In our daily Special Operations PT Preparation workouts that we publish, Sunday is our ruck day, just like going to church, it is our weekly ritual before the sun comes up kind of like paying homage to the Special Forces gods before we get on with our regularly scheduled Sunday activities, like coffee (Black Rifle of course), shower, coffee, church, coffee and then Sunday NFL games, where we’ll generally eat too much of the wrong things that my doctor says to avoid.
Earlier this week, the weather had turned in New England, from the humidity of the summer that plagued us here this year, to the cool crisp mornings that make this area of the country the nice place to be during the fall. We had a cool rainy morning and after talking with some of the other writers from our Loadout Room pages, I decided to head out and get some rucking in. It didn’t end well.
Heading out, I was nearly run over by a truck that veered off the road by some guy fiddling with his phone. But Sunday was perfect so, at 4:30 we set off to do the ruck we specified in our workout (8 miles). The conditions were perfect. The sky was clear, the trail mostly dry and the temps were around 46-48 degrees with just that hint of crispness in the air.
After a short warmup getting the old joints moving, the pace was quick and I was trucking along happily with my iPod in. My wife must have used it last, I just turned it on and took off. She had her own mixtape loaded on there and the music jumped around to a crazy mix from Metallica, AC-DC, to Pink, Abba, Lady Gaga and Kid Rock. Jeez… pick one.
The pace quickened thru town and then I cut back around the railroad tracks that I like to ruck on as it is generally flat and I have the miles marked so it is an easy way to keep track of the distance.
Everything was going perfectly for the first mile or so, just after I cut over the Blackstone River railroad trestle and moving past the town’s cemetery, I was moving from one side of the rails to the other and slipped and took an awkward tumble and banged my shin off the rail. Besides being embarrassed to look like an idiot, despite the fact that I was all alone in the dark, it hurt like hell. After taking stock of my situation, luckily nothing was broken, just pride, which was good since I left my phone at home…dummy.
Considering right then to just turning around and calling it a morning, right then I had a flashback to one of our old Special Forces medics during an SFAS class who was treating a candidate’s feet that were looking like melted cheese and said, “Keep on ruckin’ candidate, it only gets easier from here.”
That one particular class had a very large drop rate. The weather was poor, we had some snow (rare in North Carolina), rain and plenty of mud. Our rental trucks that the cadre used didn’t have four-wheel drive and the SGM (Hobson) and I got stuck briefly in the snow on a trail out in Hoffman…who would have “thunk” it?
Hobby was a tremendous shot with a long gun, he’d been a sniper at Delta if memory serves me and when we had to qualify at SWC, the SFAS cadre went out to the range and the SGM would bet a case of beer that he could outshoot anyone at distance for a case of beer (he drank Old Milwaukee’s Best…ugh) He never paid.
Anyway, our class had this one candidate with a stress fracture or something similar in his shin. The kid came up lame right at the end of Team Week and then it was right before what was then the Long Range Movement which was their final event before the Selection Board would meet.
So, while one Medic recommended that he be medically dropped, another said that he should continue and the final decision was made to let him continue. We had the LRM back to Ft. Bragg and that one was always tough as the candidates’ feet were by then hamburger and they were worn down after the Selection events.
The cadre (for the most part) liked the LRM because it signified the end of the course and most of the cadre weren’t needed for it. The worst job was the one cadre member who had to drive the truck…idle it actually for 20 something miles…(How far was it?) to the finish point behind the last candidate on the road. Guess who got that duty that particular class?
So that cold night, the candidates take off and we’re idling along at about 3-4 miles an hour and it isn’t long before our candidate who could barely walk is the last man in line. I kept the truck with the flashers on a comfortable distance behind him but he although limping badly never stopped walking and for a while was actually making good time. But it wasn’t long before his pain level became a real detriment.
The cadre head shed kept in radio contact with me all night and was asking for updates on where he was and if he was “continuing to train” or in other words stopping. He was falling behind the time hack to get a go on this event but never stopped walking.
As the night wore on he fell farther and farther behind the time hack and we knew there was no way he was going to finish in the allotted time, but whether he’d finish at all. When the time was finally running out on the time limit, the candidates were all finished at the time of the cutoff except for one. He was still about 2.5 miles from the finish point and moving by then very slowly.
Our commander called on the radio and asked how he was moving and said the time was up to pick him up and take him to the finish point. I pulled alongside him and told him to stop and get into the truck. He refused and said he wanted to finish. The third time, I said it, it was no longer in a nice evenly toned “SFAS Cadre” voice… “Get your gear and get in the f***ing truck!” was akin to it.
We took him to the finish point and the kid had tears in his eyes. After he got out and rejoined his classmates the SGM came over and we had a short conversation. “Did he ever stop walking or give any indication of quitting,” he asked? None I said. He nodded. “What do you think?” was the question. “Is he hurt? Of course, but I guess the question do we need to know is despite that he kept driving on and that is the kind of thing we’re looking for isn’t it?…I’d take him on my team,” I said.
The SGM nodded, “Fair enough,” he said. The candidate was selected.
Which brings us back to Sunday’s clumsy fall, should I do the smart, “Old Man” thing and turn around and keep going. The old refrain repeated…”Keep on ruckin’ candidate, it only gets easier from here!”
Ah well, who said you get smarter as you get older…Not me.
Happy Rucking! DOL
Photo: US Army Special Forces
RIP and a tip of the Beret to LTC Bob Phelan, a non-SF guy and a very good man who was a project officer on our contract back in the day. He’s riding his Harley in heaven today. Rest easy brother…