AAR Team Assessment - Part 03: Admin, PT Test, and Welcome Party
When it got within 30 minutes, we tried checking in but the cadre said we had to wait. So got our gear ready, locked the car and hid the keys, and joined Jon Cichelli for a pre-event prayer. At 3:00, they called for us to form two lines - one for Open Division and one for Female Division. We did not want to be team 01 so we didn’t rush over. We were happy that we got roster number F-Zero-Four and immediately decided to call ourselves the F-4 Phantoms.
Shannon had small one and two pound dive weights in the car in case we needed to make weight but we didn’t need them.We took our water and food out of our rucks and handed them over for weigh in. Cadre JC even whistled at my ruck’s dry weight: 21 pounds. Exactly where I wanted to be. The requirement was 20 pounds dry. With food and full water, I would be carrying close to 30 pounds throughout the event.
We moved over to Cadre Hand’s table to sign some waivers and registration papers and declare any medications. We were directed to the field to wait.
The atmosphere was actually fairly chill. It was a beautiful afternoon as we sat on the grass, drank water, and availed ourselves of the porta potty. Jason came over and had us take a group photo.
Once everyone was checked in, things started to get real. We were told that at no point over the next 48 hours should we be more than an arm’s length from our partner at any time. We also were instructed not to talk to other teams. Mocha Mike welcomed us and performed roll call before beginning the gear inspection portion (what we referred to in practice as “Show and Tell”). This is where the practice paid off. Knowing exactly where everything in your ruck is critical. You need to be able to quickly pull out whatever two items they ask for and hold them up in the specified hand. If you are digging around trying to find things, you’ll receive unwanted attention.
We had speculated that we may not have to dump everything out if we were good enough at Show and Tell. Jason quickly put this notion to rest by loudly proclaiming that you better not waste time packing everything back nice and neat thinking you’d get out of the ruck dump. So it was no surprise when they started yelling “dump it out” and then “pack it up”. The addition of the food threw me off just enough that I was one zip from getting it on the first try. Shannon too. (Jen and Anna did and I was so proud.) But I wasn’t stressed at all. We had to start from a standing position with the empty ruck held out front and upside down (just like we practiced). On the second try we got everything stuffed back in, zipped up, and on our backs in under 45 seconds.
This is when it pays to be a winner. While everyone was sweating over repeated attempts to dump and repack under a barrage of taunts and “suggestions” from the cadre, we got to sit down and repack everything back into the dry bags and zipper pockets like we wanted.
The Moment of Truth: The PT Test
Next it was the first test of our training: Could we pass the PT test portion? We knew that this was a Performance Strike evolution and one partner could make up for the other if one of us fell short. But we wouldn’t get points or only minimal points. We weren’t worried about points but we were worried about those Butterfly Sit Ups.
We were arranged in two lines of four teams and the Open Division was a little ways over in two lines of five teams. Each line had a cadre with a counter, a clipboard, and a sandbag. We were fourth in our line and had Cadre JC. I like JC a lot but he doesn’t play.
My heart rate was so high at this point. We didn’t know how strict the cadre would be on form and I didn’t want any no-reps to mess me up. We were told to turn around and face the other way and then called up one at a time.
I felt good about my hand release push ups because I could hear JC clicking the counter and I was way over the 25 rep minimum. Shannon and I were allowed to talk to each other but not other teams. So we were able to talk about how we did. I’m glad we worked on the PT test as much as we did. Even though I was nervous about the butterfly sit ups, I got over the minimum 40 reps by my count and didn’t think I’d been no-repped. Same for Shannon. The sandbag clean was my strong suit and I knocked out 15 or so reps without a problem.
One team was pulled and given a strike each for not meeting the minimum standard on an exercise but that was it. I like that wasn’t enough to send them home. Shannon and I were SO relieved to have gotten through this portion of the event. Now for the next 47 hours...
The Welcome Party
While we waited for the Open Division to finish their PT test, a lot of people changed from shorts into pants, refit on water, and hit the porta potty. The cadre had us line up on a line across the soccer field with the Open Division separated down to one end. Open Division had Cadre Cleve and Hand. We had Cadre Barbarossa and JC.
We were told it paid to be a winner and we were always being assessed. So we wanted to do the best we could but Shannon and I had devised our strategy before the event. We never aspired to be first and knew better than try to. We know we were better to pace ourselves and our motto was “don’t be last”.
JC and Barbarossa led us through a series of “down and back” races. It all runs together but we started with low crawl/bear crawl drags. So one partner would low crawl and drag their ruck while the other bear crawled and dragged a sandbag. When we got to the end of the soccer field we switched roles. If one partner got out of reach of the other or if you didn’t so the exercise properly, you’d get sent back to the start. Shannon and I talked to each other the whole way both to encourage and keep next to each other. I bear crawl crooked so Shannon was constantly having to redirect my line. We continued with this pattern through several iterations including sandbag ruck lunges, bounding drills, and sandbag farmer carries.
I remember the bounding drills for two reasons. First I was grateful ours was without a ruck whereas we could see the Open teams had their rucks on. Second, Barbarossa called the up and down so fast that we often couldn’t get off the ground fast enough and had to occasionally stay down for a call just to catch back up.
