Green Beret Challenge: Behind Enemy Lines

While many OCR competitors, endurance enthusiasts, and ruckers spent the past weekend racing or competing in the more commonly known events of our community, a small group took to the mountains in North Carolina for something different. The Green Beret Challenge endurance event Behind Enemy Lines Class 001 took place just outside of Bakersville, NC for 19 brave individuals.

Green Beret formation

The Green Beret Challenge has developed a reputation over the past few years for owner Mark Ballas’ courses that test competitors with a format typically focused more on push/pull/carry than the standard run/climb/crawl setup. 2016 has been a big year for the Green Beret Challenge brand, as they recently introduced a shorter, faster version of their race series more appealing to the masses (the GBC Operator Course vs Commando Course) and as of this past weekend revealed Behind Enemy Lines.

Behind Enemy Lines: Clandestine Operations Class 001 began Friday evening, September 16th. The event was organized as a simulation of the Army Ranger experience broken down into three phases: Phase One provided a taste of Special Forces Assessment & Selection, starting with a physical fitness assessment. Participants fell into a military formation and lined up in groups of four took turns with the standard 2 minutes of push-ups, followed by 2 minutes of sit ups. Following the calisthenics, candidates had five minutes to warm up for a non-standard run assessment. Being on top of a mountain range, the typical 2-mile assessment wasn’t particularly feasible so a winding trail along gravel roads and wooded ridges was our substitute. Upon completion of the run portion, candidates were given a short break in order to consume some calories, hydrate, and change from workout clothes to pants and boots; we were to be in for a long night. We loaded up our rucks with 40 lb sandbags and whatever nutrition and clothing we wanted, and headed out on our long ruck with only a guess of what to expect. Our first movement had us winding down old service roads and off onto some single track trails until we got to our first task, building a bunker. We were provided shovels, miniature pick axes, full axes, and empty sandbags with a diagram to follow. 24 bags needed to be filled, a hole had to be dug 3 feet deep, and branches needed to be cut in order to cover the top, and we had one hour to successfully complete the task. After a couple of adjustments and with two minutes to spare, objective accomplished. We picked up all tools and materials from the task and kept moving through the dark.

Green Beret BEL ruck prep

Our next task was a site very familiar to anyone who has participated in a Green Beret Challenge. Three casualty sleds loaded with three sandbags each, two carry litters with two sandbags each, a few loaded wooden ammo boxes, and a couple of tires. With one member of the class being designated team leader for each task (who could only guide the team and not help with the load), that left 18 free sets of hands to move everything. Some quick planning for how to move everything was put together before we all shoved off. After many breaks, switches, and struggles we lined up our bundles of fun and were assigned a new task: puzzles. Under the light of headlamps, we had four crossword puzzles and two separate bagillion-piece jigsaw puzzles (mixed together in one box, mind you) and an hour to finish them. After a frantic rush then deep focus on a cold and windy ridge, there was nothing to be done; we experienced our first taste of failure. We continued for another stretch with all of the weight until being allowed to drop it before hiking down a very steep and slippery stretch, leading to what actually would be one of our final (and most trying) tasks of Phase One. The best name I heard it referred to throughout the weekend was “the caterpillar yokes”. Nine wooden landscaping posts were tied together with a sandbag at each end of the post, with two team members to a post. What made it trickiest was coordinating all of the rows to get their “yokes” lifted at the same time before any row began moving. Add in the fact that those landscaping posts couldn’t decide if they wanted to be rounded or flat (depending on the side that found itself attempting to sever the spine at the base of our necks). Around 4 am we finally arrived back to the base camp, with many nearing their breaking point. Backs hurt, ribs were sore, and even an ankle or two had been rolled. “Recover, refuel, and be in fitness clothes with boots formed up by 0600” were our orders.

Green Beret BEL Ruck

Many chose to grab a quick nap; myself and a few others decided not to fall for the trap and snacked around the campfire, staying warm and awake. When the time came, we were all formed up and waited for further instruction. Names were called out, slowly. Eventually, there was a group of 10 formed off to the side from the remaining 9; these would be the separate teams for the remainder of the event. We each received dog tags verifying that we had passed the “Selection” stage, and prepared for Phase Two – Training. In our separate teams, we proceeded to go through short training sessions covering various elements to include team movements in the field, basic first aid lessons, knot tying, and room clearing strategies. Throughout all aspects of training, end even during the initial assessment stage, we were given the opportunity to really think about scenarios and present solutions. As owner Mark Ballas stated, “Developing and testing the mind, body and spirit are the core of it all.” We were constantly prompted about principles that are important in leadership and teamwork, whether or not in a combat/military setting. The final step of the training phase included how Ranger units do their extensive planning (which they admit other units sometimes make fun of, being so in-depth). What I really appreciated about this endurance event is that it wasn’t designed just to push people past their breaking points like most of the multi-hour or day events; rather it made sure to bend all participants, but then focus on teaching them applicable skills for life.

Around noon on Saturday, we took another break to refuel and dress to prepare for Phase Three, which was the performance segment of our weekend. It was time to put all that we had learned and apply it to a simulated scenario that a Ranger team would encounter. We received an Op Order briefing by Mark, providing us with the mission objective and all details available at the time to begin preparations. Then the two teams broke off for their specific tasks in the mission and went through mission prep, planning, and rehearsal.

“It’s about developing organic leadership through unique team building events,” as Mark put it.

Eventually, it was time to follow the plan and schedule we agreed upon. The first team headed out for their part of the mission, led by Cadre Matt and John. Shortly after my team hit the trail, led by Mark and Cadre Dino.

Green Beret BEL Planning

The first team’s mission involved reconnaissance and eventually a room-clearing operation of a secluded cabin in the woods, and for a nice add-on encountered a civilian U.S. “casualty” requiring first aid and evacuation. My team had a mission to act based upon the intel from the recon and perform a roadside ambush to capture/kill a cartel terrorist with WMD components. Upon securing the target, we assessed the components and how to evacuate with said payload, then met up with the other team for a hike out of “hostile territory.” As Mark and the Cadre reiterated, “the scenarios are such that one’s leadership traits are exposed and refined.”

Green Beret Challenge Flag with moon

Upon arrival back within site of base camp, as the sun was beginning to set over the western mountaintops, we were finally told to set down everything. “Mission accomplished” were such sweet words to hear! We were all invited to come to the beautiful cabin at one of the highest points, where the property owners were gracious enough to host our smelly, dirty, tired bodies as we celebrated with a good old fashioned burger burn and some delicious Bird Dog Whiskey, who sponsored the after party.  Many only had the energy to eat, have a few drinks, then head straight to their tents due to the 24+ hours with almost no sleep; a few others took advantage of the time to share a few laughs with Mark and the Cadre.
This event not only tested participants mentally, physically, and spiritually; it allowed all parties involved to truly pay tribute to the Rangers and other Special Forces members whom have given their life fighting for our country. “This is only the beginning” Mark was sure to point out, as he is at this moment preparing for their next event in the Behind Enemy Lines series. Behind Enemy Lines: Survival & Evasion takes place in Texas the first weekend of December. If you want to go through a little pain and suffering, but walk away with some uncommon skills, I recommend checking out the event. Classes do have a small cap, so don’t delay!

Devin Caster

Devin "Fireball" Caster, Active Duty Air Force member you can usually find playing in the mud most weekends.