Cadre: Cadre David, Cadre Geoff, Cadre Danny
Over the last year or so, I’ve been told at least a dozen times that the Columbia pax needed the GORUCK Challenge. At some point I realized that the guys who were telling me this were guys that I really looked up to and respected, and if they thought that our group would benefit from it, we needed to give it a look.
At first, we didn’t even know if there were enough sickos out there willing to pay good money to be put through the 12+ hour torture session, but within a couple weeks, we hit the 35 man limit, and decided to keep the registration open. Chris Blockus from GORUCK assured me that they could accommodate just about any size custom event we could throw at them. By the time we cut off registration, we had 105 guys signed up.
In the months leading up to the Challenge, we divided into teams by geographic location (Columbia, Irmo, and Lexington) to help facilitate training. About eight weeks before the Challenge, all locations added 3-5 ruck-focused workouts each week. In general, we tried to work on getting used to being under the weight, working as a team, and moving as one. In retrospect, we all agree that we should have added more “distance” workouts of 3+ hours to get used to having the weight on your back.
In addition to the Columbia crew’s workouts, the Florence guys had a standing Warrior Wednesday (ruck) workout, the Charleston crew held several ruck sessions, and the guys from Greenville were already active in Spearhead.
To further prepare for our Challenge, we held two multi-hour simulations. Led by WhiteShoe, JohnnyUtah, and ChungLi from F3 Raliegh, these sessions proved to be critical to mentally preparing to the stresses of a GRC. During the first sim, we all developed a healthy hatred for the bear crawl, (which turned out to be one of the first exercises we did during our Challenge) and the reflection pool in front of the USC Library. The second sim, which lasted for four hours, led us down to a polluted section of the Saluda River, and gave most of us an introduction to what it would be like to be cold, wet, and smelling like jet fuel.
At 6pm, 21 November 2014, 100 men from the F3Nation descended on the South Carolina Statehouse for the F3 South Carolina GORUCK Custom Challenge. For the 30 minutes, we allowed our teams to meet and get organized, then at 6:30, we gathered for our BOM. During this time, several of our guys shared famous speeches, scriptures, and even a couple reflections, all in an effort to get our heads in the right place.
After a rousing prayer from Brother Si, the three teams (Red, White, and Blue) lined up in front of the Statehouse steps as instructed by the cadre and waited… and waited. At about 7:10, I realized that the cadre were probably just hanging out around the perimeter, watching us. Sure enough, a minute later, Cadre Geoff and Cadre Danny appeared, carrying some coupons.
Soon after introducing myself to the cadre, whom I had spoken with on the phone the previous week, we moved quickly into what they referred to as the “administrative” portion of the evening, (they did not want to call it a welcome party). Right away, they let me know that our paperwork was out of order, and they needed the emergency contact’s information for the 100 pax… and they gave me five minutes to complete the task.
While the team leaders and I were busy collecting the necessary information from the men, Cadre Geoff got the group off and running with some PT to pass the time. The next two hours was basically a series of ark loaders (bear crawl and duck walks), and various planking exercises, mixed in with standard PT stuff like pushups.
After a couple hours of the “administrative” treatment, I got the sense the welcome party was about over when the cadre lined us up back into our respective teams. At this point, we had no idea what to expect concerning cadre assignment, but we later found out that each team would have some time with each of the cadre, in order to experience their unique leadership styles.
Here’s a breakdown of our three teams:
- Team Red, Qed by Tonto, consisted of F3 Columbia and F3 Greenville + a giant named Optimus from Charlotte.
- Team White, Qed by Mayhem, was made up of F3 Lake Murray’s Lexington crew and F3 Florence
- Team Blue, Qed by Neckbrace, was formed from F3 Lake Murray’s Irmo contingent and F3 Charleston
What follows below is an accounting of what each team experienced during the three “rounds” as the cadre took turns putting us through the paces that night.
Team Red with Cadre Danny
Lessons: Team management and understanding roles/rank and general leadership tactics
Coupons: Gurney (with 60 pounds of sandbags), sandbag (100 pounds), Team Weight
Team Red was not fresh coming fresh off the “welcome party” or as Cadre Danny calls it, an “Administrative Session.” The 2+ hours of PT altered both our minds and body as our first Cadre, Danny, was introduced to us.
Mission was chosen as our TL by our Cadre, followed by F-Head as our ATL and off we went. From this moment forth Team Red was on “high alert” not knowing what to expect as our group was full of F3ers that spent the last 3 months preparing and over-analyzing everything from clothing to cadres and all points in between.
