Four of us hit the road out of Memphis on Friday morning in a Jeep Grand Cherokee that smelled like body odor and chert. We arrived at the hotel without incident, full of enthusiasm and confidence for GrowRuck Training Exercise (GTE) 21.
We went the absolute wrong way for Friday night’s Rally but arrived before the party started. We ate above-average spaghetti and salad. We mingled with Men from all over the Nation. I met and had great conversation with an individual named No Nuts. Life was good. After an evening of feel-good Fellowship, we settled in to our suite feeling like F3 Kings.
Saturday morning came quick. The Kingmaker is kind of a weird thing—60 minutes of vigorous exercise the morning before we are scheduled do something CSAUP. Dark Helmet and Slaughter decided that the best way to get ready for the Ruck was to run us all over The O, so we did. Thanks, guys! It was during the Kingmaker that my F3 spidey senses began to detect the unique 2ndF flavor provided by F3 Lousville. These guys like to work out and run their mouths. Let’s do this.
After the Kingmaker and G3L Training, I settled in for a nice, long, 20-minute nap. Excellent.
Ruck events usually play to my strengths. I had done five ruck events in the past, including GTE 05 (Chattanooga) and GTE 12 (Memphis), all of which required lots of rucking and lots of time Under the Log (UTL), but relatively little Ruck PT. As a Clydesdale, that suited me just fine. Because I’m an idiot, I expected this one to fit that same mold. I didn’t do much extra training, and I shrugged off the nagging feelings of self-doubt that inevitably come before I commence something I know will be difficult.
Let me tell you, this one was different. As the PAX arrived for the Ruck event, we performed some haphazard administrative tasks, like checking the PAX who were physically present against a written roster. We then lined up in a single formation consisting of four ranks in a field that we’d soon get to know a lot better. I did a quick count and mentioned to Kilo, who I had just met, that it looked like we had 100 PAX even, although he should probably make sure. *NARRATOR VOICE* He did not make sure.
The Cadre arrived and soon had us lining up here (by name), lining up there (by height), emptying our rucks of the necessary items, and getting to know the three Cadre by the sound of their distinct voices. This was expected. At some point, Cadre Dredd asked Kilo how many PAX were present for the Ruck event. This was expected. But Kilo answered “I don’t know.” Much of the next hour or so consisted of running, lining up, counting, locating items, running, Merkins, lining up, counting, and running. I noticed several PAX who looked discouraged by this sequence of events. Some of them even looked frustrated that we were getting smoked for the mistakes of our fellow PAX. I offered them the only encouragement I know to give, which is a line I repeated to myself often for the subsequent 14 hours: You gotta get smoked for something.
This, dear Brothers, is the truth you should hold tight for all future events (and perhaps for life itself). You gotta get smoked for something. The Cadre have certain elements they want to introduce. They can only introduce those elements when we fail, so we will fail. Kilo could’ve known the exact number of PAX and memorized all of their names, but the Cadre would’ve found something else—because we had to get smoked for something.
Eventually the Cadre were satisfied that we were a group of 99 PAX who each had sufficient gear for the task at hand. They then separated us into three Teams of 33 PAX each—Red Team, White Team, & Blue Team. America!
I joined the Red Team with the rest of the winners, and I’d stay with them the rest of the night. You might remember that I previously mentioned that I had picked up a special flavor from the Louisville PAX. Well, the Red Team got some extra Louisville flavor. If the Louisville PAX like to work out—and they do—then Red Team got some real studs. If the Louisville PAX like to run their mouths—and they do—then Red Team got some rowdy raconteurs.
Cadre Shredder took on the task of teaching Red Team how to form a platoon-sized formation consisting of three squads. We mastered this fairly quickly, and Shredder was quick to praise us for this. At first this surprised me, but Shredder would often provide bits of encouragement and tough love to Red Team that always seemed to help us rally as the night wore on.
The Welcome Party consisted of Ruck PT at stations spaced out in that same dang field that we’d been in for what seemed like hours at that point. The sequence was this:
Line up in formation.
Get smoked for a few minutes.
Run to next station.
Line up in formation.
Get smoked for a few minutes.
Run to next station.
