About a month ago I ran an overnight training event for friends that lasted about 12 hours, covered around 20 miles, and involved elements of surprise. The intention was to simulate some aspects of death race and some of a Goruck challenge.
One of my good friends is ex Special Forces and suggested next time i try a mission based approached that mimicked the SF selection process a little and thus titled it “Complete The Mission”. This took place a few days ago (December 30th, 2011) with a 6pm start. He came up with the missions and an example of what they might translate to in real terms, and I turned this into a planned route map, with logistics.
This was the initial mission overview
Complete the Mission –
15 Hour Adventure Event – Class 12-2011
Classification: Top Secret, Clandestine Operation
Event Mission Scenario: Personnel Search and Rescue, Package Retrieval, Payload Retrieval, Long distance movement.
A US aircraft has been downed over hostile territory across the sovereign border of Pategonia. The Pategonian government claims that the us aircraft was spying over the border and was waging war agaisnt the soverignty of the people of Pategonia.
1. Personnel: Lt commander Bill Stevens is Package Santa and this is considered a personnel search and rescue. Stevens is considered alive at this point.
2. Sensitive equipment: Classified. Package Cookies is to be kept secured and unopened.
3. Munitions: Classified, highly advanced, and NBC. Package Milk is highly weighted and has an arming mechanism that could be damaged.
The aircraft is a stealth bomber that carried a highly sensitive payload and munitions. the pilot was able to successfully jettison the payload and munitions package prior to the uncontrolled landing. The package guidance system is supported with solid rocket propellant systems and guidance. The system was deployed successfully, however the transponder has not been activated through JSOC due to the highly sensitive nature of the search operation by the Pategonians who are looking for the pilot. It is currently believed that the Iranians may have technology to detect the UHF signal. If packages Milk or Cookies are unfound and the teams are withing the expected region, the transponders can be remotely activated by JSOC for quick retrieval. You must immediately deactivate the transponder for security once retrieved.
Deploy alpha and bravo teams to the central west region of Pategonia. Infil conditions to be assessed at time of departure, primary infil through vehicle transportation simulating delivery by the 160th Soar.
Deployed to the approximate regions of the search. You must complete the following 4 Objectives.
1. Conduct movement to the search area.
2. Search for Santa. Retrieve and extract under covert conditions. Other US agencies are working through clandestine channels for a safe house for Santa. The elves will be able to take Santa to the next safe location.
3. Search for Cookies. Retrieve and extract under covert conditions. There will be follow on instructions for the delivery of the package once retrieved.
4. Search for Milk. Retrieve and extract. In the condition that extraction is not manageable, targeted detonation of the package can be done through a JDAM munition delivered through a FLIR system via air support which is on station throughout the mission.
· Fall outs must be carried through the event unless conditions dictate otherwise.
· Rules of engagement: Covert.
· Land navigation skills will be instructed at the beginning of the event.
· Noise and Light discipline will be instructed.
· Swiss seat harness instruction.
· Due to the sensitive nature of the mission and events:
· Noise and light discipline to observed.
· Time is of the essence and will be observed. Time hacks will be announced at mission briefing.
Stay alert, stay alive.
Required equipment was
- 12′ of 1/2″ rope
- Safety Strobes
The training consisted of an awesome group. Mark, Todd, Jessica, Luke, Ryan, Heather, TJ, Danny and of course myself.
The specific plan of action I put together from here was to start from my house, warmup with a short 2 mile ruck run, some PT and then to launch into the missions.
Before we set out, instruction was provided and I handed out the topo maps needed for the mission itself. We instructed everyone on how to make a swiss seat from 12′ of rope, and how to use a map and compass.
The main ground rule from here was that if a stranger asked “what are you training for?” or had a similar interaction we would suffer a casualty, meaning that one member of the team would be required to be carried for 1km. Similarly if we were passed by a police car or security vehicle (regardless of whether we were questioned). Most of the event took place outside of populated areas though and none of these interactions happened.
Additionally we ran without headlamps and strobes most of the time and kept quiet in order to observe noise and light discipline.
We arrived at first camp with the intention of fueling and performing PT at a local little league park. This is a popular make out spot at night though and shortly after arrival (remember we had no headlamps on) a vehicle showed up and the lights and engine were killed. Being the evil folks we are we decided to spook them a little, and the plan was to line up, turn on all our headlamps at once and then slowly approach the car – needless to say as soon as we did that the engine fired up and they peeled away 🙂
After this we knocked out pushups, sit-ups and LOTS of flutter kicks.
