This AAR is going to be a little different than most. Instead of covering 1 event, I’m going to talk about 3 and they’re all events I did with my teenage daughter. The first 2 we shadowed, the last event we both participated in (2 Challenges in Syracuse New York in 2015, December 2015 Custom Santa Ruck Light #1057 in Washington DC). Doing events is a unique enough experience in the world, but doing them with my daughter has been meaningful to me and since I know many GRTs who involve their kids in this twisted hobby in some way, I thought I might share it.
Both of my children have followed my interest in GORUCK with skepticism, mostly because they thought their dad was losing his mind. I lived through many months of hearing how I needed to get over this “mid-life crisis”. Then, I talked my younger daughter into joining me when I shadowed an event, as I love shadowing and do it as often as I can. All told, I shadowed 2 Challenge events with her within a few months, the first with Cadre Heath and the second with Cadre J-Train. You should know that both Cadre were very good to Danielle and me and all the shadows that were at both events. My daughter has had hip issues this year to the point of necessitating surgery so we drove instead of rucking, and both Cadre were very helpful by telling us “stop points” so we could meet up with the team if we couldn’t follow them.
For the first, several of us shadowed the event as it trekked around Syracuse. For my daughter, this was her first chance to really see an event. My daughter is a pretty serious athlete and she was fascinated by the welcome party and the pain everyone was going through. We followed the group throughout the night, taking photos, finding excuses to run for coffee or snacks, and taking the occasional nap (Without the constant activity of being a participant to keep me awake, I’ve found that 2-3 naps over the course of a night, maybe 5-15 minutes at a time really helps me to feel sharp enough to get through the event and the next day without having an attack of narcolepsy). There were many highlights. Cadre Heath has some secret weapons (which I won’t reveal). I remember thinking his Welcome Party wasn’t the worst I’ve seen or been part of (Cadre Jason J and Cadre Brian Squared hold that honor) but his sneaky coupons wore the group out over time in a way that seemed just brutal to me. In past AARs I’ve always encouraged Shadows to be helpful and I stand by that, but put some thought into what help you’re offering. A buddy of mine brought one of those 10+ gallon water coolers you see at sporting events, full, in case they needed it. Cadre Heath thought it was a great idea and was very appreciative, and promptly added it as a coupon. Do the math, 1 gallon of water weighs a little over 8 pounds, so their extra coupon weighed maybe 85+ pounds. As shadows, we didn’t quite know whether to laugh or whether the group would turn on us and we’d have to run for our lives…
My daughter loved watching the event, and was enthralled by the different things she was seeing. She also loved getting to hang out with the “guys” and stay up night drinking coffee and eating junk food. She still asks me often about them and they are no longer “my” friends, they are “our” friends.
Our second event was also in Syracuse with Cadre J-Train. His event was remarkably different than Cadre Heath’s. We trekked around a different part of Syracuse, the activities were different, and most of the participants were different. It was no less fun to watch and be part of. Both Cadre had obviously put a great deal of time into preparing for the event and did some great evolutions (one thing I love about different Cadre is they all have their own style and preferred activities). Cadre Heath did some subtle couponing and few evolutions that I won’t discuss at his request. They were unique and they ought to be surprises. Cadre J-Train did some great evolutions I will discuss, because I thought they were great and I don’t think I’m revealing secrets. For one, Cadre J-Train had somehow managed to identify the one bar in all of upstate NY that has sand volleyball courts and had made arrangements for the group to use them. Sugar Cookies? They don’t only happen on beaches, be very afraid. Hands down one of my favorite parts of the event after was he had arranged for a local fire company to hose down the group after getting sandy. This made for some of the most fun episodes of the night in my opinion. I cannot say enough about how impressed I was with the preparation and thought both Cadre put into their events, both cared a great deal about their event and their participants and it showed.
My daughter and I love shadowing events. As a parent, I think it’s good for kids and teenagers to be exposed to GORUCK. Outside of the opportunity for us to do things together as family members, she’s had some very valuable experiences as a result. She was with people I consider friends, and she got to spend time with some active and retired members of the military, an uncommon experience for her generation. I believe in “building better Americans” and GORUCK provides a rare opportunity to glimpse into their world where patriotism is real and alive. She also got to see that doing hard things is transformative. As a parent, I consider her generation to be inspiring in many ways. They’re smarter than I am, they’re more motivated and hard-working than I was at that age, but in some ways they don’t have the same “grit”. It was good for her to see people seeking out mental toughness through difficult experiences and to see a team go through the difficult process of developing into a cohesive unit. Quite meaningful to her I think, she developed some relationships with adults she finds inspiring. I’ll come back to this, so please hold that thought.
The last event that will be part of this AAR is Santa Ruck Light in Washington DC with Cadre Marcus and Cadre Brian Squared. This was a custom event and teenagers and kids were not only allowed, they were encouraged. Danielle and I signed up early on because this was a rare opportunity for her to be a participant. Our preparations were fun. I got her a bullet ruck and we did some practice rucks. Despite some hip pain, even though they weren’t required for kids she wouldn’t even consider not carrying bricks. The main “coupon” of the Santa Ruck was Santa’s sleigh. Everyone was asked to bring at least one toy to be donated to Toys for Tots, and as a family we collected a carload from family, friends, and co-workers. There are few communities as generous as the GORUCK community and I wanted to do more than our part, so we took a “get sh-t done” attitude to bring as many toys as we could.
