John Wilson is a husband, father of three, outdoor enthusiast, and former Captain in the US Army. No longer in the service, he missed the camaraderie, challenge and sense of accomplishment gained from completing military training and real world operations.
John discovered GORUCK and found the challenge and camaraderie he was missing. After completing his first GORUCK Tough Challenge in Charlotte, NC, he planned and executed a custom light event in Statesville, NC. He then set his sights on the GORUCK Joe Warner Memorial Heavy Challenge in Fort Bragg, NC.
We outfitted John and his three teammates – Jared Bowman, Scott Campbell and Jon Cichelli – for the event. After more than 27 hours, countless miles, and incredible physical and mental challenges, the men finished the event together, bonded in brotherhood. John shares their extraordinary adventure with us.
In its simplest form, rucking is to put weight on your back and go for a walk. A GORUCK heavy challenge is a 24+ hour team event that defies definition.
The challenges are led by GORUCK Cadre, current or former operators from the US Military Special Operations community. Their job is to induce an ever increasing stress level on the participants through strenuous physical exercise, long distance rucking of up to 40 miles, controlling environmental conditions, and restricting certain privileges throughout (food, ruck strap, boot privileges, etc.).
The event is team oriented and designed to teach the participant that they can accomplish more than they ever thought possible through a series of ongoing, stress-inoculating training evolutions. These progressions are much like you would encounter at the US Army’s Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS) course.
Throughout the event, the Cadre are there not only to enforce the standard, but also to instill a sense of leadership, teamwork, character, self-sacrifice and patriotism in each of the participants. Finishing a challenge like this teaches the participant not only that they can do more than they ever thought possible, but also to apply the lessons learned to everyday life.
Joe Warner was a Major in the US Army, a Green Beret Officer, Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) team leader, and a GORUCK Cadre member. Most importantly, Joe was a man of very high caliber, a son, a husband, a father and a truly good friend to many.
The GORUCK Joe Warner Memorial Heavy Challenge honors his life, and throughout the event we learned about Joe. We heard about the time he was in Afghanistan and wounded in combat. He self-applied a tourniquet to his arm, drew his pistol, and dispatched the enemy who had shot him.
We learned what it meant when people referred to this story and to Joe’s heroism when they said, “It’s only two miles.” We put what we learned into action throughout the challenge.
It’s hard to put everything we experienced into words. The event itself was absolutely phenomenal. It was just over 27 hours long and, honestly, I don’t know how many miles we covered.
We started at 6:00 PM Friday, February 19th. After passing our gear inspection, we conducted our first movement by foot.
At a predetermined point along the route, cargo vans pulled up, and the Cadre told us to load up. We were taken to the Star Course (land navigation course) in the heart of the US Army Special Forces playground, Camp Mackall, Fort Bragg, NC.
We spent hours upon hours conducting various forms of physical training (PT) that included carrying hundreds of sandbags of ungodly weight from point-to-point as a team, log PT, rifle PT, and more. Teamwork, coming together as a single unit, and refusing to quit on ourselves or each other were emphasized throughout.
At some point in the early morning of Saturday, February 20th, we formed up and began our second movement by foot, again under load. This time, in addition to our rucks, we had dozens of five gallon water jugs, ammo cans, crates, and sandbags to carry with us.
After several hours and miles, and learning tough lessons regarding accountability and leadership, we arrived at Lake Baggett. More PT ensued, along with a competition between three teams to build a fire and boil water.
This could only mean one thing: we needed fire to get warm because we were going in the lake!
Sure enough, we went in the lake not once, but twice. Between the two immersions (over our head in freezing cold water!) we huddled around the largest of the fires, all 66 of us, listening to a legend in the making named Chuck Ritter. He spoke to us about his experiences as a Green Beret, about mental fortitude and maintaining a never quit attitude.
Eventually, it was time to move out again. Leadership changes were made by the cadre, and we were given our scenario-based mission. We were given grid coordinates to the site of a downed helicopter and told to recover four wounded aircrew members and a fifth walking wounded passenger.
The movement took several hours, slowly snaking through a swamp dubbed “Scuba Road” that was waist- to chest-deep in places. We ultimately made it to the downed aircrew. Four Rescue Randy dummies weighing 225 to 250 lbs waited for us, along with our walking wounded. He was one of the participants who had experienced a cold weather injury. After getting warmed up he was rejoining us.
Once we had had a chance to eat and change socks, we began our final long movement under load. We moved all of our equipment and the rescued aircrew members on stretchers over several miles and several hours back to “friendly territory.” It was a tough pace, and most people were pretty smoked by this point. Yet the best was still to come.
The Cadre had us arrange our rucks to spell JOE, and they told us about the man we were there to honor. The memorial was by far the best part of the event. There are parts of it that I simply can’t describe; they are best left in memory and on the sand hills of NC. From there, we moved by van to the original start point.
Eventually, ENDEX (end of exercise) was called, and the Cadre awarded us the GORUCK Heavy patch for successfully completing the event. This was truly an emotional high that most of us have yet to come down from.
We took pictures with the Cadre and with each other, drank a beer (or two!), and poured one out for Joe. Eventually, the last of us headed back to the various places from across the country from whence we came.
We put KÜHL’s products through the wringer. From movement over miles and miles of the sand hills and pine forests of NC, through swamps up to our waist and even chest in places, to smacking our shins on underwater logs and pushing through tangle vines and brush, we all came out without a tear or even a loose stitch.
I’ll be honest: I spent 10 years in the military and was a bit apprehensive about doing this kind of event on this kind of terrain without military issue clothing and gear. I went into the event relatively confident in KÜHL’s products based on the training we had done, but by the end of the event, my confidence in KÜHL was absolutely solidified.
Oh, and one other thing: the Kollusion Jacket looked good, before and after the event!
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