The missions were all taking place in ‘enemy territory’, therefore specific maneuvers were required to avoid detection. Any time we crossed areas of risk (junctions with roads, heavily lit areas, etc) we would perform maneuvers to ensure team safety and reduce risk. For example, the team observed a defense position while pairs ran through the area of risk. The next pair left when the previous team members were set.
Mission 1 – locate safe house
I announced two things for the first mission. The first was the lat/long coordinates of the safe house (this was along the same trail so navigation was more about measuring distance through pace counts than it was direction), and the second was that an injured ally had showed up at camp and needed to be transported to the safe house.
The safe house was actually a trail head parking lot, where I had left my vehicle (in case we had actual injuries or fatigue) and a trailer full of unchopped wood.
Purposefully I wanted the team to navigate after PT to experience urgency. Once movement stopped the cold winter air caused us to cool down very quickly. Unfortunately the temperatures were between 35 and around 28 so we didn’t quite get cold enough for my liking (insert evil laugh here 🙂
The injured personnel was actually a large log that weighed somewhere in the range of 400 lbs (extremely light by Goruck standards – I had something much bigger in mind for later).
The nature of the log, the fact we needed someone walking normally to keep an accurate pace count for distance, and the varying height of the team meant that we typically only had 5-6 people carrying the log at any particular time, but this was still very doable.
SNAFU #1 about 3 miles into the 4 mile log carry I noticed that my car keys had fallen out of my pocket. I was ready to plug on, but the team (in hindsight I am glad about this) decided we should do a sweep of the trail to look for them. Note it was dark at this point. We swept for the full 3 miles before Ryan found them right where we started with PT. I owe him a nice bottle of Scotch for that…
We had ditched the log for the sweep, but after much relief in finding the keys got back to the log and navigated the final half mile, with about 100m or so through the trees.
Mission 2 – locate package ‘Santa’, and transport to safe house
Obviously we couldn’t have an actual person laying in the open for hours waiting for us to come and find them, so instead Lt Commander Bill Stevens had his place filled by a duffle bag, around 450lbs of sand and rocks along with a bunch of 2×4 that I had dropped earlier that day as well as tagging the location with orange tape and a red strobe. The team didn’t know this though until we hit the target location.
A few extra gotchas were added to the mission. First the area was “reported as being under intense enemy patrol, therefore roads and trails could not be used” – in reality this meant compass navigation was needed in a heavily wooded area (the FOMBA trail system in Auburn). Second I picked the target location so that direct line from the “safe house” contained a marsh area and a lake. Finally once we reached the location we would encounter a small river, and would need to construct a rope traverse to get Santa across.
We identified a new team lead and navigator (Danny), and after refueling and planning our route (directly east for around 1km and then south east for another) we set off into the woods. Navigation via compass only at night is difficult, and through heavily wooded areas and uneven terrain is MUCH harder. The approach suggested by Mark and Todd was to first pick a specific tree at the target bearing and then walk to that tree and reset, while using the contours on the topo map to validate against actual terrain features. This worked really well, but…
SNAFU #2 our navigator ‘reached’ the first waypoint and was ready to adjust direction based upon reaching a particular landmark (crossing a fire road), however had forgotten the checks and balances of measuring distance and verifying with pace count – a really easy mistake to make. We were crossing a different trail and were actually half a click off target (for safety I was keeping track with a GPS but not providing this info to the team). Using our new bearing we started entering the marsh area and before we went to deep I decided to alert Danny of the error. Once he had our new current location, we set off again and found the new checkpoint sometime after.
At this point we took our new bearing and headed in that direction, and after a period of traveling I added a wrench to the works. I had “heard over the radio, that Package Santa needed to relocate and I have new bearings”. Based on where we thought we were and where the new location was we took a bearing/distance reading and headed off in the new direction. Some great nav skills led us right to package santa.
At this point most of us crossed the river (some traversing over a fallen tree, others – myself included – by simply jumping into a shallow point and wading across). From here we started filling the duffel bag with material but unfortunately we only achieved 320lbs before running out of space so made the decision to carry the last two bags of rocks separately.
