October 3rd, 2014 – Mogadishu mile
GORUCK Heavy class – 048
My heart was racing, as though I’d just run a marathon, while I stood in one of three lines with a group of people I could only assume were at least as crazy as I was. Where were we? And why were we there? In the dark of night, after nine o’clock on October 3rd some where in Austin, Texas, 29 candidates stood quietly in anticipation of the start of the GORUCK Heavy event that would commemorate the Mogadishu Mile. Would we all finish? Why was my heart rate so high? Questions racing through my head, my heart continued to thump… hell, we hadn’t even started yet.
The cadre began to introduce themselves. First was Cadre Daniel (Danny), then Cadre Geoff. Both had extensive military backgrounds in special operations and are overall badasses. Once the introductions were made, we were instructed to lay our rucks on the ground, open, with food and water placed to the side so that they could check the dry weight. The standard was set to be no less than 35 pounds of weight in each ruck. One by one, the Cadre weighed our rucks, laughing at some of the numbers because they were over the requirement.
“You will now take the Army Physical Fitness Test,” Cadre Geoff announced. We lined up so everyone had a partner (except one). After demonstrations of the standard were made, group one started with push ups while group two counted the number of reps done correctly.
We were to meet the 60% mark of the Army standard for our age group and gender. After results were recorded and both groups had gone, sit-ups were next. All 29 of us passed the PT standard, which meant we would proceed to the next phase of testing. A 12-mile ruck in less than three and a half hours was in order to test our speed.
But before we began, our cadre explained “Operation Restore Hope,” the humanitarian mission executed in Mogadishu, Somalia by Army Rangers. One of the first things they did as a part of their mission was to secure a perimeter around the Mogadishu airport. How convenient that we were within “walking distance” of the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport! The perimeter of which is roughly 12 miles.
So off we went, around the airport with a paper map and our battle-buddy, and no cadre. I felt my heart calming down to its normal activity pace.
I ended up rucking with a group of people I actually knew a bit from events like Spartan Race and the Death Race. One was Ella Kociuba, and the other was Patrick Mies. It made me feel better knowing that I could keep pace with these two inspirational people who cared not only about their own performance and finish, but also about those around them (they both helped out at every point during the race when ever it was needed AND more). Having that reassurance made me feel like all the tasks ahead would be much easier, not to mention letting them down would make me feel even worse so I knew I would have to perform well.
Around three hours after we started the ruck we made it to our destination, which was a park a couple miles away from the starting point. The “Welcome Party” was next, and I knew it would be bad.
All 27 of us that completed the ruck under the time limit got in one big line across the field; opposite a standing water can which served as the end or turning point for each exercise. The cadre absolutely smoked us, to the point where two other participants decided they couldn’t continue. Patrick wouldn’t stand for that so he shouted in a loud voice “We are a team, don’t quit now because even though it will be hard…I will need you when I am no longer feeling strong…so get the ruck over your head and get moving.” Thankfully one participant was convinced to get back in the game and continue the party.
We did so many different types of exercises that my body was already on fire only a few hours in to a 24+-hour event. Duck walks, inchworm pushups, lunges, rolling around in grass, monkeyfuckers, bear crawls… name any kind of body weight exercise, we did it. With our weighted rucks.
Once the cadre felt our performance was acceptable, the Heavy really began. We lined up in two columns and were off to our first destination.
Along the way we had to maintain a certain speed as a team, and missing a time hack resulted in punishment. Of course, we were punished.
On the side of a road was a steep concrete hill covered in loose gravel. “Bear crawl down,” cadre told us. Down we went. That wasn’t so bad, until we were told to go back up… backwards. I just remember thinking to myself “well this hurts.” But I laughed it off, I mean, it’s really the only thing you can do while this is all happening.
The next missed time hack meant more “fun.” This time it was lunges. “See that yellow sign down there?” Cadre shouted at us. No not really, I thought, but I guess that’s where we’re going. I swear we did several hundred lunges down the road, and when I arrived at the sign, I saw everyone before me was in a plank position so I promptly followed suit and stayed in plank until everyone made it past the sign.
The Circuit of the Americas (COTA) is the only Formula One racetrack in the United States and was the first stop in our route. Lucky for us, Cadre Geoff is now a professional Formula One driver, something many of us didn’t know. Because he races on the track regularly, we were allowed to enter the facility early but had to wait until 0700 for the track to open.
