Northeast Tennessee

AAR: Knoxville Mogadishu Mile HTL

Northeast Tennessee

GORUCK Mogadishu Mile HTL—Knoxville, TN

Cadre: Belman & Cleve

Disclaimer: The AAR contains my recollections of the event and is intended to provide a general overview. Perspectives offered reflect my position in the stack at various junctures throughout the three events. Others may have differing perspectives or experiences. The AAR is intended to be more of a technical description of the event and related items. At various junctures I take some editorial liberty and add a few personal observations. Any comments specific to my training, gear, or general takeaways from the HTL will be saved for the end. Mileage is an approximation after retracing the route based on key landmarks. It is possible that I missed a few small movements.

The Heavy (Friday, September 28; 1800)

Approximately 35 men and women assembled at the East Tennessee Veterans Memorial on the north end of Worlds Fair Park to honor the men of Task Force Ranger. The atmosphere was collegial with GRT’s circulating and introductions being made. The assembling team was diverse and included several seasoned GRT’s along with a few first time participants. Ranks were formed and rucks lined up in preparation for the arrival of Cadres Belman and Cleve.


Cadre Belman introduced himself and provided a brief description of the event along with a few comments on the personal relevance. Cadre Cleve introduced himself by inquiring how many of the GRT’s watched Selection—which was quickly followed by a second question—how many of you think I’m an asshole? Being a smart group of GRT’s all hands remained holstered. He informed the team that he was in fact one of the coolest guys we’d ever meet—cool as a fan. We would be treated with respect, but we would be pushed to our physical and mental limits.

The standard GORUCK administration followed with the formal assessment of illness, injuries, allergies or other pertinent information. Weight, water, ID, and quitters cash were verified. The administration phase did take an interesting turn when Cleve discovered that a first time GRT (who signed up for the HTL) brought a “Pancake” in his Ruck—which apparently was a 2000-calorie edible pancake of some sort. The Pancake was met with wonder, amazement, and a slight bit of good- natured ridicule from Cleve. From that point forward the GRT was known as “Pancake.”

We were asked how many signed up for the HTL. I do not recall the exact number but there were several—between 16 and 19.

A few more words about safety and the event were offered then we assembled and moved out for the PT test.

Evolution I

With the administrative phase complete, team leaders were identified and the group set out on a 1-mile movement to a local gym—KyBRa Athletics—for part I of the anticipated PT test. At this point coupons were minimal, a 25# flag pole, 50# team weight, 4 litters and a Jerry can. Upon arrival all Rucks and coupons were neatly organized and the GRT’s lined up across the wall for instructions.

PT Test—Part I

We were informed that the PT test would not only include the standard 2 minutes of push-ups & sit-ups, but also include additional strength elements. The team was divided into two groups (Alpha  & Bravo) for efficiency and the PT test executed.


  • 2 min push-ups (55 minimum)
  • 2 min sit-ups (65 minimum)
  • Retest components as needed


  • Dead hang pull-ups (15 minimum for men and 9 for women)
  • Maximum repetition deadlift at 80% of bodyweight
  • Maximum repetition bench press at 80% of bodyweight
  • Building to 3-repetition max back squat (modified to maximum repetition back squats at 80% of bodyweight)


[Editorial Note: I really, really liked this format for the PT test.]

Part I of the PT test concluded and the GRTs reassembled for a 1.5-mile movement to the Hilton in Downtown Knoxville to retrieve the makings of additional coupons from Cadre’s vehicle. At this point Cadre Belman paused and initiated the GRT learning process on the Battle of Mogadishu, providing important background information and context.

From the Hilton the group moved south to Volunteer Landing on the Neyland Greenway along the Tennessee River. At this point we were informed that we would complete Part II of the PT test.

PT Test—Part II

Part II of the PT test consisted of a slick 6-mile run followed by a 12-mile ruck. A 2-mile out and back stretching between Volunteer Landing and the James White Parkway over-pass along the Neyland Greenway was established. The course would be repeated 3 times to complete the 6 miles. A 60-minute time hack was established. Some GRTs finished well under the time hack and some did not—but everyone finished. The 2-mile out and back turned out to be closer to 2.25 miles and the 6-mile run ended up being closer to 7 miles. Welcome to GORUCK.

The 12 mile timed ruck followed the same route. However, the start/end point was shifted up to actually be 2 miles. The 2-mile out and back would be repeated 6 times. A time hack of 3:30 was given. Most of the GRT’s were well under pace but a few were struggling for various reasons. Despite the obvious physical difficulties and surfacing injuries, spirits remained high and encouragement from the team forthcoming. The timed Ruck was halted at 10 miles due to time (and the unintended extension of the slick run).

