This is my AAR (After Action Report) for the GORUCK GOREVOLUTION HTL event in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The AAR will address each event of the HTL (the Heavy, Tough, and Light) individually with commentary on the overlapping aspects of the HTL as a singular event.
GRT, you can skip this.
If you don’t know what a GRT is (Thanks for reading my blog, mom.) then you might want to read this.
GORUCK is a backpack company that puts on endurance events around the world that focuses on leadership development, physical and mental endurance, and teamwork by harnessing the experience and wisdom of battle tested special operators from military special forces (Green Beret, Force Recon, Navy Seals, etc).
The GORUCK Heavy is a 24-hour event that usually covers 40 miles and requires you to carry a ruck (backpack) with a 30-pound weight (20 pounds for those under 150 pounds) and any supplies (like water & food) that you need/want. My ruck weighed 41# fully loaded. The event includes a 12-mile ruck march that must be completed in less than 3 hours 30 minutes and a physical assessment test. Here is a video of what a GORUCK Heavy might look like.
The GORUCK Tough is a 12 hours event that usually covers 15 miles and requires you to carry a ruck with a 30-pound weight (20 pounds for those under 150 pounds) and any supplies (like water & food) that you need/want. These are almost always done over night. Here is a video of what a GORUCK Tough might look like.
The GORUCK Light is a 3-6 hour event that usually covers 6 miles and requires you to carry a ruck with a 20-pound weight (10 pounds for those under 150 pounds) and any supplies (like water & food) that you need/want. It is usually a lot more “fun” but light does not equal easy. Here is a video of what a GORUCK Light might look like.
The event I did was an HTL which means all three events were done in succession with 3-4 hours between events to transition. Total time from start to finish is right around 48 hours. In total, I slept 50 minutes during the event. We covered roughly 60 miles. My ruck weighed between 36 and 42 pounds during the event depending on the amount of water I had at any given moment.
Alright GRTs, you can start paying attention again.
This particular event was part of a special series of GORUCK events called GOREVOLUTION. These events are designed to experience the historical sights, people, and events that shaped our nation and our freedom. They are held in Boston, Philadelphia, New York, and Yorktown. This particular event looked at the revolutionary war activities and persons involved in Philadelphia during 1778-1779, including the Battle of Brandywine, the Paoli Massacre, and winter at Valley Forge.
I woke up Friday morning with a sense of dread. I didn’t feel like my training had been enough and my mental game was off. There was the lingering sense of doubt after my last attempt at an HTL ended in failure. I had quit.
As we packed up the mini-van and headed on the highway, I told my wife that I didn’t feel up for the task. I was loosing the mental battle. I felt doomed.
My only hope at that point was that once the event started somehow survival mode and muscle memory would kick in and I’d just get it done. Time would tell, but I didn’t feel good about it… at all.
Sustain: It turns out that my training wasn’t as off as I thought it was. A focus on increasing strength, moving to 5 days a week at the gym, and longer rucks on the weekend worked well for me.
Improve: Doubt and fear certainly won the pre-game with me. Need to fix the mental.
GORUCK GOREV Heavy
As always, we start with admin. Couple things of note. First, there were two people that were there for their very first event. One of them… was wearing a singlet. For freakin real.
Second, the class was huge. We started with 82 people. The biggest class I’ve ever been in was like 30+/-. The size was impressive.
After we got all the admin out of the way, we formed into 2 columns we counted off to get a class head count. Cadre asked the class for a volunteer to lead the troop. Without hesitation, Michael stepped up.
Let me say here that Michael deserves massive credit. Being a team leader is a thankless position most of the time. And stepping up to lead a class of over 80 people is freakin worth mad props. But, beyond that, this class was full of a ton of experienced GRT. What that means is that you have roughly 80 people that all know what you should be doing and how you’re screwing everything up. So, basically stepping up to be TL means you’re gonna take shit from the cadre because the team is your responsibility AND the the team is pretty much always pissed at you because, “why the hell doesn’t the TL just _____.”
So, I give mad respect to Michael for stepping up. He was the general for the entire 24 hours and he persevered in his position despite the physical pain he was dealing with and the, doubtless, mental pain of having 80+/- people varying degrees of pissed at you.