Our team started off like a well-oiled machine. Our rotation mixed in with extra straps used to carry heavy things all contributed to our success reaching our first checkpoint, the Twin Towers monument outside of the Convention Center. Along the way our Cadre introduced a rule about civilian acknowledgement or questioning. Every time someone honked their horn we had to scream U-S-A and every time someone asked about or talk to us we had to scream GORUCK. It took several attempts, methods, and mocking from our Cadre before we developed a frightening roar.
Our next checkpoint was the top of the 8 story parking garage that we passed on the way to the monument. What started as a mission with a time hack turned quickly into a real-life, war-related teachable moment. As we traveled up the garage ramps, we were told the stairs were booby trapped but didn’t think much of it. “Snipers” took out 4 of our men as we failed to secure a parameter and safely evacuate the area. Danny set us up to teach the roles of the TL and ATL. Once we reached the top of the garage, our checkpoint, we went through another scenario to practice would we just learned.
Our next and final mission with Danny started after we debriefed. Our next TL was Sway and he chose Kim Jung to be the ATL. The mission started with our whole time descending down the stairs and returning back to Cadre Danny. Sounds easy enough, but one detail was left out, our whole team had to climb the 8 floors of stairs by using a 2 foot bunny hop.
Next we gathered our coupons and made our way to the final checkpoint, the fire station on the corner of Barnwell and Laurel St.
Team White with Cadre Geoff
Lessons: Attention to detail, 100% effort 100% of the time, Attention to detail
Coupons: Team Weight, Deadman Sandbag, Parking Curb, Wooden Grate
Feeling good about the welcome party being over and also having our shoes (we heard Cadre David tell the Blue Team to take off their shoes and socks), we received our first mission: get to Hand Middle School in one hour. Too bad we couldn’t get off the grounds of the Statehouse without being told to halt for not staying together. This seemed to set the tone for the next couple of hours. We were instructed to elephant walk. We started out doing fairly well, so then Cadre Geoff added 5 sandbags. We couldn’t figure out how to elephant walk with our rucks plus the sandbags, so, of course, we had to pay for it.
An hour later we were still no more than a block away from the Statehouse. Cadre Geoff really wanted us to come together as a team and he punished us for disappointing him. We low crawled with our face in the dirt and our chest on the ground for what seemed like forever. Next up was the 1/4 mile lunge walk – could’ve been shorter or longer – again, it seemed like forever.
We finally started moving and making good time. We got everyone into a rotation with the coupons and we were starting to come together. Then came the hill on Barnwell. Forward facing crabwalk, uphill, rucks on our chest. Cadre Geoff tried to break our team on that hill. Once guys got to the top, they immediately went down to help the guys that were struggling, but Cadre Geoff would not allow it. He tried to get guys to quit, but the louder he yelled, the louder our team yelled to help motivate the last couple of guys. Once everyone made it to the top, we had 30 secs to line up and start moving. However, due to our lack of teamwork and the Cadre’s disappointment, we were instructed back to the hill to do it all over again. This seemed to really take the wind out of White Team’s sail. Again, Cadre Geoff smelled blood and tried to make a couple guys quit and again every single guy dug deep and finished the task. It was an amazing point in the night. Every man realized on that hill that we were able to do more than we realized. Cadre Geoff then added the concrete parking curb and the wooden grate and we made our way to the fire station.
Team Blue with Cadre David
Lessons: “Get it right”; get everything you do everything you have
Coupons: Team Weight, 2 6ft water bladders, pendulum of pain
The PAX was dreading having David as the initial cadre (of course not knowing we would alternate). David approached and ordered each person to remove their socks and shoes, shoes our shoes together, and place the shoes around our neck. At the direction of Dooley we then marched in columns to down Assembly, left on Taylor, and down to Finlay Park. We approached the fenced pond and hopped the fence. We jumped into the pond (waist deep). The bottom of the pond was as slick as ice, causing some to go a little deeper than intended. The pax conducted 2 minutes of arm flutters to make sure we were adequately wet, then exited the water.
We then marched to the top of Laurel Street and down to the Station (sans footwear). Some of the Pax struggling with the journey, but others assisted (mostly mentally).
Once at the Station, we formed into rank. Cadre David asked us to seek and retrieve the coupons pieces from the wood nearby. Upon our return, we were allowed to put our shoes on, but only after rotating one spot to another persons shoes. Those wily veterans (like Neckbrace) were able to obtain their actual shoes, while others, i.e. Moses, had shoes that fit tighter than Stagecoach in his F3 Columbia shirt. We were then allowed a few minutes to change, assemble the pendulum, and fill the water bladders.
