Starting Competitive Shooting

I have shot three competitions over the past few weeks, and wanted to post some notes of what these competitions are and some recommendations for anyone else wanting to try them out.



I saw that the local range in Sioux Falls has USPSA pistol matches, contacted the organizers for newbie questions, and showed up for the match. They explained the safety protocol and basic rules, and told me that the expectation for starting was to go slow, make your hits, and handle the gun safely. We would get to making it faster later.

This type of match has you shooting from odd positions, around barricades, through windows, etc., shooting a mix of paper targets (requiring 2 hits) and steel targets (that must be knocked over). The targets are also often behind obstructions, requiring you to move to get a clear shot of them.

My first stage was something of a dumpster fire. I was nervous and missing shots that I should have made, then a trigger pin popped out of my gun and the range officer stopped me. We got it back together and tried again. Nerves were less, hits were better, and the pin popped back out after about 15 rounds. At that point we declared the gun down for the day and scored the stage based on what I had gotten to.

One of the other shooters on my squad (the group that you shoot each stage with) happened to have an extra pistol in the same caliber as mine, so he let me borrow it for the rest of the match. I had a little trouble getting used to it, but overall was able to hit with it reasonably well and the match was a lot of fun.

The second match was a qualifier, meaning that stages were set up according to a standardized design rather than to the ideas of the people setting up the stage. I found these stages a little less interesting than the first match, but still fun and a good test of shooting ability. My pistol held together for this one.

Smoking Hot Date Night at the Range

Rev Tac Firearm Instruction puts on a date night event every so often, a laid-back event where you shoot pistols and rifles and have dinner, range time with your significant other and a chance to try out different types of guns. It ends with a friendly team competition of all the couples there. We shot three pistols from three different distances. Steph got us off to a solid start with the 9mm:


And I secured the win with a .500 magnum revolver referred to as “Big Sexy.”


(Perhaps not as serious a competition as USPSA, but the ones I win have to make it into the blog.)

Notes for newbies:

Bring factory ammo, brass cased from a known brand. (Bulk Winchester or Remington/ UMC that you can find at Walmart is fine.) Many of your fellow shooters can loan you a spare pistol if you need it, but many of them don’t want unknown handloads or low-quality steel-cased ammo in their guns.

There will be shooters there who make the match look like a John Wick movie, already being on the other end of the stage before the steel has had time to fall. Don’t make the mistake of trying to duplicate that on your first match. He’s Keanu Reeves, you’re not, and that’s okay.  Go at your speed, make your hits, and don’t get sent home for doing something stupid.

Wear clothes that you can get dirty and bring work gloves. There will be wet paint on some targets, and at many matches everyone is expected to help set up/ tear down and to help reset targets between shooters.

Listen to your fellow shooters. They can point out little tips and tricks that can help you out.

Before and after everything else, learn from what you are doing and have fun.

Welcome Back to the Suck: The Suck 2017

I had completed the Midwest Suck in 2014, and it pushed me to my limit to such an extent that I knew I wanted to do it again. I attempted and failed in 2015, then volunteered to get a closer look at the event in 2016. Adjust training based on my observations there, then come back to try again this year.


We assembled at the start point with required gear for the national anthem and a pep talk from Joe and Nicole. The first movement was ordered: Take your buckets down to the pond, you will receive further instructions when you get there.



At the pond, drop the buckets, run back to the start point. Once there, 25 squat-curl-press with a 50# sandbag…


25 hand-release pushups…


And tossing an Atlas ball over your shoulder.


Next we moved through a patch of trees to a pond that we had to swim across, out of the water, through more trees, up a steep incline (so slick with mud that I joked I was winning the Swamp Thing costume contest), then back to the strength challenges. Three logs that needed to be flipped various numbers of times…


Complete a rope climb…


10 burpees while breathing pepper spray (applied to the room, not to the racers)…21369526_1313639688765146_662282516020799579_n.jpg

Then over or under a fence to swim across another pond to where we had left our buckets earlier. Fill them with water, carry them halfway back to the start point, shoot a shotgun…


And cover the rest of the distance back to the start by burpee frog leaps.


This circuit would be repeated two more times. I had some equipment failures on the first round (zipper on my hydration pack broke and my headlamp stopped working) so Nicole gave me five minutes to refit and get back to work. As usual I was the slowest racer there, but managed to complete all of the required tasks.

After the third round, I was given 20 minutes to refit and return with the rucksack, one bucket, both sandbags, life vest, and food/water for 6-8 hours.

Staggered up to the checkpoint with roughly 120 pounds of gear to check in with Nicole and get instructions for my next movement.

“How are you feeling?”

“At this particular moment, I hate you.”

*Laughter* “Love it. Take this road down to the creek, you will get more instructions there.”

