AAR, Brandon Blake | GORUCK Tough Challenge: The Alamo

Brandon BlakeAfter Action Review

After Action Review by Brandon Blake.

It seems After Action Reviews are a dime a dozen these days. We lined up, we got smoked in the welcome party. We overcame some challenges. We had a long ruck. We endexed. Yes, all these things happened, but for me on that long night, the event led to much more.

I can remember back to my first GORUCK Tough exactly a year earlier collapsed on the ground during the welcome party with absolutely no strength to keep gong. It wasn’t a feeling I liked and I was determined to train my body and mind to not get there again. Still, the Cadre are well accustomed to finding your weakness and aggressively helping you through it.

Welcome to the party, pal!

This Alamo event started like any other… with a welcome party. With 64 people to start the event, we divided up into 3 teams. The SOAL guys were able to get into one team as well as 3 other guys I knew from previous events. The three teams each set out with a Cadre. We started with Cadre Red Drew. His portion was simple. 10 exercises. Maximum effort. Stay in cadence and formation together. All of us were feeling smoked after this so fortunately the next station was with Cadre Chris CT.

Cadre CT’s station was mental. It was designed to teach us a respect and admiration for the few guys that fought and died at the Alamo. If you got a question right, you moved on. If you got a question wrong, you paid with PT (13 reps to represent the 13 days) so you would never forget. Fortunately, we had several native Texans and several of us had studied up in advance. After the mental challenge, there was a team building challenge and then we were off to Cadre Brian Squared.

Cadre Brian is renown for being one of the most difficult Cadres in GORUCK, and for good reason. He knows you won’t die, none-the-less, he better test you and find out. In his portion of the welcome party, he pushed us hard with several full body exercises. From there, we were ready to head out. It’s 9 miles to the Alamo. Better get going.

Getting there is half the battle

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m geared like a Mack Truck – low and slow. I can carry weight and I can take it far. The only things that get to me mentally are running and fast rucks. That said, we started with Cadre Brian for the first movement and we started with a ruck run. I quickly decided I would put out maximum effort all the time. It’s meant to suck, right? It didn’t matter if I brought up the rear (which I did) as long as I just didn’t quit. I remember thinking, “good, they’ve stopped,” only to be told to sprint up a ginormous hill in less than 30 seconds, still out of breath from the ruck run. That’s when I knew this was not going to be a normal event. I knew going in that I could expect to find a limitation and then work through it, but that scenario repeated 3-4 times over the next few hours, and I had to fight some pretty tough mental battles to stay in the event and support my team. I remember someone saying later that they really felt bad for the first team that went out with Cadre Brian, that they were always on the ground doing PT. Yeah, that was us. Every minute of those few hours seemed designed to make us quit, but it only made our team stronger.

After about 4 miles of ruck runs, hill sprints, overhead carries, and strapless ruck carries, we finally got to the second evolution. I will tell you that I’ve never been happier to see a log to carry. This movement went very quickly — about 1.5 miles. The team did awesome. We never put the logs down. We moved with purpose and without complaining. I think everyone was happy to actually have our rucks on our back and slow down the pace a little.

For the third phase, we set out with Cadre Drew, 3x 30lb ammo cans, 4x 40lb sand bags, a 25lb artillery shell, and a 120lb sandbag. For this phase, we were the QRF (quick reaction force) to the Alamo to resupply the troops. We had to move heavy and we had to move fast. Too fast. I was on a rotation of 4 guys. Our rotation was fairly brilliant, but hard. The leader had one ammo can in each hand. The second guy had nothing. The third guy had the artillery shell, and the fourth guy had nothing. We rotated every 150 grueling steps. I think this movement was about 3.5 miles. We took a wrong turn which added distance. When we got there, all of us were hurting. Because we took the wrong turn, we arrived 15 minutes late. The other two teams had spent that 15 minutes sitting, eating, mending their feet. We got none of that. We had to immediately line up for the 9 mile walk back to the start.

There were two very important moments for me here.

  1. My feet hurt worse than anything I’ve ever experienced. It felt like 100s of pocket knives sticking up between the bones of my feet. I honestly almost quit, not out of lack of strength, but out of fear of serious injury. Knowing it was 9 long miles back, I let what was to come get the best of me. It took every ounce of mental strength to stay in. I decided I would finish, and I would finish on my feet.
  2. Cadre Drew pulled us aside for a pep talk. This is a guy that I respect immensely. And when a SEAL pulls a group aside and says “you guys put out like mother f*ckers. Great work.” It means a lot. I was happy to be in that group. No matter how much it hurt, I had the strength to be part of that team.

The long road home

This part was the hardest for me. I knew we had to ruck back to where we started. There were no short cuts. It’s going to be 9 miles. The longest ruck I did in training was 10 miles. And that was tough. We had to do 9 when all of us were pretty much toast already. Still, I wan’t going to quit. I don’t remember much about this part, but I remember each step and the pain of each step vividly. I remember knowing the next step was going to be excruciatingly painful and that the one after that would be worse. Still, I pushed on. At some point, someone took my ruck from me. At another point I had two of the toughest women I’ve ever met link arms with me to help pull me along. I got to the end of everything I had to give, and we still had 5 miles to go. Still, I pushed on. My only goal was to finish on my feet. I laid everything I had on that river walk.

Getting back to the start point, I knew we could expect an endex. I didn’t expect it to be so short. We did mountain climbers. Then we lined up for a wonderful tunnel of love. Brian said if we did it well, we would be done. I expected that we would get done with the tunnel and have some infraction that would take us to more. I was the second man through the tunnel and I was so relieved to see the patch I had fought so hard for and the smile on Cadre Brian’s face (its rare to see) as he encouraged me on. I grabbed that patch and held on tight. We were done!

Remembering the Alamo

I will always remember the Alamo as the place my mind and body was tested the hardest. As a husband and father of 4, my family relies on me to make the right decision and stay the course. Whether it’s work, finances, marriage issues, kid issues, life is tough. GORUCK has taught me, it can always be worse, just don’t quit.

The other thing I walked away from is a deep, deep respect and love for the SOAL brothers. Not everyone was there, but I know that Josh, Jonathan, Brent, and Garret are tough dudes. They will always be there for me and I will always be there for them.