After Action Report: Selection 015
Candidate #025 : Jon Eytchison
Everyone knows what these terms mean right? Well, I didn’t know all of them when I started so just to be fair to those who might be reading this that are new to the GORUCK community:
- GRT – GORUCK Tough. Used to describe a person that has earned a GORUCK event patch.
- HCL or HCLS – Three/Four GORUCK events back to back, Heavy + Challenge + Light + Scavenger.
- PT – Physical Training. Exercises such as pushups, situps, etc.
- Gypsy Camp – What the Cadre call your gear if you have anything on the outside of your ruck. Please don’t show up with a gypsy camp, you’ll be forced to fix it anyway.
- Cadre – Current or former special forces operator that works for GORUCK and administers their events
To The Cadre:
To all the Cadre that organized and executed this event: thank you. It was an honor being able to meet and interact with so many of you. If I got your names wrong or mixed up who was where and when in the following AAR, I apologize… you were all kind of wearing sunglasses most of the time and the exact same clothes.
Having your mind right is a critical part of Selection. If you don’t find some level of enjoyment from the sensation of terror and urgency as multiple Cadre scream in your face, kick sand and water at you and tell you what a piece of crap you are, then Selection may not be for you.
A huge part of having your mind right is knowing why you’re there. What is your motivation? This simple question makes all the difference. There is no strength to be had in a selfish motive. If you’re doing this because you want to prove how awesome you are, then you’re standing on shaky ground my friend. It’s not about some silly patch or status, those are merely side effects. Another poor reason to go is because people expect you to go or someone else thinks you’re ready.
I really like how Cadre Jason put it, to paraphrase: the best motivation to do Selection is when you’re doing it for something greater than yourself. Be that in service to God, country, or some other reason; those kinds of motives will help to give you strength when your own fails. Just be ready to give a short and succinct response to the question “why are you here”. I was unprepared for this question being asked in a high-stress situation and had such a long and drawn out explanation that at first I said something stupid when prompted with that question during the final shark attack. Rehearse how you will respond to this question and keep it short.
You have to keep things in perspective: the Cadre don’t really hate you. They’re trying to help you. To prove this point, I’ll talk about what my friends did to help me train. These friends are GRTs who have been through HCLs and know what the Cadre are capable of dishing out. During training they would play Cadre – and oh did they do a good job. They screwed with me hard, they would dump sand on me (I got to learn about sand chafing early, yaaay!), keep telling me to go faster, keep telling me I wasn’t making my time hacks, and keep upping the difficulty and showing me zero mercy. Why would people who were my best friends suddenly become the biggest dickheads in the galaxy? They did it because they loved me. They were willing to sacrifice time out of their day to be an a-hole to me to help me train my mind and body, and that’s what I call friendship. If you can get your friends to help you by doing a little role-playing, it really helps. Go find a volley ball pit, bring a sandbag, and let them kick your butt. As my old friend Stinky learned, “Best friends stab you from the front”. Back to my main point, I viewed the Cadre during the event in this same manner, and it really helped keep things in perspective for me. Even still, they can be very convincing…
The darkest moments in Selection came very early during the welcome party. I stared “quit” in its ugly face. “Quit” has so much more power at the start of the event, you start to think “it’s this hard now… do I really want to do two more days of this? We just got started, do I really want to go through this hell?” Having Cadre Mocha Mike taking away your tan patch and giving you a yellow and telling you that you are unprepared for what’s about to happen next really helps to drive that point home. During moments like these, when everything in my head was screaming for this to end, I told myself “just keep trying, try your hardest, just keep going”. You would be surprised how quickly that feeling of “quit” goes away once you get back into the fray. Nothing like PT to take your mind off of quitting, at least until the next time it crops up because you fail to do an exercise. Just keep fighting and do everything in your power not to be last. Concentrate on each exercise as it comes. During the welcome party, your mission is to survive. Whatever the next evolution becomes after that, your number one priority is to survive that evolution no matter what.
Stay in the moment and never think about what’s ahead. You can’t control what’s happening for the rest of Selection, you can only control how you perform in what you’re currently doing and how you choose to react when a Cadre yells in your face. Set micro goals and celebrate your micro victories. Selection as a whole is incredibly daunting, but if you just concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other, it is completely doable.
It pays to be a winner in a lot of ways. If you finish an exercise the quickest, you’ll be rewarded with a brief period of respite as you wait for the others to finish. More importantly however, would be reverse of the concept; it does not pay to be a loser. The Cadre prey upon those in the back, those that are underperforming. It is much more difficult to survive with the continual pressure of the Cadre to get you to quit, and as long as you’re not in back, you won’t have to worry about this pressure. Also, after any exercise you finish you will find yourself with no rest and having to start the next immediately. While being in the back is a difficult position to fight from, it’s not impossible to recover from there and move further ahead and no longer be last. Even if you are consistently in the back and can’t make your way forward, it’s your job to harden your heart against the pressure of the Cadre to try and get you to quit. No matter what they tell you, no matter how much special attention you receive, just keep going. Only you have the power to quit. They can’t make you quit unless you’re seriously underperforming, but that’s for them to judge, not you. Even if you think you’re not meeting the standard keep fighting. Even if your progress can be measured in inches – keep fighting. If the Cadre offer you a way out of an exercise you can’t complete – take it, it’s not a trick. If you’re physically incapable of doing something, keep trying your best at it until they either give you something else to do or tell you to go home, and I’m pretty sure they would do the former well before the latter. There were zero performance drops that I’m aware of in Selection 015.
An example of this was during the log PT. We picked up a massive log at first and none of us could do any of the PT they were requiring us to do with it, it was too much weight. We all tried our best but just couldn’t move it around like they wanted us to. So we went back, put the log down, and picked up a smaller log. The Cadre aren’t asking for the impossible, they’re asking for your best.
Some of the best tools out there to prepare your mind for Selection are the HCL and HCLS events. You need to learn about how your body responds to sleep deprivation and lack of nutrients before you’re in the middle of Selection. The biggest boon from completing one of these events is the gain in confidence in yourself, which you will need. If you can finish an HCL and you feel strong at the end, that you put out and didn’t just ghost in the back the whole time to get through; then you’ll be in a great starting place mentally to consider Selection. Quick tip, try a challenge + light before the HCL, knowing how to deal with that period of time in-between events is very helpful. Don’t get too comfortable in-between events. That really helped me keep my head in the game.
Train up – train for conditions harsher than you’ll actually face during the event. While I’ll cover this in greater detail in the next section, I just wanted to make a quick comment on what this does to you mentally. If you’ve been training with an 80lb sandbag and the Cadre hands you a 40 pounder, you can’t help but smile on the inside and go “I can do this!”
Get used to training solo, you should be extremely comfortable in your own head, with nothing but your thoughts and your ruck to keep you company. Don’t do all your training alone, but for the majority of your long rucks and heavy rucks while training specifically for Selection, go solo.
When you lift or do some sort of bootcamp class, learn to “suffer in silence”. Get used to making no sounds when exerting extreme effort and control your face. Stop making grimaces and straining looks, all that is just to make you think you’re working harder than you actually are anyway. The Cadre will have their game face on, you need to work on yours. The Cadre will spot any weakness and pounce on it like a group of sharks and the biggest indicators of weakness aside from failing to do an exercise is what’s coming out of your mouth and being shown on your face.
When you’re in the middle of the storm, buffeted on all sides by discouraging remarks, take a moment to find the humor in the situation if at all possible. For example, during moments when they are having you do a duck walk and instruct you to quack, give the best darn quack you can! You should feel the quack welling deep within your soul, channel your inner duck! At the endex, when Cadre Bert would yell “QUIT!” in reply to every time I said “QUACK!” I was rolling on the floor laughing on the inside. Appreciate the humor in moments like that to help you get through. But whatever you do, don’t show it! A shark attack is a bad time to have a grin on your face.
Another tool that was extremely helpful for me was watching shows about the USA’s military Selection process for our special forces. One of the shows I watched was called “Surviving the Cut” and it really put me in the right perspective. One of the episodes that stood out the most to me was the one about the Selection process for Marine Force Recon. During their final day, they had to endure an entire night of being gassed without masks and then have to travel 3 miles with full gear weighing more than what we are required to carry through GORUCK Selection while they carried other things, including 200 pound dummies that some of them were fireman carrying. During their march back, they were gassed even more. Hurting and delirious, these brave souls pushed through the smoke and the pain and became Recon Marines. Seeing that so many candidates were able to accomplish this showed me just what’s possible, and it inspired me greatly.
One of the best things that has gotten me into great functional shape has been GRT Thomas Wetzstein’s Xtreme Bootcamp class at the South Reno Athletic Club (seriously, if you live in Reno, you need to be there!). The PT done in that class is all very similar to things that you’ll find at any GORUCK event, including sandbag PT! There are several GRTs in that class and it makes organizing weekend rucks and encouraging each other easy and fun! Now if you don’t live in Reno, then I highly recommend finding any type of bootcamp class to join, including cross-fit – anything that will keep your muscles guessing.
As far as strength training goes, I did a 3-day rotating schedule and did the workouts 2-3 days a week (I skipped the leg/bag day a lot because of all the rucking). So the start of each week may be a different day. Day A is Chest/Bicep/Abs, Day B is Shoulder/Tricep/Traps/Obliques, Day C is Legs/Back. I did a rep scheme as follows 20/15/12/10/8/6/5/3, so once I’ve finished starting out with 20 reps, the next set is 15 reps, and so on. The idea here is to really build your muscle endurance, while also working on strength.
I got extremely lucky in terms of timing between the Boulder HCL and Selection 015. I had exactly 8 weeks to train. Giving myself a week off after the HCL and a week off before Selection gave me 6 weeks to work a hard rucking schedule. I saw Cadre Bert’s Selection training post and used that as a rough guideline for how to shape my workouts (just search for “Berts Selection training” and you’ll find it).
It worked like this:
- Bootcamp at noon with ruck on
- 5 mile run after work, alternating between a flat and hilly terrain, shooting for sub 8 minutes every mile
- Bootcamp at 7pm with ruck on
Tuesday: Heavy Day
- Strength Training at noon
- 6 mile ruck with extra weight after work
Thursday: Long Day
- Strength Training at noon
- 12 mile ruck after work
Saturday: Optional Ruck
- Ruck with friends and have them make you do weird stuff
Sunday: Rest day
This schedule was a little ambitious for me, as such there were many weeks where I would skip a few of the runs and some of the evening bootcamps, but I always put priority on the Tuesday/Thursday rucks. Also, if I showed up to bootcamp at all, it was always with my ruck on my back. The rucks were done on trails. For my long ruck, I would do the Mt. Rose summit, and the heavy ruck was done on a shorter trail that still had some good uphill. There were a few weeks where we had really bad smoke due to fires that were happening in California, so on those days I would walk on the indoor track at the gym with my ruck and sandbag.
