After Action Review by Brent Davis.
At the conclusion of a 13-day siege upon the Texan Army battling for independence, Mexican troops launched an assault on the Alamo Mission in San Antonio that killed all Texan defenders on March 6, 1836. But the courageous defense and heroic sacrifice of those Texan soldiers motivated settlers from all over to join the Texan Army and ultimately defeat Mexican troops less than two months later, ending the Texas Revolution.
On March 4, 2016, five of us from Son of a Lion joined 60 other participants in a 13-hour GORUCK Tough Challenge that commemorated what the Alamo stands for and celebrated the fortitude and resolve needed to change the course of history. We got our asses kicked and sacrificed the normal comforts of life, but emerged stronger, more united, and more confident in our ability to push through limits.
Gut Check and the Welcome Party
At 9:00pm, our three Cadre (commanders of the challenge) arrived, inspected our gear, ridiculed our preparedness, divided us into three groups, and sent us into an overgrown, untended field for our “Welcome Party”. (All five of us from Son of a Lion were in the same group, helping tremendously throughout the entire challenge.) For the next three hours, each group rotated through each Cadre for some grueling PT.
First for our group was Cadre Red Drew, a current Navy Seal who told us that the next few hours were about proving to our leaders, teammates, and selves that we would persevere in the face of trials. With rucks on (backpacks were never allowed to touch the ground throughout the entire challenge), we engaged in basic, but rigorous PT.
We then rotated to Cadre CT, a former Green Beret who had us do 13-reps (paying homage to the 13 day siege of the Alamo) of several exercises and encouraged us to fight for one another.
We concluded our PT “Welcome Party” with Cadre Brian Sargent, a former Force Recon Marine who took great delight in pushing you physically to the brink of breakdown. We did tons of burpees, bunny hops, push ups, thrusters, mountain climbers, 8-count body builders, and other exercises that I can’t remember. Then the fun began.
Our mission was to advance to the Alamo, some 8.3 miles away, carry a bunch of heavy stuff, and gel as a unit of 21. Our commander for the first leg of our journey was Cadre Brian, aka Brian “Squared.” Our progress was slow since every time we made a mistake, we were forced to do more PT. In addition to that, we regularly carried our backpacks without the benefit of our straps (either in the form of a bear hug or directly overhead with arms locked). Actually, we regularly carried someone else’s backpack without using the straps since Cadre Brian had us swap packs early on in the rotation. Everyone’s shoulders and biceps were killing! Lucky for us, however, Cadre Brian showed his softer side when he had us all submerge into the San Antonio River to relieve any possible inflammation. We did that twice before our “ruck” with Brian was complete, and even “loosened up” with flutter kicks while relaxing in the river.
Other fun drills included bear crawling backwards up stairs, bunny hopping up three levels of same said stairs, walking lunges across bridges, pushups with a high-five to your partner, running up huge hills as a unit in less than 30 seconds (failure to execute naturally resulting in more grueling PT), leg lifts, military presses, chest extenders, ruck curls, and thrusters…all with rucks on. This was a very exhausting and memorable leg that is all kind of a blur. I couldn’t wait to change to a new cadre and questioned how we’d ever reach the Alamo.
Cadre Chris CT then gave us an awesome history lesson on the Alamo, reading an actual letter from William B. Travis, the Lieutenant Colonel who never relented in leading the defense of the Alamo. Cadre CT also shared experiences and fielded questions about his time as a Green Beret. All of this inspired us to rally for our middle leg to the Alamo and unite even more as a team. As a group, we carried a substantial railroad tie and a mid-sized telephone pole, rotating through while others encouraged and/or carried other heavy stuff in the form of sandbags and wrapped chains. Son of a Lion’s own Brandon Blake emerged as our Team Leader during this leg, helping us to navigate our route, establishing effective log carrying teams and rotations, and offering much encouragement. We rocked it during this leg and felt good about our progress.
Spiking It On the 1-yard Line
For our final and most crucial leg to the Alamo, Cadre Red Drew informed us that we were the much needed QRF (Quick Reaction Force) that William B. Travis had been desperately seeking to help defend the Alamo. Cadre Drew had us carry tons of sandbags, ammo boxes, and other heavy artillery-like items, and told us to maintain a fast pace since time was running out. He selected me as an Assistant Team Leader (ATL) for this rotation, with a primary responsibility to keep everyone fresh by rotating the heavy load evenly throughout the leg. Everyone just put out. Everyone battled through. It was awesome!
However, as ATL, I screwed up and didn’t read our map correctly, missing a crucial rest stop and rallying point, adding distance to the journey, and costing us precious time. We finally arrived at the Alamo sometime before dawn exhausted and late. Cadre Drew explained that because of our error, we were a walking dead unit, bringing nothing to the battle because we were completely spent. He commended our speed, but rebuked our tactical error which negated the effectiveness of the mission. He said that it was like spiking it on the 1-yard line having driven the full length of the field. He saw our mistake as a great GORUCK and life teaching point, encouraging us to think “three dimensionally” and to not let the rookie error bring us down. Needless to say, I felt like crap, and our team’s morale was at a low. We posed for a quick photo in front of the Alamo, got no rest time, and then began the 8.3 mile journey back to the starting point.
Watches aren’t permitted during the entire challenge. This video explains why. But as we left the Alamo, you could sense that dawn was approaching. Those final hours were the most grueling. Everything hurt. We still had to carry all that heavy stuff. And we had to hustle. And naturally, Cadre Brian had all participants carry their rucks in bear hug or locked arm overhead position for long stretches. All kinds of negative thoughts go through your head.
And in a weird way, this was the most beautiful part of the challenge. People in a better place carry your ruck for you so that you can get a quick breather and gain some strength. People encourage you. SOAL’s Garret Walston was an awesome Team Leader during a stretch and helped everyone rally. And there’s a camaraderie & respect for one another that only going through intense trials can bring. And once again, Cadre Brian relieved all inflammation with some quality aquatic time in the San Antonio River. Refreshed and water logged, we pressed on toward the starting point.
Tunnel of Love
The hardest part is not knowing where the end point is. We finally got back to the starting point and lined up in our team groups. Cadre Drew had us do 250 mountain climbers. Everyone’s groins and shoulders felt like they had been burned repeatedly by a giant flame thrower. We staggered to our feet and Cadre Brian gave us our next PT drill: the tunnel of love. Shoulder to shoulder, we assumed the downward dog position while the last man army crawled through the tunnel of bodies. The next person then followed as soon as the first person crawled past him. This continued until all participants crawled through the tunnel. Cadre Brian had explained that if we did it correctly, it might be our final exercise. And when you emerged from the tunnel and were handed your GORUCK Tough Challenge patch, it’s an unforgettable feeling. I almost wept. You still had to maintain the downward dog position while others passed through, but we had done it! We successfully completed our mission. It was awesome!
If you join us M-W-F at our Son of a Lion workouts, you’ll complete a Tough GORUCK challenge. It won’t necessarily be easy, but you’ll be more than adequately prepared mentally and physically to endure everything thrown at you. All SOAL participants at this event excelled throughout the challenge and demonstrated a strength and resolve that comes from a brotherhood that encourages you regularly to push through limits. Join us for some awesome workouts and test those limits at some really fun GRIT days. You’ll be glad that you did and be amazed at your capabilities.
– Brent Davis