[Editorial Note: Several GRTs came out hot on the run and timed ruck. They smoked it. That proved to be costly for some, particularly those who felt the pressure to keep up with the lead pack early. There is a risk/reward calculation with this aspect of the PT test. I did not run a lot of miles in preparation for the HTL. I was content staying in the middle of the pack with a consistent, respectable, and steady pace that wouldn’t trash my feet and legs. I finished comfortably under the established time hacks].

Those who finished the timed Ruck well under pace were rewarded with an extended break to rest, recover, and take in calories. Once the remainder of the team finished, we were instructed to pack up and get ready for another movement. At this point we lost one team member, who voluntarily withdrew from the event.

[Editorial Note: The timed run and ruck are a challenging component of the Heavy for me. It’s not physically difficult, just boring and repetitive. No distractions, nothing to think about except the weight of the ruck, how much further to go, and what’s coming after the PT test. Doing run/ruck combinations at shorter distances in training and knowing what to expect physically and mentally really helps mange the actual event.]  

During the timed Ruck sand was delivered to the rally point by a few shadows. We were instructed to fill up the sandbags—2 120# bags and 6 80# bags—and refill water supplies that consisted of two 7-gallon cans and one 5-gallon can. From there we returned to the Hilton (1.1 miles) to reorient coupons and begin the actual event.

Evolution II

The next evolution began with Cadre Belman providing more information on the Battle of Mogadishu timeline and offering a time for questions and answers. Belman discussed the difficulty of moving in the city during the battle. The importance of staying together as a unit and communicating how to safely navigate intersections was stressed. New team leaders were selected and the next rally point identified—Tyson Park.

The team was instructed to move approximately 2 miles west to the park. A time hack was given. At this point the following coupons were in play:

  • 2 120# sandbags
  • 6 80# sandbags
  • 2 or 4 litters (can’t recall)
  • 1 50# team weight
  • 1 20# flag
  • 2 7-gallon water cans
  • 1 5-gallon water cans

The team set off on the movement following the very busy Cumberland Ave. To increase coupon efficiency, the litters were used to load the two 120# sandbags and a Jerry can. Being the first movement with coupons, the team worked to find a rhythm and an efficient means of coupon rotation. Tyson Park was reached, but the time hack was not met.

The GRT’s were lined up in ranks and Belman provided more background information on the Battle and some additional lessons learned. The lesson that resonated with me was not getting complacent with strategy and planning. He noted that while they did vary the movements in the city and had many contingency plans, they had become very predictable, which proved to be costly.

Following a few questions and answers, Belman reminded the team that we did not meet the time hack. The GRT’s were rewarded with some Good Livin’ that included:

  • Bear crawls
  • Lunges
  • 8-count body builders
  • Ruck thrusters
  • Flutter kicks
  • Push-ups
  • Roll left, roll right
  • Low crawls
  • High crawls
  • Moving around the park taking contact from the right, left, front and back

At this point Belman intended to put us in the stream. Luckily he had his reading glasses and noticed the sign that clearly stated the stream was not suitable for human occupation due to hazardous run-off from nearby drains and sewers.

A break was given and water refilled.

Evolution III

From Tyson Park the team was instructed to follow the connecting Greenway and move to West High School, approximately 2 miles in distance. A time hack was provided and the movement began. With no traffic or road crossings, the team moved at a much better pace and implemented a more systematic rotation of coupons. We arrived at West High School within the allotted time.

We were provided with the opportunity to rest and take in calories while Belman and Cleve coordinated the ensuing demise of the team. It was early morning.

The Pain Train

Following a brief rest period all 8 sandbags were lined up at the goal line and connected with carabineers. I do not recall the exact name of the exercise—I’ll call it the Pain Train. The exercise was intended to expose the team to the challenges of mass causality movement under fire.

As a team we were instructed to move the linked sandbag train the length of the field while high crawling. Those who were not moving the sandbag train set the perimeter and could only move by high crawling with those pulling the sandbag train. Switching on and off the sandbag train was permitted. The trick, however, is that we were linked together with another GRT by carabineer. This made all the movements much more challenging.

The exercise was executed. However, we had to avoid contact and move the sandbag train left, right, and diagonal across the field. Once across the field, the exercise was repeated backwards high crawling to the opposite end zone.

Deck of Death

As this exercise concluded, Cadre Cleve arrived. The cool Cleve from earlier gave way to the stern Cleve. We all knew it was coming—the Deck of Death.

  • 8-count body builders
  • Ruck overhead squats
  • Ruck thrusters
  • Flutter kicks

Aces 20 reps, face cards 15 reps, and the card value for remainder of the suite. Two jokers in the deck were worth a 400-meter ruck run around the track.

[Editorial Note: The past is the best predictor of the future. I am a strong advocate of incorporating previously known Cadre workouts into training. Even if the actual workout is not the same, you at least get a feel for what can be expected. If you read any AAR that involved Cleve, you know this is coming at some point. In the month or so leading up to the event, I incorporated the Deck of Death into my workouts at least 2x. I knew it would be terrible, but it was also not unfamiliar. That’s a psychological boost.]

