Bragg Heavy 2.0 – AAR

Preface: While this event is not as secretive as Selection, there are elements to the evolutions/methods of the Cadre that are best experienced for one’s self. For that reason, several aspects of this AAR will be intentionally vague/redacted. As a civilian, being on base and standing on the fields and grounds whose names I’ve known for years was a unique and emotional honor. I’ll just get the confession out of the way now, I got a little weepy on a number of occasions. Sue me.

-18h

I arrived in town Thursday night and decide to forego the few ruckoffs around town. I figured I would have plenty of time to catch up with friends (new and old) on the trail

-12h

Left hotel and met up with a few other Michigan GRTs that I planned on suffering with. We didn’t know how squads would be determined, but we figured if we stayed in proximity to each other early on, the chances of being grouped together for the duration would go up. We spent some time game-planning, shuffling gear around to get ruck weights dialed in, set up a few contingencies for how we would ideally handle some challenges we expected to be faced with (loss of talking privileges, how to quickly group people by like weights/heights, etc), and filled our guts with high calorie rocket fuel at Cracker Barrel.

-8h

First things first, slip on to base and talk your way in to the Green Beret Club to have a few beers with Cadre ████, where you are told that you are an idiot for even attempting this challenge.

A number of people had made plans to tour the Airborne & Special Operations Museum, so we met out front, took a group photo out front and began our tour. The mood was friendly, but it was very obvious that people were already churning their guts and trying to be mentally prepared for the next day and a half. Almost immediately my mental gameplan was thrown out the window when I turned a corner and came face to face with the wreckage of Super 61.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Mogadishu_(1993)

It became very clear that I would be encountering many things over the next few days that I was simply not expecting to see in my lifetime. Cue weepy moment #1.

After the tour a few of us set off for food and stumbled in to Cadre █████████. We convinced him to join us for a last meal and tried valiantly to pump him for intel. No such luck, just evil smiles.

-4h

Back to the hotel to rack out. I’m terrible at napping unless I’m dead tired, so this was just time where I laid still and spaced out for a bit, sent my “I’m going dark, see you on the other side” texts, and generally tried to relax.

-2h

Woke up the group, loaded out cars, moved towards the start point. Credentials were checked at the gate, we were moving across base, this was now a very real thing. We arrived at the start point and waiting in vehicles until checked in by Cadre. Unloaded gear, made the rounds saying “hi” to folks I’ve met over time, snuck out to the fence line to try to piss out the nerves. It didn’t work.
0h (all future times are estimates)

“Hurry up, we’re already behind schedule. Get over there in ranks. Hurry up, don’t be last. Why are you moving so damn slowly?” Oh hi Cadre Dan.

Rules and expectations for the event were set out. Holy crap there were a lot of Cadre milling around. PT tests for pushups and situps were run, following age/gender rules of the APFT. I’ve always done “crossfit” pushups where the chest (only chest, no thighs) lightly taps the ground for a split second to mark the bottom of the rep, I’ve never heard otherwise as a requirement. I was fortunate enough to have Jason judging my reps and he was having none of this style and he immediate starting laying in to me about my form. Not sure if he really cared about my technique or Cadre were just making examples of people early on to sew seeds of fear. Either way, it worked and threw me for a second. Good job. While waiting for your turn to PT, groups faced away and stood quietly. My column was on the leading edge in to the wind, so we all started getting chilly right off the bat.

After PT was ruck inspection and weigh in. Don’t be light. More targets were painted on people for violations. Use the sand pit to get up to weight, quickly. Dan briefed us on the next event, the 12 mile road ruck march. Headlamps on, mouthes shut. Move with a purpose over the course. Don’t be last. Dan would be setting a pace, but gave no indication of what speed that would be. Flags up front, you must be back here in under 3:30, go. By the way, take all the food out of your pack and dump it in to the Kit Bags up at the front of the ranks. No calories for the foreseeable future. This was definitely an individual event, but I’m decent at gauging pace, so I worked with my desired teammates to set a quick enough hustle to keep us well ahead of the hack/scrutiny, but just slow enough to keep us all together. We finished in 2:20, but I think the course was a hair shorter than 12 due to road construction. None the less, we were cruising.