Neckbrace was discovered eating after the Cadre instructed “no one to eat until I eat”. We paid our dues with several low/high planks. We then moved out down Laurel Street to Sumter. We turned left on Sumter and continued past the Baptist Hospital, then made an about face and returned to the station. To our credit, we made the journey in a relatively decent time, but were never able to figure out the pendulum of pain. We did, however, discover that, if tilted, one side weighs more than the other.
Team Red with Cadre Geoff
Lessons: Attention to details, attention to details, and then we learned to pay attention to details. Besides details and paying attention to them… you must do so with using 100% effort 100% of the time.
Coupons: Team weight,Wooden Grate, (2x) tires, (2x) 7ft. wood pylons, (2x) Parking curbs, abandoned couch, & sandbag dead-man.
Team Red was feeling comfortable with our accomplishments so far. We were moderately successful in every mission and challenge presented to us during the previous 3 hours under Cadre Danny’s tutelage. Any happy thoughts of confidence was quickly erased and buried as soon as Cadre Geoff looked at our columns/ranks. Our imperfections and nervousness was blatantly obvious as we couldn’t answer simple questions about our previous TL’s and ATL’s #foreshadowingthesuck.
Team Red chose Chaser as our TL and Chaser picked Hee-Haw as his ATL (once he died, Happy Trees took over). We spent what seems like the rest of the night being mocked, laughed at, and performing ridiculously amounts of PT. The coupons in this round were by far the heaviest and most challenging for several reasons, but mainly b/c they kept MULTIPLYING! I would not be surprised if Cadre Geoff is a hoarder as he thought every piece of trash (old couch, tires, wood pylons) was treasure.
The attention to details and then the failure to communicate them to the whole team resulted in 2 deaths (extra weight) and led to 3 of the most memorable PT sessions of the whole night: Inchworm push-ups, 1 hr session of the “people’s chair”, and THE INFAMOUS REVERSE CRAB WALK HILL. Our mission was originally to travel to Hand Middle School, but our punishments ate up such a huge chunk of time we rerouted back to the meeting point. Our team spirit, moral, and well-being was truly tested with Cadre Geoff because he wanted 100% effort 100% of the time. He set up more individual tasks for us and prevented us from helping each other at times. This was tough both mentally and physically for all, especially with the sweet whispers of his voice constantly telling us, no, we couldn’t do it, and there is no shame is calling it quits.
Team White with Cadre David
Coupons: Team Weight, 2 x 6ft Water Bladders, Pendulum of Pain
After Cadre Geoff’s smokefest, the pax all had a concerned look on their face as they were not sure what to expect from Cadre David. It was clear from the beginning that Cadre David was very proud of his torture contraption, The Pendulum of Pain (TPOP). He had a sadistic smile watching us try to figure this thing out. About halfway atop Finlay Park, Cadre David stopped us to give us some advice on carrying TPOP. He advised we were carrying it backwards – I’m not sure if someone actually started to rotate it around, but he did tell us that we were effin idiots and to get moving. We did figure out a good rotation and made very good time getting to the entrance of Finlay Park.
Getting from the entrance to the pond was a little tricky and quite a few grunts were heard as the weight from TPOP shifted back and forth going down the stairs and around the corners. As we found ourselves staring at the water, we knew what was coming: everyone over the fence and in the water. Cadre David’s sadistic smile never left his face as he sounded off up and down as we did squats in the water. After a couple of minutes, we were out of the water and had coupons in hand heading back to the fire station. Once again, we made very good time getting back to the fire station. Once there, we had time to eat, change socks, and catch our breath. Once the Red Team and Cadre Geoff made it to the fire station, we joined them in some PT before switching Cadres for the final time.
Team Blue with Cadre Danny
Lessons: Team Management and understanding roles/rank
Coupons: Empty Water Tank (initially), gurney (with 60 pounds of sandbags), sandbag (100 pounds), Team Weight
Neck Brace (ATL) and Moses (TL) led the group down Laurel Street to Bull, then right on Bull. We were very disorganized and confused as to our roles at first, but the leaders quickly organized the group and effectively navigated down Bull Street to an empty parking lot, where we were finally allowed to change back into our original shoes. Unfortunately, the Pax was a bit sluggish in the action and, therefore, paid the price with some sumo squats. Of note, we were almost the subjects of a drive-by shooting, after which our Cadre instructed us to “always watch the 6” and “don’t let anyone sneak up on us like that again.” We then moved on the property of the old State Mental Health land (“Bull Street”) and were ordered to turn off our headlamps to remain incognito. After a few wrong turns, we made it to a safe stopping point. Cadre Danny then demonstrated to NB and Moses how to perform a head count, debriefed, then the Pax successfully moved out in search of water at the LRDAC (former employer of Napalm).