We were given 70 minutes to finish the deck. It took its toll on the group. At this point the sun was up and the morning heat was just beginning. One GRT became ill as we moved through the deck. He showed a tremendous amount of grit and determination by vomiting off to the side, then running back to the circle to finish the reps. Some were strong, some struggled—but everyone finished and we finished under the allotted time of 70 minutes.

A break was given and water refilled. The GRT who became ill during the Deck of Death continued to vomit and was unable to hold down fluids. He was med dropped before the next movement began. It was unfortunate, but for his safety.

Evolution IV

Following the thrashing at West High School, the team set out on a movement back to Tyson Park (2 miles). The initial part of the movement followed the Greenway we came in on. About a quarter of a mile back down the Greenway, Cleve felt like the team was too light with coupons and everyone needed to be carrying something. The team stopped to secure 2 logs from a wooded area on the Greenway.

One log was of notable size, awkward shape, and required 4-5 sturdy GRT’s to manage. The second log was a little smaller and could be handled by 2-3 GRTs.  With the addition of the logs the following coupons were in play:

  • Big log (4-5 person)
  • Small log (2-3 person)
  • 2 120# sandbags
  • 6 80# sandbags
  • 2 litters
  • 1 50# team weight
  • 1 20# flag
  • 2 7-gallon water cans
  • 1 5-gallon water cans

At this point the team was down to 33 GRTs to manage the coupon load. Two litters were used to carry the 2 120# sandbags, 2 80# sandbags and the 5-gallon jerry can. That occupied 8 GRTs. The two 7-gallon cans were partner carried with straps, occupying 4 more GRTs. Four GRT’s burden carried the 4 80# sandbags. Approximately 8-10 GRTs worked the logs. With the flag and team weight—28 of the 33 remaining GRTs were carrying weight at any given time, leaving very few to rotate on and off the coupons. After the thrashing at West High School, some GRTs were in a better place to contribute physically than others. The team struggled to move the coupon load.

Approximately 1 mile away from West High School, we reached a parking log at Laurel Church of Christ. We were instructed to ground the coupons. What ensued was probably the lowest & highest point of the Heavy.

Get In the Fight

Cleve observed the team was clearly in an emotional state of self-pity and subsequently informed us that we would be doing PT until we were begging to resume coupon movement. We would be doing 73 8-count body builders—1 per causality in the Battle of Mogadishu.

Having just finished the Deck of Death and picking up additional weight on the movement, this news was not met with a tremendous amount of enthusiasm by the GRTs.  It was early afternoon and hot. Nevertheless, Cadre Cleve began counting and the GRTs began moving.

At repetition 15 some GRTs were having difficulty staying on count—the rep count was unceremoniously reset to ZERO. We were informed that we would do it correctly and do it as a team or we would be here all day. It was moderately demoralizing, but at least it was at rep 15.

Starting back and ZERO we made it to rep 35. Several GRTs were still having trouble staying off the knees and staying on count. What happened next was probably the lowest point of the Heavy—ZERO.

Being ZEROED at 15 reps then again at 35 reps, with 73 more reps waiting was more than some could handle. The team lost another member, who voluntarily withdrew from the event. One GRT on my end of the formation was vomiting; he ended up being med dropped (I think). The struggle was real.

We continued—heading back up to 73. It was demoralizing. The sense of dismay and self-doubt was palpable. I noticed several ready to throw in the towel. With a few GRT’s staggering and struggling to keep going, Cadre Cleve proceeded to get on the ground and in their face at the bottom of the body builder—ARE YOU IN THE FIGHT! ARE YOU IN THE FIGHT! GET IN THE FIGHT!

It was a gut check moment for the remaining GRTs. From my perspective it was probably the defining moment of the Heavy. Everyone is miserable, but you either keep going or quit. The remaining GRTs found a way to stay in the fight and kept going. Rep after rep, we chipped away.

We finished the 73 (really 123) 8-count body builders. A short break was given and water refilled. The team continued the remaining mile or so back to Tyson Park. A time hack was given and despite the thrashing that just occurred, we managed to make it. However, it was not easy. The load was heavy, the sidewalk was narrow, and the traffic was a bit frightening. At one point carrying the log I realized I was 1-step away from cars zipping past. I urged those around me to hug the opposite side of the sidewalk.


After arriving at Tyson Park, a break was given and Cleve provided some additional learning about the Battle and lessons learned from combat in general.

Evolution V 

From Tyson Park we made our way roughly 2 miles back to Worlds Fair Park. At that point we were instructed to drop the coupons and go spend some time in the fountain. It was mid-afternoon and pretty hot, so this task was welcomed.

