa Challenge started. Or, tell it to the guy who just jumped on a passing scooter and told the driver he'd give him $20 to take him home. If you aren't mentally strong, it won't matter how physically capable you may be.

"Why the Hell would you want to do THAT?"
I honestly have no answer to this question. But, I can tell you, I can't wait to do the next one.

Ask a GORUCKer what it takes to complete a challenge, and they'll tell you (1) good physical shape and (2) EXCELLENT mental shape. "It's all mental." That's the mantra you hear over and over from 'ruckers. And, it applies to us as well as the challenge. We're all mental.

GORUCK itself is a company specializing in high-quality rucks and military-grade gear for the hiker/mountain man(or woman)/soldier in your life. They make great bags (my second is on it's way) and are very customer-oriented. Also, they are extremely proud to say that all their gear is made in the U.S.A. Every test model goes through several GORUCK challenges to ensure there aren't any weak points that might have been missed. These challenges are abusive. If it survives multiple challenges, it's well-made. Best part? You meet great people. Better part? Part of the proceeds go directly to the Green Beret Foundation. Score!

Like Jason, the company's founder, the cadre 'employees' that lead the teams during challenges are all active-duty or retired Special Forces. Interest in GORUCK is increasing steadily, and they are adding cadre (currently up to 6 or 7) to accommodate the growth. The brutal entry into the GORUCK family is the basic GR Challenge, but there is nothing basic about it. Billed as 8 to 10 hours and 15 to 20 miles of "Good Livin,'" I can tell you that those numbers are woefully inaccurate. Distances quickly disappear into a dark void thanks to the start times (usually 10PM or 1AM), and I have yet to hear of a challenge taking under 12 hours. A Providence, Rhode Island, challenge went 18 hours last fall.

You may ask, 'Why?' Bah... I answer, 'Why Not?' The GORUCK team lives by the tag, "Under Promise, Over Deliver," and they do it in remarkable fashion.

GR Challenge alumni are quickly added to the GORUCK family, and this is where the real magic of GORUCK happens. The bonds you build in those short 12-15 hours (ok, it's not short at the time) can quickly form into long friendships. I still talk with many of my classmates and have built new friendships with others in GORUCK Tough (the alumni group) simply because I know what they went through when they did their challenges. And, of course, it takes a special kind of crazy to do one of these anyway. We tend to congregate together... only crazy can really understand another crazy.

My first cadre told me he felt at times like he was 'training Americans' (let's be clear here, the cadre and a high percentage of participants are military, but the lessons in teamwork, leadership, and problem-solving that 'ruckers gain can be used with their spouses, in their careers, and in any other aspect of their lives). Americans have become a lazy, accepting, and apathetic group that appears to have lost much of the self-sufficiency and forward-thinking for which we were once known. Energizing people to find out what they're truly capable of is one way to get us back to the forefront. (I'm digressing here... save that for another post).

So... this GORUCK family talks. We share. We support and encourage. There have been some brutally honest discussions among GRT, soul-bearing and soul-searching. Some are quite funny. Others, such as what flooded the discussions yesterday, can be extremely thought-provoking and inspiring. And, we talk about when we are going to get together again to do more stupid crap. But, what do we do after a GORUCK Challenge? Well, the easy answer is... Another challenge! GORUCK wants you to branch out and try new things, though.

But, these new things, things other than the Challenges? What could we do? Glad you asked... How about spending four days in the mountains of Colorado over Labor Day with Green Berets, elements of the 10th Mountain Division, and GR alumni climbing 14,000 ft peaks and learning survival skills (GORUCK Ascent)? Or, how about learning fieldcraft from Berets - along with survival skills, land and water navigation, emergency medical triage, and mission prep - in the waters off Key West for five days (GORUCK Beached)? Or, how about team missions designed by spies and operators to learn how America's Best covertly thrive in communities all around the globe (GORUCK Trek)? Or, do you just want to carry a bunch of bricks (Oh... we haven't even gotten to the 'bricks' discussion, yet), around our country's great cities and compete against other GR Alumni teams to track down the greatest monuments to our nation (GORUCK Scavenger)?