+5h

As we came in from the ruck we were broken in to squads and told to get in formation, fix our issues, shut up, and wait for further instructions. Our initial prep work paid off as all of the folks I came to this event with made it in to Squad 4. We took this time to refit on water, fix feet, get some weight off of our feet. Once all rosters were off the course squads were assigned team weights (we got: the food bags ~100# x2, a sandbag ~80#, two water jugs ~50# x2), and broken off in different directions. An LMTV pulled up and Squad 1 loaded up and were taken off. We were now basically waiting our turn to get packed up and moved on to base. Our lead cadre was Dakotah with Cadre Joe as his second, and he felt this temporary delay was the ideal time to start a Welcome Party. What felt like 2 hours later it was finally our turn to load up in the truck and move on. Rucks/weights in the trailer, bodies in the back of the truck. Shut up, lamps off, don’t you dare peek out the sides of the truck. Charlie Mike.

The truck came to a stop and we unloaded …somewhere. There were a couple people on my team from the 82nd and they mentioned that we were ~10 miles from our staging area. We then began a series of long movements with time hacks. The team weights were pretty nasty, and struggled to keep pace. I think we blew most of the hacks. We moved for hours, and honestly I couldn’t tell you exactly when, but we picked up some bonus coupons along the way (ammo cans full of sand ~40# x2, weapons crates full of sand ~60# x2, a handleless crate full of god knows what ~180#). For those keeping score at home, our squad of 23 now had a flag and 10 coupons. Some time before we took on the big crate we got hit with heavy casualties for missing a hack and had every set of hands on either bodies or coupons for about a mile. We moved under oppressive load for a long time, which is honestly me favorite way to suffer through these things. I’d rather be an ox than soaking in a freezing river at night. Not sure when, but it must have been near sunrise as we saw the occasional human moving around, we were tasked with 15 ascents of a series of stairs with all of our gear. This task frayed the nerves of more than one sleepyhead but we all made it through and carried on, after about 90 minutes. Unfortunately, shortly after the steps our group suffered a med drop. An ammo can slipped during a transition and cracked someone in the head, they were actively attempting to continue, but after exhibiting signs of a concussion cadre made the call and pulled them from the event. You can patch up busted feet, hydrate away minor heat exhaustion, but there sadly nothing that can be done for blunt force head trauma on the move.

Every once in a while Cadre would stop us and give us the “do you know where you are?” test, which in almost every instance we did not. Most of the time we were then informed of the hallowed ground we were standing on, and the significance of the area (graduation grounds where every member of ███████ has stood, SWC school, memorial to ████). Cue weepy moments #2+.

At some point after sunrise we had moved far/not far enough, done well/poor enough to dump sand from some of the coupons, load the empties in to a truck and begin moving with a purpose towards our next objective, Pike Field. We were down to 3 coupons and the jerry cans of water.

+14h

We got there, last, and saw the other three squads taking some downtime for beating their hack. This was not to be our fate. To make up for missing our hacks we did rounds of PT broken up by team sprints around a downfield target, with more time hacks. Miss your time, the round did not count. You win some, you lose some, eventually the exercise ends. Our group got a few minutes to refit AND EAT. We did some quick damage to that feed bag before Dan came front and center to introduce a surprise guest. The translator attached to Cadre Doug’s unit was on hand to tell the story of his experiences and of how he moved his family to the States. It was a story of the wars often overlooked as almost all focus on the operations abroad relates to US forces, and leaves out the bravery of the local elements that make the jobs of our soldiers possible.

+16h

Rucks on, starting moving out as a team. The easy part is over. Who wants to hop in the truck and have some of these delicious donuts and warm coffee? HURRY UP.

People who had done the event at Bragg last year immediately stopped smiling because they “knew” where we heading. I try to make it a point to not make guesses at what is coming next. Staying in the moment helps keep my mind in the right place. With that said, if you have spent hours in small groups, recently shed weight, combined forces, and are marching towards the Log PT area – chances are good it is time to put logs over head.

There isn’t much to say about the next three or four hours, except that it looked like:

Your group is screwing up the motions during log PT, or simply too slow? They must be overheating, get in the pond.