Starting with a 35lb plate in my bag, I used bricks and sandbags to help increase the weight in my ruck from week to week. I roughly added 5 pounds a week to my ruck over the 6 weeks to increase the weight in my ruck starting from 45 pounds and ending at 70 pounds on the final week. During the heavy day, I would add sand to my 80lb sandbag each week until it was at the full weight of 80lbs. The additional weight carried on the heavy day each week looked something like this: 15lbs, 25lbs, 40lbs, 60lbs, 80lbs, 80lbs (last two weeks at full weight).
Keep in mind that I had already been training really hard to prepare for the Boulder HCL, I was doing a routine very similar to my Selection training, just not quite as intense. There was usually at least one ruck per week, but I wasn’t going out and rucking by myself.
When I started the first week of training, I was really excited and highly motivated. By the last two weeks, I was so sick of training. It felt like all I did was train, train, train. It felt wonderful to take it easy the week before Selection, but to be honest, I felt guilty for being so “lazy” that week. Looking back, I’m really glad I did take it easy that week. I didn’t stop altogether, I just didn’t do the bootcamp classes and instead did one strength training session Monday through Friday with de-loaded weight, meaning that I used much less weight than I normally would. I also did some PT tests to gauge myself: the pushups, sit-ups, and the 5 mile run.
On nutrition, I’ve heard about GRTs that have had success going into ketosis as a part of their Selection training. This is basically where you nearly eliminate all carbohydrates from your diet, which forces your body to use fat as an energy source more efficiently. While I get the idea, I didn’t want to experiment with ketosis so close to the event. Instead I did what I’ve been doing since I started training for GORUCK events back at the turn of the year of 2014 – fasted training. All this means is that I don’t eat until after the first workout of the day, which is usually at lunchtime. I’ve more or less been doing this on accident as I noticed that my productivity at work in the mornings would increase if I didn’t have breakfast. After doing a little bit of research into working out on an empty stomach, I found out that apparently it’s a thing and it’s good for yah! It’s been working for me, so I don’t plan on starting to eat breakfast again anytime soon.
- Talk about how the weight gain affected you
- Talk a little more about what you ate
- Talk about whether its recommended to gain/lose weight for Selection
As far as what I ate I’d have a protein shake and BCAA’s before a workout, and then I’d eat pretty much whatever I wanted after. The idea was to eat as much as my body wanted in order to recover properly from all the training. I wound up gaining 10 pounds over the 8 week period between HCL and Selection. I then lost those 10 pounds while completing the event.
Your strategy for training is to identify your weaknesses and turn them into strengths. Your priorities of work need to be ensuring your PT test numbers are up to par, and then to identify your welcome party type exercises that you’re weak at and work on it (for a lot of people this is the overhead press). If your run times aren’t up to snuff then go run in non-ideal conditions.
As I mentioned earlier: train up. This means to train for conditions harsher than what you actually might face in the event. For example, do your running on hills and your rucking in the mountains, but do everything in your power to still meet the time standards. If you can’t actually hit a sub 8-minute run time on nasty hills, don’t worry, it’s not important as the benefits you’ll gain from the struggle to get there. Just be sure to also run on flat ground from time to time so you can see your progress and to verify that you can go sub 8 minute miles (but all your rucks should be in the mountains if possible, a 3:30 time for 12 miles should still be doable up a mountain). Also, I highly recommend using your own ruck with added weight (to simulate water/sand in it) for exercises such as overhead press. Get used to manipulating and moving your ruck around, this will be your weight for a lot of events, you need to master the techniques of getting it overhead, getting it on your front, dragging it, etc. Be sure to keep adding weight to your ruck as you go, after all, it’s going to get much heavier during the event as it starts to get soggy and sandy.
For the push-ups and sit-ups, make sure you have someone else helping you that will be harshly grading you to the standard. Search for “GORUCK Selection PT Test: The Push-Up” for Mark Webb’s definitive push-up guide. Also, make sure to leave your cool and comfy gym and do your pushups somewhere uncomfortable with a slight decline and make sure you can still beat the standard by a safe margin. Same with the run – do your runs outside in the heat and not on a treadmill.
So much emphasis these days is placed on mind and body; however I personally believe that there is a spiritual component involved that is so often overlooked. I am a Christian, and as such I view the world through this lens. While the principles that I am about to lay out are derived from what I believe is the ultimate source of truth, the Bible, the general ideas should apply to anyone regardless of their belief system.
I want to talk about the principal of faith. According to the Bible in Hebrews 11:1, “…faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Faith is the ability to see something that is not yet, as though it already were. Faith in God is putting your trust in God’s word, counting it as already done. Faith can work both ways, either positive or negative. Negative faith I call fear. Have you ever heard the Cadre talk about “the demons inside your head” and how they try to get you to quit? I submit to you that this commonly used phrase is very accurate. You choose what to put your faith in, either the belief that you can make it through to the end, or the lies and fears that you can’t make it.
So how does one obtain faith? Romans 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Faith, positive or negative, is obtained through hearing something over and over again. The job of the Cadre during Selection is to help amplify the fear and lies swimming in your head. It’s your job to push back and to not let those things into your heart. But in the heat of the moment, it can be very difficult to do that and it may be too late to start trying to convince yourself that you can do it, when everything else around you and inside you is telling you that you can’t. That’s why you need to build up your faith and your spirit well before the event begins.
Faith is also a potent and powerful force, able to affect the world around you as well as your own body. How is this force accessed and activated? From multiple examples in the Bible, this is done by believing something in your heart and then saying it with your mouth. Romans 10:9-10, “Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” Jesus himself said in Mark 11:23-24, “Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe you have received it, and it will be yours.” From these verses we can see that there is great power in believing something and then speaking it out. The entire universe was framed in this manner. If you flip to the very front of the book then you’ll see that everything God created he spoke into existence, “And God said, ‘Let there be light, and there was light” (Genesis 1:3).
Even if you don’t believe in God, the principal still stands. Find what phrases motivate you and say them every day for months before you begin the event. Get them built up in your heart to the point where you believe them with every fiber of your being. Don’t wait until the middle of Selection to try and use that as motivation. When the sand is flying and the Cadre are yelling in your ear, those motivational phrases go straight out the window.
However, I believe that there is no stronger ground to stand on than to place your trust and faith in God’s very own word. I am convinced that if you believe his words in your heart, and confess them with your mouth that God will be faithful to watch over his word and perform it in your life. After all, Jesus is called “the apostle and high priest of our confession” in Hebrews 3:1. So for months, before I had even decided to do Selection, I had been speaking this word over myself every morning when I would wake up:
For who is God besides the Lord?
And who is the Rock except our God?
It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure.
He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he causes me to stand on the heights.
He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
You give me your shield of victory, and your right hand sustains me;
Your help has made me great.
You provide a broad path for my feet, so that my ankles do not give way.
Doing this every day builds up one’s faith and builds up one’s spirit. And according to Proverbs 18:14, “the strong spirit of a man sustains him in body pain or trouble…” When I had officially decided to do Selection, I added a new psalm to what I say in the morning. The following isn’t all one block of scripture, but bits and pieces taken from my favorite verses put together:
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
I am strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.
My heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
My heart is secure, I have no fear.
In the end, I will stand in triumph,
for if my God is with me, then what can stand against?
I want to briefly touch on a different subject. If you’re the praying type, I highly recommend that you pray about going to Selection before you spend the money on the event or plane tickets. Don’t show up unless you know in your heart that you’re supposed to go.
I’ll end this section with a story. For those of you that saw videos or pictures of the endex, I was handed a golden cross necklace made out of yarn and gilded cardboard. This did not belong to me prior to the event. During the final shark attack that took place on the beach, there were many bystanders watching. Apparently someone in the crowd handed this cross to one of the Cadre and told him to give it to me when I was done. I’ve never been one to wear jewelry, but for this I’ve made an exception. This necklace represents something very profound. To whoever gave me this icon of simple construction – thank you.
During the event, do everything you can to go unnoticed – be the gray man. You need to have excellent situational awareness and attention to detail. Read and re-read the requirements and make sure you aren’t missing anything or adding things to your uniform that you’re not supposed to. If you don’t look exactly like everyone else, you’re doing something wrong. If you see you’re the only one with a hat on, shove it inside your ruck.
To expound on the above point, when doing the events, aim for the middle. Be average, go unseen. Be that guy that no one knows is there. During the first day, the back is not where you want to be if you can help it; you will get singled out, sharked and destroyed.
Control your facial expressions. Show no emotion and put on your best poker face, Selection is no time to smile – you can do that afterward. The Cadre will read your every expression and use it against you. They will learn what exercises you loathe and fear and even which exercises you enjoy doing, and that’s information you don’t want them to have. Similarly, don’t make any noises; cry on the inside like a winner. Don’t grunt, don’t swear, don’t speak unless you are spoken to.
Watch your behavior during the events. Have zero attitude toward the Cadre and use as few words as possible. “Yes Cadre” and “no Cadre” should cover 90% of your responses. Keep your eyes open and stay on high alert during the first day. The Cadre will immediately assume you’re trying to sleep if you sit there with your eyes closed and you will receive special attention. If your shoulders ache after the ruck march, do not massage them. Show no pain unless it’s actually serious and requires medical attention. Don’t ever hide a real injury.
Make sure you can have everything in your ruck taken out, all dry bags drained, and all extra straps removed from your ruck and on the ground in total disarray and, starting from there, back in your ruck and ready to go in under 2 minutes. If you can’t do this then you brought too much stuff. Keep removing the most non-essential items until you have just enough gear to meet this time standard within the weight requirement. If you have to bring a brick with you, it’s better than useless gear.
I learned a lot about gear during this event, and that I had made some poor choices. I’ll give a list of absolute essential gear, useful gear, and gear that I brought but didn’t wind up actually using.
Core Essential Gear:
- GORUCK GR0 – This is the ruck I started with and I’ve always had issues zipping this thing up because the space inside is so small. After investing in the low profile source bladder and switching from bricks to a steel plate, the space issues were largely mitigated. The only space issues that remained were due to packing silly non-essential items and having my nice packing job dumped all over the ground with only 2 minutes to put it back.
- 35lb Steel Plate – I got mine from www.shplates.com, and the best part about getting a plate from them is they can engrave anything you want on it! After putting my ruck on for the first time with a plate instead of bricks, it felt like it weighed much less, even though I was carrying the same total poundage.
- Low-Profile 3L Source Bladder and Backup Bladder – I’ve never had a source bladder burst and I absolutely love the new low-profile version as it fits much better in my GR0. I would have been screwed if I didn’t have the replacement though, as the airline baggage folks completely destroyed the nozzle at the end of my primary water line, but it’s really my fault for leaving a sensitive piece exposed like that during transit. Quick tip on that nozzle piece, the end of it is detachable and if you take the end off you can feed it through the molle webbing (I use the third one down) on the ruck straps to secure it in place so it’s not just flopping all over the place. It should be at perfect mouth level there.
- Headlamp – I bought a cheap headlamp that wasn’t waterproof, this really hurt on the 8 mile run and put me in a bad place psychologically. Please invest in a good headlamp that is waterproof, this is a core essential item.