Let me just say, any time you are carrying more than 100 pounds for distance, it is really easy to start questioning life decisions that lead you here. Carry it as far as I can, drop it, recover, realize that there is no way to do this that doesn’t suck, pick it up, repeat. Finally made it to the creek and got the welcome instructions to drop the heavy stuff, as we only needed the bucket and life vest for the next movement.

Pausing here to note a screwup on my part. When I had refitted for this movement, I put all the food and water in the ruck and left the hydration pack behind, meaning I could not separate my supplies from the ruck if I needed to. The hydration pack itself is about a pound, just go ahead and throw the whole thing into the ruck.

The next three movements were variations on a theme. Take your bucket, follow the creek bed, through or over multiple fallen trees, until you find a chem light, touch the chem light, follow the creek back to where you started (at the intersection of the three creeks that we were sent down), fill the bucket with water, complete some sort of exercise with the bucket without spilling it (overhead press, squats, and bench press were the respective exercises for each round), then move on to the next creek. Several people complained about the bucket being clumsy to carry, but I found it made a decent improvised walking stick when climbing over logs.

The next movement was probably the most taxing for me: leave one sandbag here, take the ruck with the other sandbag and the bucket, and go to that chem light that you can just see in the distance. When you get there, you will see another, keep following them until you are met with further instructions.

Everything was up and down steep hills and valleys, and in the dark I couldn’t find any better way through it. This segment is officially called the Snake, but while doing it I referred to it as the Soviet Spider. Spiders kept falling out of the trees onto my neck, and I started chuckling, “In Soviet Russia, spider step on you.”

Another group of racers passed me at this point, and we all hit the next checkpoint at about the same time. 50 pushups, 50 situps, the news that we were close to being pulled for time hacks, and moved out down another creek bed.

Since I did not have my hydration pack with me, I dropped the sandbag out of the ruck and used the ruck to carry my food and water. This movement crossed a number of fences and fallen trees that would have been much easier to get through without the added bulk of the ruck.

At one point I tripped and my lead foot came down hard enough to drive a piece of wood through the sole of my shoe, just a scratch on my foot, but it lodged in my shoe so that I couldn’t walk in it. I sat down and spent 10-15 minutes wiggling it until I could get it out. (I keep a Leatherman in my pack for GORUCK, why didn’t I think to bring it here?)

Racers coming the other direction made it easier to follow the trail back to the HQ. More log flips, then climbing 3 ropes, a chain and a suspended ladder. I completed the first rope without problems, but couldn’t even get started on the second. The ladder was tough to get onto, but once there it was relatively easy to climb as long as you kept it close to your body. Penalty was 25 concrete block burpees for each climb not completed, 75 total. At this point I was weak enough that I was doing them one or two at a time, but got them done.

Next task was collecting 10 bales of hay from the fields around us. We were supposed to give the volunteer a number for him to direct us to what bales to pick up, but the volunteer there had just gotten there and was not up to speed yet, so he did not know what bales to give us.

“Umm, that is one of the bigger ones. Can I take that one?”

“Yeah, that works. Go.”

I had gotten one bale and was heading out for the second when I got orders to grab food and water and go talk to Nicole. I thought that I had gotten far enough behind that I was being pulled, but was pleasantly surprised to be given instructions for my final movement: Follow the path that you took to get here backward, pick up all of the gear that you left at checkpoints, and get it all back to the start point. Hurry, you’re on a time hack.

First segment of this movement was great, moving fast and excited to still be in the game. Picking up the first 50 pounds and carrying it through water that ranged from ankle to chest deep made it much less exciting and more of a trudge. (Along the way I learned that putting the sandbag inside the bucket and strapping them both into the ruck is a BAD IDEA. The positioning makes it feel twice as heavy. The first dry place I found to put the pack down, I stopped to refit and strap the sandbag solidly into the ruck.) The last two miles, carrying both sandbags, were absolutely horrible.

I finally made it to HQ and was greeted with a joyous shout of “THOMAS! You made it! You are done, drop your gear at your camp site.”

I carried everything to my campsite, fell on my side, unbuckled the pack, squirmed out from under the pile, and hobbled back to join the last few finishers in receiving our challenge coins.


I am happy to have completed this, and happy to learn that I can do more than I thought I could. That being said, I seriously want to do better. Some notes on what did and didn’t work this year.

I seriously need to improve speed over ground, both loaded and unloaded, and speed in the water. My current pace is eating time that I need for other challenges.

While my practice on rope climbs made a huge improvement, I need to work on climbing more than one in a row.

I need to test some gear more severely than I have thus far. A headlamp that works fine being occasionally dunked can fail when it is held under water for five minutes.

Having primary and secondary setups of everything helped a lot. I was able to quickly grab the backup for what broke and get moving again.

Having straps in the MOLLE webbing of the pack to position the sandbag worked extremely well.

The search continues for a headlamp that provides adequate light without going dim at 3 AM or drowning along the way. Also need to switch to a life vest that can be worn with the ruck more easily.