Oh, and three people were pulled out of the water area with stage two hypothermia. Cadre on the sidelines had a pretty good idea of who in the group had experience in dealing with getting people back in the game, as issues became evident folks (myself included) were voluntold to drag those in danger out of the water and over for med checks and to get them in to a safe state. Nothing like stripping down in the bed of a truck with a stranger who is fighting you because they are panicking and in fear of being med-dropped to get the blood flowing. I brought my “patient” back to coherence and was directed over to log pit to warm up myself. After enough soak time Dan called it quits on our bath time and directed everyone over to the pit and instructed us to wring out gear and start to warm up. We got a second chance at calories, and ate greedily.

protip: impromptu dance parties are a great way to get blood circulation going again. no one is going to judge your actions after nearly a day on the move. I totally won’t heckle teammates for years to come regarding their terrible moves.

+20h

We were given time to get dry/warm enough to continue then Dan rolled up in a HMMV (one of the benefits of being on Bragg is the toys), combined squads to make two large groups then played “follow the armored vehicle through the woods”. As it turns out, military vehicles can roll through some pretty ugly terrain, so we did as well.

One of the canons of the new Heavy SOP is that this is to be the ultimate team event. Our next evolution put this to the test as elements of Robin Sage and “the apparatus” were combined. Teams had to gain the permission and support of “indigenous forces” (cadre) to move through their lands and utilize supplies from their camp to design and build carts to drag newer, heavier coupons down the trail. If you’ve seen the movie “2 weeks in hell”, these devices should look familiar – http://i.imgur.com/hoRCaPQ.jpg[3] . The local leader require us to perform a celebratory dance to show respect for their culture before we could continue. Now, I’m not an expert in Civil Affairs or local culture, but the dance sure seemed to bear many similarities to “a boatload of burpees”.

We got our gear and began designing solutions. It is important to note that there is no really good solution possible given the supplies at your disposal. The exercise is deigned to force teams to work well under stressful situations, the best you can hope for is an acceptably bad solution that survives brute force. Ours did and my squad pulled ahead and stayed there. “It pays to be a winner”, right? Not this time. Since we were so far ahead of the group behind us, cadre decided that we had to turn around and regroup with the other squad. Tempers flared, but we kept the rage in check and continued the exercise. By this point the sun was setting, so we knew two things with certainty a) we had been moving for nearly 24 hours and b) no one wanted to drag these horrible carts over rough terrain in the dark. Fires were lit under asses and we made go time in reforming with the other group.

Somehow it was decided that we were too clean/dry/warm (none of these things were really true, but that doesn’t matter), so the squads were ordered to form opposing ranks in knee deep mud and run “indirect fire” drills – aka: face the woods and throw handfuls of mud at the poor sucker behind you, mortar-style. Once we were gross and cold again we were allowed to continue towards a new target location, the log pit. We moaned and started to hustle, my squad broke away in the lead again. We reached the pond and were cleared to dump the weight out of our coupons and break down the apparatus. This trudge just turned in to a race, and we were not about to lose. Ever seen 40 zombies jog in formation with a couple dozen pieces of gear shouldered? It’s a sight to behold.

+26h

Our squad reached a wooded park and stacked up the gear behind the LMTV and got back in to formation. Dakotah and Joe split us in to two teams and mine took off on a fast march down the road. We made a big loop and cycled back to where we parted ways with the others, who were now gone. Orders were given to use the water station to rinse off rucks and bodies, then get back in to formation. Rucks were loaded in to the trailer, bodies in the truck and we were off down the road.

+28h

The truck slammed to a stop, we were bullhorned out of the back, and ordered to lay out all gear in formation then start lining up drop bags we turned in at the beginning of the event; also in formation. Cadre made it very clear that the event was not over and we could be dropped at any time, so zero screwing around as we washed down gear, stowed it, and awaited the second squad – who had to ruck halfway back to the start point as a penalty for losing to us in the race. They finally arrived, serviced their gear and Dan lined us up in formation.

+30h

██████ ████ ██████████ ████████████████████. ████████, ████, ████████ ██████████. ████████████ failure to perform ██████████. Rules were outlined, ███████ ██████ ████ Dakotah and Joe ██████████ █████ ██. Some people elected to not continue. The group staged for this event ██████████ ████ ████████████ ██████████. This did not go as expected, as expected. ██████ ██ ██████; ████████ ██████████ ██. Direction was given to stop, and we were done. We were endexed. GRH 027 was in the books.

Roughly 120 started the event, nearly 90 completed.

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