2Pac’s All Eyez on Me is kind of what it’s like being a Selection candidate. The Cadre are always watching, no matter where you are, and when they wait, they don’t wait patiently.
At this point, we’re 52 hours in. The candidates don’t know what time it is other than that it’s morning on the second day, which to them means they’re almost done. To us it means it’s morning on the second day and they think they’re almost done. We promised 48+ hours, so this is the part where the candidates’ minds have the tendency to build a reality with hope. We’re close, I know it. We’re probably done when we get to the Cadre. We’ve done enough. All sorts of reasoning that makes no sense unless you’re the judge.
These are not productive thoughts. I recommend quieting them as much as humanly possible and focusing on the task at hand. Assume that taskings will never end. We Cadre exploit your thoughts to set you up for disappointment, then we see how you react. The trick is to never set yourself up for disappointment. Smiles are always the right answer, but never smile in anticipation of the finish line. We’ll put you in the back of the Raptor and start driving back to the start point. You’re probably done so you keep smiling and congratulate each other and you let your guard down. Don’t let hope impede your ability to focus on the task at hand. At this point, the task at hand is to know the worst is yet to come. And to accept it, not to fear it.
And when we got to the next new start point for the rest of Selection, I told them welcome to the GORUCK Challenge, that’s the big finale to Selection. Big smile you wanted it, you got it, and it’s happening now. 8-10 I mean 12-13 more hours of good livin’. Etters – nobody cares if you miss your flight and can’t get back to Connecticut to write people tickets for driving 5 over on I-95. That’s a service to the world if you don’t make it back, in fact. Maybe we’re serious, maybe not. The point is that a weaker mind (which is not how I would classify Etters’) absorbs everything, especially when you’re physically tired. It hangs on every syllable, laments every threat, and the mind starts to project out physical pain. Self-induced stress is a fear of the unknown based on an irrational assumption of discomfort. Do not let your imagination take over. Our job is to make sure you can keep calm no matter what as we force you to operate in the worst kinds of chaos, mentally and physically. To face this and drive through it makes your mind stronger for the rest of your life. And before you know it you’re steel sharpening steel and nothing phases you. The trick to get there is to learn to focus on the task at hand. Do not let us get inside your head. Sticks and stones…
The Grand Finale was not a GORUCK Challenge, but it was like the end of a massive and awesome July 4 fireworks show. Explosions and ooh’s and ahh’s all over the place. And never disappointing. A Grand Finale can never come up short or it taints the whole show. So if you expect sympathy or mercy from us by the end, you’re at the wrong event.
Almost done. But your face is covered in sand, and dirt, and probably needs a good rinse off. And while we’re at it, one last total beat down from all of us. Best for last? Always.
And it’s on like donkey kong. All 4 sharks started circling. Legs weren’t straight, push-ups were so bad they had to practice them over and over. Then flutter kicks then push-ups. In deeper and deeper water with more waves closer. Up down up down left right left right up down link arms sand in your face push flutter kicks roll right roll left air squats and. it. goes. on. and. on.
Sharks love to inform with razor teeth that a failure to perform is the same as quitting. You can’t just lie there like a cold, dead fish and hope we’ll go away. It doesn’t work that way. You still have to put out till the very end. Waves are crashing over you, on you, in you, and you have zero personal space. It’s survival mode, just get through it, keep your calm, and you’ll be fine. The human body is capable of infinitely more than any of us know, and this is a testament to that.
I’ll never look like the Terminator the way Lou looks like the Terminator, but all of us Cadre have a switch. Hang out with us and we’re probably the life of the party. If we’re not, I want to be at that party. But when the business is war, or playing sharks at Selection on a beach in St. Augustine, you’ll see the other side. This ability to adapt ourselves to the mission at hand is one of the most important traits for guys in Special Operations.
The end drawing near, Lou and I kept the thrash party going while Chris and Patrick headed up to properly secure the Stars and Stripes on the Zodiac.
Face the ocean and do not turn around. There are always rules we try to get you to break, sometimes we pose a lot of rules and we say them quickly so that you will inevitably break one of them. When you do, bad for you. The point of that is to see how you handle failure. You will fail in life, we all do, and the sooner you accept it and move onto the next thing the better. But this was more about having them not see the flag behind them. On your back on your feet up down up down. If you are not a fish do not drink the water how stupid do you have to be to drink ocean water? Knaisch why do you shave your chest it looks horrible and you forgot your retainer Kim said you need it Stroud stop coughing or you’re all gonna move 20 meters deeper and do this longer. And this was our compassionate side compared with the things I’m not going to admit we said there, on that beach, that day. A stranger would have assumed we were monsters. Sorry, mom.
At this point any passing by zombies would have accepted our 8 candidates as fully credentialed, aka bitten. But from our end, the thrashing only solidified that the 8 who remained were not going anywhere. No matter what we did to them, and we didn’t do nothing. It was intense and later on at the after party, they swore it lasted forever. And I’m sure it felt like it did, I know that feeling. On your feet and then we said a few things about why Selection matters to us: Each of us did this before, and we know better guys than us that did it with us and didn’t come back alive. Guys who pushed themselves to the absolute limits and then paid the ultimate sacrifice for their buddies, for all of us back home. GORUCK is about people, about living life to its fullest as a way to honor their sacrifice, about what you can do when you think about more than just yourself Turn around and the one great symbol of that is Old Glory. Congratulations, Class 000 Complete.