While waiting in the parking lot we formed our columns, now two squads. We got to do some squats with heavy sandbags and have a fun competition. Our shadows (people who tag along and take pictures, video, and help to hold the flag when the team is unable) lined up their cars and put them in neutral, and each squad would race to push their car down the lot, around a parked golf cart, and back to the start line. Before we knew it, 0700 arrived and the staff opened up the track to us.
This was one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had, to date, for any event I’ve participated in. We had 40 minutes before the cars would be out on the track, and decided to line up our rucks on the ground while we got to jog/run the 3.4-mile track.
The sun was rising and I could feel everyone’s mood start to lighten. Once the whole group had crossed the finish line together, a gentleman walked out of the main office side door and said, “Well, would y’all like to come inside and take a quick tour?”
The class lit up with excitement and we all looked at the cadre like little kids who wanted to do something so badly. “Real quick,” was the strong response given and in we marched. The command center is the best I can describe it as. Computer monitors and TV’s lined the room; it looked like something out of a movie. The gentleman explained to us how everything worked, what procedures were conducted inside, the capabilities of the cameras, how many people crammed into that room for a normal race day.
I would like to personally thank the COTA staff and team who opened up the track for us and conducted the brief tour. And extend an even greater “thank you” to our cadre for setting up this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Once the tour was done we shuffled out of the command center and were back at it again. Cadre Danny explained to us how, in the field, they have Joint Operations Centers (JOC) set up much like the command center at COTA, just not as fancy. The JOC was where all intel for missions is received before they begin, even the morning of October 4th in Mogadishu. I always found it interesting that no matter what we did, it was always related to the Battle of Mogadishu.
As we kept walking Cadre Danny asked if we’d noticed a certain kind of view was missing from the command center. As we kept following cadre, the track tower, the tallest structure in the entire facility, got closer and closer… One last surprise was in store for us, but I wasn’t too excited about it due to the work involved. We all stopped at the bottom, facing a stairwell that wrapped up the left side of the tower, and an elevator.
“Elevator is broken,” Cadre Geoff said. A few of us laughed out loud as the elevator door opened seconds after his statement. Yep, sure is broken, I thought. So up the stairs we marched, slowly losing more energy and strength. At the top my legs were aching and my lungs were gasping for air, but boy was it worth it. The view was amazing!
The Ferrari Practice Team was starting to race their way around the track, another once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We got a few minutes to take everything in and take some epic class photos, probably the coolest one I’ve ever had because of the location, and then we marched right back down those stairs.
After we made sure everyone had enough water, we marched out towards the road next to COTA, where Cadre Danny read an excerpt from Michael Durant’s book, The Company of Heroes, which was a powerful firsthand account of the events that took place in Mogadishu on that fateful day. The significance of this day slowly began to dawn on me, and I realized that this was not just another event for me to compete in, but a symbolic way to remember those who lost their lives while serving overseas. Trust me when I say that each soldier lost was engraved in my mind one by one over the course of the event from that point on.
During the reading of the excerpt, “Irene” was finally spoken, which meant our real mission had begun.
As we rucked down the road, I could see a big log in the distance and I thought, Well I wonder what we will be picking up? “Casualty number one has occurred… pick up the log,” cadre said.
Both squads gathered around it and grunted as we lifted it to our already sore shoulders, and on we went. We quickly came to realize that not just anyone could carry the logs, we would have to divide the team into height squads. So we had two tall teams and one short team with a few inbetweeners, and we rotated as needed. Shortly after casualty one happened, the first black hawk down was reported and log number two came into view.
To simulate the intensity of heavy fire, and to symbolize some of the injuries sustained by the soldiers after this first crash, our left shoe privileges were taken from us and our rucksack were promptly switched to the front of our bodies.
Onward we marched at a very awkward pace. Because of poor communication and leadership on my part during this movement, we received some log PT punishment.
Ordered to get on our backs with the log on our chest, everyone hustled as fast as they could to get into the press position. “UP!….DOWN!….UP!….DOWN!” the cadre shouted as we did several log presses in cadence. Then came situps with the logs on our chests.
Screams from my right pierced my ear as I could hear the log crushing people. I felt so bad knowing that the main reason we were all on the ground suffering was due to my inability to communicate properly for the team. Sidenote: If you ever want to learn how to be a good leader, THIS is the perfect event for you. After a few minutes of collective suffering, we were back up off the ground and on the move.
A while after we reached an open spot where the cadre allowed us to put the logs down for a bit to grant us full shoe and corrected ruck privileges.
During this time teams of two were sent off to go ask a local if we could use their hose to fill our team’s six gallon water can to replenish everyone’s hydration bladders. It was very hot outside and the cadre, always primarily concerned about our safety, would not have anyone fail due to dehydration.