- Nalgene Bottle – Don’t make the same mistake I did in thinking that this is an optional item. Any other GORUCK event I’d say this is optional, but I really needed this during the 8 mile run and I didn’t have it. Instead I had to carry my full bladder on my back while doing the run. You don’t need a giant 32 ouncer, just enough to sustain you for a good run.
- Paracord and something to cut it with – Paracord saved my life during this event but I’ll get to that story later. I did however bring far too much of it.
- Blister Kit – Very simple, a pin and some alcohol wipes.
- Body Glide – Or Vaseline, or bag balm, or anything to prevent the chafing. Use liberally.
- Extra Batteries – Your headlamp won’t help if you’re out of power. My extra batteries exploded, so make sure you take extra precautions to protect them from salt water
- Wind Breaker/Extra Clothes/Emergency Blanket – Weather conditions can change rapidly, and it’s best not to take chances when dealing with a 48 hour period, just don’t go overboard. Emergency blankets barely take up any space and weigh almost nothing.
- PT Belt – Required gear, make sure that it can remain secured to your ruck in the worst of conditions, mine kept falling off and brought special attention.
- Waist Belt – Type in “molle waist belt” on Amazon and you’ll find the specific belt I used. I really like the waist belt as it keeps the ruck from rubbing your back raw… unless you’ve got sand in your britches, then it’s going to happen anyway, this at least slows down the process.
- Sternum Straps – These I added myself, placing them on the 4th molle webbing piece down on the ruck straps. You can build them yourself from the individual components or get them premade. If you build them yourself, be sure that the clips on the end can’t easily fall off. Mine are now somewhere out in the Atlantic.
- Dry Bags – For gear that needs to stay dry
- Pelican Case – For gear that needs to stay dry and not get squished, my pelican case could have been much smaller. I’d only put my headlamp, extra batteries and blister kit in there.
- HikeGoo – I chose to use this product on my feet at the start of the event and reapplying once at the halfway mark because I was expecting my feet to be wet for the duration of the event, which turned out to be the case. It greatly reduces friction on your feet and is waterproof, which turned out to be the ideal solution for a beach based event. The only drawback is that it makes applying moleskin problematic.
- Sunscreen – For those of fair complexion
- Hat – Keep the sun out of your eyes in style
- Bricks – If you still need to make weight but don’t need more gear, use some dense bricks.
- Gold bond powder – I got the chance to dry my feet for a decent duration only once. That being said, I brought way too much powder, and it got wet anyway. I’m on the fence as to whether or not this item was really necessary.
Not So Useful Gear:
- Moleskin and Medical Scissors – While this gear can be very useful and is great for treating blisters, in the environment I was in, and given I was using the HikeGoo, it was stupid. I couldn’t use it. The scissors actually saved my life, but were very slow to cut the paracord, a small serrated knife would have been a much quicker, cleaner, and smaller option.
- Anything that comes in a large bottle or tube – Only bring as much of something as you’re actually going to use. Get a smaller version of the same product, or get small empty bottles and transfer the contents.
- Toothbrush – I don’t know why I brought one.
- Extra socks – Buy a good new pair of socks specifically for the event, your socks won’t die during the event so you don’t need extra, and wringing out a pair of socks is as good as a new pair. Besides, you’ll be back in the water in minutes anyway.
- Chapstick – This was only useless because of the humid environment I went into. In dryer settings, chapstick is amazing!
- Duct Tape – I never once used it. But it doesn’t take up much space if you take it off the roll.
After the administrative portion of Selection is over, you are allowed to change into different clothes, although you still need your tan shirt on the outside. I put on a short sleeve compression shirt, compression pants and pants over those. I highly recommend wearing compression gear in sandy environments as it will help keep the sand off your skin a little bit longer. No matter what though, sand will eventually get in and you’re going to get chaffed badly, but the compression gear helps to slow down that process. At the end of the long walk I elected to take off my compression shirt and I immediately regretted that decision as the chafing effect on my back felt much worse without it.
I wore Asics Gel Contend 2 running shoes for the entirety of Selection and one pair of Drymax Maximum Protection Trail Running socks. I did not pick these shoes out specifically for Selection, they just happen to be the shoes that I always wear for training and for life in general. I have a cross country running background and have been wearing Asics my entire life so I’ve just stuck with that brand because I’ve never had problems with them. There are two reasons I didn’t wear boots. First, I’ve never trained in boots, and I didn’t want to change what I train in just for the sake of change. I’ve gotten through all my events in my running shoes. Secondly, there was no way I could fit boots inside a GR0 along with everything else I need. If boots work for you and you know how and when to use them then by all means wear them!
It was recommended to me that your pack weigh 48 pounds dry. I think this is a great idea as it ensures that you’ll be making weight. Be sure to weigh your pack on multiple scales as more often than not different scales will read differently.
There’s nothing stopping the Cadre from telling you that your pack isn’t heavy enough and asking you to add weight, but if you know that your pack is already over, then all you’ll have to do is add a pebble to your pack and you can be confident that you’ll make weight.
Shannon Ono, the only other Nevadan to attempt Selection 015 that I knew of, and I met up in Jacksonville the evening of the day before Selection was to begin. We went to a Papa John’s to get an epic nearly-everything-on-it pizza and also got the most amazing invention I’ve ever heard of: a pizza cookie. It’s like a pizza, but it’s a cookie! We washed this down with copious amounts of Pedialyte, which we continued to drink right up to the start of the event. We had breakfast at the Atlantic Diner and I ordered a huge breakfast of ham, bacon, pancakes, eggs, and home fries. With hours to spare, we waited at the start point for the event to begin.
The event “officially” began at 1pm on October 9th, 2014. However, walking in 30 minutes early, you would have thought it had already started. There was deafening silence and a tense feeling in the air. We were instructed to fall in and face the jungle and place our rucks at our feet. I fell in to the ranks and files that were being formed as candidates were arriving, and then the waiting began. I stared straight forward, put on my best poker face, and blended with the crowd. I was fairly far forward in the formation so I didn’t get to see all of the drama unfolding behind me. All I knew was that the Cadre were already circling like sharks and picking out the weak, commenting on gypsy camps or uniforms that were out of order.
Each name was called out and we were assigned our number. I remember listening intently at each number that was being called out and the name that corresponded to it. You did not want to forget your number. My name was called out and I raised my hand and shouted in an unusually deep tone for myself, “HERE!” “Your number is zero two five” Cadre Bert called out in response. A Cadre came up and placed a tan patch on my back and wrote on it “025”. The Cadre circled around in front of me and instructed me to release my sternum strap. “025” was printed on my chest in large strokes with a sharpie. The Cadre then repeated the process on either of my shoulders. From that moment, I ceased to be Jonathan Eytchison and became Zero Two Five. Cadre Bert continued to call out names and numbers and I listened intently to the names that I recognized. “Jason Bliss” was called out; we met during Big Daddy’s Reno Challenge/Light. “Adam King” was called out; we had met during the Boulder HCL. “Shannon Ono” was called out and he transformed into Zero Five Nine. I committed the number to memory and after some time, the roll call ended. We were then instructed to completely remove everything from our rucks and have all of our gear laid out for inspection. After the inspection came the weigh-in. My ruck was weighed and then I fell back into the formation.
We then marched out from the starting area to the beach. We lined up in our rows of 10 and placed our rucks on the ground. We were then instructed to gather up and the standards for the push-up and sit-up tests were read to us. 55 perfect push-ups and 65 perfect sit-ups had to be achieved in order to pass and move on to the 5 mile run. We then moved out onto the beach a fair distance from the Cadre back into our formation and faced out toward the ocean, away from those being tested. Those at the end of the line closest to the Cadre went up for testing. Once finished, the candidates were instructed to move to the front of the line. The testing took much, much longer than I had originally anticipated. We simply stood in the sun in total silence waiting for our turn to be tested.
Finally it was my turn. I approached the Cadre and got into the front leaning rest position. The rest of the Cadre signaled that their candidates were ready. The signal to get set was given followed by a pregnant pause. This was the moment so many of us were waiting for, the first time we would truly perform in Selection, and we had already waited for what felt like so long since we arrived. “GO!” The push-ups started coming, and the only feedback I got was “lower 025… lower”. I was sure that I was going low enough, but I tried to go even lower to be safe. I performed several push-ups in total silence. “I didn’t count those last three; you’re not going low enough.” I fixed my form again, concentrating on breaking parallel with my elbows. “Noooow you’re going low enough.” At these words I became greatly disturbed. Had the Cadre not been counting my pushups until now? I pushed the thought aside and continued to give everything I had. “TIME!” The pushup test was over and I was instructed to get back in line.
I spent the next half hour in silence, wondering if I had made it or not. The first few minutes I was downtrodden, I wasn’t sure if I could do another pushup test and get the numbers that I needed and go as low as I was supposed to. I quickly recovered however with the thought, “if I have to do it again, I’ll do it right this time and do my best!”
As I stood there, I noticed the girl standing in front of me had the word “Faith” tattooed on the back of her neck. Seeing that was incredibly encouraging, I don’t know if that word means to her what it does to me. It was by faith that I would make it through to the end, I believed that God would sustain me. I didn’t know who it was, and I’m still not sure. But in that moment, I silently prayed that she would succeed. I wanted to pat her on the shoulder and whisper, “you’ll make it”. Instead, I stood there, expressionless, staring off into the endless horizon.
My thoughts were broken by the call of the Cadre to come hold a candidate’s feet for sit-up testing. I ran to the where the candidate in my row was being tested, kneeled down and held his feet. The test began and I counted in silence. The Cadre called out a number at the final 30 second mark; it was not looking good for the candidate whose feet I was holding. “Are you kidding me!?” the candidate blurted out. “TIME!” the sit-up test was over. The candidate verbally expressed his disappointment. I couldn’t help but feel badly for him as I knew he did not meet the requisite number of sit-ups to pass. He fell back into the formation and a new candidate ran up to hold my feet for the test (whom I got to shake hands with at the end!), I knocked the sit-ups out without an issue and then ran back into line.
After everyone had been tested, we were instructed to turn around. The Cadre called out names and those whose names were called began to form a new rank and file in front of the Cadre. I didn’t know what it meant for someone’s name to be called, only that it was either they had passed or failed. After the names had been called out, we were instructed to turn back around, facing the ocean once again. After a few minutes, it became clear from the sounds behind us that those called were being retested. I was still a little uneasy, as I didn’t know if they were just calling out those that failed sit-ups first to mess with us. We continued to wait, with nothing but the wind and the waves to console us.
Finally a Cadre told us to prepare for the 5 mile run. I breathed a sigh of relief as I realized that I had indeed passed the push-ups and that we were moving on to the next phase of the PT test. We lined up and on the command of ‘go’, we took off. I have a background in cross country running and consider myself to be a decent runner. My expectation was that I would be at the front of the pack, but this was not the case at all. Immediately a group shot ahead of the rest of us and I tried somewhat to close the gap, but the gap instead continued to grow wider. Rather than worry about the front of the pack, I simply made up my mind that I would not allow myself to be passed from that point on. I used this strategy to gain ground, as anyone that would attempt to pass me, I would immediately mimic their pace and stride to keep alongside them until either they slowed down, or a new contender came up from behind.