The other one that stands out clearly was the sandbag and ruck lunges. We had to lunge all the way down the field and back with a 60# sandbag. You couldn’t switch out with your partner until you got to the other end of the field. If you didn’t go down to the ground or took extra steps, then you’d be sent back to the start. They weren’t playing and several teams got that penalty. You needed to be in sync with your partner too. I remember having a moment of panic thinking I wasn’t going to be able to get off the ground with that 60# in addition to my 30# ruck (that’s over half my body weight). I used my hands on my knee to brace on the way down and up and we kept repeating our “slow and steady mantra” to get through it. The Open teams had to use an 80# sandbag in addition to their 50+# ruck. The lunges would be the undoing of more than one Open team for that reason.
We asked JC about the lunges during the after party thinking that maybe it was an unintended consequence that they smoked everyone so thoroughly. It was intentional. He said “What’s something that’s hard and that people hate to do? Lunges!”
After that the teams were given a sandbag and instructed to take a lap around the park (about a mile). Female teams had a 60# and Open teams had an 80#. Here’s another place where you could see different strategies. Some teams switched off periodically. Some teams took off at almost a shuffle pace. Shannon and I knew that we’d set a better pace buddy carrying it like we have at so many events. We steadily passed teams as we went around the field and settled into the middle of the pack as the sun went down. Right where we wanted to be.
It’s funny how hard it is to suppress our natural tendency to encourage others. Since there were no cadre with us on this evolution, we took the opportunity to say a few words to the others and exchange some laughs.
It was getting dark when we got back and had a short break to hit priorities of work. As usual ours were water and bathroom. Everything else was good. Then we were given a 40# and 60# sandbag and did several rounds of what I called Partner Switch. One partner would do sandbag exercises while the other took a sandbag down and back on another exercise. Then you and your partner would switch. We could choose which sandbag to do the exercises with and which to take down the field and back.
The first round had us doing 400m of more stinking lunges! We chose to lunge with the 40# while the partner exercising used the 60# to do clean and tosses. The nice thing was you didn’t have to do the exercises super fast but those lunges were horrible even with the lighter weight. We did several more rounds of this type but I can’t remember much about the down and back. I think there was a farmer’s carry in there and I know we did several exercises like clean and thrust but mostly I remember that we were lunging forever.
Each of these parts of this evolution was for points. We aren’t sure if they gave us a combined score for our overall placing or if it was points for each one. Either way we stuck with our “middle of the pack, don’t be last” strategy.
One side effect of watching every hour of the live feeds from last year in preparation for this event is that we got to hear Jason say “Very Fair” at every opportunity. But also we heard him yell “Dominate!” so often during the Welcome Party last year that it became our running joke. Every time we’d see one of our other North Carolina teams, we’d say “DOMINATE!” as a rallying cry. It never failed to bring a smile to my face when someone would say “You’re really dominating that sandbag” as we struggled through the evolutions. So as we crossed paths with teams on the lap or on the back and forths, we passed several “Dominate!” comments back and forth.
Deck of Death
The cadre then brought out a whiteboard and gave everyone a brand new deck of cards. With Cadre Cleve on the roster, we knew the Deck of Cards workout was sure to make an appearance. The twist was that we had to do it with a sandbag. I’ve done this workout in training and at events, but never with a sandbag. (Female Division had a 60# and the Open an 80#)
They gave us two minutes to stack the deck however we wanted although we did not yet know what the exercises were. Cards were the number of reps shown, face cards were 15 reps, and Aces were 20. Jokers were 800 meters ruck. So Shannon put the Jokers at ⅓ and ⅔ of the way through the deck and tried to put several of the same suit together at a time to minimize transitions between exercises.
When they flipped the board around we got to see the exercises: hearts were 8 ct Body Builders (a standard with Cleve), and the other suits were ruck swings, ruck and sandbag thruster, ruck and sandbag (fricking) lunge. We were told our time hack for this evolution was 85 minutes and it was a performance strike offense. That isn’t an impossible time standard since we wouldn’t be trying to do it as an entire class and could go faster. But it would be tight.
We began flipping cards and doing the work. Our strategy was to flip 2 or 3 cards over at a time so we could combine reps. For example, if we flipped a 4 and a 5 of the same suit then we’d go ahead and do 9 reps (counting out loud for the cadre assessing us). But here’s the thing: the ruck part wasn’t actually written on the board for the thrusters or lunges so we honestly thought we didn’t wear our ruck on the SB Thrusters or Lunges. After a few rounds Barbarossa corrected this. It was at that point we knew we wouldn’t make the time hack.
We turned over a Joker and discussed a new strategy on our 800m of down and back rucking in the dark. We decided that at this point we wouldn’t make the time hack no matter what and so were guaranteed our first strike. We accepted this and decided we would keep doing the work but not kill ourselves to make the time hack. I’m all about setting a pace I can keep for the long haul so we went back to knocking our reps but didn’t stress when time was called. We even got to our second Joker and enjoyed the break from lunges. Our legs were really screaming at this point.
We were given a short break for priorities of work and then instructed to load all the sandbags back on the trailer. Shannon and I started marking our milestones. We’d look at each and say “We made it through the Welcome Party.” This was part of our mindset to keep pushing forward. To note how far we’d come each time we got through another milestone.