As people went off to the tall grass to relieve themselves, someone went solo, which is a big no-no. As punishment cadre had him and the two other guys in the field already, low crawl to find one another.
Carson Daniel James had the pleasant surprise of crawling through a fire ant hill. Part of me felt like laughing, but so much more felt so incredibly bad as I saw him strip to his underwear. Mentally I can only imagine the pain it would have inflicted alongside all the other discomforts we incurred during this event. But he managed to recover and the three rejoined the team.
Once everyone was taken care of, we heard more first hand accounts of the battle, and one of the soldiers, very seriously injured, lashed his leg in order to continue to defend his post for a longer period of time. It was our job as a team to lash the two logs together in remembrance of this act, and those who weren’t working on the logs maintained a security perimeter.
Awkwardly, as a team, we moved this monstrosity of a device what seemed like forever, but really was probably only a few miles at most. Finally we were allowed to separate the logs and carry them by hand with slings, like a medical unit might.
After we had crossed a bridge and the cadre felt we had had enough rest, the logs were hoisted back up on our shoulders and more miles were given to us.
At this point, time starts to blur, mainly because we were so focused on keeping the logs moving. It was always just one step in front of the other.
At a certain time we needed to pass one of our shadows with both logs in less than a minute. We missed the time hack and cadre had us get on our backs with the logs above our heads, just like before. Punishment was given as a lesson was explained over our hurt bodies.
“Its not about you anymore, its about the team. I don’t care if it hurts…no shit it hurts! At this point in time, you need to stop feeling sorry about yourself and start sucking it up for the person next to you.” These words motivated me in a way that made me make it all the way to the very end. I don’t even mean that they just helped me finish, these words really gave me strength to suck it up and finish strong.
As we kept moving forward with the logs, nearing the starting point again, I kept thinking to myself, well it’s starting to get dark now. We will probably just keep moving with these logs for a while, turn around, and we will do some PT and be done…right?
How wrong I was! At this point, we were already down seven teammates, and even more people dropped! It was as if one person quit, it gave someone else a good reason to quit too? I never understood that, but it happened.
FINALLY we got to a point where Cadre let us drop one log and leave it in it’s final resting place. RIP you stupid log. At this point, 20 of us remained, and I knew at this point that these would be the teammates I would finish with, no matter what happened. I am so happy that I was right about that.
The sun began to set, and I could feel the mood of the group begin to quiet down. Time hacks were given and off we marched with our log. Racing forward at a pace which we thought would be sufficient, you wouldn’t believe what happened next… we missed a time cut off, again!
This time our punishment was pushups in cadence with our feet on the log. Pretty difficult for a group over 20 hours into their event. After this, we pressed on, through small neighboorhoods and towards the highway underpass, with the monstrosity on our shoulders. The words GoRuck HEAVY kept going through my head. They were so right.
After crossing under the highway the cadre decided to relieve us of our pain and let the final log down, thus ending what was left of log work for the event.
Cadre Danny then began to walk our squads through security formations, informing us about the importance of each one and how it would be important to remember them for later. It popped into my head that, Wow, we are so far away from Mylos, do they really expect us to turn around and finish there? But we kept walking away from the start point and towards the lights of downtown Austin.
I would call this part of the event the long dark walk. Why you ask? Because that’s exactly what it was. As a part of our security detail, we had to keep our heads on a swivel through the dark residential neighborhoods, simulating the vigilence that the US soldiers had to maintain for hostile “skinnies,” the term given to native somalian militia by military personnel.
We started to reach busier streets and finally heard, “Turn right on to Congress Street.”
While walking down the central street of the capital city, past shops and restaurants on a Saturday night, we were briefed that if we saw a Prius we were to squat down, cover our ears, and open our mouth. This was to simulate the proper reaction to any grenade or hostile explosives.
Cadre Geoff hates Priuses, thus the decision to chose this car. Conveniently, downtown Austin has plenty of Priuses driving around. Cadre Geoff later gave me an exact description of why we went through this evolution:
“[The Priuses] took on the role of ‘Technicals’ which were abundant by the Somalia Militia during the conflict. Technicals have heavy crew served weapons, usually a .50 call, mounted in the back and are very effective at doing damage since they are mobile. This was instituted because Task Force Ranger encountered them constantly and had to stay focused in order to stay alive. Very similarly to what Class 048 needed… to stay focused and keep moving. The class became more alive during this evolution.”
The Capital building was in sight, and I finally had an idea of where we would finish our journey.