We ran until we met a Cadre, the halfway mark, and turned back around. The sun was just starting to set, and as has been my experience during this period of time, the wind was blowing. It wasn’t too strong of a wind, but it was making a difference in our ability to perform. To compensate, I used another technique during this period: drafting. I would race up to whoever was the strongest runner that I was close to and get right behind them and let their bodies break the wind. I felt like such a huge jerk, but this technique was making a remarkable difference and allowing me to conserve energy and continue to move forward and pass people. To my surprise, no one else was doing this, even after seeing me. Either they considered it a shameful trick, or they were completely oblivious to what I was doing.
Eventually, we made it back to the start point. I was told my time but it didn’t register, all my brain processed was “you made your time-hack”. We were then told to prepare for the 12 mile ruck march and were given a few minutes to drink water and change into boots if we so chose. With rucks on, everyone that had finished the run in time lined up once again along the same starting line and headed out. The ruck was remarkably similar to the run. The group in front took off and established a solid lead. I used the same strategy as the run to keep my pace up and make sure I wasn’t falling behind. The sun set, and we were now in shrouded in darkness, the way I prefer to ruck. A beautiful moon came up and began to make its way across the sky, giving us more than enough light to see the way.
When the ruck march ended, we were allowed to refill our water and then sit and do whatever we wanted while the others were finishing. So I sat down and reorganized my ruck, putting lose gear back into dry bags and placing things in an orderly fashion as well as putting on my compression gear and pants. When I finished, I sat quietly at attention, alert and simply staring straight ahead. At this point, I had not really processed just how many people had dropped.
The welcome party began, and all hell broke loose. Chaos, confusion, doubt, fear, dread. There was nothing positive, no glimmer of hope. We all realized that we were just beginning the most difficult endurance event in the world, and we felt it. We felt it in our aching shoulders, our burning quads. Every muscle was worked more intensely than I have ever experienced before. The price of failing to perform was so bitterly high that unless you gave 110%, you would be consumed by the insatiable appetite of the sharks circling around us. The Cadre exploited any weakness shown, drawn to it like predators drawn to their prey.
There was one point during the tumult where I distinctly recall Cadre Mocha Mike staring unblinkingly at me, asking me if I quit. Everything in my head was screaming at me “JUST QUIT! END THIS NOW!” and I froze. For what felt like an eternity I stared back at the Cadre, motionless, indecisive. Finally a voice inside my head said “No. Don’t quit, press on! Keep trying your hardest! Don’t give up until your body is broken!” The words that came out were a simple “No Cadre” and I got back into the fray.
Eventually, the carnage ended and there were only a handful of us left. The event just began and we had already lost so many. I looked around; there was only one person left that I recognized. Shannon Ono, 059, was still there. I took solace in this, hoping that we would make it all the way to the end together.
We were then each given a cheap white plastic sandbag and instructed to fill it. I don’t know exactly how much it weighed, but it felt like about 60lbs when it was on my shoulders. We were then instructed to march along the beach until we met a Cadre that would give us further instructions. We were then shown a device that resembled a rifle scope. We were told that these were night vision scopes and that Cadre would be watching our every move.
We then took off and at some point early on in the march; I grew fatigued and needed to put the sandbag down for a moment to recover. Ignorant of the consequences, I let the sandbag slide off my shoulders and hit the ground like I always do with my training sandbags. As the bag struck the ground, the top of the sandbag exploded open, sand pouring out everywhere.
Cursing the foolish decision I had just made, I reached down to assess the damage. The bag had split open just underneath the knot that I tied. I hadn’t left very much of the cording that the bag came with to tie the top off and was unable to tie the ends of it to again to an undamaged portion of the bag. Fortunately, I had brought paracord with me and used this to retie and repair the bag. I also looped the extra cording around the bag and created a handle on which I could pull to keep the bag firmly on my shoulders.
The drawback was that this process took up enough time that I wound up being last. Two Cadre strolled up, informing me that I was in last place and that I should just give up. To that I replied that I simply had to re-pass those that had overtaken me and I would no longer be last. I slung the sandbag on my shoulders and pressed on.
I managed to pass several people, but was continually plagued with problems as the top of the bag continued to rip further. Periodically I was forced to ground the bag, pack in any sand that I had lost and retie the knot. Every time this happened, I would find myself back in last place and the Cadre would repeat their speech. However, I had been counting the number of people that I had passed and the number of people that were re-passed me as I made my repairs. The numbers weren’t adding up. The Cadre were either lying to me or… Then it dawned on me, the people that I was passing that had their rucks and sandbags on the ground weren’t resting, some of them were quitting.
Cadre Led Ruckmarch:
The sandbag carry came to an end and we were then given the simple instructions to keep up with Cadre Machine. I might not be spelling it right, but that’s how I heard the name, and a machine is exactly what it felt like we were following. We split into two columns, one person to his left and one to his right and we began.
It was a very uncomfortable pace, but I knew that if I couldn’t keep it, I would be out of this thing. My placement in the group was perfect; I was to the immediate left rear of the Cadre. The position of the moon relative to the Cadre and myself was ideal to employ a few pacing techniques. I fixed my gaze on the Cadre’s shadow and used that to make sure that my footfalls always landed the same distance away from the Cadre, ensuring that I was neither gaining nor losing distance. I also mimicked his leg and hand movements, which made keeping his pace much easier, although I had to lengthen my stride significantly in order for this to work.
I picked up these little tricks from all the years of cross country running that I had done. If you focus on things like trying to stay perfectly syncopated with your running partner, it takes your mind off of your discomfort. Also a quick note on pacing: I find it extremely difficult to keep a consistent pace when I’m behind someone else that is “yo-yoing” (going at an inconsistent pace). If you find yourself in such a position, I would highly recommend simply going around that person and getting in front of them. This idea of going around people that were slowing down was also reinforced by the Cadre.
It was so perfectly rhythmic that the scene became peaceful. There was complete silence except for our footfalls. The person to my immediate right was yo-yoing, although it was done in a predictable pattern. There would be normal paces followed by “scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape” as he would quickly shuffle to regain the lost ground. I recall being very close in position to this same person during the PT test ruck march and that he had employed a similar method of alternating between walking and running quickly.
Eventually the scraping steps ceased and the position to my right became empty. Another candidate filled the void, using an even and smooth pace. It was much quieter now, and I reveled in the peace of the movement.
After some time had passed, Cadre Machine made a few backward glances then asked “Zero Two Five, how many people can you see behind me?” I looked back and was shocked. Besides the candidate to my right, there was only one other candidate behind us, just a few yards back. The Cadre stopped and turned around. We started marching back the way we came and picked up two more candidates that were some distance back. “That’s enough, back this way” we wheeled back toward our original direction and marched on.
We quickly came across a boardwalk that lead out to a road. We continued down this road until it eventually turned into a nature trail. At the entrance to this trail, we stopped and at last were allowed to sit down.
A Nice Morning Run Through The Woods:
It was still dark out when we were told to refill our water and prepare for a timed run without our rucks. We had enough time to take care of water as well as change our shoes if need be. The distance was unknown and our time allotment was unknown. Looking around us, I saw that there were only five of us left. I had known the number for a little while now, but the gravity of it just sunk in. Only five of us were left and, in my mind at least, the event had only just begun. My friend Shannon Ono, 059, was not amongst the five. I contemplated this in silence as we prepared for the next event.
I was shaken from my pondering when Cadre Bert began giving a speech about snakes, alligators, poor footing, and that we should get out our headlamps. Mine was broken. He then explained that this run was going to be the longest distance we would have faced yet in Selection and that we should get out our nalgenes. I didn’t bring one.
I then explained my plight to the Cadre. Their initial response was to ridicule me for not investing in a good headlamp or even thinking to bring a backup. Unless I could quickly find a way to channel their disdain into light energy, I would still need some way to see where I was going. They eventually capitulated and gave me a light source: a chem light. As for my lack of a nalgene, there was no concession. I took out my three liter bladder and slung it on my back, balancing it as best I could.
The run began. I immediately put a high priority on staying next to someone with a headlamp so that I could see the way. The footing was quite treacherous; high tree roots ran in odd directions along the path. However, I was outpaced by the front runners and quickly found myself running in the dark.
I’ve always been comfortable in the dark, either walking or running and have spent many hours doing night runs. There’s just something soothing that I find about the limited vision, a sense of comfort that I receive. When night falls, all sense of time goes out the window for me and I simply am. I consider myself to have excellent night vision as well, and the moon is usually more than enough for me to see exactly where I’m going. But under the heavy tree canopy, there was no help from the moon, and the footing was extremely treacherous.
The green glow-stick I was given was next to useless for picking out the objects that I needed to avoid. My foot snagged on a root and I hit the ground hard. Immediately, one of my calves locked up and became like a rock. The sudden contraction was painful; I rolled onto my back and gripped the calf, yelling at the sudden unexpected pain. For a flash, just long enough for my mind to process the thought that having a locked up calf was bad, the calf released again and was back to normal. With a potential disaster averted, I spun back to my feet, collected my chem light and bladder, and ran on.
My pace was slowed considerably after the fall. Due to all my disadvantages, I was at an all time low psychologically. I continued to hit roots and nearly fall again, involuntarily yelping each time I’d hit something. “Pick up your feet Zero Two Five” the Cadre staying close behind me cautioned. I concentrated on keeping my knees high and this seemed to help. The Cadre began to walk next to me. “You realize that you’re running as fast as I’m walking right? You are not meeting the standard. You’re going way too slow, if you don’t finish this run fast enough, you will be performance dropped.” I responded with a “yes Cadre” and tried to pick up the pace. My mind was giving the command to go faster, but my body wasn’t responding. I knew this was a motivation issue, but I wasn’t sure how to correct it. I thought that perhaps giving 100% in the previous event had taken its toll on me.
My performance must have worried the Cadre, I was stopped a couple of times and administered a test. I was asked my name, the date, where I was, and told to follow the Cadre’s finger as he traced a box around my head. I wasn’t mentally out of the game, just a little slow on my feet at the moment.
As I ran, I noticed that I was starting to be able to see much better. The sun was rising. Every time the sun comes up in a GORUCK event, I’m always surprised at how quickly night had passed. I had no idea we were this far into the event already. With the rising of the sun and being able to see where I was going, this should have fixed the psychological damage I had sustained earlier. However, this was not immediately the case. I urged myself to move faster, but my pace continued to be slow yet steady.
We reached a checkpoint, and my escort changed to Cadre Danny. The new Cadre continued to let me know that I was going way too slow, not meeting the standard, and in dire danger of a performance drop if I didn’t finish in time. I was informed that I was at least a quarter mile behind the rest of the group.
“Zero Two Five, if you don’t meet the time for this run you will be performance dropped. What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to have to see if I can start going faster, Cadre.”