Hoping I can make some improvements on these before 2018.


Mad Minute Rifleman: Sioux Falls Appleseed Shoot 2017

As I have mentioned in a few earlier posts, I am trying to get back into shooting regularly and improving my skills. I was a little nervous about attending rifle-based events, both because my knowledge of formal range protocol is limited (I grew up shooting on the farm, but that does not always translate into knowing what the Range Master expects of you) and because I have always been the worst shot of any group I shot with. I decided to attend an Appleseed shoot because they seemed to both be open for those new to formal rifle events and pushed for a high level of skill.

Project Appleseed is an odd mix of a shooting club and a historical society. We would go over some aspect of shooting, like proper shooting positions or how to use the sling, shoot a course of fire to test it, and then be told a little bit of the history before moving on to the next shooting topic. For purposes of this write-up, I am going to discuss the shooting and the history separately.

Most of the history presented dealt with the events of April 18-19, 1775, Paul Revere’s famous ride and the Battles of Lexington and Concord. I was of course familiar with the story, but there were a lot of details presented that I had not heard before, that really changed how I think about it. It is easy to think of historical characters as one-dimensional, forgetting that they were people who had things going on in their lives. The captain who had to leave sick kids at home. The man who met Paul Revere on the way home from proposing to his fiancee, who would die in the fighting before the wedding could take place. The militiaman who lived near Lexington Square and staggered home to die in his wife’s arms. The 78-year-old who killed a half-dozen redcoats before the rest of the squad got to him, took more than a dozen bayonet wounds, and died… 16 years later having sired several more children.

I had always studied the Revolution in terms of generals and armies, forgetting the people that those armies were made of.

As far as the shooting, we would begin and end each day with a “red coat” target, a quick way to judge your current abilities and see how you are improving. 13 rounds from whatever position you like (prone suggested for stability) at silhouette targets sized to simulate a full-size target at 100, 200, 300, and 400 yards. 3 shots into each target, then one last shot into “Morgan’s Shingle” (which duplicates a 250-yard target that Daniel Morgan used as a qualification for joining his unit).

The first day of shooting we did back-to-basics how to get into shooting positions, why the positions worked like they did, how to read what you are doing wrong from your target, how to get and confirm the rifle’s zero, and ended the day with an AQT (Army Qualification Test). This test has timed shooting in standing, sitting/kneeling, and prone, with simulated targets from 100 to 400 yards. Out of 250 points possible, 125 is passing and 210 is expert or “rifleman” and earns you an awesome patch.


I made a mistake adjusting my sights and shot a 108. ( I would later mark it up and score what would have been if I had left the sights alone and got 155.)

The second day we reviewed the information from the day before, worked on the little details that can tighten up groups, fixed my sight-adjustment screwup and confirmed that my zero was where it should be. We then went into the “AQT Grind”, shooting the AQT repeatedly, alternating doing the stages in normal order or “Australian style” reverse order (mainly to save us the time of having to re-adjust slings between stages more than we had to). My scores were improving, but I would often have that one stage where something went wrong in an otherwise solid score. I put my shooting glasses too close to my face and they fogged over, costing me time I needed to get those last few shots in. Not locking a magazine in and taking half the stage time to figure out why I couldn’t fire. More often than anything else, hurrying when the time hacks were short and forgetting things that I knew enough to do. I had several scores hovering around the 190-200 level, but nothing quite high enough to earn the patch.

Our last AQT was the “quick and dirty” rules. Rather than time limits for each stage, five minutes to shoot the entire course, two 10-round magazines and one 20-round. I focused on keeping the shot cadence with my breath and trying to keep my position steady, finished the course of fire, safed the rifle and left the firing line. My instructor looked at me a little quizzically and said, “You have three minutes left. You just shot that in two minutes.” Arrgh, must have been hurrying and not noticing it, I probably screwed that up horribly.

We swapped out targets for our last redcoat of the weekend, putting the last AQT aside to score later. I took my time with the redcoat and came within one shot of shooting it clean (one miss on the 400 yard target). Side-by-side of the first and last redcoats speaks well for the instruction provided:


We then scored the last AQT and found that my “mad minute” shooting had scored a 215. I’d made Rifleman.



This was an awesome experience and taught me a lot. I cannot recommend these events highly enough. If you want to find an Appleseed near you, start here.

Race Mule Musings from the Minnesota Mud: Twin Cities Spartan Sprint and Tough Mudder 2017

I learned a few things about myself while thinking through this post.

The first is that it is harder for me to write about events that are similar to what I have done before. It just feels like it is becoming a boring checklist of carried this thing this far, completed this obstacle, failed that one, this thing was hard, that sucked a lot, then there was the new obstacle that everyone is talking about, I thought it was garbage. It loses the feel of the event and becomes incredibly irritating to write.  There have been times when I simply skipped writing about an event when I couldn’t think of anything new to say. So I hope you will forgive that this (and I am sure future posts) will omit some details that I have written about before to focus on new developments.

