Well, there I was, attending the Special Operations Combat Medic Course (SOCM), the Army’s elite combat medic course in Fort Bragg, NC. I had recently graduated SWCC training and I thought I was hot shit thinking that all of the Special Forces students at SOCM had just begun their training pipeline.
The SOCM course was essentially owned by the Army Special Forces, the Navy was allotted just a few slots per class. As SEALs and SWCCs, we were guests in their home. The Navy cadre at the SOCM course had made it very clear that we were not permitted to fuck up, fuck off, or fuck around. Oh, and we had better not fail or they would make it a point to destroy our reputation before we ever even made it to the teams.
Like I said, this was an Army course, so you can be damn sure there was a lot of rucking going on… a lot. By the time I graduated, I couldn’t believe how fast I could move around with a big ass ruck on my back, but that’s a story for a different day.
We often did morning ruck runs as a part of the PT program. On one such morning, we had been instructed to fill our rucks with 45 pounds of weight, no big deal right? We had no scale or any actual measured weights. Our solution was to just load up a bunch of random items into our rucks: spare helmets, boots, canteens filled with water, some books, and whatever else we could find. We got to the schoolhouse the next morning and the Navy guys lifted each other’s rucks to make sure we all felt like we were at the 45-pound mark.
So, there we go, off on our hooah ruck run. Things were going well until I rounded a corner and saw a pickup truck with the cadre standing there, weighing each guy’s ruck. “Shit, hope I put enough bullshit in this bag.”
I took off my ruck and put it on the scale, it read 43.5 pounds. “Motherfucker!”
The instructor with the notepad wrote down my name and my weight deficit. “Alright, keep going,” he said.
Now I really knew I was fucked. From my experiences in the Navy, normally when you screw up you just get your ass-chewing/beating right then and there and then everyone moves on with their life.
After we returned to the schoolhouse, the lead instructor rounded up all the guys that had been underweight and told us that we would be doing an extra-long ruck run the next morning. “Be there at 0530.”
The catch was that we had to add the difference of the weight between 45 pounds and the weight the scale read, and then multiply it by 1.5. So here was the math for my ruck: (45+1.5) x 1.5 = 70 pounds, this would be the weight for my ruck. Some guys during the ruck had been straight cheating and had weighed in at 25 and 30 pounds, this was going to be a really hard learning lesson for them.
There were nine of us who had the special privilege of taking part in this extra-curricular activity. When we showed up in the morning, there were two SF instructors waiting for us, with two 200-pound human training dummies, and no litters to carry them on. “You guys are going to carry these dummies as a team and you better make sure they don’t hit the ground.”
I looked at my one Navy buddy, who had fallen to the same fate, “Goddamnit, this is gonna suck dude.”
Off we went, ruck running on the trails around Fort Bragg. The two instructors also had rucks on, which I thought was pretty awesome.
Well, we kept rucking and rucking and then, yup, rucked some more. It was thoroughly sucking, and the guys that were carrying upwards of 100 pounds were starting to have a real tough time.
Throughout all of this, the instructors were relatively quiet. They weren’t yelling at us and telling us how worthless we were, which was a little bit different than some of my experiences in Coronado.
Finally, we made the final turn and I could tell we were headed back to the schoolhouse. “Thank God, I’m over this.”
We got back to the building. It was done. We put our rucks and those stupid dummies down. The main instructor circled us up and said: “This goes no further than what happened this morning. We’re not going to hold any grudges against you guys or attempt to sabotage your success while at this school. I hope everyone learned a valuable lesson here today. You all must recognize the importance of attention to detail and make it a point to follow instructions, your life may depend on it someday.”
Hell, I was motivated after that talk. The way that Special Forces instructor handled our situation was as professional as it gets. He was a confident leader. A silent professional through and through. That instructor will never know it, but I walked away from that event having learned an awesome lesson in leadership and humility.
To sum it up, that ruck run was an absolute gut punch, and you can be sure that I would never come in underweight on a ruck run ever again. But, on that day, I’m glad I was able to have that experience. It was an invaluable learning lesson for a young, naive operator.
This article was originally published in February 2020.