“You’re never going to make it talking like that.”
What I had said back to the Cadre suddenly caught my attention. I had used the word “if”. I was surprised at both the perceptiveness of the Cadre and my own negativity.
“Well said Cadre!” At this, my body finally responded and my pace quickened from a trot to a run. I had finally broken through the motivation barrier. However, my reserves for running at this point were depleted and my run turned back into a trot in short order.
“The fact that you started to run and then stopped tells me that you lack the motivation to be here. This is your last chance Zero Two Five, if you don’t keep up with me, I will performance drop you.” Cadre Danny began to quicken the pace and started to pass me. This was exactly what I needed: something to set an even pace and a goal to shoot for. I matched my stride with the Cadre’s and we were off. He kept going ever so slightly faster, and I kept my pace matched with his. I was having so much fun in that moment. Going from failure to victory gave me a rush of joy. I was doing it! I was going to make it! Yet I acknowledge that this renewed strength was not my own. I ran and was not weary; walked and did not grow faint!
In a short period of time, I was pleasantly surprised to see the backs of the other participants that I thought were long gone. “What are you waiting for Zero Two Five? Are you just going to stare at them?” I kept running, fast enough that I would soon pass the people in front of me, but that wasn’t good enough for the Cadre. “PASS THEM ZERO TWO FIVE!” The strength of the voice of the Cadre seemed to go straight into my legs and I flew. In seconds I was ahead of the two participants that I was trailing. I could then see the backs of the next two. “DON’T SLOW DOWN ZERO TWO FIVE! IF YOU DON’T COME IN FIRST, YOU’RE GOING TO REGRET IT!” Again, I couldn’t have asked for any words more encouraging and I felt another surge of power. It took me far more effort to pass the front two than the previous two, but at last I was in the front of the group, at the threat of the Cadre.
As luck would have it, I didn’t have to maintain the pace for long, just minutes after I reached the front we were back at the start point and the run was over. A group of several Cadre were waiting for us. We were greeted by their frowns and crossed arms. As I passed the gate that signaled the end of the run, the first Cadre that had been escorting me commented, “Is that Zero Two Five? So you went from dead last to first huh?” Turning around to one of the Cadre behind him, he said just loud enough for me to hear, “Boy he’s going to regret that later…”
I was grinning from ear to ear on the inside. Thanks Cadre Danny!
After the run, we were told to stand by at a covered picnic area. Our photos were individually taken, so I put on as serious of a face as I could. I really wanted to smile big, but the person taking the photos was in a grey shirt, black ranger panties, and wore a black hat – the uniform of the Cadre. If they were to find out how much fun I was having at that time… I didn’t even want to consider the consequences, so I wore my poker face instead.
We were then told to line up behind a Cadre in single file and handed buckets. We were shown what lovely handles they had on them, and then told that we were not allowed to use those handles. With no further explanation, we began to march back out to the beach. All five of us were still present; we had taken zero casualties during the run.
Once on the beach, Cadre Jason explained the next evolution of the event. We were to fill our buckets up with ocean water to just an inch or two from the top and carry this water an unknown distance. If we lost any of the water, we were to dump our buckets and then refill them again in the ocean.
Every morning at work, I get a cup of coffee. This coffee is nice and hot and I fill my mug to just about as full as it can get. Once filled, I then shuffle very carefully back to my desk doing everything in my power to avoid spilling. Over the years of practicing this morning ritual, my balance has improved and I have become quite skilled at preventing a spill. The bucket carry demanded similar expertise and finesse. As I filled up my bucket I thought to myself, “I’ve been training years for this moment without even realizing it. I’m definitely coming in first on this event!” I hoisted the bucket up to my chest and began to carefully shuffle.
I took two steps forward and immediately a giant slosh of water and hope shot out of the bucket, hitting the ground with a splat. Dejected, I thought to myself, “This is going to be a loooooong day…”
Halfway Mark – A Break:
Countless hours of carrying a bucket, having my fingertips ripped off, and the overbearing sun beating down on us took its toll. We were down to four; 044 being dropped by heat exhaustion. We walked up the boardwalk that some of the previous night’s welcome party had taken place on and saw a row of 4 cold Gatorades sitting on the banister. We were instructed only to take one, and that we had 10 minutes to go underneath the boardwalk and take care of our priorities of work. Grabbing my Gatorade, I put one leg over the banister and with as much grace as I could muster, proceeded to fall and hit the ground with a thud. Dusting myself off, I went and joined the rest of the candidates in the shade under the walkway. We sat in silence, staring longingly at the Gatorades that we weren’t instructed to drink. Assuming it was some sort of trick; we left the electrolyte drinks alone and proceeded to take care of ourselves and our gear.
I don’t believe that the patch system was ever explained to us. I do know that by this time, I understood it from experience. At the start of the event, each of us was given a tan patch with our numbers written on them with a sharpie. I observed as early as before the weigh in even took place that Cadre were marking X’s on people’s patches. At the time I didn’t understand what it meant, but I did know that getting your tan patch taken away and being given a yellow patch was bad, and that being given a red patch was worse. The only part of the system that I didn’t fully understand at the time was that for each performance failure that you received, the Cadre would put an X on your patch. If you received another performance failure, your patch was taken away and you were given the next patch down. If a candidate had a red patch with an X on it, it was the worst news possible for that candidate.
A voice came from above us, “who down there still has their tan patch?” No one spoke. I didn’t say anything because I had been sporting a yellow patch since the welcome party. “Come on guys, you can talk. This is a Cadre.” We had been instructed not to speak to civilians, so I understand the reticence. 037 spoke up, “I do Cadre.” He was the only one of the four of us that still had an untouched tan patch, not even an X on it. I wasn’t surprised, during the previous night I had teamed up with 037 for the buddy carry. By the time he got me all the way up the beach, the next closest buddy team was still only about a quarter of the way. We finished the buddy carries so quickly that a Cadre told us that it pays to be a winner and to have a rest for a few minutes. I took note of 037 there, I knew he was strong. “Give it here,” came the voice from above. 037 removed his patch and pushed it through a gap in the wood flooring above us. The patch was taken, although we didn’t know why at the time.
The day after the event was finished; I got to see a video that fully explained the patch system. If you look carefully at the beginning of the video, the tan patch that Cadre Garret holds up has 037 written on it. That video was made while we were sitting under the boardwalk.
037’s patch was returned and we were instructed to leave the shade and line up. We were questioned as to why we didn’t drink the Gatorade, which was still in our hands. Our response was that we weren’t ever told to drink them. “Well, then you better chug them” came the response from the Cadre, which we did happily. We then marched back to the starting point where the whole event began the day before.
We were told that we had made it to the halfway mark, 24 hours in. We had 45 minutes of our own time to take care of our priorities of work. We were allowed to pick two food items that we had brought. I thought I was being clever as I had shrink wrapped two giant blobs of food, labeling them “Selection Food Item #1” and “Selection Food Item #2”. The Cadre gave me a smirk and let me know that this trick wasn’t going to work this year. I had to open them up and pick two of the food items from inside. So I chose a half cup of peanut butter and a protein bar. The Cadre then pressed an electrolyte tab into the palm of my hand.
I dropped the tab into my water supply and voraciously downed the protein bar. It was only 200 calories, a poor choice, but I had planned on being able to have the entire food package, which was a silly assumption to begin with. I should have planned for the worst. I then started eating the peanut butter. It wasn’t nearly as good as I thought it was going to be, which is terrible because I love peanut butter! Oh well, it was still a good choice because it is very calorically dense.
I then started to work on my feet, lancing the blisters and squeezing out the sweet nectar of diligence and hard work. There was a medical screening as I did my thing, a Cadre asked me questions about the state of my body, which felt pretty much fine. Had they asked me how I felt on a 10 point scale, I’d say about a 9 at that point in the event. Then Cadre Jason came over with a camera and asked me some basic questions and I gave some basic answers. After I was left to my own devices, I powdered my feet, wrung out my socks and sipped on water. The break was quickly over, and it was time to move onto the next phase of Selection.
We went to go begin log PT. We walked out to the parking lot where we were greeted with a giant nasty looking telephone pole of a log that was covered in enough moss to give it a spotty green camouflage look. My memory of 039 during this part might not be accurate, but I believe he was still with us when we picked up this log. We brought the log close toward the muddy pit where we began Selection the day before. I believe this is when 039 voluntarily dropped, and with only the three of us left (069, 037, and myself) we were unable to continue manipulating the log. We were led back out to the parking lot where we picked up a much more reasonable log to use.
We brought the new log all the way into the main starting area and began to do all manner of PT with it. For some strange reason, I found myself in the middle of the log for a good portion of the beginning of the PT. This made the PT extremely easy as I’m shorter than both Tim (069) and AJ (037), so they were bearing the vast majority of the weight. It didn’t take the Cadre long to figure this out and I was placed on the end of the log, and then the true difficulty of the PT hit.
Some time into the PT, 069 voluntarily dropped and then it was just 037 and myself. We kept using the same log and without Tim it had become much more difficult. It was clear that 037 was much stronger than I was. I would often fumble with the log while he would have it ready to go.
At one point while Cadre Mocha Mike was leading the PT drill; I dropped the log. My strength had completely given out. I recall the Cadre shouting out “Oh Two Five, you are either unwilling or unable to complete this exercise, which is it!” Time slowed down again and the following conversation took place in my head over the space of a second.
“Agh, this log is so heavy. I don’t want to do this anymore.”
“No… you are not done yet. Just try again and give it your best.”
I braced myself, tightened my grip on the log, and gave it another try. Once again, strength flooded into me that wasn’t there before and the log went up. I glanced up at the sky and gave a quiet “thank you!”
The PT eventually concluded and we put the log down for good. We were then shown two empty sandbags and instructed to fill them. “Why are these bags so small?” I thought to myself. After examining the sandbag, I realized it was just a 40 pounder. My confidence skyrocketed; I had been doing all my sandbag training with my dear friend Fredrick the 80 pound sandbag. We filled the bags with the sand in the parking lot of the starting zone and brought them back to the mud pit.
The PT started and the competition was on. “You’re not getting me this time 037!” I thought to myself. For the first few minutes, I was going much faster than 037. But soon, he was outpacing me again. Turning the PT event into a silent competition helped to keep my spirits high and to keep it entertaining – even if I was losing. The PT ended after what I thought was about 20 minutes. I found out later that both the log and sandbag PT were each 2 hours long. I would have sworn we only had that log for a half hour!
The log PT was extremely rough though. Up to this point, the log was the second most difficult part of Selection, with the welcome party being the first. So far, those were the only two parts where I had thoughts of giving up.
Retaking the PT Test:
The light had been getting imperceptivity darker as we played with the sandbags. When the PT had concluded, we put our rucks back on and prepared to transition to the next evolution of the event. As we walked back onto the beach, it had become apparent that the sun was indeed setting – the final sundown. Again I was shocked at how quickly it had come, I was convinced that our day had only gotten started.