The second realization is that, having focused more on ruck-based training than OCR training, I am not as good of an obstacle racer as I used to be. I need a little more help over the walls, can’t go as far on the monkey bars as I could when my training was focused on that. While not as good of a racer, my training has made me a much better race mule. (For any unfamiliar with the term, a race mule is an assistant to a racer permitted in certain very grueling events. The mule carries needed gear for the racer, and in certain cases can tow them along.)

Spartan Sprint


I ran this with my son Josh again this year, who is at that point in growing where he is a bit bigger and heavier than last year, but the proportional increase in strength has not arrived yet. He was feeling dejected and unsure of himself after a few obstacles that he remembered being easier last year (and remembering that running down a basketball court is a whole different thing than running up ski slopes.) I had him grab onto my pack on uphills, towed him up and then we walked/jogged the downhills.

I encouraged him and helped him on whatever obstacles I could, and on most of them he did okay. On the bucket carry, I would take my bucket as far as I could up the hill, run back to wherever he had gotten it to, bring his up even with mine, do it again. I love the picture above, as I think it is the only time I have ever been photographed carrying the bucket at a trot.

For the record, he did move his a good distance on his own.


At the dunk wall, I put the hand that happened to be carrying my hydration pack under the wall, then gave Josh a quick pep talk before going under. Unbeknownst to me, the photographer on the other side was concerned at seeing a pack float up and not seeing anyone immediately follow it.

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A lesson learned at the rope climb: make sure you train in the actual gear you will race in. I had used a different type of shoes that were great in the mud, but that couldn’t grip the rope.

After our last set of burpees, I encouraged Josh to finish strong:

“Okay, I know you’re tired, but you can see the finish. I want the Charge of the Light Brigade, everything you’ve got, make the fire jump photo look good.”

“Okay. Three, tw–”




Tough Mudder55546031_race_0.3800368302992583.display.jpg

Another realization about myself: I’m not upset with myself for skipping obstacles if they don’t train anything that I consider useful or aren’t fun for me. (If they aren’t fun but train something vital, then I’m doing them, no question. More on that part later.)

The way the ice bath last year was set up was on the very edge of being unsafe, and there were rumors that they had made it worse this year. I ducked out of line to watch the Mudders in front of me going through the obstacle, and found the rumors to be untrue, and in fact the issue had been fixed rather than worsened. Drop ruck, slide down the tube, freeze everything, ruck up and move quickly to warm up.

I forgot to mention that I was rucking with 20# this year, using it to complete one of my Pathfinder challenges. The blue foam thing attached to the ruck is a float for the drop-into-water obstacles.

At the Hero Carry, I hit one of my old training goals: I performed well enough to have multiple people ask if I was military. “No, just do a lot of GORUCK stuff…”


Shawshanked is an obstacle where you crawl up a tube and drop backward 6-8 feet into water. When I had done it before, I hadn’t realized what it was until I was too far into it to turn back. This time as I approached it, I realized I was honestly scared to do it. Which meant it was vital training and I had to do it. Drop ruck, put on the floatie, have a minor panic attack in the tube, make the drop. Successfully avoided drowning and continued on. I have no pictures, but I really think TM needs to post a photographer there.

I saw two of the most awesome instances of teamwork among strangers that I have ever seen at this event. The first was a woman at Everest who attempted the run no less than 8 times, five of those making contact with my hand at the top but missing getting a grip on it. People behind us held my legs and the legs of the guy next to me so we could extend out a few more inches, then all of us worked together to pull her over.

The second was at Pyramid Scheme. I don’t think more than two or three of them knew any of the others, but they formed into a team better than any group I have ever seen (to the point that when the next group coming up asked the volunteer how to complete the obstacle, she simply pointed to us and said “Watch them.”) Myself and another man formed the base, with a stack of people above us standing shoulder-on-shoulder. Those above then held from above as those below climbed over everyone to get to the top.

I broke my water bladder somewhere around mile 4 and was dependent on the water stations for the rest of the course. Makes getting to the victory beer at the end all the more satisfying.


Changing Plans

I had referenced in earlier posts that I was finally stepping up for a GORUCK Heavy.

I injured my knee on a training ruck, not bad but enough to know that I should back off training weight and volume and let it heal. Which means I had the choice of pushing it and showing up to the event injured, or letting it heal and showing up under-trained. Both would result in my being a liability to a team that needs me to be an asset.

So I did the only thing I felt I could do. I dropped out of the event and transferred to another Heavy at a later date.

While this is a disappointment, it also opens up some possibilities. My training had been very narrowly focused on the Heavy, causing me to neglect some other aspects of my fitness. It is entirely possible that this contributed to my injury. I’m taking this opportunity to fix that, noting what did and didn’t work from my training plans and adding back in things that I know I need but that I hadn’t taken time for.