Michael was instructed to select 2 Regiment Commanders. He randomly selected #13 and #30 from the headcount. Jack Freakin Pot. I won the lottery. I was just given command of 40 bad-ass weirdos! Time to step up and lead. I was psyched.
My first command was to break up my regiment into 4 (roughly) equal companies and within each company to select company commanders.
It was here that providence shone down upon Regiment One. As I counted off my companies, I randomly appointed the company commander. Carmela lead Company One, Bee lead Company Two, younger Larry lead Company Three, and Ryan lead Company Four.
These 4 people impressed the hell out of me. Every instruction I passed to them, every request I made from them, every task I asked them to complete, they owned and executed with their company perfectly. It gave me great confidence as the Regiment Commander to know these 4 were truly leading and owning their responsibility.
I’d add a note here that I only know about Bee Yang from the Tough page and this blog post. Based on that, I really didn’t know how my random appointing of him as a company commander would go. I’m not trying to ruin his brand, but that dude was a great leader. He took my requests and instructions seriously and executed flawlessly. Bee, you were amazing.
Sadly at some point during the 12-miler, I lost one of my Company Commanders. I didn’t get the report until after our 12 mile timed ruck and PT was over. I could tell that his company was bummed, and so was I. The one we lost was a great team member and was surely missed the rest of the event. The person who reported to me was then promoted to Company Commander… and I can’t remember his name! But he stepped into the hole and delivered like a champ.
Sustain – Without knowing the the people in advance, picking leaders is a crap shoot. But, having good ones is worth its weight in gold.
Improve – Don’t be afraid to lead. I didn’t step up when he called for TL for lots of reasons: feelings of inadequacy, fear of the unknown, and fear of the cadre to name a few. But, teams need leaders and if I can contribute (and I think I can) then I need to push past those excuses and step up.
Command structure now in place, it was time to move. Our two regiments walked 200 feet and the cadre threw us a little party to welcome us to the HTL.
It was much of what you’d expect from a welcome party. Lots of PT and getting yelled at for doing it wrong. Good times.
I did, however, do a movement I’ve never done before. The hands-behind-your-back-low-crawl. It is… interesting.
We ended our “dynamic warm-up” with a quick full body dip in the creek. It felt amazing.
We headed out and started to learn. Cadre Andy had an amazing experience crafted for us. We would follow the troops of theContinentall Army of 1777-1779 in Philadelphia, walk their paths, learn their stories, and, in some ways, feel their pain. When we eventually made it to Valley Forge, we were a worn down group of GRT, much like Washington’s troops. It was all by design and the design was brilliant (I can’t wait to tell you about the ending!).
This aspect of the event was phenomenal. To take time and stop and think about what it was like in 1777-1778 in the fight for our inalienable rights. It meant so much to not just hear about the service and sacrifice of those who waged that war, but to hear from Andy, Michael, and Chad who have stood in that same place of putting their lives forward in the service of those ideals as special operators. It wasn’t just educational, it was humbling.
I won’t go into a lot of the details on what we learned at each stop. One, because it was so much info that I can’t remember it all (though I did spend dinner after the event telling my wife and kids all about Von Steuben). But, two, because you need to put GOREV event on your calendar and experience it for yourself. Based on what I experienced and the feedback that GORUCK will likely get from all of us, the Philly HTL is an event that needs to keep on going!
We went to a few more locations learning all about the Battle of Brandywine and people involved, as well as experiencing some things the army would have encountered, like fording a river. Then it was time for our 12 mile timed ruck, which would be done as a team.
Having the timed ruck as a team certainly added complexity to the movement because you have to walk the balance of staying together plus making the time hack. It wasn’t particularly elegant, and we had several drops on this portion. Somehow, Andy found a route that was like uphill like 90% of the time.
Sustain – n/a
Improve – On the 12 miler we weren’t really in our official regiments and companies. More or less we were just a big group on a walk. Looking back, I wish I would have pulled my company commanders aside and instruct them to check on their team during the 12 miler. Instead, I just did my own thing, put in my miles, tried to encourage the people around me. All the while, one of my commanders was having trouble and eventually had to drop. The fact that I didn’t know this person was struggling or that they even had to drop was a failure on my part. I only realize that now.