“You will now retake the PT test. Push-ups, sit-ups, and a two mile run.” 037 and I were separated and were graded by the Cadre. I began to do the pushups and when I got to 31, I laid on the ground to rest, a move that meant I was disqualified. Immediately I realized my mistake and froze. Then there was an awkward pause. Either I understood what I had done wrong before the Cadre did, or they were giving me the chance to get back up and keep going. “Oh uh… disqualified!” the Cadre grading me called out. I was disappointed with myself, I realized soon afterward that if I had just pretended like nothing happened and kept doing the pushups that I could have done more.
We transitioned to sit-ups and I was going to do awesome this time! I don’t remember the number that I got, only that I was pleased with my performance. From there we went straight to the two mile run. I gave it my best and it was over quickly.
Playing in the Sand:
“Alright candidates, now you’re going to do jumping jacks…” I braced myself for more hours of mundane and tedious PT. “… on your backs.” Wait, did I hear that right? Sure enough, we laid down on our backs and did jumping jacks. “Now do the backstroke!” We did the backstroke lying on the sand. “Now the side stroke!” We did the sidestroke. “Now make sand angels!” We made sand angels. The active rest we were given felt wonderful and was an excellent morale boost.
We were split up again each assigned a Cadre. “Alright Zero Two Five, now it’s time to play hatching sea turtle.” Yaaaaay! Hatching sea turtle, I LOVE that game! We played it all the time when we were kids! “Uh… What’s that Cadre?” “Well, you pretend to be a baby sea turtle by starting at the end of the beach and low crawling your way into the water while dragging your ruck!” I’ll be honest; the game wasn’t too bad. There are a lot of things more painful than weighted low crawls, so I kept doing them until the Cadre told me otherwise.
“Now do the same thing, but this time flip your ruck end over end.” So I began at the top of the beach and worked my way toward the water while doing mini-tire flips with my ruck. While doing the ruck flips, the Cadre asked me “Why are you doing this Zero Two Five? Why are you here?” I answered, “To glorify God.” The Cadre replied without missing a beat, “How in the world does you getting beaten down glorify God?”
“Because Cadre, when I complete this event, everyone will know that I didn’t do it in my own strength, but because God helped me.”
“Are you a Christian?”
“You realize there were a lot of other Christians that attempted Selection this year. Why wasn’t God with them?”
I was stumped. Words came out of my mouth, but they were stupid. I was enjoying being able to talk so much that I had violated one of my cardinal rules: if you don’t know the answer, just say you don’t know. It’s prideful to pretend you have all the answers. I soon realized I was talking nonsense and I stopped speaking. After searching my heart for the correct response I said, “I don’t know why Cadre, I can’t speak for the others. All I know is that…” as soon as I began to quote the following verses a fire lit in my belly and my tone changed to one of confidence and boldness, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me! I am strong in the Lord and in the power of His might! My heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord! My heart is –“
“I know the Bible verse, you don’t need to tell me” the Cadre cut me off mid pump-up session. He realized what was happening inside me when I began to quote and shut it down as quickly as he could. His job wasn’t to motivate me and build my confidence, but to do the opposite. But it was too late, the damage was already done.
The PT on the beach stretched on for some time. Eventually I was reunited with 037 and we were told to construct a fortification to defend against a beach invasion. The Cadre giving us our orders asked me if I knew what this meant. “Essentially, you want us to create a fortified foxhole from which to defend against an attack coming from the ocean.” The Cadre confirmed this is what he wanted and we split up again to begin the task, our positions being about 8 yards apart.
I was thrilled to begin the work, it honestly sounded like a lot of fun. I traced out the approximate area I thought I needed to work in and then began digging with my hands. I pushed the sand I was accumulating to the sides of the box I had traced. Then it dawned on me that using my feet to push the sand out would be far more effective, so I got into a crab position and continued working. In short order, I had a shallow hole to lie in with a small wall to the front and sides – the work was coming along quickly.
“I hope you guys realize that you’re on the clock with this. You see those waves?” I looked out to the beach, the tide was coming in and each wave was coming closer to our positions. “Your emplacement had better not get any water in them when those waves hit.” The stakes had been raised. With a renewed sense of urgency, I continued fortifying my position. I was having way more fun than I should have been having at that point.
The waves finally hit our fortifications, and they survived the pounding. “Alright, now modify your positions for a beach assault, as if you were attacking from the ocean.” I was a little disappointed to have to break down the front door to my own little home, but carried on with the modifications. After they were complete, we were instructed to do a series of drills involving various types of crawls out to the ocean and running back and diving into our positions, which were by now filled with seawater.
We were then brought close together and administered a test to assess our mental awareness. We were each asked the fundamental questions of who we were, where we are, roughly what time it was, etcetera. We were then given a letter and asked to state what letter preceded it in the alphabet. If we got the answer right, we could rest. If we got the answer wrong, we had to hold our arms out to our sides. The questions alternated back and forth between 037 and myself. 037 was having a difficult time answering and seemed to be getting almost each answer wrong. Understandable, the alphabet backward isn’t easy even under normal conditions.
From there, we moved on to math questions. An example of the complexity of one of the questions asked is: what’s 19 minus 5 plus 2. Again, 037 was consistently unable to give the right answer. The Cadre seeing 037 struggle, then moved on to a more basic style of question. “Okay, we’re going to count up from 50 to 100 by two’s starting with 50. Zero Three Seven, begin.”
037 stared blankly at the Cadre. “Zero Three Seven, say fifty.” “50.” The Cadre turned to me, “52” I replied. The Cadre turned back to 037, who simply stood in silence.
“Zero Three Seven, what comes after 52?”
“Zero Three Seven, what is 52 plus 2?”
Now I was worried. 037 was there physically, he was still putting out on all the PT, but his mind was shutting down.
The test went on for some time in similar fashion. At its conclusion, we were told to connect our two fortifications together via a trench. As we worked, I would watch 037 from time to time. He was still there and he seemed okay, doing the tasks the Cadre were asking of him. I assumed that he would be alright, there didn’t seem to be anything physically wrong with him. At that point, I fully expected the two of us to finish together.
After we finished the work on the trench, we were then told to get in our foxholes and stay there. As I lay in the foxhole, a Cadre approached and told me that I had an undetermined period of time before the Cadre would return. He asked me my priorities of work.
“Rest. After you take care of everything else, try and get some rest.” I replied with a “Yes Cadre” and then I was left to my own devices, I looked around and all the Cadre were gone. I took my shoes and socks off and wrung the socks out. I was shivering. I got out my emergency blanket and laid back down, resting my head on my ruck. I laid there for a few minutes, a little warmer with the blanket, but still shivering. I reached back into my pack and pulled out a soggy beanie and windbreaker and put them on. I wrestled with the emergency blanket to fix it into a position such that it wouldn’t fly off of me and noticed that several Cadre had returned during the struggle. Once the blanket was firmly in place, I finally stopped shivering. I laid there and tried to sleep.
As I lay there watching the stars waiting to get sleepy, a Cadre poked his head over the side of my foxhole. We looked at each other for a few moments in mutual surprise. “GET UP! GET UP! GET UP! GET YOUR RUCKS ON!” shouted a different Cadre. Suddenly the headlamps of all the Cadre that I had noticed before turned on. I understood what the Cadre were trying to do, but I hadn’t fallen asleep, so it really didn’t affect me like it was supposed to. I rushed to put my socks and shoes back on and one of the Cadre came over and dumped cold water on me. “Now that’s just unnecessary,” I grumbled to myself.
I got my pack on quickly and a Cadre farther up the beach called me over. I ran to the Cadre and stood at attention. He looked past me with concern on his face. “Stay here, sit down and drink water.” The Cadre left in a hurry. Another Cadre ran up from behind, “Give me your emergency blanket.” I fished the blanket from my pack and handed it to the Cadre, who ran back up the beach. I glanced behind me, something was happening with 037.
After a few minutes had passed, Cadre Bert, flanked by a few other Cadre, came around and stood in front of me. “Look behind you Zero Two Five, what do you see?”
“They’re carrying away Zero Three Seven, Cadre.”
“Do you know what that means?”
“I’m the last one, Cadre.”
“Zero Three Seven has been med dropped. You are the sole remaining candidate.”
037 was rushed to the hospital, he was there in 12 minutes. None of us knew at the time what was wrong with him or how severe what was happening in his body was. We only knew that he had been med dropped. 037 spent almost 2 weeks in the hospital. As I write this, 037 – AJ Hickey, is now back home safe and sound with his wife and children.
The Long Walk:
“Zero Two Five, are you at this time willing to continue the event?”
“Are there any medical issues that may prevent you from completing this event that we should know about?”
“Yes Cadre!” I had said yes with such positive vigor that neither Bert nor myself realized that I had answered the question wrong. After a moment, I realized what I had said.
“I mean… no Cadre!” Bert looked at me, confused for a split second. In a moment, he realized what had happened. I found the slip up humorous, and a small smirk appeared on my face. It was contagious. Bert cracked a wide grin. He nodded his head with the smile still on his face. Though words were not exchanged, the look he gave me spoke loud and clear, “I believe in you. You’re going to make it.” This was the one and only moment of positive reinforcement I had received from the Cadre during the event and with it, I became 100% sure that I was going to finish.
“Standby” I sat back down on the sand, leaning on my ruck. Cadre Jason approached with a camera and began to interview me. When asked on a scale from 1 to 10 how I felt, I replied “I’d say about an 8.” At that moment, I more or less felt fine. I knew that I had been smoked hard and put through a lot, but I also knew that I had a lot left in me.
“How do you feel about a long walk?” The question shocked my system. I had read enough AARs to know that the long walk was always one of the very last events, and that if you made it that far, you were as good as done. A wave of peace and joy swam over me. A large smile appeared on my face and my eyes burned with a sudden flush of moisture. Unable to speak further, I simply nodded my head as a response to the question.
Instructed only to keep going until I met a Cadre, I stood up, slowly put on my pack, and began the long walk. I chose a pace that was comfortable for me and one that I knew I could sustain indefinitely. I wasn’t given the impression that there was any sense of urgency, just that it was going to take a lot of time.
I spent the first hour praising God that I was still in the event and for how he had brought me this far. Psychologically I was in the best place I had been in since the event began. I was completely in my element, alone and in the dark with my ruck on my back. The constant and rhythmic sound of the waves caressed my ears as a gentle breeze blew against my face. The scene was the epitome of peace. I kept thinking ahead to the finish wondering what it would be like. I thought about all my friends that I had trained with and all the people that were praying for me and everyone that had wished me luck. I thought about the joke that Adam made that I wouldn’t get my sweatshirt back unless I finished Selection. Then I told myself to get my head back into the game and that it wasn’t over yet. Vain imaginings weren’t going to help me at this point, I thought. Eventually the glow died down and things in my head grew quiet again.
