I was twenty-six years old when I joined the military. I had spent the seven years prior to 9/11 doing everything on earth I had ever wanted to do, living the life of an adrenaline junkie nomad. I worked at an outdoor shop in Boulder, CO while testing shoes for Salomon, traveled the country for 13 months in a 40-foot Winnebago RV competing in Whitewater “rodeos,” saw Jerry Garcia’s last show with the Grateful Dead, and even lived in South Africa for two years doing conservation and anti-poaching work. My grandfather and father had served in the military, but I had almost zero knowledge of the Army beyond what I had seen in movies like Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, Apocalypse Now, and of course Stripes.
I was lucky enough to be able to join Army Special Forces under the 18X Program, which allows guys off the street to attend Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS) directly, after passing a few gates such as Infantry Basic Training and Airborne School. The majority of candidates entering SFAS come from previous Active Duty positions with at least 18 months in.
I was in the initial group of 18X candidates post-9/11, when the program had just been started at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. This small group of us had not been exposed much to ruck marching, but it didn’t take long for us to get acquainted with it. For the next three months, the Army prepared us for SFAS by having us focus on four events – running, rucking, land navigation, and of course getting our asses smoked for being smart (or dumb) enough to join the military with a shot at going straight into Special Forces, never having known the misery of a Private growing up in “Regular” Army.
We were a small group of guys, civilians who had never been in the Army and now were attempting to get in top condition to pass the dreaded twenty-four days of SFAS. Our group had every body type. I had grown up wrestling. We had a world champion runner, a former Lieutenant Commander in the Navy, and then guys who had never played sports or trained a day in their life. But something remarkable happened to us all immediately – we ate, slept, and breathed to train. Every day. We showed up early for every formation and trained like mad men late into the night. Our Cadre, the seasoned Special Forces guys in charge of us, gave us enough rope to hang ourselves, but fortunately we never did.
The learning curve was steep for me. I was 5’7 and about 150lbs at the time. I rucked with a 6’4 Native American guy who to this day is both the strongest and scariest man I’ve ever met. One of his ruck strides was two and a half of mine. His walk was my jog, and his jog was my run. As you can imagine, the first thirty days of rucking with him was miserable. The other guys on my ruck team were not much bigger than I was, but we were all motivated. I will never forget one of my Cadre, MSG Gary S. saying to us “No matter how bad your body feels, it can always be worse. And remember, you will pass out before you die. I promise.” At which point my classmate and great friend Michael leaned over and whispered to me “If you pass out on this ruck, I’m taking your water and leaving you to die. Less competition at Selection!”
This set the tone of the entire train-up for SFAS. The first day was simple. We started out doing six miles as fast as we could go with 45lbs plus water in our rucks. I wore standard issue Vietnam-era “Jungle Boots”, with a modified sole. Every day after that we increased both weight and distance. Some days were better than others. Our “off days” were never days off, as we either ran or rucked. No gym, no CrossFit, no tire flips, no biking, no swimming, no yoga. We just ran and rucked as fast as we could, with as much weight as our bodies could take, all powered by about 6,000 calories of crappy Army food. The week prior to SFAS we were doing sub three-hour 12-mile rucks with 80lbs. Every guy in the initial 1st and 2nd class of 18X passed SFAS and got selected to attend the Special Forces Qualification Course.
You’ll hear a lot of different techniques and advice for training for GORUCK Selection. I prefer the simplest route: ruck farther, ruck faster, and ruck with more weight. If your body can handle it. As Jason and I have said over the last year, no one ever leaves GORUCK Selection or even SFAS early saying “I over-trained for this.”
GORUCK Selection class 015 in Neptune Beach, Florida is not until October 2014. Between now and then, we will be focusing the training page on preparing you for both life and GORUCK Events, including GORUCK Selection. Don’t forget: “You will pass out before you die. I promise.”