After the 12 miler we went straight into the physical assessment. In lieu of the traditional 2-minute push-up and sit-up tests, cadres decided to assess us with a PT beat down. It was here that we learned for the first (and by no means the last) that if we all don’t do it right, the rep count goes back to zero. 46,47,48 nope, the rep count is now zero.
At this point, the sun was coming up and we headed to the site of the Paoli Massacre. This was an emotional stop. War is ugly and sites like this are stark reminders of that fact. As we walked that field I thought about those farmers, shop owners, candlestick makers, and all the rest of those who heard the call to fight for liberty and answered. In that location, 53 died by the (literal) sword when ambushed at night. After Andy finished reviewing the events, he gave us time to walk the field and reflect. I did so with tears in my eyes.
Sustain: Embrace moments of reflection and really let them sink in. Moments like that are special. Maintain reverence and respect.
Improve: It bugs me when we’re in sites of reverence and people are just chatting and killing time. I pretty much get pissed and think less of those people. I should probably be less of a judgemental dill hole. Just because I’m having a deep moment doesn’t mean everyone else has to have a tear in their eye.
We exited the park in formation, having acquired some new weights we found in the woods while doing walking lunges.
From there it was onward to Valley Forge. We covered more ground and learned more amazing lessons. We also had an epic beat down in route that included nearly half the team becoming casualties while we were reduced to carrying all rucks by their handle only. If you weren’t carrying a person, you likely were carrying two rucks by hand plus other stuff. At one point we were getting too many rucks and cadre said someone could regain strap privileges if they carried 4 rucks. I volunteered and immediately regretted and loved the decision. It was brutal.
As we entered Valley Forge we, in some small way, could feel a little of the pain, suffering, and fatigue Washington’s army felt as they entered Valley Forge all those years before us.
We pushed on and eventually made it to the end point. Much like the men in Washington’s army at the end of winter in Valley Forge, the end of the Heavy left us the choice: we could end our service and call it a day, or we could reenlist and show up for the campaign. The vast majority of the crew opted to reenlist. At that point, Andy said the only way to get our patches was to pick them up at the very end. If we wanted it, we’d have to earn it.
Between the Heavy and Tough
My wife and kids met me between events. Honestly, seeing them at ENDEX was like gold. It meant the world to me to see their faces as I walk towards the end point. Having them on my support team may have been the biggest game changer over my last HTL attempt.
Physically and mentally, I felt great. That surprised the heck out of me. I was actually feeling good and believed that I could make it through this thing.
We grabbed a few team members, grabbed some Wendys, and headed to the Tough start point across town. Oh, and a massive thunderstorm rolled through.
At the Tough start point, I grabbed a 20-minute nap. It was pretty good.
I assessed my body and it was surprisingly good. I didn’t really tell any of my teammates, but my feet were basically perfect. I had 1 small (teeny-weeny) blister on my big toe. Other than that, nearly perfect. My team, on the other hand, almost everyone was complaining about shredded feet… like crazy shredded.
After a couple hours of recovery, I geared back up, hugged and kissed my amazing family, and went out for my next beating.
Sustain: Having family at endex was huge. I wasn’t sure if we were going to get smoked at the final end point or not, but as I walked up and saw them, I knew it would be easier with them watching. If they can be there, have the family around. Also, having a pre-packaged bag with replenishing supplies for the next event was huge. I opened the bag, grabbed what I needed, and I was ready to go.
GORUCK GOREV Tough
It is only 12 hours, I told myself. You just have to make it through the night. You got this.
We gathered into formation with the HTLers and the new recruits split. As the new Tough crew was getting welcomed to the event, Cadre Andy pulled the HTL folks to the side. It was quiet. He motioned for all of us to gather around. I thought for sure he was about to smoke us or something. He looked around the tight mob of nasty smelling men and women. “How many do we have?” he asked. “47” someone answered. He clenched his fist and a giant, passionate, grin came across his face and he growled “Yessssss!” and the class erupted.
I’m pretty sure that it was at that moment each and every one of us knew that nothing would keep up from finishing the mission. Cadre got us to buy in and we believed. That moment was absolutely electric.