Once my mind grew quiet, some very bizarre things began to happen. Staring into the black ether in front of me, my mind began to try to make sense of the void and things began to materialize. Never in my life had I ever experienced such intense open eye visuals. I was tripping balls, man! Oh what’s that? A strange creature with multiple flailing arms sitting on a lawn chair on the beach, well that just makes sense! As long as I kept staring at whatever formed in front of me without breaking my gaze from it, it would remain and continue to animate. The moment I would look away, it would vanish. I also saw buildings that I thought I was about to run into, and large ships off in the distance that weren’t actually there. I’d try to shake it off from time to time, but it seemed like no matter how hard I concentrated, it would come right back. There were also moments where I felt like I was falling asleep on my feet, barely conscious as I moved.
I began to hear the sound of feet coming from behind. Two Cadre approached. “Zero Two Five, you are not meeting the standard. You are moving slower than any other Selection candidate has during their long walk. You are dishonoring every other Selection finisher. Pick up the pace!” I responded with a “Yes Cadre!” and began again at a much more aggressive pace. I thought about what the Cadre had said. I had believed them, since the pace I was going at before felt comfortable. But screw that, I wasn’t here to be comfortable; I was here to meet a standard!
The night drove on. The interaction with the Cadre had brought me back to reality, but after a few minutes of being on my own and back into a steady pace, I began to fade out again. The visuals returned but they weren’t impairing me from keeping the pace I wanted to go, so I chose to proverbially sit back and enjoy the show.
Sometime later, my traps and shoulders began to ache terribly. I disengaged the ruck from my shoulders and let the weight rest on my lower back for awhile. This brought temporary relief, but moments after I put the ruck back on, the ache returned. I needed to take a quick break to let my shoulders rest. Looking behind me, I didn’t see the Cadre following. So I thought I was safe to take a quick rest. I took my ruck off and set it on the ground and sat down. No sooner than I had taken a seat, I began to hear sprinting coming toward me out of the darkness behind me. THE SHARKS ARE COMING! I sprang back up, got my ruck onto my back in record time, and flew like the wind to outrun the pain train speeding toward me.
The sound of the footsteps behind me began to fade and I breathed a sigh of relief. I did not want to find out what would happen if they had caught me. The rush of almost getting caught had brought me back to full lucidity, but it faded again. I pressed on into the night, but my break had been stolen from me. My traps began to ache again like before, but I knew there was no quarter, no rest. I would have to simply gut this one out.
The footsteps of the Cadre returned. “What? But I’m going as fast as I can! I’m not going slow at all!” I thought to myself. Again I quickened my pace, but the footsteps only drew closer. “I am not going to let them catch me!” I kept thinking, but it was no good.
“Zero Two Five!” I had been caught. I winced internally and turned to face the Cadre. “Yes Cadre?”
It was Cadre Geoff, “do you know what division of the Special Forces I am in?”
“I’m a Navy SEAL, do you what kind of environments Navy SEALs love?”
“Yup, go get in the water.”
I ran out into the waves and let one of them wash over me. I ran back and stood at attention before the Cadre.
“I said get in the water. Do you know what that means?”
“It means you want my ruck to get completely submerged too.”
“Good! Now go get back in the water!”
I ran back out, deeper this time. I felt a wave crash completely over me and my ruck. I became buoyant enough to float a few inches off the ground, knowing I had gone deep enough I got to my feet and ran back to the Cadre.
“Excellent! And because you’ve been going so slow, here’s a sandbag!” I was given a 40 pound sandbag to carry. Again, I was greatly relieved that it was only a 40 pounder. Finally, I had an excuse to move a little more slowly. I slung the sandbag on my shoulders and began to walk again. The Cadre had even been kind enough to not turn it inside out so that I could use the handles. The long walk continued.
Oddly enough, having a sandbag on my shoulders took my mind off the shoulder pain. I settled into a pace that was comfortable and trudged forward. From time to time the desire to put the sandbag down and rest was extremely powerful, but knowing the Cadre would tolerate no such thing, I kept on.
At one point, I was given a “break” by being told to get back into the water. Upon returning to where I dropped the sandbag, Cadre Geoff had me lay on my back while holding my ruck overhead. I was given the usual list of questions to check my mental state and responded to them. Then something unexpected happened. With ruck still overhead, the Cadre asked me “How many stars are on the American flag?”
“How many stripes?”
“What does the color white represent?”
“That’s right, or innocence. What does the color red represent?”
“Courage,” I replied.
“Correct, another word for that is valour. What does the color blue represent?”
“… I don’t remember Cadre.”
“Zero Two Five, are you a nerd?”
“Oh come on Zero Two Five, you don’t have to lie to me.”
“No really, I’m a nerd!”
“You read comic books?” queried the Cadre.
“No Cadre, I’m more of a sci-fi or anime kind of nerd.”
“Okay, well let’s stick with comic books. What comic book hero comes to mind when you think of the color blue?”
“Um… Captain America?”
“Okay good, who else?”
I thought again, “Oh, Superman!”
“Okay, okay. And what does Superman represent?”
“Truth and justice!” I guessed with confidence.
“Right, justice! Blue stands for justice. It also stands for two other things. What’s a word that stands for never giving up that starts with a ‘P’?”
“Okay, it starts with a ‘P-E-R’.” the Cadre threw me a bone.
“That’s right! Another word the color blue stands for is vigilance. Now let’s try this again…”
The Cadre re-quizzed me on the material we had just gone over and I quoted it back to him. I was so enthralled in the conversation that the ruck I was holding above my head seemed to be weightless. Wait a minute, were we bonding just then? We totally just had a Big Daddy moment there.
I got back up, put on my ruck and sandbag, and continued onward. Everything looked the same, and the strange visuals did not subside. Minutes stretched into hours, I had become a machine whose only task was to walk, carry, and hydrate. I kept coming across groups of people with headlamps. Each time I would be overcome with joy at the prospect of finally reaching the Cadre that would give me my new orders. I looked intently at the headlamp clad figures, but they paid me no attention. And what in the world were they doing? I never could quite figure out what they were up to, but it was definitely weirder than what I was doing – and that’s saying something. Crestfallen at each realization that these weren’t Cadre, I droned forward.
At long last, I came across a tall pier and a group of real Cadre. I was instructed drop the sandbag and to sit down at a 5 gallon jug, refill my bladder, and drink water. Finally, the long walk was over. I wondered what would come next. Cadre Dakotah came over and informed me that the enemy had poisoned the water supply and I would have to carry my own to be safe. I got up and put the water on my back. The Cadre pointed in the same direction I had been going and told me to start walking. Okay, so maybe the long walk isn’t over yet… The water jug felt more manageable than the sandbag. I don’t think there was much of a difference in weight; it just felt easier to handle on my back.
As I walked, I noticed the sun starting to come up – finally, something different to break up the monotony. As the sun continued to rise the bizarre visuals receded with the darkness. Without the black backdrop of nothingness, my imagination had lost the canvas on which to carve out its madness.
It was a typical Saturday morning at the beach. There were kids playing in the sand, people walking their dogs, yoga classes, and joggers out for a morning run. I passed by a man clad in shorts and sunglasses that was playing fetch with his dogs. He called out to me, “Hey Zero Two Five! Keep going! Don’t quit! There are 18,000 people watching your progress right now!” I gave him a quick glance, but I couldn’t say anything in reply. All the rules mattered all the time. “Don’t quit Zero Two Five! You’ve got this!” This was the first time that the notion that anyone other than my close friends and relatives would be monitoring my progression through the event. My first thought was that the man was exaggerating greatly, but the encouragement was still appreciated.
As the sun climbed higher in the sky, my trek continued. As the day grew hotter, I was put into the ocean more and more frequently to help cool down my core body temperature. The heat on the beach still felt quite bearable. I didn’t feel like I was overheating, especially after I had put away the beanie, windbreaker and compression undershirt earlier – but the breaks from carrying were welcome, and the lukewarm water felt refreshing… except for the stinging.
I was chafed everywhere. Between the fine powdery sand, the ruck, and the nonstop motion of walking, I was given no quarter. Getting into the saltwater became an interesting experience. While cooling down felt amazing, it would sting terribly on the areas where I was most chafed. It was beginning to take a long time for me to put my ruck back on when returning from the water. It felt like it weighed twice as much as when we started. I was convinced that all the sand and water that my bag and equipment had taken on had increased its weight considerably.
After many more miles, we finally reached the turnaround point. “Stop. Turn around.” Cadre Dakotah said from behind. I wasn’t sure how I felt about the news. If I had to go all the way back to where I started the long walk, then it was going to be a very long walk indeed. As we went on, I felt a rumbling in my mid section – the Imodium was wearing off. “Cadre, I kinda need to poop.”
Cadre Dakotah looked up and down the beach. “I don’t see a restroom, and I don’t think we’ll find one out here anytime soon. Have you ever done an event with Big Daddy?”
“Yes Cadre.” I replied.
“Yeah well, he poops in the ocean all the time. Just go out up to chest level and drop trou.” Drop trou huh? Memories of Big Daddy talking about “shaking out turds in the water” came back to me. I looked helplessly at the Cadre for a few moments. I don’t know why I was so reluctant. He urged me on like a father teaching his child how to ride a bicycle.
I waded out into the ocean, unbuckled and “dropped trou”. I waited for a break in the waves. NOW! Cocked and loaded, I fired a shotgun blast into the ocean. My timing couldn’t have been worse. Immediately, a wave hit me and I was thrown helplessly forward. Everything I had just unloaded was slammed right back into me. I dove down into the water and let several waves pound me again, hoping that would undo any damage I may have just sustained. It must have done the trick, for when I finally emerged, I did not smell anything out of the ordinary.
The walk went on. After reaching a certain point, I was instructed to put my ruck down and refill my water from the jug I was carrying. I was asked to produce my nalgene bottle. I informed the Cadre that I didn’t have one. The Cadre handed me a well used nalgene bottle with “GORUCK Navigator” printed on it, and it was filled with an “electrolyte drink”, which I later discovered was coconut water. I was told to drink lots of water, but only to sip from the nalgene. This I did, and the cold coconut water tasted like the elixir of life.
I was then handed a 40 pound filler bag and told to load it with sand, but not to close it off. I was then to present the bag to the Cadre for inspection. Cadre Dakotah stood off at a distance while I worked with the bag. I filled it, picked it up and let it hit the ground a few times to ensure the bag was full. After carefully adjusting the sand level, I picked up the bag and waddled over to the Cadre. The Cadre did the same thing with the bag that I had, picking it up and letting it strike against the ground to see if it was indeed full. He peered into the bag. “Not enough,” the Cadre dumped the sand onto the ground. “Try again.” I walked back to my ruck and refilled the bag. I made sure to add a little more sand this time. I waddled back to the Cadre. “Too much,” the Cadre dumped the sand out again. I went back to my ruck a third time to try again. This went on for some time.
Eventually, the Cadre was standing atop a mound, arms crossed. “Where’d that come from?” I thought to myself. After a few more rounds, I realized that he was intentionally dumping the sand I brought him into the same place, then standing atop it while I worked. I thought this was hilarious. Never once did I feel disappointment during this exercise, I knew this was designed to frustrate me, but I found the whole scene so comical that I just couldn’t take it seriously.
