Monday, September 5, 2016

Goruck Shakes up Oklahoma

I did my first Goruck event this past Labor Day weekend. It is an event I will never forget. I wasn't sure what to except at this event. I assumed it would probably be like Sealfit or a really long boot camp session. I thought there might be a lot of yelling and commands barked at us. Maybe it would be a long night of hazing. I knew it wouldn't be like an Obstacle Race but I was still interested in trying the event.

I was told that there would be a lot of teamwork. That we would be working as a team. If you have read any of my earlier blogs you might have noticed that I'm an introvert. “I'm not into working closely with others”, is an understatement. Its not that I can't work as a team member. It is that I prefer not to work with others. But I was invited to do the event and so I decided to give it a shot.

This Goruck was lead by Cadre Mikey B. You can look up his bio on the Goruck website. He is part of the Special Forces and at the time of this writing he is still on active duty. Mikey is part of what made this Goruck a very special one. You will learn about why Mikey was an important part of this Goruck as this story progresses.

So Mikey comes whipping into the parking lot just a couple of minutes until 9pm. Almost everyone is there and some have be there for a while. Mikey hops out of the trucks and greets the group. He says that there is another family coming and we will start as soon as they get there. He had barely finished his greeting and the family arrives. This is no ordinary family. Not tonight anyways.

Mikey spends a few minutes explaining what Goruck is all about. He goes over the safety rules and other guidelines. He tells us about himself. He then tells us about the family that has shown up. They are the family of one of Mikey's close friends that was killed in action. This family is like Mikey's second family. They are very close. Mikey has come to Oklahoma to do this Goruck to honor his fallen friend and his friend's family. Mikey's friend's name was Jack.

Jack's wife, Dad, sisters, nephew and nieces were there to honor Jack. Jack's Dad, I'll call him Mr. M, was dressed out in Jack's uniform. He was wearing Jack's hat, cami blouse and trousers. He had on a pair of Jack's running shoes. The shoes were a little big so Mr. M had put duck tape around them so they wouldn't come off of his feet. Mr. M was tall and slim. He looked to be in pretty good shape for a man in his sixties. He looked good in the uniform sort of like an old gunny. Although he looked in shape and the uniform made him look even more convincing, I wondered, could he make it though the night.

Mikey had us put our rucks over our heads and introduce ourselves. There was 40 of us. We held our rucks over our heads while each person came out and faced the group and told; their name, occupation, and what they hope to get out of the Goruck. Everyone was holding their rucks up until their arms gave out. We would rest our rucks on our heads until Mikey would remind us to “Get them up”. Mikey asked how many of us were first timers. It turned out that about 80 percent of the group was first timers. Mikey had never had this large of group of first timers.

But Mikey didn't yell or bark at us like a drill instructor. He just called out in a voice at the appropriate strength so everyone could hear. When he gave the command the rucks all popped back up in the air and stayed there until once again our arms gave out. After our introduction, Mikey explained a little about his style. He said that we were all adults and that he wasn't there to beat us down. He was there to show his our strength as a team not to expose our weaknesses. He was going to have us execute a mock military exercise so we could get a little taste of what is like to be on a military team.

I was really glad to hear that he wasn't going to treat us like a bunch of boot camp recruits. I was already not to thrilled to be participating in a team building exercises. The last thing I wanted was to have some dick treating me like a newbie and trying to beat me down and break me over the course of 12 hours.

After that Mikey had us do some warm up exercises to prepare for our mission. We started off with the Tunnel of Love exercise. We made a line out of people in the yoga Down Dog Pose. The last person in the line would drop down in the prone position and crawl under the people in the Down Dog Pose. Then the next person in line would drop down and start crawling under. We kept dropping and crawling for a long time. We crawled through a large water puddle that smelled like raw sewage. It probably wasn't raw sewage, just very un-potable water. Mr. M was close to me on the exercise and I could see that this was a test of his strength and agility, but he kept on moving.

The next warm up exercise was “I'm up, he sees me, I'm down”. This is sort of like “red light, green light”. Mikey divided us up into two groups, group one and group two. Mikey would call out which group he want to move and we would move. To play this game you low crawl until your group is called. You then jump up and shout, “I'm up”! You take off running and shout, “He sees me”! As soon as you finish that phrase you shout, “I'm down”! As you drop back down on the ground and start low crawling again. You continue crawling until your group is called again.

The last warm up exercise was called a casualty drag. We paired up for this exercise. Again not one of my favorite things to do. One person is the casualty. The other person is the rescuer. The casualty lies on their back with their ruck on their chest. The rescuer gets on all fours over the top of the causality like they are in the bear crawl position. The causality puts their arms around the rescuer's neck and tries to lift their back up off the ground just a little bit. The causality is allowed to use their feet to help the rescuer move. The rescuer starts bear crawling while the casualty tries to push with their feet to move to the finish line. Everyone had scratches on their backs from this warm up.