Upon arriving at LRDAC the Pax was allowed a moment to refill the water bladders, fill the water tank, and eat. Cadre David then debriefed the We then performed 30-45 minutes of PT on the Hill of Hell to include low crawls, bear crawls up and down the hill, and crowd surfing (total fail). This was just what the Pax needed to reinvigorate themselves and refocus. At the direction of the TL the Pax the moved out and Colonial Life Drive to Harden Street. After crossing Harden we proceeded another .5 miles before coming under dangerous and open sniper fire. We were forced to abandon our mission and return to the fire station. Unfortunately, due to a poor decision of the group, one man, our FNG, was KIA. We were forced to carry him (and eventually Toothpick) to safety, i.e. 2 miles to the fire station. After a brief stop at the local swimming hole, we finally made it home to the station. The journey was exhausting and treacherous, but conquered.
Team Red with Cadre David
The final round for Team Red started with mixed emotions. The emotional and physical beat down that just took place in round 2 had a buzz going throughout the team as we didn’t know what to expect. Both times we met previously at the firestation had us wondering what that contraption now known as “The Pendulum of Pain” truly was and what on earth we were going to do to conquer it. For reference purposes, there will be no conquering, but only containing that beast.
While our TL and ATL were being chosen by Cadre David (Drive-by & Huffy) we discovered the time was a little after 5 A.M. and what excitement/encouragement we gained from that nugget of info was erased as we stared down the barrel of TPOP and remembering the fact Cadre David mind screwed us with chilling during the whole “Welcome Party” SHOELESS! We had a mission of returning the the State House grounds with the coupons which we did fairly successfully. Our team developed a rotation of men to fight TPOP. We had permanent spotters and 4 teams of four to rotate every few minutes. When we arrived at the State House we had several team members help disassemble TPOP and then we gathered around for a little R&R (Rest and Ranger talk). Cadre David spent over an hour teaching us about knots, ropes, and techniques they used to cross rivers and ravines with rucks and equipment.
Once he finished his lesson and we ran out of questions, we gathered in front of the State House for our last PT session. This was our final task but definitely challenged us as we were running on empty. Little arm circles never hurt so much!
Team White with Cadre Danny
Coupons – Team Weight, Sand Bags, Stretcher, Water Tank
While we were waiting to switch and go under Cadre Danny’s command, we had a few minutes to eat, change socks, and get our minds right for what should be the final leg of our challenge. The one thing we didn’t do was check and refill our water. Cadre Danny pulled four random guys out of formation and checked their water. Three of the four had less than a liter of water so we had to bear crawl to a water source next door to the fire station. Once we were half way there, Cadre Danny let us get up and lunge walk the rest of the way.
Once everyone had suffient water, we grabbed all the coupons and were on our way. Our mission was to climb to a mountain 300 ft in elevation using a minimum of two parking garages as mountains. Each level of the parking garage was 10 ft of elevation and coupons went with us unless otherwise instructed. The first 120 ft went off without a hitch. Our next time down the stairs we were able to leave the coupons, but had to bunny hop back up. Our team crushed the bunny hops gathered the coupons and headed out to the next parking garage. We went up (details are kind of fuzzy) 6ish flights of stairs and back down. As we started up, a terrorist had set traps and someone’s legs were blown off. He was immediately scooped up and he headed out in fear of more traps being set.
We found another parking garage to finish our climb to 300 ft of elevation. After completeing that mission, Cadre Danny had us gather around and we did a quick AAR of the mission. He explained a lot of tactical movements and related what we just completed to real world scenarios that he has been in.
Our final mission was to get back to the Statehouse. We received word that anyone wearing jeans or driving Toyotas could possibly be a terrorists threat so we needed to stop and clear everyone we encountered. After stopping and starting repeatedly over a couple hundred yards, we received word that Toyotas were no longer a threat. Unfortunately, a bomb exploded near the back of the formation and five men were injured or killed. Cadre Danny made it clear we better meet our time hack or we would leave the Statehouse and travel a minimum of 5 km. We had 30 secs to meet out time hack and we were staring at a red light that was keeping us from crossing our final street to get to the Statehouse.