And then Andy “welcomed” us to the Tough in proper fashion 🙂
Interestingly, the new Tough crew got their own separate welcome party which was both interesting and terrifying. As they were finishing up, we gained a new general, regimental, and company commanders. We folded the new recruits into our ranks and brought them up to speed on the fly as we began to move out.
I really enjoyed this. Having such a large team that had been through so much together already, I can imagine that it would be difficult to jump in the mix. But, everyone (at least in Golf Company), made a concerted effort to make sure they new members felt included and a party of what was going on.
We moved out and continued our journey.
We started the tough learning about the Battle of Germantown. I missed a lot of the instruction because the guy holding the flag seemed to be falling asleep while standing. I knew we’re all die a painful PT filled death if the flag touched the ground, so I stood ready to grab it if he went down. After a few prods from other concerned team members, he passed the flag to another.
As we headed out, we were given instructions that our next movement would be in complete silence and we lost the privilege of wearing our rucks. We now had to carry them on the front with no straps or handles.
The silent march was nerve racking. One screw up would, no doubt, lead to casualties. As we walked, the two regiments split with one on each side of the road. After we had walked in silence for 1/2 a mile or so, I heard the cadre at the other regiment say, “Hey, what’s your name?” And just like that, casualty.
Somehow our regiment managed to maintain their silence. Once we got to the destination, cadre used sign language to communicate to us and, I think, deep down, none of us know if we were allowed to talk yet. He then quietly gave us some instructions and one of my teammates started to say something. Not having my hands free or the ability to talk, I stomped on his foot and motioned to how no one was talking. He looked at me dumbfounded. Looked at his foot. And looked at me again. Yeah, he was one of the folks with shredded feet. I felt so bad (again, sorry Larry). Thankfully, he’s one of my buddies, so I just used sign language to tell him he could hit me in the face in just a minute to make it even.
Improve: Don’t ever stomp on the foot of a person who has just completed a GORUCK Heavy. Also, should the no talking rule ever be used in an event I’m at I will try to remind my team not to step into booby traps set by the cadre.
From here Cadre Andy talked about Washington’s battle in Germantown, specifically what took place at Chew House. Again, I missed much of what was said because of the flag. Since we were in a parking lot, there was no place to prop the flag. So, we rolled it up and carefully placed it on a ruck, water can, and team weight. The problem is that it was not very secure and the back end of the pole was sticking out. If someone wasn’t paying attention, they could kick it and we’d all be dead.
So, as Cadre readied his awesome presentation of Washington’s battle plan, I knelt beside the flag and placed my hand on it. Not 2 minutes later a team member came running over to get into place and tripped over the rear end of the pole. Terror shot through my body and I grab the flag with all my force. It was safe. We would live, for now. After that, I didn’t hear a lot of what Andy said. I just sat there watching every movement near the flag and resting my hand on it in case another accident happened.
Sustain: Protect the flag at all costs.
Improve: In instances where a proper and safe solution can’t be secured to rest the flag, ask Cadre for permission to stand to hold the flag in order to ensure it is protected.
After our lesson, we formed back up and headed down to the river. We picked up a few extra pieced of wood and a few casualties were added to our ranks. It wasn’t as bad as the Heavy casualty event, but it was still pretty brutal. It was also frustrating because HTL participants weren’t allowed to carry any casualties. I may have bent that rule a little bit. At least for a few blocks before I got reprimanded.
As the river entered our sight, we stopped in a patch of grass in front of a gas station. We then entered into one of the hardest PT smoke sessions I’ve ever had in any event. It can all be summed up in 6 simple words, “The rep count is now zero.”
Word on the street is that the session lasted 2 hours. I don’t know the veracity of that, but it was long and it was brutal.
A few things stood out to me in the PT session. First, our General (and his 2IC – I think that’s who else jumped in at the end) did an amazing job leading a really freaking hard evolution. I kept thinking, “I can hardly do this over here. There’s no way I could do this AND lead the rep count and AND actually lead the team through it.” It was impressive.
