Meatloaf, Bartles and Jaymes, Roller Skates, Brain, Handbook, Bedpan, Shady, Vanilla Ice, Crop Circle, Dawson, Dilly Dilly, Sugar Ray, Italian Job, Fargo, Flight Nurse, Flip Phone, Flush, Olaf, GMO, Repeato, FIAB, Jalopy, No Nuts, Lancelot, Kramer, Maximus, Merengue, Beans, Parks and Rec, Ronda, Peter Parker, Geppetto, Tomb Raider
As my muscles begin to recover and my weary, sleepy eyes and mind begin to un-fog, I’m left with my memories and pride from what we accomplished this weekend. Each man was willing to relinquish control and experience what I can only describe as a game changer. YHC was honored to be a part of the White Platoon – or team White Steel as we later dubbed ourselves during the Pharaoh evolution. We started as strangers and finished as brothers. We are stronger mentally, physically, and emotionally because of our shared suffering. Here’s what we did. My memory is as weak as my Flutter form, so forgive me for what I inadvertently left out.
Evolution 1 – You Aren’t in Charge Anymore
The event started quickly as men battled two feelings: apprehension and excitement. Many were GrowRuck veterans, but many more were fresh meat. Cadres Dredd, Shredder, and SeaBass let us know early on that this was not going to be a walk in the park. Immediately we were instructed to form up by height – a task made difficult by the sheer number of men (99) and the undulating topography. Based on the tone of their voices, we understood that this wasn’t a suggestion and we were no longer in charge.
What happened next was a gear check of sorts. Put down your ruck, open it up, pull out item x, hold it overhead, run with it to the other sideline. Lather, rinse, repeat. Mix in some Merkins and Squats for good measure and do this until we got it right or they got tired of seeing our poor form. I think our form improved, but not well enough.
The PAX were divided into three Squadrons: red, white, and blue. Once assembled, it was time to learn how fall in formation. What. A. Cluster!
Three volunteers were selected to be Squadron leaders: Italian Job -1, Lancelot-2, and Flight Nurse-3. What followed as the veil of darkness fell on the field was chaotic running to the sound of a Cadre yelling, “Form Up!” Italian Job’s responsibility was to locate the Cadre and set the up White Platoon. He’d raise his hand and the rest of the Platoon would fall in. Red and Blue followed suit. Once we determined we could somewhat follow instructions, the fun began.
We learned how to get our spacing and some basic commands that we FUBARed more than once. After what seemed like an hour of commands, it was time for PT. So much PT! We spent 5 minute increments between the Cadre. Low crawls, Planks, Flutters, Merkins, Bears/Cockroaches, Carolina Drydocks, Up Downs, Squats, Roll 1, Roll 2, and Picking Cherries. You know who loves cherries? Cadre Shredder. He loved them so much, he had the White Squad pick cherries for 5 minutes non-stop. You know what I hope to never do again? Pick cherries. So many f@#*ing cherries!
After being thoroughly smoked, it was time for a gear, water, grub, and piss break. At this point, the men realized it was going to be a LONG night.
We grabbed our gear and moved down to the lower field behind the Cadres. It was here we learned that the quickest way to cool down on a warmish evening is a dip in a cool Kentucky creek. We helped each man traverse the slick rocks and assembled in the waste deep water. A few rounds of Flutters, Squats, and Merkins later, Cadre Shredder told us to cut the shit and shut our mouths. What happened next will stay with me forever. Ninety-nine PAX and six Cadre sang our Star Spangled Banner in near unison. Minus a handful of tone deaf bastards, it was pretty good. Men were moved to tears. Men realized how blessed we are to be Americans. It was a memory I won’t soon forget. We left the cold waters and formed back up in three columns.
Evolution 2 – Better Knot Screw This Up
The three platoons were led back to the lower field where we were given 15 minutes to learn to tie an alpine butterfly knot – starting first with Platoon Lead, then Squad Leads, then the rest of the PAX. Unsure how we got it done, but we were all tied up and looped in to three columns.
Cadre Dredd shouted, “You have 15 minutes to go one mile. GO!” The three platoons started with a walk…a too slow walk. It was time to up the speed. Next thing you know we were shuffling, then jogging, then running. Some were pulled, some were pushed, but all arrived under the cutoff time with six minutes to spare. We covered one mile under ruck in nine minutes! It was glorious. What awaited us was a dark hill, 2,000 pounds of steel angle iron, 9 logs, and a bevy of sandbags (40, 60, 80, and 120 lbs.) and water bladders.
Evolution 3 – Pharaoh, Let My People Go!
We were told to move the steel with the three logs. We couldn’t pick them up and carry them; we were to use the logs as makeshift wheels. Those were the instructions. Nothing more, nothing less. To say the White Platoon struggled would be an understatement. If it weren’t for the raw strength of Flip Phone lifting the end and the rest of us stumbling through it, those jokers would still be sitting at the base of the hill. Up the hill we went. Back down. Wow, that was hard. Now what? Little did we know we were starting a long-term relationship with that bundle of steel.
