Why do SEALs make OCRs and Special Forces make Team events?

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If you have been around the OCR world for a little while you may have noticed a trend.  Ex-SEALs produce races, while Special Forces make team building events.  BattleFrog and Bone Frog Challenge (Navy SEAL founded organizations) are OCR forced and based on individual achievements.  Meanwhile, Green Beret Challenge and GORUCK (Special Forces founded organizations) focus on building teams and in most of their events there is no winner, just fishers and non-finishers (although it appears GBC may have changed their format).  The answer to why two of America’s Special Operation Forces create dissimilar events lies in the selection process that creates these two elite fighting forces.

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In case you are not tracking, here is a quick recap of the difference between the two.  SEALs are Special Operation Forces for the US Navy.  Although they do Sea, Air and Land (SEAL) operations they specialize in attacks or operations where infiltration or exfiltration comes from the sea or seaboard platforms.  Special Forces (sometimes called Green Berets) are one of the Army’s Special Operation Force units.  Special Forces specialize in Unconventional Warfare, which in simple terms is overthrowing a bad government or occupying power.  The best example is post-9/11, Special Forces were the first military units on the ground that linked up with the Northern Alliance and helped to overthrow the Taliban.

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Now that you have a basic understanding of the two organizations, the answer to the question lies in how each unit selects their members.  Although SEALs use team building events such as portage (bringing zodiac boats through rough surf), log based physical training and zodiac carries to develop teams and tire out trainees, the larger theme is “It pays to be a winner”.  Throughout their selection process “Indoc”, Hell Week and BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training), the ability to successfully complete individual tasks is stressed more than the team.  This builds more of an individual focus.  (If you want to know more about SEAL training check out the Discovery Channel documentary Navy SEALs BUD/S Class 234 and Dick Couch book Warrior Elite.)

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Special Forces on the other hand place a larger emphasis on team building.  Although Special Forces selection is about half individual based (land navigation, runs, rucks, written tests) there is also a week of team events.  If you have been to a GORUCK or Green Beret Challenge, those are very similar to SFAS (Special Forces Assessment and Selection).  The big difference is the ones at selection have more weight in the contraption, the movements are longer and you are also carrying a 50 lbs. backpack, 10 lbs. rifle and 10 lbs. load bearing vest/suspenders in addition to the contraption.  To complete these team based events it requires a mix of intelligence, perseverance, physical ability and ability to work well a team.    (If you want to know more about Special Forces selection and training check out the documentary Two Weeks in Hell and the Dick Couch book Chosen Soldier.)

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Bottom line is the divergent companies are a direct reflection of their selection processes and the people they produce.  Companies like BattleFrog and Bone Frog Challenge are individual competitions, whereas GORUCK and Green Beret Challenge place a heavy emphasis on building teams.  In my opinion, and I may take some flak for this, Navy SEALs on average tend to be in better shape and a little younger than Green Berets.  However, Green Berets tend to be better team players, a little older and a little smarter than SEALs.  Between their initial selection and the culture that surrounds each of the organizations, a different product is created.  These are also generalities, so not every SEAL or every Green Beret will reflect these aspects, but many of my coworkers and I have found them to be true.  Both selections produce different soldiers for different missions, which brings civilians different challenges for their weekend fun.  Support veteran run organizations and sign up for one of these challenging events today.

 

Photo Credits:

It Pays to Be a Winner picture from onebendre.com

Special Forces Crest from Buzzerg.com

Hobie Call BattleFrog picture from NBC News.

Green Beret Challenge Coffin picture from Mud Run Fun

Bone Frog Monkey Bar picture from New England Spahtens

GORUCK log carry picture from Itstactical.com

 

SOF Opinion of Agoge/GORUCK/Death Race

Candidates push and pull a make shift vehicle during the Team Week phase of the Army Special Forces Assessment and Selection course, Jan 22, in the woods of North Carolina near Camp Mackall. Team Week is designed to evaluate the candidate’s behaviors to determine their potential to be a member of the Special Forces Regiment. (U.S. Army Photo by Staff Sgt. Marcus Butler, USASOC Public Affairs)

I thought it was a good time to write this article since the most the recent events of Spartan 12 Hour Hurricane Heat, Agoge.  Despite what you may think, most of the people I talk to in Special Operations Forces (SOF) have never heard of GORUCK, Death Race, SISU, Agoge or other selection based events.