At some point while the GRTs were in the fountain, Cadre Cleve went live in the Tough page. Someone with a poor sense of humor thought it would be a great idea for Rick to lead the group in another set of 8-count body builders. With the GRT world watching, 25 more 8-counts were completed. Not cool. But we did them.

[Editorial Note: About Rick. He is amazing. I did not know Rick prior to this event. After the slick run and timed ruck, I thought he would be med dropped. I at least thought he was going to have a hard time finishing the event. I found out at this point that this Heavy was his 100th GORUCK event—he’s 62 years old! I was dead wrong about Rick. As I would find out later in the Tough, he’s probably the grittiest, most dependable GRT on the team.]

Service Project

The team regrouped and set out for a memorable part of the Heavy—the service project. We made our way approximately 1 mile to the Old Gray Cemetery. The cemetery is a historic landmark, with headstones dating back to the 1700’s. However, it is located in a less than desirable part of town and often falls victim to vandalism. The movement towards the cemetery included a few interesting interactions with those under the bridge and around the Knoxville Mission. For me, passing the shantytown of homeless and otherwise destitute individuals helped put the event in perspective—if you are out here doing a GORUCK event, life is pretty damn good.

At the cemetery our task was to reset headstones that have been kicked down and broken. The cemetery was having an open house the following day and wanted the grounds to be in as good of shape as possible. The grounds keepers were extremely kind, gracious, and exemplified southern hospitality. They had water, cookies, snacks, and restrooms waiting on our arrival. Fearing punishment for engaging in luxuries atypical of a GORUCK event, we all looked at Cadre Cleve with longing eyes—can we? He took pity on the team and gave the nod. The cookies didn’t stand a chance.

After the cookie binge, we were provided a map, brush, liquid nails, and few crowbars. Teams of 5 were established. We swept the cemetery resetting stones where possible. We learned very quickly that headstones are quite heavy. This was no small task. Other GRTs swept the cemetery picking up trash and other assorted paraphernalia that characterized the general area and source of the vandalism.

[Editorial Note: A serious thanks to Ted Anclet from F3 Knoxville for organizing the service project, it was a very cool experience. It was nice to take a break from the grind of the event and do something meaningful for the community.]

Final Movement

After an hour or so we reassembled and were ready to set out on what would be the final movement of the Heavy—the 1 mile back to Worlds Fair Park. At this point Belman took over. We were informed that this was our Mogadishu Mile and that maximum effort was expected. We were instructed to get our coupon situation squared away and move with a sense of purpose.

The big log gave us the most trouble during previous movements, not so much the weight, but the awkwardness and transitioning GRTs on and off really slowed the team down. At this point we actually used our brains and put the big log on one of the litters. This turned out to be a game changer. While it did occupy the same number of GRTs to move, we were able to move it much more quickly and efficiently, alternating between low and high carry.

We set off back to Worlds Fair Park moving at a solid clip, working well as a team.  We made it to Endex, dropped the coupons and lined up in ranks.


Belman informed the team that we had completed the event. I didn’t relax, I suspected it was a false ending and chaos would ensue. It didn’t. Belman then informed us that to appropriately end the event, we would be doing 10 8-count body builders for the 18 fallen soldiers in the Battle of Mogadishu.

As each name was read, the GRT’s were asked if they knew anything about this person and were given the opportunity to tell the rest of the team about the soldier. Several GRTs had done their homework, offering words about many of the fallen. We ended up alternating exercises done in memory of each soldier to mix it up a little bit.

As we finished reading the names and doing an exercise in their honor—Cadre Cleve rolled up with a couple cases of Yuengling. He informed us that Budweiser was terrible (I agree) and Yuengling was not only a much better beer (I agree) but also Americas oldest brewery.  I was the first one in line as Cleve opened the case. With that—the Heavy was over.

[Editorial Note: The Heavy was a well-constructed beat down. Between the PT test, heavy coupon load, and solid Ruck PT thrashings—the Heavy took its toll on several GRTs making a run at the HTL (including myself). I wasn’t sure how many would make it back to the start of the Tough. Thankfully I had the support of two buddies from F3 Northeast Tennessee who completed the Heavy with me.] 


Intermission #1 (Heavy to Tough)

We had a little less than 3 hours until the start of the Tough. I knew this would be the most difficult transition for me. With the prospect of sleep on the horizon and knowing what waits when coming back for the Tough, it’s very tempting to be content with finishing the Heavy. I knew this would be the key mental battle that had to be won. I had replayed that decision in my mind time and time again leading up to the event. There was no thinking—just execute the plan.

There are different strategies for handling the transition—most of which are common sense. Have your next event gear packed and ready to switch out to maximize rest time, get your feet squared away and rest as much as possible.