Second, there were some amazing teammates that jumped into physically help a couple folks that were on the edge of annihilation. Literally taking their weight and helping them do the movements. Again, I was hanging on by a thread and here this guy was almost doing double duty. It was unreal to watch.
Third, towards the end when our 4-count mountain climbers were on rep zero for at least 200-300 reps, I felt near the end of my rope. I could see it in on the face of the lady to my left that she was in the same place as me. I asked, “how ya doing?” She replied, “I probably can’t do this too many more times.” He voice sounded exactly like I felt. On the edge of giving up, but trying to muster for one more round. I replied, “well, let’s just give it two or three more zeros. If we end up back at zero again after those, maybe we can try one or two more after that.” We continued onward. 1… 2… 3…
I don’t know if it helped her, but it really helped me. There was something in those words that helped pull me out. It was an acceptance that I was going to keep going and I wanted her to keep going too. We might end up quitting, but not at least until we did a few more… and then a few more after we did a few more. That really got me over the hump.
Sustain: Sometimes little things you do to try to help others will actually help you. When you feel like you’re at your end, find some way to reach out to someone in your same spot.
Improve: I’d love to get to the place where I was strong enough to lead the team in PT like those guys… or be the one strong enough to add another person’s weight to mine to help them out. So… just get stronger.
After that brutal session, we moved out and along the Schuylkill River Trail. While I had high hopes for another history lesson from Andy, all we got was time hack after time hack. It was a ton of ruck shuffling… for miles on miles. Again, TL did great pushing us. Sure, everyone bitched at him, but he got the freakin job done. Again, TL gets no love. Everyone has a better idea and wants to bitch and complain. But, what matters here is results. He delivered.
Of course, he grew weary of the lack of support from the troops. As we moved toward the city, we started to incur casualties and the troops were fighting TL tooth and nail as he tried to push us onward. Eventually, he gave the people what they wanted. If we’re not gonna make the time hack, let’s just take a moment to rest and hydrate. Cadre let us take a minute as the TL instructed. We then were told to bear crawl around the building because it was time for a smoke session. Then things got weird. I’ll leave it at that. If you were there, you will forever share that bond with the buddies you were next to… moving on…
Improve: Find a way to get the team to stop griping and complaining and simply put out. We don’t ask Cadre to slow down or hold up during a PT session, but we sure are quick to yell “slow down” when TL is pushing the pace to make a time hack. I don’t know…
Eventually, we made it into Philly and the endex point. Again, seeing my wife and kids was like a magic elixir. I didn’t want another smoke session, but I felt so much stronger when I saw them. Andy brought our story into town and we ended the tough. Like last time, Andy told the HTL folks that they’d have to make it to the end of the event to get their patches. We then patched out the Tough class. It was awesome.
Between Tough and Light – AKA, when I get Blue Falconed
I pretty much just sat down right where I was, took off my shoes and socks, and put my head on my ruck. I was out immediately.
I woke up 30 minutes later and had lost all sense of reality. I opened my eyes and saw my wife staring at me. I couldn’t tell if it was real or not. I think I said something, but I had no clue what was going on. I was totally out of it.
I managed to sit up and it took another 30 minutes before I felt normal again. But, once I got myself together, I was good to go.
As I sat regrouping, I overheard someone say that Cadre Chad has instructed HTLers to show up to the light with their 30# weight and not the prescribed 20# weight. This was crushing news. I had been longing and looking forward to losing those 10 pounds. Anything seemed possible with 20# instead of 30#.
I checked with a couple other team members and got the same message. It sucked, but I guess I was doing the light was 30#. I did however, take everything else out of my ruck. All I had in there was my weight, my water, and 2 packs of energy jelly beans. It didn’t drop much weight, but every bit counted.
At start point, I grabbed a couple others that had not stuck around the park. They had dropped down to 20# and were, like me, unaware of any instruction to keep the 30#. I was sad. But, I was stuck. So, maybe Cadre Chad just Blue Falconed some of us. Maybe not. Either way, I was stuck with my 30# weight.
Sustain: I liked the short power naps. Any more sleep and I think I would have been messed up.