Only fifteen blocks away, we were instructed to stay on the look out for any Prius and take cover when we moved. Two blocks away from the front of the Capital building, Cadre asked our team lead and the assistant team lead when the last time was they took count of the team.
Assistant team leader began counting, as the team kept moving. 1,2,3…17,18,19…uh-oh. She took a recount, and again only got 19.
Someone had been left behind some how.
Squad 1 and part of Squad 2 found a small courtyard, while a small team found a different route back into “hostile territory” to locate our missing team member. 10 to 15 minutes went by and our downed team member was returned safely with a simulated gun wound in the leg.
We carried him across the street, past the rows of shadows that had helped us throughout the event, and placed him down so we could all line up in our two squads. Cadre Geoff took out the patches for which we had all suffered and worked so hard for and began to speak.
I started smiling, thinking: Yes it’s finally over. But the words out of his mouth weren’t exactly what I expected. He began speaking positively about the team, but quickly switched to retelling the events of the Mogadishu Mile. “You’re not done yet, now the Mogadishu Mile really begins.” It felt like cadre had just given us a piece of candy and, instead, punched us in the mouth with a big ole smile on his face.
It would be just like the situation in Mogadishu, when the Rangers and Delta operators with no safe transportation away from the crash site had to suffer one last mile to the secured Pakistani Stadium. Surprisingly, the Darrell K Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium was one mile away from the capital.
“You’re a casualty, you’re a casualty, everyone’s a casualty!” Those weren’t the exact words out of Cadre’s mouth; but it sure felt like it. He was like the devil Cadre Oprah just handing out casualties. Everyone who was a casualty was to be fireman or partner carried, which meant that they would not be wearing their rucks.
Stray rucks were distributed among those not carrying someone. It worked out being anyone not carrying someone was carrying around 3-4 rucks, and some that were carrying casualties took on 2 rucks. While we scrambled to organize weights it felt like a war zone and we hadn’t even started to move yet. Cadre noticed this, told the current team leader he was finished, and chose Nicole Ponton as team leader.
I felt bad because this next movement was going to suck. I want to congratulate her specifically for doing such a great job and keeping her head straight while leading the team through such a terrible time.
“You’re moving too slow, get your shit together and GET MOVING!!” cadre shouted at us. Two punishment PT sessions were handed out for not moving across streets safely or as a team. At this point in time, though, I could care less.
We were so close to the end that there was nothing that could’ve stopped us as a team. Dive bomber pushups, and bear crawls on the UT Austin campus towards the stadium. Cadre announced that if our knees touched the ground it would be defeat. “Don’t give me a reason to performance drop you! If I see a knee touch the ground, you’re out,” Cadre commanded.
Even though it was a long distance and everyone was exhausted, I never saw a knee touch the ground.
This last mile was completely grueling and one of the craziest things I’ve ever gone through in an event. It was absolutely insane, but I know that it doesn’t even come close to what the men in Mogadishu really went through in their final mile to the safe zone.
After a few more scoldings from cadre and trudges of pure grit, we finally made it to the last check point.
Casualties were set down, rucks redistributed, and everyone lined up in two squads to do a final headcount. Then we were tested on how much we could recall about what we had learned about the men involved in the Battle of Mogadishu.
Ordered into the plank position, we got and the names of those fallen in Mogadishu were stated from memory by various teammates. We had seven left to round out the list, but no one could remember them.
Cadre made sure we learned their names with 8-count man makers for every man we didn’t know. “On your feet everyone…. rucks down…. you’re done!” those words just pierced my very soul with a warmth that made everything up until that point okay.
We stood at attention and listened to two final accounts of extreme bravery by individuals during the Battle of Mogadishu. Then Cadre pulled out the patches again, this time for real. I smiled and look at everyone around me, we couldn’t contain ourselves.
Hugs and handshakes were thrown all over the place and after a little bit I shook Cadre’s hand and was awarded my patch. It was done! It was finally done, and I couldn’t be more happy and proud of such an amazing team.
I’d like to thank Cadre Danny, and Cadre Geoff. You handed out hell but knew it was just what we needed to band together as a team to obtain the standard. I’d like to thank the shadows that followed us throughout our journey and recorded it with smiles.
Thanks to Tadashi Andrews for the pictures provided. Another big thanks to the COTA F1 track crew who allowed us into their facilities. And lastly a big thanks to all the team members of GoRuck Heavy 048. It wouldn’t have been the same with out you. 41.35 miles, 27.5 hours, with more than 35lbs on our backs at all times… We’re done!