My original plan was to set up a gypsy camp in the parking lot. One of our guys doing the Heavy only ended up booking a room at the Holiday Inn attached to Worlds Fair Park for Saturday night. That turned out to be a winning idea, although somewhat risky. I ditched the clothes, took a shower, ate my pre-cooked meals (grilled hamburger patties & boiled potatoes with lots of salt), and took a nap in a comfortable bed—that was really, really hard to drag myself out of when it was time to roll. I was able to get in about 1.5 hours of sleep before a buddy coming in to do the Tough woke me up to get moving. I dragged myself up, geared up, lubed up, made a cup of coffee and headed out. We timed it perfectly and arrived right beside Belman and Cleve.

[Editorial Note: Having 2 fresh F3 Northeast Tennessee guys come in for the Tough was tremendously helpful. I like to think I would have continued regardless, but knowing that two buddies that would be out there suffering without me provided some additional motivation to keep going.]

The Tough (Saturday, September 29; 2200)

I do not recall exactly how many showed up for the Tough, but I want to say it was around 45 or so. Ten (maybe 11) of those who finished the Heavy made it back out for the start of the Tough. Some of the more veteran GRTs had the Tough group squared away in ranks and ready to go when the Cadre arrived.

The same administration process was repeated. Upon completion of the administration portion of the event, we were instructed to go low crawl through the fountain. Our initial pass at the low crawl wasn’t up to standard. We were instructed to do it again, but this time move lower and slower.

[Editorial Note: At that point I knew there was no cruising through the Tough—it was game on. After a cup of coffee and freezing cold fountain water, I was definitely awake and ready to roll.]

Evolution I

Deck of Death #2

We moved from the fountain to the large open field. Sure enough Cleve began shuffling the Deck. I’ve heard the Deck of Death is often used as the Welcome Party, so I just assumed that’s what was coming. Leaders were selected and given help in the form of a Heavy finisher also working towards the HTL (Kevin).  The exercises were the same as before:

  • 8 count body builders
  • Overhead squats
  • Ruck Thrusters
  • Flutter Kicks

He did lower the Aces and Face card reps for the Tough, which was appreciated. Aces 15 reps, face cards 10 reps, and the card value for remainder of the suite. Two jokers in the deck were worth a ruck run across the field and back (200 meters).

It became pretty clear that the level of physical ability and general preparedness of the GRTs participating in the Tough varied much more widely than it did in the Heavy. Several struggled to keep up with the reps and breaks were frequent. Assistance was provided to those struggling when possible and we managed to make it through the Deck as a group. However, we did not finish the Deck in the allotted time—which would come back to haunt us later.

Evolution II

 With the 1stpass at the Deck of Death out of the way, we moved a half-mile or so from Worlds Fair Park to the Hilton to secure the coupon stash. The same coupons from the Heavy were in play for the Tough:

  • Big log (4-5 person)
  • Small log (2-3 person)
  • 2 120# sandbags
  • 6 80# sandbags
  • 2 or 4 litters
  • 1 50# team weight
  • 1 20# flag
  • 2 7-gallon water cans
  • 1 5-gallon water cans

During the regrouping at the Hilton, Belman gave a similar talk to the group, providing the background and context for the Battle of Mogadishu.

From there the team moved approximately 1-mile back to Volunteer Landing to refill the water cans. It was at this point I knew there would be no coasting through the Tough. While we added a few fresh bodies, we lost several big bodies from the Heavy. I would say the overall capacity for handling the heavier coupons was lower across the board during the Tough. It is not that GRTs were slacking; it was just a physically smaller team, on average. Everyone seemed to be carrying what he or she could handle and putting in the effort.

At this point we lost another GRT making a run at the HTL. This one was particularly difficult for many of us. It was a respected GRT from Knoxville and a significant contributor in the Heavy. He was having some atypical physical difficulties that made it not wise to continue. Although disappointing, it was a prudent decision.

Evolution III

From Volunteer Landing, we set out on a 3.5-4 mile movement along the Greenway to Cherokee Farm. The team asked for a 2 hour time hack and were given 01:45:00. The route was pretty strait forward. We followed the Neyland Greenway to Alcoa Highway, crossed the bridge over the Tennessee River to Cherokee Farms. There were not many crossovers or intersections so we were moving at a reasonable clip. We made the time hack.

I am not exactly sure what Cherokee Farms actually is, but there were several open fields that were clearly going to be used. We assembled and more time of learning from Belman ensued. At that point Cleve rejoined the group.

Causality Movement

The group was divided and half went with Cleve and the other half with Belman. The group with Cleve divided into Alpha and Bravo teams and executed 2-person partner carries in teams of 3. Various assortments of rush tactics up and down the field were executed. A good bit of “I’m up, he sees me, I’m down” type movements.

The group with Belman did a version of the sandbag movement from the Heavy. A litter was set up halfway across the field. Teams of 6 moved the linked sandbag to the litter using a high crawl movement, at which point one team member became causality and was carried on the litter across the field. A couple iterations of this were completed.

