Sunday, January 24, 2016

Report: CARC Memorial Ruck in Honor of the 12

The Squadron's Patch
Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463
Yesterday, January 23rd, I participated as one of 12 to hit the trails of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park for my second ruck. 3 weeks ago, I got "indoctrinated" into this new activity I have taken up and wrote about it here. If you're new to this conversation, a "ruck" is typically just a pack, backpack, etc. To "ruck" (read: verb) is to walk/hike with a weighted ruck. GORUCK is an organization that sells gear and organizes events nationwide that are led by ex-Special Forces military personnel. Regionally, like Cleveland, there are local rucking groups/crews that get together and train. This was one of those such events. January 23rd has been on my calendar for awhile but the event took a turn just a few days ago and became a memorial ruck due to the crash off of Oahu in Hawaii back on January 14th where 12 U.S. Marines died while training. Training rucks are very patriotic in nature, by default, but this added a whole new purpose to the day. Step off was 0800 sharp from the Boston Store within the CVNP and our route would take us all the way to Snowville Rd via the Buckeye Trail then via road back to the start. We expected to be done by noon but as we'd find out a little over 5 hours later, that wasn't going to happen.

Just before we headed out, our leader asked who knew where Blue Hen Falls was. I was the only one who raised my hand. I have run literally hundreds of miles over this very section of trail. Several 50Ks, a 100-miler, and countless training runs. It's a gorgeous part of the national park. By my hand raise, I was named TL or team leader. It was my job to lead the team to Blue Hen Falls, make decisions as need be and make the time. Right at 0800, we headed out and I knew soon that we'd be slow on the time as we entered the Buckeye Trail because little did I know, we could take the road up to Blue Hen. For me, I'd never traveled via road and only via the Buckeye Trail. This section is challenging if only walking or running but with weighted rucks on all of our backs, a 105lb sandbag, a 48lb sandbag, a 30lb-ish slush was a lot more difficult. Up roller coaster hill we went, down the Piano Keys (88 wooden steps), then up again to the road via a very steep, technical trail. It was evident, soon, that this day was going to test many of us. At the top of the 2nd climb, we dropped the weights and I made the decision to pull the ruck off one member of the team to give him a break. There was NO QUIT in him but he needed the break to continue. We used one of the 2x4s we had and suspended his ruck with the 48lb sandbag and we continued on. As team lead, it was my job to keep everyone together, Old Glory out in front, and ensure that people are rotated in/out of carrying the heavy weight.

To honor each of the 12 Marines, we'd do an exercise at 3 different points of the ruck. Once we arrived at Blue Hen, it was time for our first PT (physical training) session. With all training rucks, we do them as a team, moving in unison and shouting out reps. For this one, we did sets of 12 in everything we did and shouted the name of the fallen at the end of each 12. One exercise per Marine was the order of the day. Before I left yesterday morning, I found an old ID card holder in my basement that I once wore on my arm. I decided to print out the names of the Marines and wear them on my arm for the other members of our team to read and choose one. For each exercise, we took turns leading the exercise and the cadence. So at Blue Hen, we honored 4 of them via ruck squats, 8-count body builders, partner chair sits, and knee highs. (All videos of these PT sessions can be viewed by scrolling down on the Cleveland Area Rucking Crew Facebook page.) Once we finished at Blue Hen, we headed straight up, quite literally, the Buckeye Trail. Before leaving, though, I was "fired" as team lead, said one thing that went well and one thing that didn't during my short tenure as leader and another person was chosen to take the lead.

2 miles later, we arrived at Columbia Rd. It seemed to take forever, had one icy crossing, and lots of climbing. Luckily, the trail was frozen and no mud was to be seen. As you'll see in this photo, we used a 2x4 to carry the monster 105lb sandbag. That thing was so heavy. Today, my shoulders are still red. I would press it overhead about once every minute and switch shoulders due to the pressure. Going uphill, whoever was on the bottom got the pleasure of the weight shifting down and literally sliding down the 2x4. It was very important to watch footing and stay upright...AND keep moving. We were always on the clock. At Columbia, we honored 4 more Marines and did bear crawls, pushups, partner chair sit squats with arms locked, and flutter kicks. One member of our team decided to call it a day at this point and headed down Columbia back to the parking lot. We headed out and about 2 miles later, we arrived at Snowville Rd. Luckily for runners, it was a quiet running day on the trail and not many passed on by, most likely due to the Run for Regis going on nearby and the Winter Buckeye Trail 50K today.

