They say GORUCK is trying to build better Americans. I ask how?
Is it the backpack that is built like America? Strong, unflappable, and no matter how much folks try and break it; it will never fail.
Is it the Challenge we all seem to have found in the events? Train for the unknown for you never know when the unknown is coming for you.
Is it the Ruck Clubs? They bring together like minded people and melt them together like one homogenous unit from many different backgrounds.
What is it?
I started training for this HTL that’s coming in 49 days back in June. Finishing a round of HDT, Pathfinder, and I am still continuing today. I am not here to tell you about my physical training plan. No, I am here to tell you about the often overlooked aspect of training.
Researching to understand who we are honoring in our event, especially our themed events. No doubt many GRTs are toeing the line this weekend to honor those who were lost on 9/11. The 6,000+ injured, 2,977 civilians, 343 Firemen, 71 law enforcement officers, and the 55 military personnel. Many had to research and come armed with a biography of someone lost that day. How many will say they lost themselves? We might not have been there, or suffered physical pain, but many of us lost ourselves that day. Lost the world we knew and walked into the world we know now. We lost our old lives. Military or not. Public Servant or not. Civilian from middle America far from the hustle and bustle of the major metropolitan areas that were under siege to the little town in rural Pennsylvania that was unwillingly thrust onto the front pages of every paper in America. We were all lost on that day and we were up against impossible odds.
That is a common theme among the research have been doing these fast few weeks, impossible odds. I have been working out, more of the same. More weight, more distance, more more and more. That’s enough to defy the impossible odds was faced just 2 short years ago. Just making that first step off the couch was something I never thought possible. During that process of putting more into my physical being I must ask myself why? Why was I doing this? Why was I even attempting this event? Why?
I have read 3 books about Fallujah and I think I understand the battle. I think I understand what Americans were up against. What the enemy was up against. What America is up against. What the people of Iraq were up against. There is so much more to learn about Fallujah, but from a perspective that cannot be put into a polished book where emotions are carefully measured and placed into a page for maximum effect on the reader. Where metaphors are placed in a paragraph to help the reader relate to the people on the page or to paint a picture of the enemy more clear.
The first book I read was called, We Were One by Patrick O’Donnell. It was a recount of his time shoulder to shoulder with the Marines as they lay siege to the city of Fallujah. He was able to give a history lesson of what the city was before America invaded and captured Saddam. He was able to give another lesson into what it had become. A breeding ground of insurgents and foreign fighters bound and determined to kill Americans when they came. They knew they were coming. They knew. The no holds barred account of what the Marines went through made the case that my generation and the often maligned generation labeled the Millenials is this country’s New Greatest Generation. I can hear you scoff at that from here. Read the book and understand not only what the Marines in Fallujah went through, but read about our modern day military battles and not the romantic view of World War II.
The next book I read was called No True Glory by Bing West. Again a retelling of the battle from an outsider's perspective. I say outsider because Bing didn’t fight in that battle so he could only tell you what he saw and what soldiers would tell him. He could make assumptions about what a soldier was feeling, but he didn't know the whole story. Impossible to know. He could relate. He was a Marine in Vietnam. He knew the hardships those kids were facing. He knew what they were feeling and he gave great insight to that. The book read like an academic read on the battle. It didn’t give me the heart that I was so desperately looking for.
The last book I read about Fallujah was called House to House by SSG David Bellavia. You might recognize the name. I didn’t at first but I recognized his distinct writing style and voice in the ways he put sentences and paragraphs together. I heard a speech he gave when the President placed the Medal of Honor around his neck. The author was that very soldier. His book, written in first person and was the only first person account I will read about the Battle of Fallujah. Not only was it a departure from the other two books about the battle in that it was written by an actual soldier that was there, but it was written by a combat leader and from an Army leader. The Marines get a lot of deserved credit in the Battle of Fallujah, but the Army is often left out of the conversation, unless you talk to someone in the Army. I devoured that book in less than 24 hours. It was a quick and easy read.
The last 2 books I read in my prep for this event were not about Fallujah. They were about something altogether different. The first was Tough as They Come by SSG Travis Mills. Two years ago I heard him on the Jocko Podcast talking about his book and his journey. It was at a time I was starting to really get this ball rolling in a healthy direction. That podcast opened with a letter from Lt Zac Lewis what was Travis’ CO at the time of his incident. I was haunted by it. Zac comes from my hometown. His older sister was in my class. I knew Zac. Not that he and I were friends. We know who each other is, at least I know who he is insofar as we come from the same town, went to the same high school, and we had a similar upbringing. I’ve had the opportunity to shake his hand and look him in the eye. Where a lot of people would focus on Travis’s story, I devoured that book trying to understand Zac a little better. What did he face? What was he up against? I had the pleasure of volunteering for a non-profit called Music on a Mission: Project DREW. There veterans talk to a singer/songwriter about their story, then the next day that singer/songwriter performs that song to a very intimate audience. I have had the great pleasure of sitting in the shadows taking photos of the vertan’s reactions and also the reactions of their family and friends. I feel an immense sense of pride to capture closure or the beginning of closure. That’s where I heard Zac’s song for the first time. I have heard him speak about that song. I longed to understand more. Travis’ book helped me do that as well as learn what he was up against.
The last book I read had nothing to do with war at all. Well that’s not true. The book is called Mudbound by Hillary Jordan. It takes place in rural Mississippi in the late 30’s and early 40’s. It is a story told like an oral history and from two very different perspectives. A white family who owned a farm and a black family who were share tenants. A share tenant I have come to learn is different than a sharecropper. There are two very different soldiers in the book. A dashing B-25 Liberator Pilot and an equally dashing black tank commander in the 761st Black Panther Division in Patton’s Third Army. It is a tragic story of rural America at the time. It’s an often glanced over part of our history in the South.
The one thing all these books have in common is that it answers the question of what some would do in an impossible situation. It answered the question of what the Marines would do if their friends were getting shot or blown up all around them. It answered the question if it was him or me. It answered the question of what would you do when you’re CO is pinned down in the open; would you drop your rifle and run into the gunfire to save him or would you just unload magazines of rounds downrange in hopes the enemy ran out before you and by some miracle didn’t kill the CO? It would answer the question of what one would do if they had to watch a friend be bound, gagged, beaten nearly to death, have a gun to your head and then forced you to choose how they would maime your friend, or they would kill you.
What none of these books do is answer those questions for yourself, unless you’ve been placed in that impossible situation. There wouldn’t be a right or wrong answer here. There is only what you would do or wouldn’t do. What these books did for me was to force me to look inside myself and speculate what I would do in those impossible situations. To tell you I would always do the noble thing would probably be telling you a lie. I would more than likely figure out how to survive whatever situation I was in at all costs. I would like to say I would put myself in harms way to save an innocent life, but I can’t say for certain that I would.
So maybe that’s why I do these events. Maybe that’s why I have lived a life of survival and not found a way to thrive in it. Perhaps I am thriving, but I am longing to push myself more. Since August 9th my perspective on this life I have has changed immensely. I recently left a comfortable job I knew well, turned down a promotion I knew. I get to start a new career. I feel I am starting to end my practice of living for survival and start to live life on my terms more so than before. I started to do that 2 years ago on this weight loss journey I’ve been on. That journey has turned into one of self discovery. It has turned to me putting myself in situations I never thought I could survive as silly as that sounds. Physically pushing the limit to what I thought was possible. Mentally pushing my limits and forcing myself to look at everything through a set of different eyes. Look at places in myself to get answers I don’t necessarily like, and forcing myself to make the changes I knew that needed to be done.
Is GORUCK building a better American? It seems that they might be. Without the necessity of researching Fallujah I wouldn’t be where I am today. I circumstances that followed after cracking the spine of the first book wouldn’t have been possible. I have GORUCK to thank for that, but more importantly I have myself to thank for that.
Never discount the work that you do. Despite how it started or who started it for you; you’re the one that pushed it further.
I have found my why. Have you found yours?