At this point a couple of GRTs making a run at the HTL were having a difficult time and ended up removing themselves from the event. Based on conversations I heard, they recognized that they were not really able to contribute and didn’t want to gray man through the event.

[Editorial Note: I have a tremendous amount of respect for that decision. That’s putting the best interest of the team ahead of your own ambition. While I know it was disappointing for the GRTs—that’s being a teammate. ]

Deck of Death #3

A nice break was given with more very cool stories and perspective from Cleve. At that point we were reminded that we did not meet the time hack on the Deck of Death during the welcome party. We were told that we could do it now, or do it later, but we would be doing it again. The team chose to go ahead and knock it out.

The exercises were switched up a bit:

  • 8-count body builders
  • Ruck swings
  • Ruck front squats
  • Flutter kicks

A lead was selected—Jo from Canada. The Canadian contingency was awesome. They were clearly comfortable with the Ruck PT. We were given an ambitious time hack to complete the Deck of Death. Jo executed a flawless strategy for turning and burning through the cards. Multiple cards were flipped at a time and grouped by suite so that we were knocking out multiple cards of the same suite simultaneously. It was tough, some of the reps were high after combining cards, but it was extremely efficient and saved time. We made the time hack. This is a strategy I would strongly suggest in the future (unless otherwise told to move one card at a time).

Evolution IV

Following a break and more words of wisdom from Cleve about how dawn is the best time of day, we set out on another 3.5-4 mile movement back to Volunteer Landing.

We made it back to the landing, but it was tough moving. Given the coupon load relative to the number of GRTs, there was not a lot of rotating. At this point I learned something about those around me, particularly those doing the HTL, and myself. I found myself spending a lot of time on one of the heavier litters with Jeremy (F3 Abort) from Knoxville and Rick—who is apparently GORUCK famous. There were others, but those two GRTs stand out in my mind. Neither one is physically imposing, but they were beasts on the coupons during the Tough. It seemed that some GRTs were struggling under the weight a bit more. The three of us spent a lot of time under load with minimal breaks. These guys earned my respect. I’d take them into a scrap anytime.

Final Movement

After arriving back at Volunteer Landing, a short break was provided and water topped off. We were instructed to make our way back to Worlds Fair Park. Maximum effort was expected. We could sense the event was coming down the home stretch. We moved with a sense of purpose to a parking lot on the south side of the park. We were instructed to drop the coupons at Belman’s truck. It was a relief. At that point we were instructed that we would be running the last stretch as a group with maximum effort. It was probably a little over a half-mile back to the field. We made it.


Endex followed the same format as the Heavy. We were informed that we had completed the event. Again, I didn’t relax, I suspected it was a false ending and chaos would ensue. It didn’t. We did a series of exercises chosen by Belman for the 18 fallen soldiers in the Battle of Mogadishu. Belman offered a few personal comments on some of the soldiers. For the last set of names we were given the option of a ruck overhead hold while the names were read, rather than specific exercises. This option was chosen. We were told that if the Ruck hit the head, we would be starting over. This proved to be more difficult that expected for some. In a final gesture of teamwork, several GRTs moved their rucks under those who were struggling and supported the weight of both to keep the rucks from hitting the head. We made it—the Tough was over.

Intermission #2 (Tough to Light)

I didn’t wait around too long after the Tough. We had a little less time between the Tough and Light than we had between the Heavy and Tough. At this point the bolts are in sight. There’s no consideration of stopping. However, a little rest would be nice. The plan was executed. Shower, eat my pre-made meals, and nap. I ended up sleeping maybe 45 minutes to an hour. I woke up, lubed up, geared up, and headed out for the Light.

Personally, I felt the Tough was really the pivotal event in the HTL—that’s where the bolts are earned. I can’t speak for the rest of the HTL group, but I actually ended up carrying more weight on average in the Tough than I did in the Heavy. To some degree that makes sense. The team make up of those doing the Tough is naturally going to be different than those doing the Heavy. Simply stated, there was no coasting through the Tough. We went through the Deck of Death two times and covered some distance under substantial load. The Tough was no joke.

The Light (Sunday, September 30; 1400)

Approximately 51 GRT’s showed up for the Light. This was my first light so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I will just say there was quite a bit of diversity among the GRTs participating in the light. Seven of those making a run at the HTL remained along with several doing the Tough Light combination. It was great to see a few GRTs who had completed the Heavy come back out for the Light. That was particularly encouraging, given the coupon load from the Heavy and Tough.

The administrative portion of the event was completed and followed by some bear crawls through the fountain, again. It was mid-day and pretty hot, so this was welcomed.

Evolution I

Team leaders were selected and we moved to a parking lot near the park. I assumed, incorrectly, that we would be using the coupons in play for the Heavy and Tough—they didn’t change between the two events, so that made sense. It seemed that we would have more people to move the coupon load. Much to my dismay, we picked up the existing coupons—plus additional ones. A couple of wooden ammo boxes and 8-12 ammo cans (can’t remember exactly). I think there were some additional coupons, but I don’t recall. I just grabbed an ammo box and put it on the litter—there would be no coasting through the Light either.

At that point Belman instructed us to ground the coupons. We were going to utilize the absurd hill behind the parking lot. We were to reverse bear crawl half way up the hill; turn around and bear crawl the remaining distance to the top. The hill was so steep that I would say the reverse bear crawl was more of a crawl backwards on your knees. Bear crawl back down to the halfway point then reverse bear crawl to the bottom. It wasn’t pretty but we managed.

Evolution II

The coupons were secured and we moved a short distance (half mile or so) to a field on the south end of Worlds Fair Park. At that point we did similar casualty movements in the field. The group was split in half. Group 1 went with Cleve for some Ruck PT and Rush movement tactics (forgive me if this is not the correct terminology). The PT consisted of 25 8-count body builders and 25 ruck thrusters. The fieldwork was primarily “I’m up, he sees me, I’m down” back and forth across the field. It was a little more involved than that, but my mind was getting tired at this point.

Group 2 went with Belman. We divided up in teams. First was a team sandbag drag using a high crawl movement, followed by a casualty carry on the litter. The losing team owed 25 flutter kicks. Next was a sandbag drag race. Teams members alternated bear crawling while dragging the 80# sandbag. Once a point was reached, the sandbag was picked up and carried back to the start. This was actually much more difficult that it appears on paper. There was plenty of team assistance being offered on the drags.

Evolution III

Following the fieldwork, new team leaders were assigned and we moved the mile or so to Volunteer Landing. A lot of coupons were in play. Everyone was carrying something. We made it, refilled water and headed back to Worlds Fair Park following a few moments of listening and learning from Belman.

After hitting the greenway Belman graciously allowed us to empty the sandbags and toss the logs down a ravine into a wooded creek area. After the Heavy, Tough, and Light—words cannot express how happy I was to see those damn logs rolling down the embankment and hearing the sound of sand being poured from the bags.

Final Movement

After arriving to the field on the south end we stopped to regroup. At this point we lined up in ranks and completed the exercises for each of the 18 fallen, just as we had done in the previous two events.

This time we were informed that we would move one more time back to Worlds Fair Park, but we were taking casualties. I can’t remember exactly how many, but a few of the more sturdy GRTs threw some of the smaller GRTs over their shoulders and took off. The larger casualties were put on the litters and off we went. It was a short movement, but pretty heavy. Definitely ending the Light with a flurry.


Just like that, the Light was over. We lined up in the Worlds Fair Park field and were informed that the event was complete. The 7 GRTs who finished the HTL were asked to step forward. A few kind words were spoken and we were patched first. Patching of the Light class followed.

[Editorial Note: I had two more F3 Northeast Tennessee guys join me for the Light. One of which was also a Ranger in country during the Battle of Mogadishu (Pictured on the right). He was in the Ranger Company supporting those in the direct conflict. The event holds special meaning for him as well. He intended to make a run at the HTL with me, but life conspired against him. However, it was great to have him at the Light and end of the HTL.]

Final Words of Cadre Wisdom

Cadre Belman and Cadre Cleve put together a well orchestrated thrashing that also included a significant amount of learning. It should be noted that Belman and Cleve were the only 2 Cadre for the entire HTL event. Class sizes ranged from 35 to 51. They put in the work to make sure the event was meaningful and memorable—it was. Hearing the personal stories from Belman about the Battle of Mogadishu was a very special component of the event. I did not include much of what was shared at various junctures of the event in this AAR for fear of misrepresenting their words or not doing them justice. If you want to hear more, sign up for an event led by these Cadres.

I will share something that Cadre Belman mentioned at the end of all 3 events that resonated with me personally. It mirrors something I have long said about F3. We live in an increasingly divided country. As the level of divisiveness increases and we retreat to our corners, there are few places left where people from all walks of life can come together for a common purpose and move in single direction under the flag—GORUCK is one of those places. Things like GORUCK (or F3) force us to work on a team that’s comprised of a broad and diverse group of individuals. At least for the 6, 12, 24, or 48 hours of the event—we are just people moving with a common purpose with mutual respect—what we need more of as a country.

Personal Thoughts on the Event

I am not an experienced GRT, per say. Prior to the HTL I had completed two Toughs and one Heavy—all three of which were F3 custom events. This was my first open GORUCK event. I’ve heard that F3 has developed a bit of a reputation for not always being good teammates at open events. I took it as my personal responsibility to change that perception and model the type of behavior expected from F3. I left the F3 gear at home (except for the Light), tried to introduce myself to everyone before the event, called F3 guys by their first names. From my perspective, all the F3 guys participating in the event were great teammates.

Being my first open event, I was also a little nervous about team dynamics. I’m actually upset with myself that I have not done more open events prior to this one. I met a lot of interesting people from very diverse backgrounds. I really enjoyed the team dynamic of seeing all my teammates putting themselves in a position where they could use their strengths to contribute to the team. I was very impressed with the ladies participating in the event, particularly the Heavy. They were amazing. After returning home and talking with my wife, my exact comments were—“I think women are just tougher than men. They get the work done and do not complain.”

HTL Summary

While I do not have the exact mileage, I retraced the rout and estimated that we covered 40-45 miles across all three events (including the PT test run & ruck). We completed Cleve’s Deck of Death 3 times over the duration of the event. As previously mentioned, we spent a lot of time under substantial load across all 3 events, not just the Heavy.

I counted up the number of 8-count body builders completed over the duration of the 3 events—conservatively it was 591.

I can’t say enough about the team finishing the HTL. There was no coasting through the Tough or Light. Everyone pulled his or her weight across the duration of the HTL. Rick and Jeremy (F3 Abort) were inspiring and pushed me to push harder. These men really put out and carried the load during coupon movements during the Tough.

Catnip (Melinda) particularly inspired me. I know she has a son in the Navy and was one of the more seasoned GRTs in the HTL. She smoked me on the run and timed ruck during the PT test of the Heavy. She carried a significant load across all 3 events—the first to grab heavy coupons. More importantly, she had a smile on her face the entire time. Her experience and leadership were really important at several junctures of the event. She embodies the spirit of GORUCK.

I really enjoyed getting to know Kevin (from Canada) over the course of the 3 events. I know it was his 2ndrun at the HTL and he crushed it.

I played it cool at Endex, but I was a little emotional. After a humbling experience at F3 Custom GORUCK Tough last November, finishing the HTL was redemptive for me, personally. I wanted to push myself to the point where the thought of quitting was a real internal dialogue. I wanted to see if I had the ability to silence the voice of complacency, the voice that whispers that it’s OK to take the easier path. The voice was silenced. I finished. After nine months of building up to the HTL—I accomplished what I set out to accomplish. Exorcised some personal demons.


My Training

In my mind two kinds of GRTs exist. There are some experienced GRTs who can train minimally, but show up and gut it out. For the rest of us—training is critical. There are several training plans, all of which I’m sure are fine. Personally, dissecting the demands of the event and structuring a training plan around the expected elements is how I prepare physically and mentally.

I trained Gracie Jiu-Jitsu for several years in my late 20’s & early 30’s. I remember asking my instructor early on what types of exercises I could do to help my jiu-jitsu. His response was—do more jiu-jitsu. Everyone has differing approaches to training for these events, but for me, the same philosophy applies to GORUCK training.

In my mind there are 3 critical elements to GORUCK events—Ruck PT, moving heavy objects under load, and simply covering distance. I structured my training plan around those 3 elements.

Typical Training Schedule

  • Monday: Traditional Ruck PT (45 minutes to an hour)^
  • Tuesday: F3 Boot Camp or strength training^^
  • Wednesday: Speed Ruck/Coupon movement (45 minutes to an hour)^^^
  • Thursday: Rest
  • Friday: F3 High Intensity Boot Camp (a lot of compound movements and sandbag work) or strength training
  • Saturday: Alternate between long rucks* and mini-event simulations**

^These workouts are focused on the basics that can be expected at an event: various assortments or animal modalities (bear crawl, crab walks, etc), overhead ruck work, push-ups, squats, lunges, burpees, thrusters, swings, mountain climbers, and a lot of double time movement.

^^Strength training focused primarily on compound movements: squats, cleans, deadlifts, and presses. Nothing very heavy, just maintaining and staying balanced. I also used these to work on push-up and sit-up capacity.

^^^Typically alternate between high and low carry. Used Jerry can, 50# kettle bell, 50# sandbag, and 2-3 man log (when I had partner). Also rigged up sandbags and Jerry can to an Olympic bar to mimic litter movements.

*Every other weekend I completed a long ruck. This is the one element I enjoy the least, but it’s also one of the most important in my mind. Foot conditioning and extended miles are a critical training element for me. I hit long rucks of 8, 12, 15, 18, & 26 miles during the training cycle.

**Mini-event simulations were 3-5 hours in length and were designed to mimic anticipated sequence of events—PT test, short run (2-3 miles), short ruck (2-4 miles), Ruck PT (1 hour), coupon movement (2-4 miles).

I’m on the verge of turning 42 and I have some lingering injuries from years of competitive sports. Training is a constant risk/reward calculation. Push as hard as I can, but not so hard that I set myself back. Five days a week is about my limit.

I am very happy with how the training plan translated to the actual event. I felt extremely prepared (relatively speaking) and finished about as strong as I could.  Please do not misunderstand me, parts of it were terrible, but I never felt overwhelmed. I would consider that successful training and preparation.

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