After our “warm up”, Mikey give us our mission. We were going to re-enact a portion of Jack's mission. Mikey had 6 - 2X4's, a lot of rope, some duct tape, and 4 yoga balls that were partially filled with water in the back of his truck. The yoga balls were to simulate casualities.

The situation was a downed helicopter with four casualties. We were to make a stretcher using the lumber, rope, and duct tape. We were taking the causalities back to base. We also have an eight gallon jerry can of water, two five gallon disposable water jugs, and one of those big blue water jugs that you get at Walmart full of water. We also had a team weight in the form of a log that had a Goruck logo on it.

Mikey asked for a team leader and an assistant team leader. The team leader was Mikey's direct communication. If one of us needed anything we were to take our issue to the team leader and he would either help us with it or go to Mikey with the issue. Mikey told the team leader to have us begin the mission. We had 35 minutes to construct the stretcher and get organized. The team leader and his assistant began without a moments hesitation. The leader asked for engineers or anyone that was handy at building things for ideas. The builders stepped up and starter working on the task. In what seemed like no time the stretcher was built. Although I had my questions about its designed, it proved out to be well built.

With our stretcher built and our water in hand we set out on our mission. It was going to be 15 miles to base. Actually it was a 15 mile loop out and back to Mikey's truck. But still 15 miles carrying a stretcher that weighed around 250 pounds. We were also carrying about 200 pounds of water. Everyone had at least 20 pounds in their ruck. The people that weighed over 170 pounds were carrying 30 pounds or more.

We had barely gotten started on our mission when Mikey added an additional burden to our task. Mikey discovered a light pole on the ground that he decided was a scud missile that also need to be carried to base. Apparently Mikey had promised someone in the group that we would do a log carry. He had not promised anything about a light pole that doubled as a scud missile. Finding something on a ruck is called a “pig egg”. Cadres will often decide that some heavy object along a trail is of importance and needs to be carried. These articles are called “pig eggs”. Our pig egg was a 30 foot light pole that weighed somewhere around one thousand pounds.

So I did the math. With our water, stretcher, and scud missile we were over 1,500 pounds. It could have been more. I didn't measure the exact wall thickness of the pole. So how does a group of 40 people move over 1,500 pounds 15 miles in less that 12 hours? Team work, hard work, and mental strength. Above all was the mission of honoring Jack. I really think that Jack's family could have done it by themselves, they were that determined. But the team was also mindful of Jack. I think we all give just a little bit more than we thought we were capable of in his honor.

I have to back up for a minute here. There was also a team of policeman in the group. They were there to honor the five police officers that were gunned down in Dallas, Texas. This team of officers was incredible. They were pushing it hard. When they would see someone on the team struggling they would step in and give even a little more. Their strength and perseverance was admirable.

The first third of the ruck was the most difficult for me. I was still very much in my introverted place. I really didn't enjoy the casualty drag. I really didn't think we would make it through with the stretcher design. The team dynamics were starting to roll out. The warm up was hard. It was physically demanding. We were hot, sweaty, and stinky from that warm up. Our muscles were already getting tapped out. My mind was racing with all the reasons why this wasn't a great idea. But I thought about Jack. I thought about all our service men and women out there struggling every day in situations not nearly as good as Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA. I had to go big and get out of my head.

I'm still not sure how we got a stretcher that was 8 feet wide through a 6 foot passageway but we did. Not once but several times. It was amazing. We made it happen. Some how our stretcher never broke apart. Mikey was telling me after the ruck that usually whatever the team builds falls apart several times during an event, ours never did. Maybe this was another thing that changed my attitude. Somehow we made it the first third of the ruck and we arrived at the river.

When we arrived at the river we took a break and Mikey talked a little. Then we went to the river. We waded down the boat ramp until the water was just deep enough that when we squatted our butts went into the water. We held our rucks in front of us on our chest. The water was also just deep enough that everytime we squatted our rucks dipped into the water. Mikey played a song on his phone that was all about up and down. And that is what we did. For what seemed like at least 5 minutes or more we did squats in the water. Even though our legs were already trashed, the water felt good.

Mikey asked for a new team leader and assistant. I volunteered to be the team leader. Mikey took us aside and gave us his evaluation of the mission so far and what he would like to see as we proceeded forward with the mission. He had noticed that some of the people were starting to limp and others were showing signs of struggling. He said to try and take care of these people by rotating them up to carry the flag.