Oh, yes, there's plenty to keep you busy. But, what is a GORUCK Challenge? Well, you're gonna need a rucksack full of bricks, energy bars, water, and a change of clothes. The clothes are necessary, because you're gonna get wet... a river, creek, lake... you're getting in it. And, bring gloves, because you're going to be carrying a log great distances... as a team. Yes, you read that right. Oh, and you'll be doing PT the entire time. Bear crawls, crab walks, push-ups, smurfjacks, divebomber push-ups, human caterpillar, human shopping cart, buddy carries, flutter kicks. fireman carries. And, then there are the coupons you're forced to carry for the entire challenge: ammo cans full of sand, 5 gallon fuel tanks full of water, additional rucks, gear cases, blocks of cement, concrete, slosh pipes full of water, your group guidon (flag), and whatever the cadre sees on the side of the road that looks remotely portable. (This has included tables, recliners, additional bricks, additional rucks, and... bystanders.)

This is not for the weak of mind or body. The Challenge is based on the Special Forces Training and Assessment program Green Berets are required to go through. This isn't easy. It's grueling, and you'll drink several liters of water and force down thousands of calories of energy bars and the like... And, you'll still lose weight and certainly risk dehydration and dizziness if you're not careful.

My first challenge wound through the streets and forests around Savannah with Dan, an active-duty Green Beret and a baaaaaad man. The guy is a beast and eminently quotable. I can't count the number of times the wisecracks he opened up on us broke the monotony and pain of my first experience with GORUCK. GORUCK requires you to have strong muscles and mind, but you have to have a thick hide, too. Whether you're talking to cadre or fellow 'ruckers, the language is graphic, crude, and awesome. Ladies, feel free to join in. There are many female 'ruckers, and they jump into the gutter talk as much as the rest of us. Being part of the family is oddly freeing.

So, GRC Savannah? We went 13 hours and 25 miles (carrying a telephone pole for 6 of them). We waded through the Savannah River and a rather questionable-looking retention pond. We witnessed the aftermath of three homicides. We caused terrorist threats in the city to hit 'red' levels, resulting in the FBI being called. In short, WE HAD A BLAST. I could barely walk afterward. I've run 2 marathons, and my first GORUCK Challenge was the most difficult physical and mental task I've ever completed.

After that? Well, that was the recent GRC Austin during the South by Southwest Festival with Cadre David. We 'only' did 18 miles this time, but it was through rougher terrain in Barton Creek Wilderness Park. It was made difficult by the revoking of our shoe and sock privileges (it is what it sounds like) and rapidly deteriorating water stores that caused an outbreak of cramps on much of the team. The fact that David got a perverse thrill out of watching us (we, who paid for this crap) suffer was offset by the fact that he was such a nice guy.

What's up next? Well, I'll be at the aforementioned Ascent this September. And, I've got a Washington, DC Scavenger set for October. Then, there's my crazy new 'family' members that are close to convincing me to join them for the 9/11 GRC New York City (How can you NOT do that, I ask?).

Still, what is a GORUCK Challenge? This is a long-ass blog post to not have answered the original question. Well, that's because I can't tell you. Which cadre are you going to have? They all do things differently. What city are you going to be in? GRC San Francisco is significantly different than GRC Bozeman. Lastly, what kind of person are you? You're going to get out of it what you put in. If you have problems making it through, your teammates will pick you up. That's what the challenges are about - coming together as a team. So, if you are powering through and the guy next to you stumbles... will you grab his pack to carry it and give him your precious water? If not, maybe GR isn't for you. If so, maybe I'll run across you at a challenge, rucksack filled to the brim with bricks and a smile on my face. Then, as with all GORUCK get-togethers... many beers will be downed.

It's not about the strong or weak link, it's about how to make the chain unbreakable.

Embrace the Suck.

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