The Final GORUCK NOGOA: NOGOA WEST
From the eyes of a relatively new OCR/Endurance Event Junkie
“Team Leader, explain your plan!”. I was probably visibly frazzled to everyone, trying to rationalize my Gold and Black EXFIL (exfiltration or escape) plans that I had just hurriedly created in a few minutes with compass, military protractor, and a USGS area map of Warner Springs, CA. This was mere hours after a short but informative class on land navigation, led by a U.S. Army Green Beret. I thought he was aware that I was the Assistant Team Leader and that I was just trying to get our navigational plans in place for my Team Leader. I am a U.S. Navy Submarine veteran, and though confident with charts and plotting, I had never done land navigation. I paid attention during our course and thought I could best serve my team by helping with some navigation. I wanted to step up, but not too much. I attempted to correct our Cadre about my role, but that did not work out the way I thought it would.
This was a major GORUCK (GR) event, and the last of the NOGOA (No One Gets Out Alive) events, a “Custom Heavy” that two people, Scott Roberts and Mike Grobelch, poured a ton of time and energy into making a reality. People had flown in from all over the country to participate in this 24-hour plus Endurance Event. I was the “greenest” of the 40 GRT’s (GR Tough Athletes) that were in attendance and was reluctant to lead any of them during the event. As a TL (Team leader), the fear of messing something up and getting my team smoked (physical training, or PT, at a high level) is a real thing. So much for that, I was now the Team Leader, and the Cadre “did not love but accepted” my EXFIL plan. Then it began. Damn near immediately. Headlights hit our campsite, people started yelling, shots started firing, and my team of 39 seasoned GRT’s and myself started hauling ass on azimuth 300 for “one click” while taking incoming fire. Welcome to NOGOA West!
Your standard GR Heavy event will involve around 24 hours of some pretty intense PT and involves plenty of “rucking”. Simply put, rucking is moving with weight in your rucksack, or pack. The military has used rucking for many years to condition its soldiers for battle. Strap weight on your back, move out for a planned distance, often not a quick or short evolution, move heavy things or “casualties” while doing so, and then go home and repeat tomorrow. Ever wonder why so many Army and Marine service members are incredibly fit? This is why. Rucking was named the Men’s Fitness #1 Fitness Trend of 2015.
NOGOA participants got to learn invaluable skills from Green Berets and then implement them in a real world scenario while rucking together, having fun, and becoming more physically fit with every step. This was all accomplished while forging new friendships with amazing people, truly what makes any GORUCK event a special thing. Cadre Kevin and Doug of GR are both fit and seasoned soldiers. They are each skilled and qualified to teach us in the real world application of what we were about to learn. They went to work fast. The event began on Saturday morning at 0800 with instructions to “not be late”. The Cadre instructed us to unpack our racks and then began to check our gear, The packing list specifically instructed us to “bring enough food for the event”. Of course, all food was then immediately confiscated at commencement of the event. This was not done to torture the attendees, but to begin the process of truly feeling what it’s like to be hungry. After identifying our food source for the evening, we began our Land Navigation Course. The most amazing thing that I learned was that one can measure distance traveled simply by counting their own steps. The method of counting pace is done by first seeing how many steps it takes for one to walk 100 meters. For me, 73 steps, on average was how many steps it took for me to travel 100 meters. The count can be measured with “Ranger Beads”, where one moves a bead down for every 100 meters traveled to help keep track of distance while navigating in the pitch black of night.
The class then got to fashion weapons and tools. In the wild, you may need hand fashioned weapons and tools to survive. We also brought fire starting tools (magnesium stick or something to that effect) and were then told to find a safe place at camp and start a fire with a partner. My partner Chris and I had a bit of a difficult time getting our fire lit, but eventually were able to get it up and running with the help of a fellow GRT, Liz (don’t laugh at us out their fellas, GRT women are no joke). Once all fires were up and running, we spent time searching for firewood as we were going to need to keep these going for a while as we were starving at this point and would be cooking our meat on them. We learned how to field dress wild game, prepare the meat for cooking and then we roasted our dinner on the fire. That was pretty special for me as I am a bow hunter who has only harvested two animals my whole life, but I had never actually prepared game, cooked and had my meal around a fire of my own making, in the same day, ever. While dinner was cooking over all of our fires, I was tasked to start digging a hole about a 1.5 feet deep as we would be having a class on making a “solar still”. This skill could be used in the event that we were stuck somewhere that water was scarce. Once dinner was wrapped and our fires all snuffed in a responsible manner, we all gathered around the table to start the planning of an exit route in the event we needed one, and as previously explained, we did.