I'm not really sure why I volunteered to be team leader. I usually don't volunteer for leadership positions. But I noticed when Mikey asked for volunteers back at base before we started our mission that there was a big delay before anyone volunteered. I guess because there were so many of us that were first timers. No one was sure of what was about to happen. The instructions for the mission were vague. There were only a few people in the group that knew anything about the Oklahoma City area. This brought my mind back to our service men and women. Imagine being dropped in a foreign country with only a few instructions and resources. Respect to our troops.

So there I was, the blind leading the blind. Mikey only showed the team leaders the map he had of the route we were taking. I didn't have my glasses on when he give me a quick view of the map on his iphone. So I was still pretty much blind. What could I do as the team leader to improve our performance and make us stronger as a team? The first third of the ruck we were very unorganized when it came to rotating people into carry the burdens. We had people from four foot eleven inches tall to people over six feet tall. This made it a little awkward carrying the burdens. Another problem was that a lot of the people were carrying too long before they took a rest. People were pushing themselves pass the point of muscle failure before stepping away from the burden.

I decided that it would be a good idea to divide the 40 people up into 4 teams by height. Two teams of people 5 foot 8 inches and under. Two teams of people 5 foot 9 inches and taller. They shorter two groups were to carry the stretcher burden and the taller group the scud burden. With the team divided up into smaller groups, we call these fire teams in the Marine Corps, we headed out into the night.

How to solve the second problem of people staying on the burden too long? The personal trainer in me kicked in at this point. I decided to use landmarks to rotate people in and out as we went. But after a while I realized I wasn't rotating people out in a balanced manner. Some landmarks were further away than others. Some people were staying with the burden longer than others. I needed to come up with a better way.

Again the personal trainer in me kicked in. When you are exercising there are two time periods. The first time period is “time under tension”. Most of the time when you are lifting heavy time under tension only last 30 to 90 seconds. The second period is the “rest” period. This is where you give your muscles a break and let them rebuild their ATP stores. Rest periods for heavy lifting last about 2 and a half to 3 minutes. I dug into my ruck and got my phone out. I pulled up my timer app and set it to 3 minutes. We began rotating every 3 minutes.

It was pretty silent out there most of the time. Mikey would occasionally turn music on to help us out, but for the most part, it was silent. I decided as the team leader I also needed to help motivate the team. I would give a count down of the 3 minutes to help keep their minds off the burden. I would call out the minute and a half mark, the 30 second mark, and at 15 seconds I would tell them to get ready to change out. This probably motivated some and irritated others, but the important thing was it took their mind off the pain. It took my mind off the pain.

Without any instructions each of the four teams developed their own leaders. In the Marine Corps we called team squad leaders. When I would start the 15 second count down the squad leaders would begin guiding their team into position to rotate out. This really worked well and we rucked on down the trail. We rucked another 5 miles rotating out every 3 minutes. Of course some people would stay in longer than 3 minutes. They would see others on the team struggling and they would stay in to help out. Jack's family was always staying in longer than they should have. The police officers were always staying more than three minutes. Some people were staying in for 6 to 9 minutes before they would take a 3 minute rest.

I tried to rotate some of the people who looked tired or hurt into the flag carrying position. I had Mr. M take the flag. He had developed a limp and I thought he needed a rest. Although he was limping he didn't look like he was struggling. He looked determined. He looked like he was on a mission. I'm not sure if he carried the flag for 3 minutes or 6 minutes but it wasn't very long. No sooner than I turned around and he was back under the burden carrying the load. But he had been like this all night. He was one of those team members that was going pass the point of muscle failure before stepping away from the burden. Jack's whole family was like that, giving more and pressing to the limit. His wife and nephews also stayed under the burden longer than they should have.

When we reached our next stopping point Mikey told us some stories about the special forces. He told us the story behind the snake on the Goruck logo. Sorry you'll have to do a Ruck to hear the story. He then told us about his friend Jack who was killed in action and he introduce Jack's family members that were there to honor Jack. The members of Jack's family took a minute to say a word about Jack. Mikey had us take a moment of silence for Jack. It was a very touching moment and you could feel the team bonding with Mikey and Jack's family.

Mikey asked for another team leader and assistant. He talked to them for a minute while the rest of us finished up our break. We began the ruck back to Mikey's truck. There was several terrain challenges on the way back and somehow we managed to again get an 8 foot wide stretcher through a 6 foot passageway. We returned the scud missile to the place where we had picked it up. We were happy to be relieved of this burden. We reached base, Mikey's truck, before sunrise. We removed the casualties, yoga balls, from the stretcher.

Now for the second half of the mission. We were going to ruck to the Oklahoma City Memorial before the sun was up. We had about 30 minutes to make it a mile and a half. We now had to carry the casualties individually. The yoga balls were heavy and very awkward to carry. Although the water jugs were empty we carried them too. We still had our Goruck log as well.