The event itself had 78 participants, more than twice as large as either of the events we had shadowed, and was full of friendly folks (including a few friends – great seeing you Karen and Heather!). There was a welcome party but instead of beating us down we quickly got to task carrying the sleigh several miles through Georgetown, to the Lincoln Memorial (for some always needed PT) and then back to the start point. It was great fun and any GRT would recognize the things we did.
One of the great things about the event was that kids got to be team leaders. My daughter was chosen to be TL for the last ¼ of the course, and pushed the group back through Georgetown to the start point. As her father, I was thrilled when she was chosen. For her part, she hated it. She’s quiet by nature, and was overwhelmed at the prospect of leading the group. As a parent, it was crushing to watch her become demoralized. I jumped in and coached her, telling her what to look for and how to direct the group, and then I would step back for a while to give her a chance to do it on her own. We went through several cycles of this. It was obviously difficult for her and honestly, I was worried her stress and unhappiness would cloud and damage her overall experience of the event.
Then I noticed something. During the phases I would “pull back” as a parent and let her take the lead she struggled, but the Cadre and sometimes other participants would offer her suggestions or encouragement. It is one thing to have your dad be supportive, it’s another to hear from a Cadre or an adult you look up to and she listened carefully and took their advice. She started to become more confident. By the endex she was feeling a little better and with a little help from Cadre Marcus, she led the group through the last activity (a “seated circle”) to finish the day. She beamed when Cadre Marcus indicated she was the first person who ever figured out what to do on her first try (not that we as a group were always on task, we fell on our first attempt). Today, Danielle will say to me she enjoyed the event but didn’t like being TL and that no one listened to her. I noticed something going through the photos later that contradicted this, GRTs listening and focused on taking her directions. She smiles a little when I show her these photos or when I remind her of her successes towards the end. Being a leader is hard, doing hard things is transformative, I’d like to think she got more out of that experience than she realizes, and that she’ll see dividends from the leadership skills birthed out of her personal crucible that day. GORUCK has changed me for the better in ways I didn’t expect, I’d like to think she got a bit of that too.
Now remember what I said about adults she looks up to? Unbeknownst to me, a friend and GRT from the Syracuse events had contacted a friend of hers who was attending the Santa Ruck. At different times during the event, a group of young women (who I didn’t know) were making it a point to interact with Danielle and offer her camaraderie and encouragement. She absorbed that like a sponge, teenage girls need badass women in their lives and I am reminded how positive and supportive the GORUCK community can be. I’m grateful for my friend and all of those women that day. One gave her a patch that read, “I don’t want to be a Princess”. She loved it. Thanks again! You have no idea how much all of you meant to her that day. Special thanks to Catie for taking the time to care about my kid and setting the whole thing up.
To finish, I’d like to mention this was my 3rd event with Cadre Brian Squared. He can be brutal, and has said some of the most inspiring things I’ve ever heard. I look forward to seeing him whenever our paths cross.
A few bullet points to end the AAR:
For shadows (I encourage you to also read my previous AAR on shadowing):
- Stay out of the way, be respectful and quiet, be helpful
- Take individual photos of everyone, there are opportunities if you look for them. People love photos of themselves in addition to the group shots
- When taking individual shots of the patch ceremony, there is often a handshake AND a hug. Be prepared to get both. People might prefer one over another and if one doesn’t come out for some reason, you’ve got a second as back-up. Two is one and one is none.
- Post early and often to the Facebook event page. Families and friends can keep track in real-time if you do this, and it keeps photos in an easy-to-find place where people can find photos immediately after the event (no waiting!). Both Cadre asked us NOT to post to the Tough page, which continues to be overwhelmed (in my opinion) with too many irrelevant memes and nastiness.
- See those cool photos of the evolution you’ve never seen before? Yeah, you don’t. I didn’t post them here. Cadres sometimes want to keep secrets, keep those secrets. If you put photos only on the event page (or somewhere accessible only to the group) they stay a secret except to group participants.
- If you’re driving, offer to follow the group and help block traffic. There were times doing this made participants much safer in the middle of the night when they were walking along a road.
- If you’re driving, keep some emergency supplies in the car, someone might need first aid or other support. We drove a med drop back to his car. While he wasn’t bleeding, he was soaking wet and frankly, smelled pretty bad. I was grateful to have some towels and emergency blankets on hand to warm him up and protect our car upholstery.
- Look for and get shots of unique GORUCK tattoos, patches, or gear rigs.
- Always get some flag shots, help build better Americans.
- Buy a few dozen donuts at the end of the event and given them to the group after they’ve been patched. The happy look on their faces is priceless.
- Take your kid, even teenage girls love GORUCK
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