I will be keeping a log of my training and post it every month or so for those interested, so stay tuned for that.

Adapt, overcome, and come back stronger.


Post script: I will not be posting the workout log. Keeping my own notes is one thing, but making it coherent enough to be understood by anyone else eats way too much training time.

Memorial Day Ruck: GRT 2300

A few days before this event, I came across something that would seem to fit as we all pushed through the event. The Alpha Gators, which is usually a very silly comic, posted this:


This sort of set the tone for me, and it came to mind often when I was under one of the weights.


My brain can go a bit fuzzy on long events (and this one went 14 hours), so this write-up will be some points that felt significant rather than a proper AAR.

Our team was moving with more coupons than I have ever seen carried at an event and 5 buckets of water. We couldn’t figure out quickly trading out people carrying, and the entire procession stopped every few minutes. Cadre Chuy stopped us and put our situation in perspective:

“You think the 50-60 pound sandbag you are carrying is heavy. Weighs a lot less than I do with all my gear. Think of carrying your buddy to the medivac point, wiping the sweat from your face and realizing you wiped his blood into your eyes. You feel your body start shaking, and you realize that it’s because his body is shaking, because he has lost so much blood that he is going hypothermic.

“Now are you going to keep feeling sorry for yourselves, or are you going to hurry the hell up and get to the HLZ?” You better believe we picked up the pace.

One of my biggest weaknesses at GORUCK events has always been that I don’t last as long under the weight before needing to pass it off to someone else. This time I had to keep pushing, because we had so many weights with various numbers of people carrying them that there was often no one to hand it off to.

For a movement just after daybreak, we were informed that we needed to keep a quick pace and stay in tight formation. I was paired with a young man doing his first event. When I handed off the sandbag to him, it caused a small gap in formation that we immediately picked up our pace to try to close. I could see he was pushing with everything he had, but could not catch up with the group in front of me.

“Hand it back.”

“No, no, I got it.”

“This is not a conversation, hand it back. You’re kicking butt out here, but I’ve been doing this a little longer.” It reminded me of earlier events where I couldn’t get past the “no I got it” to get someone to hand off their weight.

Our service action was cleaning the Vietnam Veterans Memorial so that it would look nice for Memorial Day visitors. While I had been aware of the escalation of the conflict over the years, it still struck me how suddenly the numbers of names listed under each year jumped from one to dozens to hundreds. It gave me a perspective that I had never really understood.


Rather than Cadre giving us our patches, we paired off and presented patches to each other, reinforcing that we were a team, YOU didn’t earn your patch, the person next to you earned it for you.

My wife and daughter were at the end point when we arrived. After we were patched I took a knee next to a tree because I needed to get the weight off of my feet, and I waved my wife over. She captured the moment in this photo:


then took the flag and helped me to the car.



Big Chief’s Third Baby Mamma Wants Mud Pies: GRT 2282 and GRL 1536


I was excited for this event, both because it would be my tenth GORUCK Tough and because of the effort that my fellow GRTs had put in to bring GORUCK and Cadre Rick back to South Dakota.

Shortly before the start time, I was asked to get the team into some sort of formation to make things easier when Cadre got there. Cadre appeared just as I was getting everyone’s attention, but still had me continue getting everyone assembled. The event started with the usual roll call and explanation from the Cadre of what to expect and what would be expected of us.

When we got to checking required gear, we were given 50 seconds to empty our rucks and any smaller bags that we might have in our rucks. We failed, were given pushups, 50 seconds to get everything back in the rucks. Fail again, flutter kicks, 45 seconds to unload everything. This cycle continued until we figured out just to cram everything in any way it would fit and then to help anyone around us who was not done yet. (This is causing me to greatly re-think how I pack, as all the effort I had put into waterproofing my gear was undone by the time we were through it, and throwing the water bladder in and out so many times had pushed the slide off just enough to make it leak. Having one dry bag for all my water-sensitive gear would have helped greatly.)

Cadre had announced during this process that this was not the welcome party, this is what we needed to get through to get to the welcome party. Team lead was assigned, and we moved out to a park where the actual welcome party started.


Pushups, bear crawls, flutter kicks, T bones. I started out with the team weight (a ruck filled with baby formula to be donated, since it was Mother’s day weekend) and got the two rucks tangled when transitioning between exercises. The person next to me got me untangled and took the extra ruck for the rest of the welcome party. The next step was buddy carries, 6 minutes to get across the park with everyone being carried one direction or the other.

We missed that time hack and lost one of the team who damaged his knee during the buddy carries. We then started a movement that Cadre referred to as “Pails of Pain.” No ruck straps, hand-carrying our rucks and carrying ten 5-gallon buckets of river water. This started off sucking as much as one would expect, but we soon got a good system established to switch out buckets among the team.