When you do a ruck fire hydrants are considered to be “Improvised Exposive Devices” IED's. To defuse the IED's two members of the team must run up to the fire hydrant and do 10 burpees. This hadn't been an issue on the first half of our ruck around the river because there wasn't very many on the river trail. But now that we were in downtown OKC there was at least one on every block. This is where Jack's family really shined again. Amber and Laila defused almost every one of the hydrants. If it hadn't been for the team leader telling someone else to take their places I'm sure they would have gotten them all.

We made it to the memorial before sunrise. Mikey gave us 30 minutes to pay our respect to the ones that lost their lives in the Oklahoma City bombing. We were also tasked with the job of memorizing 4 of the peoples names. Each team member was assigned 4 chairs to memorize the names from. After the 30 minutes was up we assembled out in front of the memorial to recite the names to Mikey. This is were it got weird. As we were standing in front of the memorial reciting the names of the people who lost their lives in the bombing the ground began to shake.

The ground moved, the bird flew out of the trees, and the walls of the memorial shook. A 5.8 earthquake had just occurred in Pawnee, Oklahoma. I'm not saying that the Earth moved because a group of highly motivated people honoring a fallen soldier and 5 fallen police officers were standing in front of the memorial reciting the names of the fallen from the Oklahoma City bombing, but it sure felt like it. Probably just the result of fracking in Oklahoma.

After everyone had finished reciting their victims names we started our ruck back to the base camp. Along the way Amber and Laila kept defusing the hydrants. Mikey had us stop in front of the Oklahoma City Civic Center Music Hall. They have a wonderful fountain in front of the building. I'm not sure if one is supposed to play in it, but we did. Mikey had us do push ups and flutter kicks over the spouts shooting up water. We also played the wonderful game of “On your backs, on your bellies, on your feet”. We still had our rucks on. We dropped to the ground on our backs and started flutter kicking, then roll over onto our chest for push ups, and then stand up and shout, “Fuck You!”. Mikey would sing this to us, “On your backs, on your bellies, on your feet”. I'm not sure how long this lasted but it went from being cold, wet, and uncomfortable to being fun somehow. I didn't want it to stop.

We finished the ruck back to Mikey's truck. He retrieved a small bag from his truck. In the bag was our Goruck patches we had earned. Yup, for all our effort we got a patch. No t-shirt, no medal, no podium. Mikey called them “patchy poos”. He said it was amazing what people would do for a patchy poo. He pointed out that the patch had no intrinsic value. The patch only had whatever meaning we saw in it. They're not something you can resell on ebay for a huge price. The value was whatever you got out of the last 12 hours and 18 miles. How could something so small represent so much?

Mikey handed out the patchy poos to everyone as we stood in formation. He shook everyone's hand and said a little something to each person. He gave everyone a hug with their handshake. Everyone's face was beaming.

Mikey had had Jack's family step out of the formation so that he could present their patchy poos separately. After handing out the patchy poos to the formation Mikey turned to Jack's family. The formation turned to watch the presentation. Mikey said a little something about how each member of the family had honored Jack during their efforts while on the ruck.

Someone had brought some donuts and coffee for the group. Jack's family had brought a picnic breakfast. We all broke up into small groups to lick our wounds and have a little beer and breakfast. We compared the scratches on our backs and laughed about the difficult night that we had just made it through. Slowly people began to pack up their stuff and leave. Mikey like all good leaders was the last man out.

I try to keep a daily journal. This story was only going to be another entry into my journal. But as I began writing I realized that this story was too big and important to just become a journal entry into one man's computer. This story needed to be shared with the public. My first Goruck turned into an unforgettable amazing journey. We shook the Earth. I hope yours will too. 

                                                              Returning to base.
                                                    Coming back from the Memorial.
                                                  Me about to receive my patchy poo.
            Mikey Bee listening to people recite the names of the fallen from OKC memorial.

                                                                       Jack's Dad.
                                                         Group picture after the ruck.
                                               Broken up into small groups after the ruck.
                             Emilio Estevez and William Baldwin! No, its Mikey Bee and Me.
            Some kind of elephant trunk march punishment for dropping one of the casualties.
                                                          Sunrise at the OKC memorial.
                                            Reciting the names just before the earthquake.
                                3 am. We are getting ready to hit the trail after Mikey's talks.
                                                                   My Patchy Poo.
                          The fountain we did "On your back, on your belly, on your feet" in.
                                                              Another group shot.
                                     Getting my patchy poo and man hug from Mikey Bee.
                                                             Our team weight.
                                      Goruck number 2056 OKC 2016.

    I really wished I had taken more pictures. I would have especially like to have a picture of our stretcher and the scud missile.

                             Some pictures taken from others that attended the event: