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Monday, October 8, 2012

Before Mud Runs Were Cool- How About A 35KM Cross Country Evasion Exercise

So everyone is always asking me if I'm going on this or that obstacle mud run and the answer is NO!
During my 20 years in the Army, long before mud runs became cool, I did my more than my share of running, negotiating obstacles, running through mud, sleeping in mud, living in mud. I don't feel any calling to go do it again. 

One such event that reminds me that I don't want to do a mud run (and there are many such events), is the 35km cross country evasion exercise that I participated in and completed while I was stationed in Germany around 1988. I was assigned to 3rd Armored Division's Long Range Surveillance Detachment (LRSD) in Frankfurt, Germany. At the time, I was serving as a Radio Telephone Operator (RTO) on a 6 man Long Range Surveillance Team. Our primary mission was to conduct surveillance and reconnaissance operations to gather intelligence on enemy forces (read Warsaw pact / Soviet / Cold War) and report to our higher headquarters. 

Being on a 6 man team, out in no man's land, on your own, you didn't have any backup and you didn't want to get caught. So we did SERE (survival, escape, resistance, evasion) training alot. I graduated from the ILRRPS Survival with resistance to interrogation course and we constantly practiced what we learned in school. Of course, medical training was a critical skill as well so we were all EMT (emergency medical technician) and combat lifesaver qualified. 

Every once and awhile the commander wanted to put the training to the test to see what you were made of. 

One dark, stormy, German, winter night, we were woken up in our barracks by the pounding on our doors at 2am. Told to report outside in 15 minutes in civilian clothes with our survival kits, a compass, 2qt canteen of water and survival radio. Outside we went to formation. We were broken down into 2 man teams and we loaded vehicles blindfolded.

Driving for about an hour, at least, making numerous turns, circles and other distractions to confuse and disorient us. Vehicles stopped, tailgates dropped, blindfolds removed, we were ushered out of the vehicles. Brought to the map on the hood of the vehicle, we were shown our current location and given a strip map with our next point.

The vehicles drove off and my ranger buddy and I were standing there, on a hilltop, alone in the dark. We got our bearings, looked at our piece of paper (strip map), and off we went. We encountered all sorts of terrain. Rolling hills, farmland, marshland, villages, cities, woodlands were all mixed in on the route. We ran almost the whole way, except when we were negotiating obstacles (hills, ravines, ditches, fences, swamps, creeks, rivers, guard rails, walls), swimming (river was big, couldn’t use bridges), or climbing (walls, steep hills, fences) and sliding or tumbling as in my case (down hills, steep slopes).

We came across all sorts of wild life such as angry guard dogs, cats, cows, hogs, chickens, and horses. Of course the critters made noise so they were obstacles that had to be avoided. The angry dogs and German cows (see related cow story) chased us down numerous times. Just added to the fun. 

There was a high fence that we had to get over and on the other side was a pair of dobermans in the yard, we sprinted and scaled the next wall like freakin spiderman. You never run as fast, as when an animal, that wants to eat you, is chasing you!

The German local police, our own MP’s and our Blackhawk helicopters were all in on the exercise as the opposing forces. They hunted us as we evaded. Chokepoints, checkpoints, choppers in the air overhead, police dogs tracking us, all made it even more cool (not).

Let’s not forget that we were being timed, running most of the way, navigating on the fly without any real map, being hunted by the bad guys and we were with no food, wet, cold and quickly running out of water. We had 21 miles to go before dinner.

We went from point to point. One strip map was taped under a park bench to the next point, one was taped under a bench in a train station with cops and dogs standing nearby, another at the top of a barn roof where we had to climb a big ass ladder. Needless to say every single bit of the whole ordeal sucked ass.

My ranger buddy could run way faster than me so he was jogging while I was sprinting. He was cussing me out for being slow the whole time. I was so smoked it wasn’t funny. We finally made it back to the barracks and reported in before the 1800 cutoff time. We were debriefed, checked by medics, slapped on the back and sent to chow – Good job Ranger! Just another day at the office as a LRS guy.

I did stuff like this over and over, year after year. Testing the limits of my strength, endurance, spirit and sometimes sanity. Another example: I did the Malvesti obstacle course and the Darby queen obstacle course in Ranger school 19 years ago.

So I currently have no desire to negotiate obstacles, run a 5k and crawl through water, mud, under barbed wire to drink a beer at the end. If that’s your thing and you dig that stuff, then knock yourself out with it and have fun. But don’t ask me to go with you -unless you’re a hot chick who needs someone to soap you up and wash the mud off after - if that's the case you might convince me to go with you. J
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