The next thing that sticks out in memory is the log. This log:


(The crew putting it back where we got it decided to use more advanced techniques after seeing us struggle moving it.) I have moved a lot of heavy and strange items in the events that I have done, but even I had a “holy crap” moment when I saw what we were being asked to move. We initially shoulder-carried it, but found that we couldn’t get people of the right height where we needed them and the weight was crushing the tall guys. Someone suggested carrying it by having two ranks holding hands underneath it, and while it still sucked a lot it made changing out people carrying a lot easier.

After a long slow trudge with the log, we were allowed to drop it and rest for a few minutes. The next movement was with only our normal gear, to give us a break between heavy carries. When we reached our objective at a local museum, we were divided into teams, and told that our next mission was to recover three Sandman bombs (400 pound sandbags) and that we would need to be on the lookout for anything that we could use to improvise a better way of carrying them. We found two old tires and tried rigging a way to roll the sandbags, but this didn’t pan out. We also scavenged two beat-up pieces of lumber that worked much better.18518320_10154894605503071_634897328041618094_o.jpg

The path we happened to be on lead past some of the team’s homes. They brought out wheelbarrows, and to our surprise Cadre let us use them.18422265_10154894604318071_4190413907761625724_o.jpg

When we reached the pickup point for the third bomb, we were given a change in plans:

“The contact who was supposed to take the bombs from us has been discovered by the enemy and killed. We found someone to diffuse one of them, but that cost us one wheelbarrow. We have to transport the other two and sink them in Lion’s Lake.”

We moved out with one bomb in the wheelbarrow and one carried on 2x6s. By this time we had gotten the system of rotating people under the load down and were able to shift out people on the fly, although we were getting tired and most of us looked like this when we rotated out:


We made it to the lake to find that we had to do 20 hydroburpees in order to dispose of the bombs. One of the new GRTs next to me (for whom it was obvious that this stopped being fun several miles ago) visibly wavered and muttered “Is this day ever going to get better?” As close as I could come to a pep talk was “We’re almost home. You can’t get through one of these without getting wet, and we’ve already come this far.”


Holy. Crap. That water was cold. Somewhere around the second burpee I gave up on counting and just kept pace with everyone else. Back to the shore, ruck up, back to the start point, and the Tough was done.


I hit a friend’s house for a quick shower and nap, then back for the Light. After the usual administration and welcome party, we were given the most interesting mission briefing I have ever heard:

“The Big Chief of the Watertown Revolutionary Forces (WRF) is at the old rec center. They have been oppressed by the Sioux Falls Militia.  He requires us to bring him a bathtub full of water from Lion’s Lake so that he can wash the oppression off of his children. Do you have any questions?”

Team leader: No.

Peanut gallery: So many questions, actually…

Me: How are we to transport this water?f93614ae-95c6-4e96-93eb-3eca15b1771f_1.dff1fdc0d2a8ecc9e203e815dcf9303e.jpeg

To all of our amazement, Cadre pulled a plastic kiddie pool out of his ruck and announced that this is what we were using to transport the bath water to Big Chief’s children.

Move out, reach the lake, honor the lake spirits by doing pushups in the water, fill up the pool and try to carry it away. While it may be stable on a solid surface, it was indescribably floppy trying to lift and carry it while it was full. We sprung a leak from the bottom dragging before we had gone 100 yards. Cadre produced a backup pool from his ruck. Part of the team filled the new one while the rest of us located the 2x6s that we had previously used to carry the sandbags. The boards under it made it at least possible to carry, but still very clumsy until a couple blocks later when some of our team scavenged a wooden pallet that we carried the pool on from then on.

At some point we spilled and it was determined that we did not have enough water to bathe Big Chief’s children. However, Big Chief is a big fan of mud pies, so if we bring him those he will still be happy with us. We added dirt to the pool to make a huge mud pie then continued movement.

“I just got a phone call from Big Chief’s second baby mamma. Things are hot there and enemy snipers have been reported in the area. Big Chief cannot wait there for much longer.” For the next stretch we had to locate traffic cones and call out “Sniper” before Cadre could call them out, or one of the team would be wounded and have to carry their ruck held overhead.

We got to the rec center having only taken one casualty, but missed the time hack by 10 seconds. Big Chief is gone, so we have to meet him at another location to deliver his mud pies. Since we failed to meet him here on time, we should show some respect for his culture to restore his trust in us. His culture likes mud pie war paint and sharing songs…

Still carrying this pool of mud pie, wearing mud war paint, we moved to an outdoor bar where we sang “God Bless the USA” to the confused bar patrons.

Cadre: I just got a phone call from Big Chief’s third baby mamma’s sister.

Peanut gallery: Now you’re just making stuff up…

Cadre: Big Chief is happy about the love we have shown his culture, but the heat is really on and he could not meet us here. He will meet us in the lot behind the fire department…

Mud pies back on the move, still on the lookout for orange cone snipers, get to the fire department.