While they are aware of fitness classes loosely based on military training like “boot camps”, the thought of paying money to go through an event similar to selection is both confusing and bizarre.

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As a member of the military we have to apply to go to selection events like Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS).  SFAS is what events like GORUCK (light/heavy/tough/selection) and the Green Beret Challenge are based on.  Other events bare less of a resemblance but the principles tend to be the same.  Things like unknown distance movements, completing tasks that seem impossible, carrying heavy things for long distances, navigating through the woods and sleep deprivation are all pulled from the world of military selection events.

However, when I tell other SOF guys that people pay money to go through a variation of selection, whether it is 8 hours like a GORUCK Light or an entire weekend like GORUCK Selection, they are baffled.  “People pay to go get treated like garbage?”  Yeah, they do.  My peers and I have trouble understanding it because for us, selection not only gives you access to a “club” but is a career change.  These events and the subsequent year plus of training will change your job title, give you increased pay, more responsibility and present you with future opportunities previously unavailable.

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As someone who straddles both worlds, large parts of me agree with the rest of the SOF community, but I also understand why civilians pay to be treated this way.   There is a sense of pride and accomplishment that comes with completing these events.  It is of an intrinsic value that cannot be calculated via a price tag.

While you will never see me at these types of events as a participant being treated like garbage for 48 hours, I have been to several of them.  To me, it is just too much like work, except I am not being paid.  It opens very few (if any) doors and it is typically a watered down version of the real thing (based off what I have witnessed at a GORUCK event).  I am also as qualified, or more qualified, than the instructor leading the event.  I recently heard a podcast with one of the organizers of Agoge and he did not seem to have any exceptional physical ability or special qualifications, besides working at Spartan HQ that would bestow upon him the task to treat people so harshly.

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Regardless of how poorly you are treated over a weekend, it is hard to compare these to selection events which typically last a couple of weeks and their subsequent courses, a couple of months.  The length and grind of military selection events add a significant amount of difficulty even if the shorter civilian versions can have moments that are harder.  I am not saying this to try to take away from people who have completed the Death Race or other similar events have accomplished, just trying to stress what makes them different.  For example, I have seen another soldier fall asleep standing up and hit the ground face first.  After waking up embarrassed with everyone laughing, he proceeded to do the same thing five minutes later.  That is definition of exhausted. Personally, I have also fallen asleep three or four times trying to open a piece of gum, which should take all of about 15 seconds.  I have also hallucinated in at night, a common occurrence when sleep deprived, usually consisting of seeing people and objects that do not exist.  But even worse I have hallucinated in broad daylight (I saw what resembled those hairless monkey creatures from Galaxy Quest), a truly bizarre experience.  Most information I have read suggests that extreme sleep deprivation results in parts of your brain “sleeping” while the other parts continue to function in an attempt to get rest.  What does extreme sleep deprivation mean? Ranger School says you average four hours of sleep a night for 61 days.  In actuality, it is more like six hours some nights and two hours on nights when you are patrolling, which still averages out to about four hours.
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How do I explain the appearance of athletes like the current Spartan World Champion at Agoge?  Well, I would bet he received free entry to the event since he is part of the Spartan Pro Team.  I would be shocked if I found out he paid money besides maybe some travel costs for an event similar to selection.

For civilians looking to find their limits, challenge themselves and feel like what it means to be in a military selection course for a couple of hours, they are great.  Of note, we do not get treated the way you do in these events all the time, it is typically for a period of a couple of days or weeks.  Eventually the “torture” turns into training, which is also difficult but in a different way.  If you are fan of these events, go out there pay money to find your limits, but if you are looking for my coworkers or I to join you, we will just be cheering you on from the sidelines.

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Photo Credits

First Death Race photo from http://929theticket.com/.

First SFAS photo from BreachBangClear.com.

Second Death Race photo from Mud Run Fun.

BUD/S photo from welcometocoronado.com.

Rifle PT SFAS photo from BreachBangClear.com.

Space Monkey photo from Galaxy Quest movie and star2.com.

Final SFAS photo from flickriver.com.