Finally, the Cadre gave me a break and gave me explicit instructions on exactly how he wanted it filled. I went back and filled it as per his specifications. Bringing him what I thought he wanted, he looked into the bag. He gave a look indicating that it still wasn’t right, but yielded. Quietly, he said “just… put in two more handfuls of sand.” With this done, the filler bag was allowed to be closed. I placed the filler bag inside the GORUCK sandbag case and was then told to put my ruck and the sandbag on.
I followed the Cadre up a boardwalk and we transitioned from the beach to an urban environment. It was so strange to think that just behind the beach was a sprawling city. When I was out there on the beach and in the jungle, civilization seemed so distant, and yet it was just a few hundred yards away.
The new environment felt very unpleasant. Gone were the cool waves and the breeze. The air above the ground distorted as heat rose from the endless sea of asphalt. I was heating up quickly, but I had my mission. The difficulty had been turned up, that was all. My steps became very small. I felt like an old man. “Look out, grampa Jon coming through,” I joked to myself.
“You need to pick it up Zero Two Five. You are moving too slowly. Just keep in mind, the faster you move, the sooner we’ll get to where we’re going.” I understood what the Cadre meant, and started to pick up the pace. Soon we were joined by more Cadre. The Cadre knew that the heat was getting to me and they allowed me to stop and rest much more frequently than when I was on the beach.
A few minutes into the walk after a rest, I began to feel very hot. The feeling of falling asleep while moving that I had hours before when it was dark out suddenly hit me. I can best describe it as a wave of something close to nausea. “Cadre… I’m starting to get a little dizzy.” I was ashamed that I had to ask for a break, especially after having just had one. I thought that I could have kept going under those conditions, but the feeling was new territory for me, and one that I did not want to explore. The Cadre found me a patch of grass to sit on and cold water from a five gallon jug was poured over me, being cooled down in that fashion felt extremely good. It was clear I was getting too hot.
When I was told to get back up and keep moving, I put the ruck on but couldn’t find the sandbag. “Where’s the sandbag?” I asked. “You don’t need it anymore Zero Two Five, get moving.” A quick note here, don’t ever do what I just did. Under any other circumstances, the Cadre would have most likely said something along the lines of “Oh, you want your sandbag that badly huh? Well here you go.” The Cadre were being pretty nice at this point.
The movement continued. Without the sandbag, I had no further issues involving nausea. We stopped at another patch of grass in front of a hotel. I sat down and continued to drink water and coconut milk. The Cadre congregated a few feet away and discussed something amongst themselves. A woman emerged from the hotel, “Are you okay?” All the rules matter all the time. I only gave a nod in reply. She looked concerned but went back inside. A few minutes later she came back out, “Are you sure you’re okay?” Again, I gave a simple head nod. She turned to one of the Cadre, “Are you sure he’s okay? Do I need to call an ambulance?” Geez, did I really look that bad? The Cadre explained to her what was happening. “Oh… well… good luck!”
We moved out again and shortly thereafter, we reached our destination: the pier I had reached earlier the night before. The long walk was finally over.
As we approached the pier, the mood of the Cadre suddenly shifted. Things got quiet and frowns were in full effect. “You’ve got a loooong way to go Zero Two Five. We’re nowhere near done. You’ve got another four hours left” Cadre Bert stated as I followed. It knew it had to be getting close to 1pm, but when the Cadre had said that Selection didn’t begin until after the PT tests were done, it made me wonder if it wasn’t going to be over until much later than that. From the sound of it, it was going to last until about 5pm. However, didn’t fully believe the Cadre. This was mostly due to the fact that I did not want it to keep going for another four hours, but if that’s what it took, then that’s what it took.
We reached the shade of the pier. There were a lot of people around, but there looked to be even more Cadre than bystanders. The Cadre circled around me, it was the welcome party all over again, except this time I was solo. However I considered this to be to my advantage, they couldn’t point to someone else and ask me why I was the slowest one. Advantage or not, this wasn’t going to be pretty.
The attack began. I was told to go into a low crawl and drag my ruck with me. Mixed screams came at me to get my face in the sand and that I was going too slow. The exercises changed, but the mood and the method did not. Every sign of weakness was exploited, every breach in proper form pointed out and berated.
I was put on my back close to the water and made to do flutter kicks. I couldn’t gauge when the waves were going to hit as I had to keep my eyes closed because the Cadre were kicking water in my face. Wave after wave crashed over me, and as they subsided I would spit out the mouthful of water I had swallowed. Salt water was kicked at me, sand was kicked at me. I closed my eyes and mouth and kept going. A huge glob of wet sand hit my ear and lodged there. I reached up to dig the sand out, “IF YOU TRY TO GET THE SAND OFF YOU ONE MORE TIME…” was all I heard before different orders were shouted. I let the sand be.
There may be times when multiple Cadre give different orders. Don’t worry about which one you are supposed to follow, you will be swiftly corrected if you are not doing what they want. There were times where I was doing a certain exercise, and I was asked “WHAT THE F*** ARE YOU DOING!?” Don’t get hung up on any of this; just don’t let it get to you. Do whatever they tell you to do to the best of your ability. If you’re wrong, they’ll let you know. Even if you know you’re doing it correctly and they’re telling you that you’re completely wrong, just keep trying. You have to realize that they’re purposefully trying to frustrate you – don’t let them. All you can control is how you react.
Eventually, it was over. I was told to get up and follow the Cadre. Cadre Bert reiterated his earlier statement, “Zero Two Five, you are nowhere near done. You still have four more hours of this. We are going to do this same thing to you for four more hours.” He wheeled around locking his gaze with mine. “Zero Two Five, do you want to continue the event at this time?” I didn’t want to, I didn’t want to at all – but I was going to. That last attack was not fun at all, and the anticipation of having to deal with that same thing for another four hours was almost unbearable. Though my resolve was badly shaken, I went back to my simple thought of “just do your best, keep trying, and don’t stop until you drop.” At this point, I wondered if I was going to fail in the next four hours.
“Yes Cadre!” I affirmed my desire to keep going. “Then follow Cadre Geoff.” Geoff began to march at that same uncomfortable pace that Cadre Machine had set that first night. I fell into step with the Cadre, I did not want to fall behind. I struggled to keep stride with the Cadre. My feet were making that same scraping noise I remember hearing that first night too. “Zero Two Five, pick your feet up and walk like a man!” I did my best, picking my knees up higher with each step.
As we went, I saw a line of people that looked like GRTs walking somewhere. Many of them were clad in the familiar grey shirts and tac hats and they weren’t Cadre. Cadre Bert noticed, “Zero Two Five! Look at the back of the Cadre in front of you, nothing else!” That statement confirmed my suspicions – something was up.
In short order, we reached the back of a brick and mortar building which I later found out was GORUCK HQ. The shark attack continued in similar fashion, although I would say with a little less severity than what I experienced on the beach due to the removal of the sand and salt water components. A Cadre kept a continual spray on me with a hose. It actually felt really good and was cleaning the sand off of me as I did the various PT that I was instructed to perform.
I remember from all the AARs that I had read that the very last part of Selection is a final “welcome party” where the person being smoked is distracted. Then they’re turned around and see the American flag and they’re done. Things were beginning to add up. The GRTs I saw walking around earlier, the water hose constantly in my eyes to prevent me from seeing what the Cadre were doing, and the fact that they kept me facing a single direction. With the thought that I was just minutes away from completing Selection, the heckling of the Cadre simply bounced off.
Oh and the duck walk… oh that duck walk. You have no idea how much fun I was having quacking. Sure the duck walk itself sucked, but the quacking more than made up for it. Cadre Bert even got into the fun, “QUACK!” “QUIT!”, “QUACK!” “QUIT!” Internally I was laughing hysterically at the cleverness of it. Then I was told to stand up. Here it comes! “Zero Two Five, turn around!” YES! This is it! I’m going to see the American flag and I’ll be done!
Instead of the American flag, I was greeted with a frowning Cadre Bert. My hopes were crushed. “I really am going to have to do this for another four hours,” I thought in dismay. I pushed the thought aside and prepared myself to keep doing this for the long haul.
Shortly after this, I was asked why I was doing Selection. A jumbled mess came to my mind, and I couldn’t think of how to phrase it. All that came was a vast multi-faceted reason involving God, faith, Him giving me strength, I couldn’t remember how to put it succinctly. So instead I said what I thought the Cadre wanted to hear, I said it was for the patch. I was ashamed of myself; I knew and the Cadre knew that this was not why I was there. A Cadre ripped my newly acquired red patch off my bag and shoved it in my face, “Here’s your patch!” I opened my eyes and saw the crimson piece of Velcro. Again the question was posed to me; why was I there? Again I found myself at a loss to explain properly and under the pressure blurted out the same stupid answer.
Another bear crawl later and I found myself at Cadre Bert’s feet again in the push-up position. “You better look deep in your heart Zero Two Five, why are you here?” With that prompting, I reached inside and the words came to my mind. I opened my mouth, “To honor the Lord my God!” I wanted to say more. I wanted to explain what it meant to me, but those words had to suffice.
A few minutes later, I was told to stand up. I stood. I was told to turn around. I turned around.
“Jon Eytchison, you have just completed GORUCK Selection Zero One Five – the world’s most extreme and difficult endurance event.” Cadre Garrett reached out and we clasped hands. “Congratulations.” A patch was placed in my other hand. We embraced.
All at once, the words, the flag, the realization that it was over came at me. Instantly my eyes burned once again as moisture flooded into them. What just happened? I looked down at the patch that I had been given. There it was… the GORUCK Selection patch, I was holding it.
The Cadre that had just moments before been pretending to be my worst nightmare lined up to give me handshakes and hugs. Let me tell you, those were some good hugs.
“Jon, how do you feel brother? How do you feel?” It all happened and transitioned so fast. I had been mentally bracing for so long and just because the event was now over didn’t mean that I could suddenly put my defenses down. It just felt so surreal. Was it really over? Was this really happening? What did it mean? All that effort… all that time… it was all too much to process. “I don’t know” was the only reply I could manage.
“Hey, tell me about this flag.” Garrett pointed to the massive star spangled banner draped from the top of the building. With pride for my country, I had the privilege of reciting what Cadre Geoff had taught me the night before. We then walked over to the flag to take pictures with the Cadre. One of the Cadre stopped me and presented me with a golden cross. He said that someone on the beach had given it to him and told him to give it to me when I completed the event. I placed it around my neck.
After a few pictures were taken, a line of people came out from the building, giving me hugs and shaking my hand. I got to meet the previous Selection finishers… these were my heroes! Names I had heard of before, people whose AARs I had read. They gave me a special metal coin in the same shape as the patch. On one side is the GORUCK Selection insignia, on the other is the GORUCK reverse flag.
I would go on from here, but I feel like I’ve already said more than enough. I hope you enjoyed experiencing GORUCK Selection vicariously through this AAR. If you’re reading this and planning on attempting Selection in the future, then I hope that these words build your confidence and bring you insight into how to complete the event. Glory be to God.