Once we arrived at Snowville, the plan was NOT to do PT but have a training session. Those two 2x4s were about to get some purpose along with the silver tarp that was brought along. Using only those three items, we built a stretcher and like many GORUCK official events, we had a "casualty." For the next 3+ miles along the road, we not only would have to carry the team weights, we would have a person to carry on the stretcher. (gulp!!!)

So off we went south on Riverview Rd., a road very busy on this lunchtime hour. Luckily, we had Old Glory leading the way waving at people, getting their attention. Still, safety was a priority and we were constantly getting off the road on the little or non-existent berm to avoid a collision. One of our team members, Chris, had these awesome orange straps that we used to wrap around the 4 corners of the stretcher and then around each person's wrist. It really helped but we still had to stop every 3-5 minutes to rotate. Remember those 105lb and 48lb sandbags? Those got carried on two people's backs. I got my turn doing it all. As we got near the Columbia Rd intersection, it was time for the 3rd PT session, even though the Noon hour had arrived and passed. For this PT session, we did overhead ruck holds, lunges, monkey "lovers" and sungods. Again, each movement in honor of a Marine and his name shouted out per set of 12 reps.

As we passed on by Columbia and the Boston Mills Ski Resort came into view, the good folks at the Peninsula Police Department stopped in front of us, lights flashing. We gently put down our "casualty", grounded our weights and waited as our fearless cadre, Bryan, spoke to them. Turns out, they were receiving calls! From "there are people carrying a dead person along the road" to "people had their hands in the air (sungods)" to some other calls of concern, they deemed it necessary to "pull us over" and find out what the heck was going on. Seriously, if you were driving along a road, saw Old Glory, then someone being carried on a stretcher, you'd probably be concerned, too! HAHA! Anyway, we were very close to finishing and the police asked if we'd stop the stretcher part of our ruck and just finish...ya know, to minimize public concern and more 911 calls into dispatch. So we continued and finished up the ruck at Boston Store at 1:15pm. We captured a photo of the group, said our goodbyes, and headed on out.

That's me in the red..second from right.
All in all, I loved it. It was by no means "easy." It was legit TOUGH. Today, I definitely feel it. I have a few bumps, scrapes and bruises but nothing but good reminders of a day with new friends, hard work, and honoring those fallen Marines. There is nothing quite like GORUCK and this kind of "activity" out there. It breeds leadership, teamwork, honor, hard work, "embracing the suck", friendship, patriotism and mental fortitude. There is no "I" in this. It is truly all about "TEAM." As for this memorial ruck, it hits home because I have witnessed so much of this in my years of service. From those Navy SEALs I watched carry their fallen brothers in Afghanistan in 2011 to a shipmate just two weeks ago...death happens but sometimes, it's while serving our country. To have the chance to test myself and honor others at the same time is a unique experience and one I feel well-suited for. I'm ready for more.

Before I end, I want to share with you the photos that the Marine Corps shared on their Facebook page in honor of their fallen brothers. May God protect their families and may our country never forget their service and sacrifice. Semper Fi!

Sgt. Adam C. Schoeller, 25, Gardeners, Pennsylvania

Cpl. Matthew R. Drown, 23, Houston, Texas

Sgt. Dillon J. Semolina, 24, Delano, Minnesota

Maj. Shawn M. Campbell, 41, College Station, Texas

Capt. Kevin T. Roche, 30, St. Louis, Missouri

Sgt. Jeffrey A. Sempler, 22, Woodruff, South Carolina

Cpl. Christopher J. Orlando, 23, Hingham, Massachusetts

Sgt. William J. Turner, 25, Florala, Alabama

Cpl. Thomas J. Jardas, 22, Fort Myers, Florida

Lance Cpl. Ty L. Hart, 21, Stayton, Oregon

Capt. Brian T. Kennedy, 31, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Capt. Steven R. Torbert, 29, Florence, Alabama

"Rest in Peace, Marines."

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