April 25, 2017

The Search for Big Hungry — GORUCK Beached 004

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A Guest Post by Matt Hammonds

What is Beached?

Beached is a 3-day submersion into the world of special amphibious operations taught by current and former Special Operations soldiers (GORUCK Cadre). You and your team will learn amphibious skills based on actual special operations and training exercises conducted by the GORUCK Cadre in their careers. Whether you are a professional diver or an inexperienced swimmer, your Cadre will ensure that you walk away with new skills and the ability to thrive in an amphibious environment. Beached does not make you into a special operator; however you will emerge with greater skills and appreciation for the underwater world of Special Operations.

More Than Just Getting Wet

I can tell you right now, the description does it no justice in preparing you for the amount of fun you are about to experience. If you have never done one of GORUCK’s expedition events, then you are truly missing out on an epic adventure. I can tell you that if you think it’s going to be days in the sun drinking beers and eating hot dogs then you are in for surprise. GORUCK has recently put a lot of effort into revamping their expeditions: Ascent, Navigator, Beached, and Trek.

During my time at Beached, I was able to have some lengthy discussions with the folks that are in charge of making these happen. They want these events to be something truly special. They want people to really get their money’s worth and feel these should be top notch events. I am familiar with some of the expeditions (formerly called Capstones) that have been put on before. I can say that starting with the Navigator expeditions that just took place in May as well; these expeditions are far superior to ones of years past. This is not meant to bash any of the prior events in any way. But with all of the trial and error with these events over the years, they have really transformed into something special.

It Pays to Arrive Early

I actually flew into Jacksonville the day prior to the start of the event. It was recommended to arrive the day prior to allow time to travel to the team house in Neptune Beach and set up your sleeping arrangements at base camp. I am glad I followed that advice because when I arrived, there were about ten other tents already pitched. I was lucky to grab the last real spot available. It was about to get crowded real quick.

The morning started off with a nice cooked breakfast. One of the big changes to the expeditions was having someone there to prepare high quality meals. Grant worked real hard to ensure we were fed with “high quality, good calories”. You work up a serious appetite swimming around in the ocean and lugging those Zodiac boats around. Grant always made sure food was ready when we came in and that the table was always stocked with the means to prepare you a snack.

From here the first day is a full day of activities well into evening. It started with introductions from the cadre with some back story about their military careers. For those of you in the GORUCK community, the cadres were: Big Daddy, Michael, Geoff, Chase, Joel, Garrett, Rick and Grant handling everyone’s food needs. As you can see, there were plenty of guys on hand to share their experience in every aspect of the course.

Keep Away from Big Hungry

Big Daddy went on to brief everyone on rough timeline of events. He shared a truly tragic story of a recent dry land drowning fatality. If you aren’t familiar with dry land drowning, I suggest looking it up. I was unaware of just how easy it is for someone to succumb to it. This led into our safety brief for the course and the importance of being a buddy team. Throughout the course the only real safety issues we faced were jellyfish stings, dehydration, and scared people thinking Big Hungry was going to chomp them in the ocean. I will say, we had a great time making jokes about Big Hungry lurking under the water waiting to eat one of us. Some people didn’t find the humor though.

We received classes on:

  • How to properly kick in the water with fins to maximize our power
  • How to perform buddy rescues in the water
  • How to wear our scout swimmer vests and the safety features included
  • How to perform an inspection of ourselves and our swim buddy prior to entering the water

We headed down to beach and were informed that we would be doing a 1000m open ocean swim with our swim buddy. We were instructed to swim out to a buoy, back in to surf zone, then back to the buoy where we were to show proficiency treading water and doing buddy rescues, and finally back in to shore. I can tell you now; if you are thinking about doing Beached you better start doing your flutter kicks and get some swim time in. It’s tougher than you think because you are getting pushed one direction by the current at the same time you are trying to hit your target so it makes for more work. I actually enjoyed the swims because the water felt so nice even early in the morning.

The day continued with a class on the Zodiac boats we would be using for the next few days. These boats weigh about 325lbs. without the motor. Think it was about 425-450lbs. with. We would be carrying these bad boys around for the next few days. They were not fun getting them up and over the sand dune at the start and end of each day. We learned about how to assemble them as well as positioning inside them. It was time to get wet again. We split up into boat crews that we would remain in for the remainder of the course.