Big Chief was arrested while we were on the way here.

Peanut gallery: Dammit.

But his son is here to accept our gift of the mud pies…

*Peanut gallery rejoices*

Now rest up for a few minutes, then we have to go break Big Chief out of the Barefoot Fitness Jail.

We made good time getting to Barefoot Fitness, then simulated pulling the bars out of the window with a prowler sled race.

Big Chief is injured, and we have to carry him to the extract point.

Okay, where is Big Chief?

He’s that 350# tire you are sitting on.

If anything, carrying a tractor tire is worse than carrying a log of similar weight. Heavy, clumsy, hard to fit more people under.

I had a little moment of victory right at the end. I have a habit of getting under the load for the last 100 yards, flagging and having to call someone else in for the last 50. This one I kept repeating “I can make it” until I reached the end.

Back in formation, receive our patches, thank Cadre Rick for coming back to SD, and the event was done.

This was my third or fourth T/L back-to-back, which I had always intended as a stepping stone toward a Heavy, whenever I felt like I could complete one. As of writing this, that Heavy is in 6 weeks.

Back to Basics: SD Enhanced CCW Class

I have been re-evaluating what types of events to pursue, what areas I want to grow in. H.W. McBride noted in A Rifleman Went to War that the two main requirements of a soldier were to march and to shoot. At this point I’ve pretty well proven I can march, so let’s look at improving shooting ability.

The obvious first step was to update my CCW permit to my new home state, and I found a class for the Enhanced permit that is recognized in surrounding states.

The class was provided by Rev-Tac Firearm Instruction out of Jackson NE. I chose them to tick the boxes needed to get my permit, and to check out their teaching style to see if I wanted to take additional classes. As it turns out they did a great job, and they have some interesting classes on the schedule, so look for other AARs to come.

The classroom portion was held in a conference room of a local hotel. They covered what are good/ bad options in pistols and holsters, where you can and can’t carry, basics of how firearms work, etc. While this type of information can easily become Death by Powerpoint, they interjected enough humor to keep it engaging and entertaining.

Quick break for lunch and we moved out to the range. We started with basic drawing from concealed, shooting stance, and reholstering. Instructors milled around the students correcting anything that they saw, and did a great job of explaining the context of why they recommended doing something a particular way. (For example, I was using a support-hand grip that worked fine on the Browning Hi Power that I was shooting, but that might result in my hand being too close to the muzzle if I did the same with a smaller gun. In the interest of building good habits, I adjusted to a grip that would work the same on any pistol.)

We then moved on to live fire, starting at very close range and moving back gradually. They put up targets with numbered dots, and gave us a particular dot to shoot at for each distance. We would realize later that we only needed to hit the cardboard silhouette that the target was attached to, but they specified the dots to encourage the “aim small miss small” mentality.

They saw that everyone was getting it, and decided that we were ready to shoot the qualification needed for our permits. Different numbers of rounds shot from different ranges out to 7 yards. Everyone passed, and I kept my target.


(Hole in the grey is from a staple holding up the target, all my shots were good.)

At this point the Iowa and Nebraska residents were done, but the South Dakotans had a little more shooting to do. Our instructor explained that state law requires a certain number of rounds fired, but does not specify what all of them are to be used for, so he uses the rounds left after qualification to give us some drills that would be good to practice. One hand shooting, weak hand shooting, using trigger reset for faster controllable fire. At the end of this we had met the legal requirements and got our paperwork to send in for our permits.

A quick note: I’m purposely mentioning but not explaining these concepts for a reason: Reading this blog does not qualify as training, and if any of this sounds interesting to you, you need to seek out a quality instructor and learn it from them, rather than trying to sort it out from reading it here.

The Burden of Reputation

A simple conversation about an upcoming event made me realize a few things.

“I told Brian you’d be there. He was like ‘Awesome! That dude’s a beast! He doesn’t look like it, but he can freaking haul!'”

My first response was to be happy that others feel I’m contributing to the team more than I sometimes think I am. (I do my best, but often get frustrated that even at my best I’m still far weaker and slower than I want to be.) After a few minutes something else hit me: this is a responsibility. Rather than just hoping that I’m not a drag on the team, my teammates are expecting me to be an asset.

This has caused a slightly different mindset in my training. Being more careful about avoiding and caring for injuries. Hitting training as hard as I can. As mundane as it sounds, making sure I get sleep. Understanding that others are depending on me to show up ready.

Working like hell to make sure I live up to the reputation I’ve earned.

Perseverance and Perspective: Bataan Memorial Death March 2017


I liked the idea of this event from the first time I heard of it: Marathon distance with 35 pounds on your back, through a military base in the middle of the desert, honoring some badass WWII vets, who will see you off at the start line.

It turns out that many of the marchers carry some form of food as their weight, and a local food bank sets up at the finish line to take donations. I found that 4 big cans of hominy in a Warhammer carries beautifully and weighs in at 38#.


