GORUCK Normandy HTL AAR, Part 3
“Get up. It’s been an hour,” Elizabeth said gently but firmly. “You’re going. Get up.” Just about then my alarm went off. I immediately felt the pain in my upper back, which was odd because it’s my lower back that’s given me trouble since my big injury three years ago. I stepped out of bed and… oh yeah, there it is. “My fucking feet are on fire,” I barked. “Tell me what you need and let’s roll,” she replied. Hot damn, my wife is badass.
Elizabeth had washed and dried my clothes while I was sleeping. Everything was like new again accept for my wet boots, sandy ruck and aching body. I knocked on Hotspot’s door and he sprung out of bed with Harlowe’s energy. I drank an espresso. I brushed my teeth. I got in the car. I beat what everyone said was the hardest part.
Elizabeth drove us the 20 minutes to the cadre house in Grandcamp-Maisy where we met in the backyard. It was a very odd place to start an event. I recognized about 20 faces from the Heavy. Fortunately an additional 20 – 30 folks filled the yard. “Thank God,” I thought to myself. “They’re going to have to carry most of the load tonight.” I’ve never “grey manned” an event, but to be completely honest, I was fine with all the new folks carrying the weight. I was dying as the cadre ordered us into our ranks and began the admin process.
The admin was the same as the Heavy, but without the time requirement to rebuild rucks and all the running. To get us pumped, the cadres showed us the opening scene of “Saving Private Ryan,” in which the first wave stormed Omaha Beach. I had watched it about 100 times before showing up in France and then watched the whole movie again with Hotspot the night before the Heavy.
Mocha Mike took charge and made us run a couple blocks to a soccer field. We then ran a few laps around the perimeter of the field. Enter Jennifer. She was struggling at the back of the pack and when I decided to fall back and help out, I found her crying. I ran with her for a good while, falling far back from the pack and catching some shit from the cadre, but I wasn’t going to leave a man behind. I did everything I could to convince her to stay in, but she looked at me and said, “I can’t. I’m out.” I felt like I had been kicked in the nuts. Jennifer walked over to the cadre as I ran and caught up with the team. I’m not sure what the cadre said, but Jennifer rejoined the crew and I’m happy to write that she finished the event.
We spent the next hour or so learning military movements – how to move as a fire team, a squad, a unit, etc. Lots of bounding and low crawls. I had already received this lesson and I wasn’t appointed a team leader, so this was a good chance for me to flake out mentally. There were moments when we laid on the ground for a couple minutes at a time while another team was being taught or chewed out. This was a nice time to close my eyes. Cadre Heath yelled to me “why aren’t you moving?” Because I’m sleeping, dude.
We grabbed our coupons and began the march toward Pointe du Hoc, first stopping at the bottom of a different cliff to give us some perspective as to what the Rangers saw on D-Day. History lesson time… Pointe du Hoc is a tall cliff, the highest point between Utah and Omaha beaches. This cliff gave the Nazis a strong tactical advantage because they could see both beaches as well as far out into the ocean. Huge guns were atop the cliff that could reach both beaches and inflict huge casualties. For the Normandy invasion to be successful, the allied forces had to first capture Pointe du Hoc, so 225+ Rangers scaled the cliff walls while the enemy shot down on them. Basically, our guys were sitting ducks. We took the cliff, but out of 225 Rangers, only 95 survived.
We climbed to the bottom of the cliff and looked up in awe. How did anyone at all survive? We spent a good bit of time listening to history lessons and Cadre Heath’s tutorial on how to climb the cliff with limited equipment. He then gave us the opportunity to scale part of the cliff. You could easily tell who completed the Heavy a few hours before because most of us were cuddled up together on rocks, trying to stay warm, and listening rather than participating. I even saw a couple folks asleep. I wanted to climb the cliff but I honestly felt unsafe due to my drowsiness and deliriousness. At this point I wasn’t all there. I laid back on a few huge rocks and ate an almond butter and jelly wrap given to me by a teammate while enjoying some needed time off my throbbing feet.
We climbed back up the cliff and began our trek toward Pointe du Hoc where we arrived shortly before sunrise. I could see the sky turning to a light blue which meant it was somewhere close to 5 am when we arrived at the infamous battle field, covered in huge craters where massive bombs hit the ground but did not destroy the Nazi bunkers of concrete with reinforced steel rods. We did not stay long because we couldn’t see much in the dark. We proceeded to the Pointe du Hoc museum where we PT’ed, filled up with water and met Cadre Dan and Cadre Mickey who took over from Heath and Mocha Mike. This was an indication that we were halfway through our challenge.
