The Selection courses put a great amount of stock as well as time and effort into seeing what the troops ( I almost wrote men, but now women are allowed to attempt), are made of. The running and timed runs in the courses are one thing. But carrying a rucksack is quite another.
Because of the reputation (which is well deserved) and the sheer physical nature of it, it causes more angst among the candidates than perhaps anything else and leads to more people withdrawing from the course than arguably all else.
One of the biggest smokers was the rucks around the airfield at Camp Mackall. I don’t know what the roads around it are like today, but in the early-to-mid 1980s they were deep, soft sand and it always seemed you weren’t making progress and the end was farther away than before like a mirage in the desert. We did the airfield rucks in the evening, in the mornings we go on other trails that were equally as challenging.
The key was to learn how to relax and stay loose and even today, I still enjoy rucking and do it frequently but not quite as fast as in days of yore. After becoming a cadre member at Selection, when marching with the candidates on the way out of the compound, I’d listen to the rhythm of their boots and recall another time, and the words of Kipling would ring clear.
Foot—foot—foot—foot—sloggin’ over Africa—
(Boots—boots—boots—boots—movin’ up and down again!)
There’s no discharge in the war.
Those who have been to SERE are well acquainted with that piece. But as a cadre member at the back of the student formation, that would always come to mind. We hadn’t even gone a half-mile and there’d already be a few candidates who would stop momentarily and do that small bunny hop and lean forward, where their ruck would ride up a bit higher on their backs.
Seven—six—eleven—five—nine-an’- twenty-mile to-day—
Four—eleven—seventeen—thirty-two the day before—
(Boots—boots—boots—boots—movin’ up and down again!)
At times it would be almost comical, the words of that piece, which I swore I’d never listen to again would keep coming back as the quiet morning air of the pines in North Carolina were broken only by the sound of the shuffling boots and the occasional cough.
Rucking is the big equalizer in Special Operations. You can be the best shot, the fast runner, the guy who can invent two different types of rocket fuel, but if you can’t handle a rucksack, you won’t last very long.
The troops today have the best equipment money can buy, but it wasn’t always that way. During the nonsense in Panama during the time there, the conventional units, notably the 7th Inf. Division had much better gear than we did. But it isn’t about the gear yesterday, today or tomorrow. Bottom line is, it still comes down to doing the basic things right. And that is carrying the rucksack for long distances and being able to function as a unit after you get there. Special Operations guys have to be able to tote the pain pill.
One of the favorite tactics the cadre used during the old days and I’m sure they still do was to ruck the students up the hill by the obstacle course and in the back gate. The candidates believing that they’ve survived begin to relax but the cadre then pick up the pace and head straight out the front gate. It would always seem to get one or two who would fall for that old ruse. Remember, you’re always being evaluated…
Yes, those shoulder straps would seem like they were cutting into your muscles at times and the heat would cause you to sweat like you never thought…before at least, possible. And your calves at times felt like they were made of wood. But those who finished successfully were the ones who could persevere through it.
As I mentioned before, I still ruck today and it is unfortunately and sometimes thankfully a solitary experience. There is something to be said for the solitude and doing it on your own. I have rucked recently for a couple of good causes and it is a way to keep doing what we love while at the same time making money for some good charities that look after our own.
I’ve missed my partner through the winter months, my bulldog is a frequent companion during the other three seasons but since I’ve been doing the #Ruckyourdog2018 ruck marches, she’s been back out in the cold, somewhat reluctantly but out there nonetheless.
Of course with a bulldog, I have to carry her water as well. She hasn’t learned how to drink out a Camelback system yet. Maybe this spring. However, with the winter possibly finally behind us, we can start getting out together more often. Although the dog has to get back in shape a bit too. We have many more miles to go this spring.
And sometimes with the right set of circumstances, her four paws trudging along on the trail thru the leaves will get that old familiar rhythm going…
’Tain’t—so—bad—by—day because o’ company,
But—night—brings—long—strings—o’ forty thousand million
Boots—boots—boots—boots—movin’ up an’ down again.
I—’ave—marched—six—weeks in ’Ell an’ certify
It—is—not—fire—devils—dark or anything,
But boots—boots—boots—boots—movin’ up an’ down again,
An’ there’s no discharge in the war.
Don’t let the rucksack dictate terms to you, keep driving on and remember, No Days Off.
Photo Courtesy: US Army