Techniques to Flip Over a Perfectly Good Zodiac

We took them out on the ocean and learned a technique called “broaching”. This is the act of flipping your boat back over if for some reason you have been capsized in the surf. It entails climbing on top, grabbing the broaching line, leaning way back as one of your boat crew pushes the boat up. The combined weight of the boat crew leaning back will flip the boat back upright. We practiced this many times until we were able to do it easily. Part of being a boat crew is the ability to work together as a team. You have to be able to be in sync while paddling to maximize your power in the water. We had a friendly competition to see just how well the boat crews could work together. We were instructed to paddle our boats out to the buoy and back, broach the boat upside down, then broach it back upright and continue to paddle to shore. It was a fun way to implement the things we had learned to this point.

We headed in for a great lunch of big chicken breasts and veggies. I couldn’t believe how hungry I was. While tearing into that chicken, I thought about everything we had done so far. When you decide to head out to Beached, be prepared to put in some work. It was nice to be out there getting it on and having the ability to cool off in the ocean at the same time.

Practicing Speed Casting

After lunch came high speed casting. This was serious fun. Casting is putting the swimmers on the boat into the water quickly so you can deploy your whole boat crew in the matter of seconds. You start out by hugging one of the upper inflated sides of the zodiac. As you are cruising along the driver will yell “go” and you will push yourself up and out from the side of the boat. This action is to clear you away from the propeller in the back. In the process you actually can skip on the water for an added sensation. We practiced retrieving the swimmers from the water without stopping the boat. We did these two things a few more times until we got it down because we were instructed that we would be doing this at night as well.

After dinner we started our evening with a 1000m night swim just as we had in the morning. The Big Hungry jokes were in full effect and some people really weren’t pleased with heading out for an open ocean swim. I was proud to see so many push past their fears and get the job done. It was really cool to see all of the lights from that far out in total darkness. Little did we know that we would be going even farther the next night and Big Hungry hadn’t been fed yet.

After completing the swim we went into nighttime casting and recovery. If you thought it was fun during the day it was even more fun at night. Nighttime broaching was a blast as well. All of these events were so much fun at night under a clear sky with the beach lights so far inland.

Day one was over and it was a full day. We lugged the boats back over the dune and were able to clean up. Then it was time to relax and get to know everyone else over some beers. That was a nice end to an amazing day of ocean fun.

Respect the Neighbors

Day two began with breakfast and followed shortly by a 2000m swim by boat crew. For anyone that has never swam that far, it’s not as bad as it sounds. Since we were doing it as a boat crew we were able to chat and laugh along the way which made the time go by. Again it felt nice to hop in the ocean first thing in the morning to get the day started.

We were given a class on the different parts of the ocean and beach in relation to combat swimmers. Then we went into a class and presentation of scout swimmers approaching from the water to conduct a beach recon. We were told to pay close attention as we would be utilizing this on our “mission”.

The day took a crazy turn and we were instructed to pack up all of our things out of the back yard. We were informed that the police had been called on us due to some knuckle heads GRT’s using the neighbors outdoor shower the night prior. Should the police have been called, no. Should they have been messing with something that wasn’t theirs, no. So we were instructed by the police that we could not be outside any longer. Big Daddy never skipped a beat; he informed us that due to our mission we would have been out all night anyways so it really wasn’t a big deal in the whole scheme of things. We moved all of our operations inside for the rest of the day which consisted of  classes on survival and how to waterproof your gear. We were shown how to make our bags float even with our gear inside. Again, this would come in to play later. Learned about nautical maps and then were instructed about the night’s mission.

Stepping Off Into the Deep Blue

We were briefed on the overall mission and then each of the boat crews leaders were briefed on each boat crews separate mission that would contribute the overall mission success. We went into mission planning, gear prep, dinner, and leader back briefs on our individual plans to the cadre. I’m not going to go into anything that happens during the mission except that it uses everything you have learned so far and then some. The next twelve hours are a blast.

The next instructions we were given was to prepare our swim gear and to waterproof a bag with a change of civilian clothes for a follow on mission. We were instructed to paddle our boats from the team house down to Jacksonville Beach pier and then come ashore. That was a nice little paddle to the pier and riding the boats onto a beach full of onlookers wondering what was going on. Our next task would be to swim out past the end of the pier until the cadre told us to stop. This time it was like a 2000m swim as a class. Here we are all thirty-six of us, arms locked entering the surf zone and then swimming all the way out and back. It was pretty cool to see the look on everyone’s faces when we all came walking out of the ocean.

Each boat team was handed their mission instructions and went their separate ways. I’m not going to give any of that away either, but it was a cool way to end it all.

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GORUCK has really put a lot of time and effort in planning these events so people can walk away and feel like they have done something special. As I sit here thinking about those days and writing this, all I can think about is the conversation I had with Big Daddy at the endex party about how he has even more ideas to make Beached even cooler. I can tell you that if he makes those ideas a reality, then Beached 006 will blow mine out of the water.

Photos Courtesy of : M. Beacon, K. Johnson, B.D.