The light changed with about 10 secs left and our team raced across the street and made our time hack. Another unfortunate incident happened next: we broke one of the three rules and let Old Glory hit the ground. This kicked off our final PT session, which included burpees over our rucks, squats, thrusters, and team push ups. We ended with a quick group run around the Statehouse.
Team Blue with Cadre Geoff
Lessons: Attention to Detail, Death by Punishment
Coupons: Two Concrete barriers, Couch, Sand Deadman, Team Weight
The PAX retrieved the coupons and made it 3.5 feet before being halted by the Cadre. FNG (Slim Shady) and JV were our TL and ATL, respectively. We then enjoyed 50-60 yards of weird push-up exercise (which required both coordination and an aversion to suck). After finishing the task we proceeded down Laurel and right onto Harden.
We proceeded down Harden and after irritating the Cadre with a failure to obey a traffic law, paused for some good livin. Specifically, we were asked to wall sit on a caving fence with our rucks off and without using straps.
Things quickly descended to a gypsy camp, as the Pax repeatedly failed and/or were physically unable to follow instructions Specifically, we were to wall sit while holding our rucks overhead, an exercise we were not prepared for as a group. After a few (10 or so) successful repetitions, we thought we were home free. However, the Pax was not sufficiently motivated to continue the journey and, as such, returned to the fence. After completing Round 2 of the good livin, we found some motivation and moved out.
We then proceeded to an open space around Hampton Street where we did 60 or so yards of low crawling while dragging or pushing our rucks. A miserable experience indeed, we completed it successfully. I noticed the encouragement of the Pax during this suck, which was impressive considering you were chewing grass. We then moved out to Gervais and proceeded right towards the State House. Due to extreme exhaustion and lack of focus, two or three pax died, and had to be carried the remainder of the way. In fact, from Harden/Gervais to the SH every man had something to carry. After once more false move at Marion and Gervais, we performed 5 or so minutes of inverted plank from a brick wall. Finally, we made it do Main Street and crossed to the SH. After arriving, we were given 5 minutes to disperse of the sand in the bags and return the concrete barriers.
Upon returning to Cadre Geoff’s presence, we did one more backwards bear crawl up the SH stairs and 8 or so rounds of relay fun up the SH stairs.
The Finish Line
When we were dismissed by the cadre, a collective “hooh-rah” was heard from the pax. It was over. The cadre each took a few minutes recapping some of the lessons they each wanted us to walk away with, and began to pass out our GORUCK Tough patches.
True to all F3 workouts, we circled up and counted off. Our count revealed 98 pax finished the Challenge (including one FNG, a friend of Cadre Danny’s). We had one pax medical dropped by the cadre during the welcome party due to a hand injury, and one pax felt an old rotator cuff injury flaring up, and didn’t feel like it was safe to continue. Both are respected for showing up, and both have told me they will return. After the name-o-rama, we bestowed our FNG (active duty Army) with the name Slim Shady.
Before heading across the street to get some well deserved breakfast in our bellies, we had a few presentations to make:
First, one of our F3 Lake Murray boys, StageCoach, was able to obtain (legally) the state and US flags that flew over the capitol on November 21st (the day of our Challenge). As a token of our appreciation, we gave the cadre the SC State flag. Word has it that it’s heading to GORUCK HQ. I was honored to receive the US flag as a gift for playing secretary for all you jokers over the last few months.
Second, the pax had collectively decided to pool their unused cab fare, required for the Challenge, and donate it to the Philips family to help out with Walker’s medical bills. NailPop (Andy Phillips) was scheduled to take part in our Challenge, but after careful consideration, he felt like the time just wasn’t right, so it was only fitting that we gave him a hand. Nailpop was onhand to see us finish our GRC, and was honored and visibly moved by our gift.
After a great closing prayer by Brother Si, we headed to breakfast across the street, complete with all the staples, including Bud diesel (for those who partake).
Over the last week, I’ve heard from over a dozen of the pax who participated in this GRC, and overwhelming, this was a positive experience for our group.
For me, the GORUCK was the toughest, and the most rewarding physical and mental challenge I’ve ever been through. Period. But more important are the lessons I took away from the night I spent with all you knuckleheads…
The GRC showed me that with the right team at my back, I can do just about anything. I learned that most of the limitations in my life are self-imposed (they aren’t real). I learned that I can achieve much, much more, physically and mentally, than I ever believed I could.
But most importantly, I learned that you are a helluva group of guys, and I’m proud to know you.
Now, who’s signing up for the Heavy?