It felt like we did this for an hour, but I honestly have no idea how long it was. The whole thing kicked my ass. I wasn’t ready for that level of physical intensity, and I felt like I couldn’t take a deep breath behind the now-sweat-soaked mask I was wearing. Thankfully, the Louisville boys that I mentioned earlier continued to work out and run their mouths, which gave me a lot of motivation to keep pushing. Worm especially kept me going by never half-stepping, checking in with me, and then saying something like “That ******* sucked” after each rotation. Thank God for those Louisville boys. (At some point we lost Wilson and became a Team of 32.)
Eventually the Cadre had seen enough, and they moved us out of the field. We made our way to a stream, and I immediately wondered how we were going to get around this hazard. Never before had I entered the water during my five previous ruck events. And I figured this would be the same, because I’m an idiot. But Shredder calmly told us to get in the water. Farther. Deeper. Lower your whole body into the water. Submerge yourself. Relax.
We held our rucks over our heads and sang The Star-Spangled Banner, a moment that can’t be explained to someone who wasn’t there without sounding corny. But unmitigated patriotism always fires me up, so I was starting to get some juice back after the draining Welcome Party. Then Dredd told us to get in the water and perform the exercise Hello, Dolly. As soon as I did, my entire right abdominal wall cramped in a way I’d never felt before. For a split second, I thought I was dying. I crawled out of the stream and just whimpered, feeling (and I’m sure looking) like a wuss. All three Teams continued to exercise while I tried to gather myself after the cramp subsided. Cadre Sea Bass and CIT Klinger made sure I was good to go, and then I rejoined Red Team. (Thank God! I was afraid the Cadre might’ve forced me to quit.)
The Cadre passed out long sections of rope and designated knowledgeable PAX to instruct us on how to tie midline anchor knots. We did so at 6-feet intervals and attached our D-rings, such that each individual PAX was attached to a rope that belonged to his Team. Then we ran as fast as we could for about a mile.
At this point I was starting to feel confident that we were getting to the part where I would excel. Bring on the heavy stuff! Sandbags, logs, team weights—I didn’t care, just as long as it wasn’t more ruck PT. Instead, the Cadre showed us a stack of angle iron and three logs, then told us to move the angle iron from Point A to Point B (a couple hundred feet, maybe) while it remained on top of the logs and off of the ground. Red Team sucked at this on the way to Point B, but we sucked way less than Blue Team or White Team. We noticed that we were doing better than our Blue & White brethren, and we got pretty proud about that. We were then told to move the whole apparatus back to Point A. On the way, a funny thing happened: Blue and White improved dramatically, and we did not.
The next hour or so of Red Team’s collective life consisted mostly of failure and frustration. The Cadre let us know that we’d continue to move the angle iron and logs in the same fashion for some distance, and we added other coupons to the mix. We got left in the dust by the other two Teams, and no one was happy about it. Each time I looked up, I saw the red lights of the other Teams’ headlamps growing smaller and farther away. The situation was starting to feel hopeless, and our Team started to bicker.
Finally, Shredder made us stop so he could give us some tough love. He pointed out the obvious: what we were doing was not working, and we weren’t going to accomplish the task in front of us if we continued doing the thing that was not working. Shredder told us that this task was called “The Pharaoh,” and that laborers had used logs to move heavy items for thousands of years to accomplish great feats of engineering. He then exhorted us to find a little something extra inside of ourselves and MOVE THE WEIGHT.
Somehow, Shredder’s words fixed us. We began to move the weight, and we moved it quickly. All of a sudden our individual efforts combined to form something greater than the sum of their parts, and we found a rhythm. Those other Teams’ red lights were getting closer and brighter.
Several Red Teamers began to grunt and bark like they were in the movie 300, and I was digging it. Let’s go! We’re kicking ass! Sucks to be you, Blue Team! It felt pretty good when we passed Blue Team and were allowed to give them some of our team weights. We basically strutted the final quarter mile as we came to a resting place next to a soccer field and waited for Blue Team to make it in. (Yeah, White Team beat us.)
Accomplishing that goal made all the pain worth it. We had started fast, gotten bogged down, and then rebounded in a big way. The work was never easy, but it felt easier as we began to work together. As we recovered a bit, we shared six words that communicated why we were doing what we were doing. Mine: I’m not enough on my own. We got a good rest, ate some simple carbs, and fell into the emotional trap that the Cadre had set for us.