Beyond The Trifecta

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The Spartan Trifecta, completion of a Sprint, Super, and Beast, in one calendar year is a proud accomplishment for many OCR athletes. However, now that it’s been around for a couple years, many athletes are looking to go beyond the trifecta. Others have found their own variant of the Trifecta called the Mountain Trifecta, which is the completion of a Trifecta on all mountain courses or an EffNorm Trifecta, which is the completion of a Trifecta on all Norm Koch courses. Recently, Spartan announced the Delta, which requires the completion of 9 different events, which is great, but what if you like other events more than Spartan, do not have the several thousand dollars to commit to a Delta, or do not live close to a lot of their events?  If you are still looking for a new type of challenge that spans beyond the reaches of an all Spartan world, here are a couple suggestions you can use to push your body to new limits through multiple events.

Pushing yourself to new limits is all about getting out of your comfort zone.  If you are always doing the same race series, you probably are not getting that far out of that comfort zone because you know all the obstacles and you know what to expect.  It is time to try something new where you do not know the name of every obstacle or the ability to recite the hype man’s speech by heart.

WEEKEND CHALLENGESChallenges Completed on Back to Back Days

The Ancient Warrior Challenge: This is a good option for beginner OCR athletes looking for a new challenge. This simply requires completion of a Warrior Dash and any distance Spartan Race in one weekend. This is definitely a good challenge for those wanting to dip the toe in the world of back to back racing.  Get in touch with your ancient combat spirit with this challenge for beginners.

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SOF Weekend or the Modern Warrior Challenge:  Special Operation Forces (SOF) is a broad term that encompasses all of America’s Special units including but not limited to Navy SEALs, Special Forces, Marine Special Operations, Air Force Special Tactics Squadron and more.  SOF weekend is the completion of two different special operations military events in one weekend. An example is doing a BattleFrog on one day and the Green Beret Challenge or a GORUCK the next day.  BattleFrog is inspired by Navy Seals and Green Beret Challenge along with GoRuck are inspired by Army Special Forces.  GORUCKS also occur at various times, which allows for the possibility of doing BattleFrog and a GORUCK within the same day.

Muti-Lap Mudder: This requires a Tough Mudder event that spans two days. The idea is to complete as many laps as possible on each day. Saturday the course is typically open longer so more than likely you will have time to finish two or maybe more on Saturday.  Sunday there is typically only time for one lap.  Either way, with a 3 lap minimum covering 30 miles or more, this is a challenge for those looking to extend their training volume or prepare for one of the longer OCR events.

YEARLY CHALLENGES OR SPANNING MULTIPLE YEARS

The Touch of Death: This one is tricky because it requires completing multiple events and then hoping that a couple of them eventually meet the criteria for the Touch of Death. While no one hopes that OCR series go under, it is a fact of the business that several events have shown up and disappeared just as quickly. To qualify for The Touch of Death, it requires completing three events that eventually go under. This shows that you have the mental fortitude and physical strength to stick with OCR despite the rise and fall of companies.  So if you were at Super Hero Scramble, Hard Charge, Atlas Race, Hero Rush or any of the other events that folded, then congratulations, you have the Touch of Death.

The 24 hour Triple Crown: With only a handful of reoccurring 24-hour races for OCR in the world this is a challenge worthy of any ultra-distance athlete.  This can be accomplished all in one year if you are aggressive or spread out over several years.  While most people are satisfied with one 24 hour race in their lifetime, the Triple Crown requires completion of three different race events.  So if you did World’s Toughest Mudder three times, that still counts as only one for the Triple Crown.  To earn this accolade, you are going to have to branch out to events like 24 Hours of Shale Hell in Vermont, Battlefrog Xtreme 24 in Florida, Enduro 24 in Australia or Viper 2 Four in Malaysia.

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US Ultra-OCR: Let’s say the 24-hour Triple Crown is currently above your reach, but you still want an ultra distance challenge.  The US Ultra-OCR requires the completion of four ultra-endurance competitive OCR events.  Finishing events like Spartan Ultra-Beast, World’s Toughest Mudder, Battlefrog Xtreme, BFX 24 or Shale Hell (8 hr or 24 hr version).

World Championship Contender: Instead of arguing, over which world championship is the most legitimate or which is the hardest, why not put your money where your mouth is and race them all.  Currently, this requires the completion of the OCRWC, Spartan World Championship, BattleFrog World Championship and World’s Toughest Mudder.  Want to up the difficulty? Do them all in one calendar year.

The Pentagram of Suffering:  To reach the pinnacle of pain, completion of five selection type events is required.  This includes, but is not limited to: GORUCK Selection, Death Race, Fuego y Agua, SISU Iron and Agoge.

If you think these challenges are still below your level, try adding your own requirements like trying to qualify for the OCR World Championships at every event included in the challenge or trying to podium at every event included in each challenge.

If you like these ideas, then comment below or on Facebook to tell Matt B. Davis to get off his ass and make virtual race medals (in addition to the Cranky Bastard) associated with completing these feats of strength.  Post on which ones you like the most so Matt can get busy designing the race medals and you can get recognition for your accomplishments that span multiple companies.

MREs: Ultimate Endurance Fuel?

 

MREbox

For those unfamiliar with the term, MREs, or Meals Ready To Eat, are the prepackaged field rations the Army provides to its soldiers.  The meals often contain in excess of 1,200 calories per package and can conveniently fit inside your backpack.  Occasionally, I see people heading to events like World’s Toughest Mudder talking about how their plan is to consume MREs during their event.  They use logic along the lines of – if it is good enough to sustain soldiers in combat than it is good enough to for my ultra-race.  Sounds pretty logical right?

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Well…there are a couple of problems with this.  MREs have a lot of other requirements not required for regular endurance products.  The first is the ability to be shelf stable for 10 years.  Anything that can sit on a shelf for 10 years and still be consumed immediately makes me wary.   Second, MREs taste like crap (in my opinion).  Maybe because I have been forced to eat them for weeks on end, but I generally do not recommend their taste.  In fact, I have given them to friends/family as a joke to show the kind of garbage I have to eat while in school house training.  Third, typically most MREs I have seen sold cost around $10 per package.  While this is a bargain for the number of calories you are getting, it is not a bargain for the quality or type of food you are getting.

Fourth, and probably most important, their nutritional profile is terrible.  If you want a meal by meal breakdown, check out this site.  Here are some generalities based on hastily calculated averages:

  • Many have around 3g of Trans Fat, which is more Trans Fat than you should probably ever consume.  The recommended Trans Fat intake is 0g because it is manmade and your body has trouble breaking it down.
  • The saturated fat per meal is around 25g, which is closer to several days’ worth of saturated fat for healthy eaters.
  • They do have a decent number of carbohydrates with close to 190g, which is great for endurance exercise but a lot of that is sugar, something that many endurance companies do not use large quantities of in their products.
  • They do have a lot of protein, around 40g, which will help prevent you from catabolizing your muscles during exercise, which is something I think most endurance athletes do not consume enough of during events.  However, I would argue that the meal is going to fill you up too fast as opposed to densely packed nutrients that allow for that constant stream of fuel similar to what endurance companies provide in their gel or powdered mix products.

Instead of eating a lot of small portions of food providing stable blood sugar and constant energy, MREs will fill you up quickly causing periods of high energy followed by a crash.

MRE unboxed

Finally, if you have any other doubt, always look to those with larger budgets and are very serious about winning.  For this example, that involves looking at the ultra-running community and Special Operation Forces.  Looking at the experts in something usually provides you with the right answer because they have extensively studied the problem.  Although I am sure some do, I still have yet to see an ultra-runner slamming down MREs while racing.  Furthermore, none of the ones I follow on social media ever post pictures or comment about the benefits of MREs.  To add further support, when SOF units are given the choice between buying MREs or REI bought dehydrated camping food, they almost always go with the latter.  When given a choice between free MREs or store bought camping food, most still go with the latter.  SOF typically has a larger budget and more freedom and they typically only use MREs for candidates going through entrance training and not for unit run training events.

MRE

MREs are great for what they were designed for, which is providing a low cost, shelf-stable solution for feeding soldiers for an extended period of time by providing them with loads of calories to handle the physical and mental stress of combat.  Despite what you may think, the Army often goes with the lowest cost product that is also acceptable.  This does not mean they are choosing “the best” item, but simply the cheapest acceptable item.  If you are looking to go shopping once for the next decade and have fuel for all your ultra-distance OCRs, then by all means buy MREs.  If you are looking to perform at your best while ingesting healthy food that supports you reaching your maximum potential, I would stay away from MREs.  If they are not good enough for SOF or serious ultra-athletes, they are probably not good enough for your racing goals.

Gender Wars: Do Elite OCR Females Prove Gender Equality for our Military?

 

Gender Wars

I, like most men, have been “chicked” by athletes like Rose Wetzel, Lindsay Webster and Amelia Boone on more than one occasion.  I am also an active duty member of a Special Operations Forces (SOF) unit in the US Military.  Does this mean that women are capable or should be fully integrated into all branches of the military?  This is a common line of thinking among some proponents of full integration, but the issue is more complex as you will see.

Are there women who are more physically capable then men for SOF?  The answer is unequivocally yes as proven by the above mentioned OCR athletes.  They are in better shape than 99.9% of the men on earth despite having XX chromosomes and lower testosterone.  Any male who says there are no women capable of doing their job is a complete idiot.  Even though most military events require carrying weight, something that does not get scaled according to bodyweight, these women could still outperform most men.  Case closed, if you are going to argue this point you are a closed minded moron.

women-combat

However, there are a couple of problems with the above.  The first is most of the women who are physically capable of doing jobs like SOF are not in the military.  These women are competitive athletes like the ones listed above.  You can make up for lower physical ability by having incredible intestinal fortitude like that displayed by athletes who may not be the fastest but are still very tough, like Amie “Live Wire” Booth and Shelly Koenig as demonstrated in their completion of the Death Race.  As far as I am tracking none of these women have served in the military, with the exception of Amie Booth (I apologize for creeping on your Facebook page looking to confirm facts, but it looks like she only served a couple of years in the late 1990s.)  While it takes a special kind of person to suffer at endurance events it also takes a special kind of person (which is sometimes different) to suffer for weeks at selection than volunteer to go places where people are trying to kill you.

The second problem is being physically capable is not the end all be all.  By this I mean there are a ton of mental attributes, including desire, that need to align with being in SOF or combat units.  I am not going to list all the attributes, but it takes a certain kind of person to brief a patrol while someone is shitting within arm length reach with their ass exposed (a common occurrence at some training…after all, you can’t poop without security surrounding you).  While above average men are capable of completing events like Ranger School, the females who can complete it are in the very best of all women.  The chances of all attributes aligning, including desire, mental fortitude, physical ability and intelligence, is low in my opinion.  Just look at the first class of women to enter Ranger School (a qualification course, not a career change).  An opportunity went out to the entire Army and after initial screening and Pre-Ranger (several week preparation program), 18 were sent to the course out of the original 56 who started Pre-Ranger.  Of those 3 passed, which is an 83% failure rate based off the 18 (or 95% failure rate if you count from the original 56).  This is about double the failure rate of men, which typically runs 40-50% failure rate.  I would count that hardly a success in my opinion.  (Author’s Note:  Numbers may vary slightly based off whose reporting you look at, but 3 of the women ultimately passed after recycling several phases.  Also, for you naysayers, what do they call a doctor that graduates last in his class?  Doctor…same concept goes for Ranger School.)

The final problem is it affects the dynamics of small teams.  This one is mostly the fault of men and has nothing to do with the women.  I’m just going to be honest here; the men are going to try to sleep with the women.  Some will be married and others will be single, but more than one will be working an angle.  Even the ones that are faithful will be posturing to impress, something that runs deep in the genetic code and I would argue will always be present on some level.

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So while women like Lindsay Webster, Siri England and Amy Pajcic show that women are capable of performing at the physical pinnacle, that is something everyone should have known already and really tells us nothing new (unless you are still think women running distance will make their uterus fall out).  However, there is more to being a SOF Operator than just being physically capable.

Regardless of my opinion or anyone else’s opinion on this subject, the bottom line is, it does not matter what I or anyone else thinks because it is happening whether I like it or not.  It was announced at the end of 2015 that there will be full integration into all branches (so the movie GI JANE will soon be a reality).  Who knows, maybe all the posturing I talked about will make men perform at a higher level.  Maybe getting “chicked” daily will make guys run further or harder.  Maybe the women will help build rapport in some cultures (something I have seen work first hand).  Maybe it will make the Army and SOF stronger as a force….maybe….or maybe not…only time will tell.