The sun rose and we went back out the to the Pointe were we able to see the full view of the landscape with a long view of the ocean out front, Utah Beach to our left and Omaha Beach to our right. It was obvious why this point was so vital. We paused for a team pic at the Ranger monument before beginning our long walk to Omaha Beach where I entered the darkest moments of the entire HTL, the darkest moments of any fitness event I have tried to conquer.
In January I felt like quitting while enduring the Greenville GORUCK Tough Challenge with a high temperature, stopping on the side of the road often to hack up green nastiness. A couple months later I ran the Palmetto 200 on a six-man ultra team, rushing to every transfer point to spend all downtime in a port-a-potty. Neither compared to the long walk to Omaha Beach atop the high cliffs overlooking the English Channel.
We walked for miles, for hours. Every step was a shock through my feet. We walked single file, creating an accordion effect. Stop, walk, stop, walk, stop, walk for hours and hours. We stopped and I would drop to my hands and knees for 15 seconds at a time. I had to get off my feet. I was dying. I tried using the mental techniques I practiced for months. I tried meditating and sleeping walking. I had to get my mind somewhere other than thinking of every step. It worked for a while but time beat me.
We visited Omaha Beach the day before and Hotspot cracked a joke about a trailer park atop the cliffs. So I knew that we would see white trailers indicating our arrival. We walked along beautiful wheat fields that looked exactly like the scene from Gladiator when Russell Crow was dying and walking toward his family. We took turns around rows of trees breaking up the fields, and at every turn I knew those trailers would be in sight. Turn after turn, they were not. Those fucking trailers. Where are they?
I fell back to the very end with a couple other hurting HTL folks and cadre Mickey. I chatted with a dude from the UK to pass the time. Then another funny Englishman fell back, cracking jokes that lightened the mood. That was until we heard two guys yelling at each other with other folks getting in between to break up a possible fight. Both Cadre Dan and Mickey saw the argument and Dan said, “You will pay for that.” Those blue falcon sons of bitches. Finally. The trailers!
This was my eighth GORUCK event and I am proud to say that I’ve never “grey manned” even one event. I’ve carried my load. I’m always the first guy to grab heavy shit. Until now. I “grey manned” most of the night, allowing the fresh folks who didn’t do the Heavy to carry the weight. I got on sandbags for short stretches but not long enough to be proud of myself. I was a lousy teammate. Knowing we were close to Omaha and despite a lot of PT coming our way, the long walk was nearly over, I grabbed a heavy sandbag and carried it home the last twenty or so minutes. Then we were staring out over Omaha Beach. Just one problem. There was no beach.
The cadres huddled up to talk about their audible. We knew what they wanted to do. They wanted us to storm the beach like we did in the Heavy. Their plan was to put us in the water and make us crawl our asses the 300 yards from the water to the cliffs. But they didn’t expect it to be high tide where the water literally came all the way up to the road. Instead they decide to punish us for the earlier altercation between the blue Falcons.
They put us in the freezing water for a lot of PT. Push-ups, flutter kicks, squats and a lot more. Then we got into the shape of Higgins boats, walked out to chest deep water, then ran back to dry land, over a sharp embankment to the shore. Now comes my only complaint about the cadre. In the heavy we got in the freezing water and were PT’ed quickly and harshly to get our core temperatures back up. It sucked, but it also made the cold less dangerous. This time the cadres huddled us up for a long history lesson on Omaha Beach. We sat there for what seemed like an hour, freezing our asses off. The cadre allowed us to put on extra clothes, but most of us either didn’t have any or what we did have was soaking wet. Hotspot and I just leaned on each other to share body heat as Cadre Dan drew put his sand map. Yeah, I know. I’m whining like a little bitch. Embrace the suck, right? I tried, but I didn’t stop shaking until I was about half way home.
Elizabeth and Harlowe showed up and watched as we shook. I told her “I’ve never hurt this bad. You have to fix my feet or I’m done.” I had gone 40 hours but I was very close to not making it 10 more.
After the history lesson we formed back up to recite the Ranger creed with Mocha Mike. He messed up and made himself do 25 push-ups. I thought that was awesome. Then we all did push-ups. Then we were patched.
Hotspot and I were in bad shape. The worst shape I had ever been in. I stripped down to my undies, got in the car and turned on the heat as high as it would go. Again, Elizabeth had food waiting for us. “I’m sorry, but we need to go home again,” I told her. She got us home fast. We showered and got in our beds. Elizabeth nursed my feet and I said, “I may be finished.” She replied “the hell you are. Go to sleep. You have 45 minutes.” Damn, I love this woman.
Everyone said the hardest part was showing back up for the Tough. I wasn’t so sure. Showing back up for the Light may be the biggest accomplishment yet. If I make it.