Things started to get really fun here. Using some rope that we brought along with us, we found two solid trees and started constructing a rope traverse (this took around 20 minutes), hoisted ‘Santa’ 9ft into the air to attach him to the traverse rope and then push him across the rope. It seemed, though, that the rope was stretchier than expected and the sag caused him to stop half way across and submerged in water. At this point we (and I have no idea how – i wasn’t watching this part) attached a rope to the carabiner and pulled him the remainder of the way. Finally we hoisted him out of the water (not an easy task), constructed a stretcher from the 2×4 and 550 cord, secured Santa, hoisted him onto the shoulders of 4 of the team and setoff. This time we were allowed to use trails, making nav much simpler and the going quicker. The approx weight of this contraption was around 400lbs.
Heads clashed and I sustained an injury here, but nothing debilitating 🙂
Mission 3 – Bring Santa back from Hypothermia
After returning to the parking lot where the car was, I announced that due to ‘Santas’ injury, time in the woods and dunking in the water he is hypothermic, and therefore needed to be warmed quickly. To do this, we needed to chop firewood 🙂
Everyone unloaded the rounds of wood from the trailer, and proceeded to chop. This is always my favorite activity, always providing a ton of stress relief.
This warmed us up nicely, and after putting all the newly chopped wood into the trailer I provided details of the next mission.
Mission 4 – Retrieve Package Milk
By the time we finished the wood chopping, we were behind schedule by a couple of hours, partly due to navigation delays and mostly because of the lost key incident. Therefore we abandoned package cookies. This was intended to be a tree trunk that I had found that was around 800lbs in weight at a guess, but two factors caused me to remove this in the interest of time. First, package milk contained a couple of slosh pipes and other materials that I didn’t want to leave out to be found by a casual walker the following day. Second, this was found on what I later realized to be private land. We would have gotten away with retrieving under the cover of dark but as it would be light by the time we got there I decided it safer to skip that mission.
Package milk consisted of 10 logs and two slosh pipes (with the anticipation of a slightly larger team).
I provided the new coordinates, and we set off. We were allowed to use roads, but the rules were adjusted so that if we got noticed by a vehicle and were not under cover, we had a casualty. This led to very suspicious behavior 🙂 – any time we say head lights heading into the corner or over the hill ahead or behind, we ran for cover into the treelike. It was around 6am at this point. Vehicle activity was increasing and it was starting to get light.
I had set the location to inside a trail head at Tower Hill Rd, which is a fairly steep hill that we walked for about a mile to the top. Fatigued legs made this much more ‘fun’, and the toll of the night was starting to show but spirits remained high. It was daylight by the time we approached the top, and we found the ‘package’ and started distributing the weight, either stuffing logs and pipes into packs or strapping to the outside. I tied two to the outside of my GR1 with 550 cord as a test of its quality, and the MOLLE strapping held up really well and despite hanging around 60-70 lbs off the pack it was really comfortable still. We hiked back to the ‘safe house’ (another hour or so) and I declared the final mission complete.
At this point, I let everyone decide whether to keep their packs or not for the 7 mile run/hike back to the house. I kept mine, as did Todd, Mark, Ryan and Luke I think. We set off, and after a mile Ryan, TJ and Heather decided to run back – partly dude to Heather starting to get really cold (it was freezing rain at this point and the roads and trails were really slick).
My group though hiked, Danny found a 1/4 keg that he picked and carried and we got back in good spirits.
Just as we were about to declare it done, Todd came up with one final piece of info. We were 900m short of marathon distance. We looked at each other and said “what the hell” and set back out to make up the distance. A quick loop to the golf course next to my street and a walk up the fairway and back and we were done.
The event lasted the expected 15 hours, and we all finished in good spirits with big smiles.
Over the next few hours, we packed everything up, and set off for a huge breakfast at the Red Arrow and reminisced about the awesome night. It seems like everybody that showed up had an absolute blast, and I will definitely run something similar soon. Mark did a great job not only of coming up with the mission and instructing us on some basic tactics and maneuvers but also helping me understand how to convert this into something we could do in our own backyard as it were. This was a riot to put together and such an amazing group of friends to share it with. Thanks to all of them, and if you read this and want to try the next one just hit me up on Facebook and I’ll be sure to invite you. Details partially forthcoming, and location as yet unknown.