White Platoon struggled from the start. Right before Cadre Dredd lit into us good, we figured out this was possible. We just needed some handles and a process. Luckily, Olaf was Johnny on the Knot and started some makeshift straps for lifting. Now that they were lifted and the steel was sliding across the logs, we needed to run a new log to the front. At first, we stopped each time to shift. Eventually we figured out that we could continue moving if we had log runners bringing new ones up every 10 seconds. This is where we passed the first team. Under constant encouragement, we pushed through the Gloom, caught and passed the next Platoon. It allegedly wasn’t a race, but that many Alphas in one place, we made it one. And on that note, we went from worst to first.
Our efforts were rewarded with some downtime to hydrate, relax, and grub until the other teams caught up. We used this time to share our “Six Words.” Under a chorus of commitments to be better fathers, husbands, and friends, and to prove to ourselves that we could do hard things, we realized that this wasn’t about us. This was about them. All of them. Everyone not there. We had morphed from man to team and from team to leaders. As the other teams joined us, our pride was palpable. We earned respect. We were men on a mission. We were alive!
Next obstacle was a three-tiered split-rail fence. Once it was determined we must get everything (personnel and gear) over the fence, it was time to make it happen. Every man had an idea. Every man had a role. And every man chipped in to make it happen. Pride prevailed.
Evolution 4 – PT Test
From there we carried everything to another practice field. The Cadres looked all too smug when they informed us of our next evolution: PT Test. We were instructed to do 10 Burpees on one endzone followed by 10 Squat Thrusts at the other – with a sprint in-between. Fifteen rounds in 40 minutes. But since our flag hit the ground at some point during the night, our penance was 16 rounds. It was a deserved penalty. We thanked them and commenced to power on. TClaps to the men who finished. Two miles, 160 Burpees, and 160 Squat Thrusts while wearing a sweat soaked mask was not easy, but it didn’t stop White Platoon from hammering down and getting it done. It was at this time that we learned the caliber of the men in our platoon. Several men went back to get the Six but were instructed to stand down. These men cared. These men were putting others before self. These men were Living Third.
Evolution 6 – The Long Walk
We were smoked. We were tired. We were done as the Cadre led us to another cold creek. In still, cold water, our bodies and minds relaxed. Cadre Shredder told us of the therapeutic properties of cold water. He told us to never pass on the opportunity to immerse in water. He shared some personal information I will not reshare. He told us to free our minds and focus on our breathing. We were in tune with our thoughts and we prayed for our families, friends, and those who needed comfort and peace. It was exactly what we needed exactly when we needed it. From there, the walk continued.
At some point, a man was left behind. It didn’t matter what platoon he belonged to, if one man is missing, we all failed. Once determined the man was alright, we paid the price: 100 Side Straddle Hops (in cadence) followed by 50 Merkins (in cadence). The walk continued.
Had we not been tethered together, men would have wandered off the path and slept walked into the brush. We were barely functioning and that was proven when we arrived back at the practice fields where our coupons awaited.
Orders were given to fill up our bladders and get the gear over the fence. Fifteen minutes was the goal. But we got lazy. There was no rush, no urgency, and no care. We were selfish. It was not our finest hour, but we rebounded. Somehow, White Platoon rallied and lifted that steel over the fence. Then we went back and assisted the other platoons. The message was made loud and clear that we were no longer in it to win it; we were in it to finish it…together.
Evolution 7 – Pharoah Returns
The men looked around the dark for any sign of a new day. We looked for park lights to come on. We looked for joggers and increase traffic. When the sun started peaking over the horizon, we knew we only had a couple more hours. Our speed and stamina increased. We fell in to assist the other platoons carry the lovely Bourbon Barrel. We were home free as we played Frogger between the oncoming traffic. Team White Steel could be heard yelling, “One-Two-Three-Lift!” We had this thing in the bag as we crested the hill and saw the drop zone.
One last time, we lined up in horseshoe formation. Men stood tall. This was it! This was what we had waited for. We were blessed to hear Worm drop some knowledge on us. His words rang true. We were changed men.
Riding high on adrenaline, we huffed it down the homestretch in two columns behind the flag. We arrived at the endex with a pep in our step and smiles on our faces. We were done, literally. This was the end of a journey that will forever change us. This was GrowRuck 21 – Louisville.
White Platoon started and ended with 33 men. When we struggled, we recovered. We became the standard for formation and moving the steel. We represented two of the three School Leaders (No Nuts and Peter Parker). We were led well by Handbook. But most importantly, throughout the night, there was a constant chorus of encouragement. “Remember to drink water!” “Tighten up, tighten up.” “Who needs a break, who needs to switch?” “Remember to count off when we get in formation.” “Help our Platoon leader out!” “Did we lose anyone?” “We still have 33?” “Where’s Lancelot?” “Anyone need food?” Our team exhibited a constant drive for improvement and knowledge transfer. We knew quitting wasn’t an option because our brothers needed us. Every man willingly sacrificed their comfort at one point or another (ex. Maximus shouldering the 120 lb. behemoth, Dilly Dilly, Crop Circle, Vanilla Ice, Bartles and Jaymes, and Fargo slinging logs like Scottish Highlanders, etc.). We struggled, we pressed on, we overcame. There was no self-identity, it became subsumed into White Platoon…into White Steel, as we gave ourselves to each other.
As the night went on, we built a forcefield of positivity and determination that deflected some of the pain and misery of whatever evolution we were in. It carried us forward.
At some point in the night, we knew we were going to make it. Not because we were strong enough, or prepared enough, or durable enough, but because our new found brothers would never let us down. White Steel would prevail, there was no other option.