Tears came and we were in the middle of a moment not soon forgotten. SERE (Survival Evasion Resistance Escape) School is where you learn what it’s like to be a POW and you get beaten more times than you can imagine. Literally pummeled in the face constantly. I remember a state of disbelief that the Army allowed this to go on. At the end when they’d beaten us down enough to teach us what they knew we needed to learn, they turned us around and we saw Old Glory streaming and heard the national anthem playing over the prison speakers. And they congratulated us and I watched an entire class of future Green Berets ball their eyes out. Me included.
Family and friends showed up to watch this finish. Mike (above) told me this moment, with his wife Kim, was second only to the birth of their daughter. And he also said he was proud to have me post it, or I wouldn’t have. And below, Stroud. I forgot to ask him if he was too proud to admit he’s a cryer. Sorry, bud. And oh yeah Stroud, even as Cadre I shared these emotions, just seeing you guys finish. I just happened to be the one with the camera.
When SERE school was over, our instructors flipped a switch and monsters became humans. Thank God – the second I saw the flag, all was forgiven. The beatings all made sense and the hatred in my heart vanished. It ended up being my favorite Army school I ever went to, a sentiment shared by just about every Green Beret I know. So below, the Terminator did not lower himself into molten steel. Thank God, I love Lou. Instead, he became human and, along with all the Cadre, we welcomed post-Selection party ops with congratulations and smiles.
GORUCK Selection Class 000: Stroud, Francev, Templeman, Webb, Dallner, Etters, Knaisch, and Guinn.
Cool guy post-mission pic complete, we got to focus on other things. Like drinking beer, cleaning gear, and in time honored tradition, recounting the worst I mean best moments of the weekend. And we laughed at Olof’s stupid white glasses and his stupid grin for old time’s sake, and all was good. Chris told me tongue in cheek with a big grin like usual he couldn’t believe that these people didn’t hate him as a human being after what we did to them. Doing an event like this, there is that risk. For me, the fact that they all thanked us, and hugged us, meant that they got the method to the madness that is Selection. The bonds I saw, and felt, were and still are tight. There’s something to an accomplishment that nobody can ever take away from you. And for what it was worth to them, thankfully something positive, they saw us as the guys who gave them nothing for free, only the opportunity to earn something that meant something.
Sand infiltration spared nothing all weekend. Rucks, shoes, people. And while I expected more people to retreat to their rooms, in true GORUCK style everyone wanted to soak in the smiles, and just to hang out together. I’ve said it before, but this is the high for me. Not the playing shark stuff. If the end of the GORUCK Challenge is Cadre crack, the end of Selection is Cadre meth.
In the background of beers and smiles, feet began the slow process of recovery. First step: stop the trauma by taking shoes off and sitting down. Then keep requesting more beers. People were there to help, after all.
Go to the barracks at the end of Selection at Camp Mackall, and you’ll find a hundred guys with feet that look like Webb’s (above). Screaming feet are a tried and tested way to get someone to feel sorry for themselves and break. Similar to how physical pain in the present moment can cause your mind to project out future pain that you think you can’t handle — even though you can. Blisters produce a lot of pain but that’s all it is in the short run: pain. And to quote Patrick Swayze from Road House, “Pain Don’t Hurt.” In the long run, sure, they can turn into problems, but for an event like this, they don’t impede physical performance one bit unless you let them. Foot care will be the subject of another post, but I can tell you that the norm in life is to take your feet for granted. Think of how much you ask of them in your training and think of how much these guys demanded of theirs. Take care of your feet, keep them as dry as possible and elevate with an ACRT in hand when you have the opportunity. Like when you’re done.
And then the smiles still didn’t go away. There was always something to laugh at, some stupid joke to crack. Like Kim not looking at Guinn. What she wasn’t looking at, we’ll probably never know.
Or Lou, who couldn’t help himself. Hey Webb, you got next. Might want to not actually touch the hose, though. And oh yeah, nice haircut.
God Bless Kim Knaisch. The stuff in this cart is exactly what was missing from my Selection back in the day. There’s something to a life where you push yourself to the fullest, get no sleep, and then enjoy a beer or ten with your buds that did it with you.
When I saw Olof in the back corner talking on the phone with a smile on his face, I thought of myself standing at the pay phones at Camp Mackall after every Phase in the Q-Course. You’re never allowed to use them when you’re in training, but when you’re done, and you pass, you get to call home. I’ve had some great moments there, and I’m grateful to the people who took those calls way back when. In this moment, I was Olof and it made me smile and reflect on the fact that right now, there’s probably someone calling home from Camp Mackall, soaking in a moment because of what they accomplished. And ready for what’s next. It’s a great feeling to earn, it’s a great feeling to see others experience. So I left Olof alone for a while, eventually brought him another beer, and then the rest of our night began. We took over the hotel, not by force but by charm and numbers, and had a blast. Selection 000 was in the books, and I was sad to see it go so soon.