The next 13 or so hours were spent rucking. Once the attack on our unit occurred, and we were safely away from the incoming shots, we moved deliberately and quietly through the terrain as our pace keepers coordinated with the navigators to ensure that we were on track. After some time, we made it to what we thought was our destination and formed a security watch with all eyes looking out in 360 degrees to ensure that we could see any incoming contacts and move appropriately. While awaiting further tasking, Cadre Kevin asked if he thought we had to made it to our destination. We had. We were informed to make it up to the road, head North and wait in the field for further tasking there. At that point, we were excited that we were dialed in and when the Cadres got to the field, we did a brief assessment and I was promptly fired as Team Leader. Something to not take personal during a GR event, as they regularly change this role to put people in the position to challenge them. Setting a TL magnifies one’s leadership strengths and weaknesses. The Cadre fire, and repeat through the event to get the most out of people. This is both a team and individual learning opportunity. GR seeks to build better Americans with every event and every activity has a purpose. Usually. We learned some “Ranger Movements” and signaling techniques in that field that we could implement during the event on our movements from Cadre Kevin. The new TL discussed the next plan with Cadre Doug. I was still unrelieved by the incoming Team Leader, and upon hearing that we had two incoming contacts while assembled in our security circle, I gave the order to move out of the field. We hid the unit under a tree, in the shade of the full moon using evasion techniques and tactics that we had just learned. I then felt quite silly for having 40 GRT’s rush across a field to hide under trees while the Cadre wondered what the hell was wrong with us, as there was nothing there but the trees. Well, we did what we were taught to do, despite the fact people were starting to see things.
We worked as a team and spent the entire night slowly moving towards our secondary objective, which was a cache of weapons, food and water that we were meant to utilize for further evolutions. The class made it to the top of the ridgeline that was the highest point and we took a few nice class pictures in the middle of the night. We screamed all at once at the top of our lungs for the role players (RP’s) to “come get us” in challenge from the mountain top. The team stopped before moving again to use the “resection method” of locating our position by recording some bearings from off the mountain. We located a few known points on the map that were visible, recorded and converted the bearings to our map, and were able to locate our position where the lines intersected. Suffice it to say, we had a long way to go to hit our target.
I could spend time talking about our movements until the sun came up, but the only thing truly worth noting is that Mike, one of our event planners, suffered a real world injury to his knee on the way down the mountain. We pulled together as a unit, determined to get our team member to the end of the exercise, come hell or high water. These were not your average civilians, but they are your average GRT’s. You can expect that from someone at your side during one of these events, you can expect it from them in friendship, and you can expect it from them in the workplace. “I will never leave a fallen comrade”.
Suddenly a car came speeding down the road at first light and we scrambled for the tree line, running for cover and lying prone to avoid being seen. It was Cadre Doug, and after a brief conversation, we were told to fall in by Cadre Kevin. Good news! We were about to have some fun and turn the tables on our attackers. Cadre Doug came back a few minutes but this time he was in character. He pretended to be a foreign shyster who was out for money and hoping to make a quick buck from an American unit in a hostile territory. He sold us some munitions and supplies (paintball guns, and water) for a handful of Euros (toilet paper, I believe) and drove off after giving us intel on the hostiles (RP’s) . They were back at camp, relaxing and getting ready to come out and find us. We armed a few of our GRT’s and formed a plan to ambush them with our whole unit. We came in hot, armed with paintball grenades and a few loaded paintball guns and rushed the camp. The RP’s were ready for action with weapons close and an epic firefight for the ages ensued. All participants, role players, Cadres and cars were left covered in paint. It was an epic and fitting end to the event. As usual, our GRT’s had managed to get themselves killed, again.
I have a laminated picture of the late SFC Jonathan Michael Downing, a Green Beret, zip tied to my ruck with an American Flag bandana framing the picture. Our Cadre’s allowed me a moment to speak about who Jon was and we took a few pictures with him front and center for the Downing family to have. Jon was a hell of a soldier, father and friend. He is survived by his wife Vanessa and their three children, Dylan, McKayla, and JJ. Honoring the fallen, another important piece of what GORUCK is.
In closing, NOGOA West was well planned and executed. It was fun, educational and I got to meet and spend time with some pretty fine Americans. I’m confident that I came out of this experience a bit more prepared to take on the Spartan Agoge for 60 hours this June in Pittsfield, VT. Hopefully, we get to ruck with you soon!
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