The Bush’s logo being visible earned me the nickname “beans” while I was on the course. I also carried photos of my great uncles who were killed in WWII. (Neither of them were at Bataan, but it seemed appropriate to bring them along.)

We showed up to the starting corrals well before daylight. The opening ceremony was an experience that you need to see for yourself, as I lack the words to convey the feeling. Powerful to the point of making me tear up.

The first to move out on to the course were the Wounded Warriors, and seeing them move out, missing limbs but stepping up to cover the distance, helped put us in the frame of mind to ignore whatever petty pains came up and do what was required. They were followed by the military heavy group, then my group, the civilian heavy.

We went in a loop around the starting corrals, shook hands with the Death March survivors at the start line, and we were off. The first few miles were on paved streets around the post, then we turned off onto sandy dirt trails, walking through a haze of dust kicked up by the marchers ahead.

The first bathroom stop had long lines and I figured I would push on to the next one, then I broke out laughing as I turned the next corner and saw a wall of guys standing out in the bushes. Someone behind me commented, “The guys waiting back there must be first-timers… or just polite. One of the two.”

Water stations were every two or three miles, with oranges and bananas available about every other station. We had debated if we should carry a water bladder or depend entirely on water stations, and I decided to split the difference with 2 bottles in the ruck that I would top off at every station. This turned out to be a good idea, as one of the stations toward the end was out of water when I got there. (I passed the truck bringing in a new water buffalo about a half-mile later.)

I stopped every few miles to drop the ruck and stretch out my shoulders, and the first 5 miles or so went by easily. Then I realized the point I had overlooked in training for this: This year set a record for hottest temperatures for the march, and it is tough to train for New Mexico heat when you are training through a South Dakota winter. The heat got to me, my energy levels went down, and the suck arrived.


I happened to catch up with my teammates Carl and Schmitty at the 8-mile checkpoint. I stopped to sit for a few minutes and reapply sunscreen, and Schmitty asked if there was any way he could assist.

“No. I just need to suck it up and get it done.”

“I was going to say it more politely, but yeah, that’s the mindset you need.”

Shortly after this we moved back onto paved streets, which would have been nice if they were not going unrelentingly uphill. About this time the winners of the light division were passing us on their way back, so we cheered them on as we passed.

It turns out that the sunscreen I had brought was not up to the task, and people started pointing out that I was burning around mile 9. I reapplied mine, got heavier-duty stuff from the medical tents, and kept going. We left the road for more trails, deeper sand and more hills. When I hit the halfway marker I asked another marcher to get a picture of me ruck-flopped on the side of the trail. (The trails are sunken into the ground enough at places that they make a decent place to sit down, and the frame of my ruck propped me up.)


In the TV show The Selection, Roster #11 has a moment when he asks himself, “Why am I out here in the middle of the desert, dying? I think I’m losing my marbles…” I had that moment at mile 14. There was a hamburger stand there, which should have raised my spirits, but by that point hot food was the last thing I wanted. I wanted to quit there (and rumor has it that this was a popular spot for DNFs) but I remembered what this event is, what it is in honor of, and you want to quit because its a little hot out here? Perspective reset. Refill water, ruck up, back at it.

Things got a little easier, because there was a lot more downhill involved in the second half. Heat and sun continued to be a problem, as I think shows in the photo from the next checkpoint:


It was about this time that I checked in with one of the medical stations, as I was having trouble moving my arms. I noticed it when a volunteer offered me a tray of fruit, and I had to ask him to hold the tray lower. The diagnosis was simply that the muscle the ruck straps bear on is worn out. Only thing that would fix it is rest.

“So I just need to grunt it out for the next 10 miles?”

“Pretty much, yeah. Good luck!”

Push 2 miles, sit a minute. Push a mile, sit. Around mile 20-21 we hit the Sand Pits. Depending on who you ask, this is between 3/4 mile and 1.5 miles of ankle-deep sand. I had gaiters to keep it out of my shoes, but it still drained leg strength that was already mostly gone. I remember one marcher stopping in frustration, yelling “this is the pits! *laughter that sounds on the verge of losing one’s mind* The sand pits!” As I passed, I offered,”What’s that old saying, if you’re going through hell, keep going?” The other marcher smiled and got moving.

I reached an aide station that had music playing, and I found myself increasing my march tempo to match the music. Silly as it sounds, that raised my spirits a lot for the last few miles.

The end of the course is mentally taxing, as you think that the end is just around the corner, then you come around the corner and see another turn, and it just seems to take forever. I finally rounded the last turn, saw the end, and went into the fastest shuffle I could manage, with spectators cheering us on to the finish.


I find myself at a loss for words trying to describe this experience. Grueling. Brutal. Humbling. Alongside the most awesome people you can imagine. And having never been happier to put down your ruck.