After a much-needed break, we had to move all of our coupons up and over a split-rail fence in order to set it down in what I (and many others) idiotically thought was their final resting place. For the first time in a few hours, we detached our D-rings from the rope. We did some more of the counting, accountability, and formation stuff (very, very poorly). At this point, we were relieved to be unshackled and away from the angle iron, which resulted in a general lack of discipline. The Cadre, who had been relatively nice to us as we celebrated our successes, got back to barking and smoking us, and I knew we were in for a long night yet.
Cadre Sea Bass explained the PT test like so: Ground your ruck on one end line, run to the other end line, perform ten burpees, run back to your ruck, perform ten squat thrusters—fifteen times in 40 minutes. That sounded miserable, and it was. I was between Slaughter, who was killing it with perfect form and relentless effort, and Worm, who was killing me with noxious gas that was leaking from his rectal cavity. This whole thing sucked. As before, I couldn’t get a deep breath through my sweat-soaked mask, and I just generally was not in good enough shape for this. I had six squat thrusters remaining in my last set when Sea Bass called time.
It turns out that Red Team had the most PAX who did not complete the PT test, so we had to carry the Kentucky bourbon barrel team weight for the rest of the ruck event. Sorry, guys. We gladly left the angle iron and logs where they were and headed out on a ruck movement. I remember hoping that we were done with that soccer field and the angle iron while simultaneously realizing that there was no way we were done with that soccer field and the angle iron. We did the formation and accountability stuff pretty poorly again, so our ruck movement was halted while we received some corrective training from Dredd. I started to feel all the aches and pains in my shoulders and feet during this time, but I got some energy from the Red Team PAX, who continued to run their mouths and encourage each other.
We rucked to a stream and got in it again while Shredder spoke in low, sweet tones. Relax. Submerge yourself. Do some flutter kicks. No cramps this time, so I was able to enjoy fully the cool temperature of the water. We got back out of the stream and slosh-rucked some more. My spirits were high. When I finally realized that we were going in a big circle that would eventually end at the soccer field, my heart sank. Surely we wouldn’t be going back to do The Pharaoh again. Surely we had better things to do. We did the formation and accountability stuff pretty poorly again, so Dredd fired and reappointed all the leaders. The new leaders then had fifteen minutes to get all 96 remaining PAX resupplied with water and ready to move The Pharaoh again. If you think we accomplished all of that in fifteen minutes, then you haven’t read any of this BackBlast so far. Fatigue had set in for all of us, and most of us just did not have the will to move that angle iron again. Fatigue had made cowards of us all.
Dredd delivered a rousing speech that got us back in the right mental space to do what had to be done. We moved as The Pharaoh allowed—slowly, painfully, but successfully—to a parking area. The sun was up, and Team Red was rocking. As much as I hated the physical labor I was doing, my heart soared as I looked into the faces of my teammates. We were completing the hardest team task I had ever undertaken, and we looked pretty dang good doing it. Somehow the Louisville boys had not run out of words to say, and they were keeping me entertained as we reached the (actual) final resting place for the angle iron and logs.
We basked in our victory as the Cadre, Bono, and Worm took turns speaking. Worm delivered a gosh-darn good speech. The PAX looked ready to get patched. But we had one more movement ahead of us.
I didn’t ask them, but it was apparent that the Cadre were ready to be done with our sorry, smelly asses. So Shredder had us MOVING. On the hop. Double time. Keep it moving. Let’s go! Sun was shining, sandbags were passing, feet were hurting, and time was ticking. The PAX moved with a purpose—glad to be rid of the rope, the iron, the logs, and the water bladders, but also glad to be with each other. Once we reached that glorious field, the Start Point, I felt a wave of relief. Form it up once again, Red Team. Let’s go! These guys actually became my Brothers in one night.
The funny thing is, we never got to the part where I excelled as an individual. To be honest, this was the event that exposed my weaknesses the most. I hated it in the moment and cringe thinking back on it, but I also possess immense pride for what we accomplished as a Team. I wouldn’t trade that for all the individual accomplishment in the world.
Patches. Pictures. T-shirts. Bud Heavy. That’s a wrap.