Improve: Man… I don’t know how to avoid what happened with the weight. If I was BF’d or if I did more work than I needed. If this situation arises again, and I don’t have clarity, just bring both 🙂
GORUCK GREV Light
Light does not equal easy. Admin ended and the Cadre “welcomed” us to the GORUCK light. Again, I got to practice that new movement I learned at the start of the heavy, the hand-behind-your-back-low-crawl. It was great.
Thankfully the smoke session was over somewhat quickly. But, honestly, I was in robot mode and just doing whatever I was told.
From there we move out and walked around downtown Philly checking out a bunch of the historic sites and talking about what all was going on politically in the city and focusing on some of the major characters.
After the first few movements, the new folks that had just joined in for the light began to step up and carry the team weights and water. Good on them!
As we began to wrap up our tour we stopped in another park. Not seeing any historic building or monuments of note, I wasn’t sure why we were stopping. Oh… right… beat down time.
And, so another round of PT was upon us. Oh, how I longed for that 20# plate. Overhead holds. Overhead presses. and so many other brutal movements.
I was hanging on my a thread, giving all I had. But my arms and shoulders were failing. Fear was setting in.
Somehow I survived and we moved on. AS we left the square, I knew the the next movement was towards the end. I prayed, “God, please don’t let there be another beat down because I don’t know if I can make it. If there is another one, please let it just be movements that I’m good at… or give me some magical ninja strength. Amen.”
We arrived at the endex for the light. Andy told the HTL folks to hold tight, that we had somewhere else to go after the light class was patched.
Deep down I hoped it was not for a smoke session. Deep down, I prepared for one.
The Light class was patched and we gave them all hugs and congrats. Then we formed up and began to walk down the street.
Sustain: Keep putting out, even when you’re spent. And keep praying.
Improve: Get stronger.
GOREV HTL Endex
We walked into another square and approached a monument. We fell into 3 ranks. We downed our rucks.
Andy gathered us together and we faced the tomb of the unknown soldiers from the Revolutionary War.
Andy looked at us. This is what the past 48 hours has all been about. The freedom we have was paid for by those who gave their all for the cause. That was true then and it is true today.
There was so much more that he said and shared in those few minutes in front of that memorial and it will take me a while to process it all. But in that moment, I was brought to tears. So many people died to provide me and my family with the freedom we enjoy. They believed the cause was worth their life and they offered it up… for me… for my family… and for all future generations.
As I pondered that I could not help but be drawn in my thoughts to Jesus. As a Christian, I believe that Jesus did that very same thing on a much grander scale, laying down his life to secure my eternal freedom. It was profoundly moving.
We returned to our rucks. The HTL was officially over. We received our patches. We gave each other hugs.
I signed up for this HTL because I wanted to prove that I could do it after failing my first attempted HTL. I went in scared and with no confidence. The event pushed me harder than I’ve ever been pushed. But, together with my team, we made it to the finish.
The event taught me so much. This AAR doesn’t even really scratch the surface. My appreciation for my freedom, my family, my faith, my friends, grew very deep in those 48 hours. So, to Cadre Andy, thank you for taking me on that journey. I assure you that all the time and energy you put into this event was worth it. You have helped me grow as an American and as a person. Thank you.
Now… go sign up for a GOREV event and live it for yourself.
And, then there was dinner.
Few random items that didn’t make it above, but are worth mentioning:
- Stephanie McGrew is always smiling. It really helped me during the heavy.
- Towards the end of the Heavy I realized that since we had not been in companies very much, I was just “working the line” and talking to the whole team. What I started to do, was encourage all Company Commanders to simply step up and lead whoever was around them. Wish I thought of that earlier.
- To all the people I pissed off by shushing you while cadre was talking, I’m not sorry. I don’t like doing PT and your conversation was not worth it to me.
- If I pissed you off by talking too much or saying stupid/goofy things during ruck marches. I am sorry for that. It is how I deal with the suffering and I think it helps… but, maybe it is annoying.
- Cadre Michael and Cadre Chad… damn you guys are brutal. I feel like I should thank you, but that’s gonna take some time for me to get there.
- Seriously, I appreciated what you had to say about PTSD, Cadre Chad.
- For all those who made it through the HTL, thank you. It was amazing to that event with you nerds.
- Why have you not signed up for a GOREV event yet!?!?