Causes | March 2015
One Team at a Time
MidSouth residents get a unique taste of Special Forces
training in their own backyard
Story by Tonya Thompson | Photography by Kit Klein
While the sun rose over the Mississippi River on a cold morning last December, Jessica Maglisco—a Collierville resident, wife, and 33-year-old mother of two—stumbled through the empty streets of downtown Memphis along with 11 other people, all struggling to carry a tree trunk that none of them could have possibly carried alone.
“Looking back on it,” she says, “I’m glad I didn’t know more [before it happened]. It’s kind of like the anticipation leading up to Christmas morning, but your gifts are hydro-burpees in the Mississippi River and flutter kicks in a grassy area just off Beale, and maybe even a midnight swim in a duck pond.” Wait, a midnight swim in a duck pond in December? “Yes, that happened,” Maglisco says with a wide smile. “And yes, it was unbelievably cold and I thought I was going to die. If you think that’s crazy, you should see what 12 people look like carrying a 15-foot log through downtown Memphis at 6 a.m.”
All 12 had signed up for the Memphis-area GORUCK Challenge—a military-style team endurance event held in multiple locations around the country at varying dates and times. This particular one had begun at 9 p.m. the night before. With little more than nervousness, wrapped bricks, hydration packs, headlamps and a vague idea of what they just signed up for, the group met their Cadre—a veteran of the U.S. Special Forces—and began a 13-hour grueling journey together that would leave them all exhausted, sore and thoroughly changed for the better by the end. It would be a slice of Special Forces-style training in their own backyard and it wouldn’t be easy.
“We focus on building better Americans and we do that through losing your sense of self and focusing on others,” says Kit Klein, a photographer, PR manager, and partnership manager for the GORUCK organization. Having completed 16 events himself, including mountain ascent challenges, Klein sees the value of the organization’s goals play out on a daily basis. “Our events put civilians in front of a decorated combat veteran and give them a taste of their training,” he says. “The team aspect makes it more comfortable for other veterans to speak with civilians and see how they, the civilians, are willing to put themselves in the vets’ shoes for a few hours. Teamwork and adversity breed camaraderie that is hard to find outside the military, so it benefits veterans and civilians alike.”
It’s a simple formula but according to Maglisco, that feeling of camaraderie was the most valuable lesson of the experience. “The GR Challenge taught me more about myself in 12 hours than I had learned in my previous 33 years on this planet,” she says. “When I left, I had learned how to really work as part of a team, how to compensate for one another’s weaknesses, how to let myself depend on others, and that I had nothing to prove to anyone. I’m a strong, determined woman who is capable of so much more than I ever knew. And as a team, we are capable of anything.”
“The biggest thing was learning to come together as a team and rely on each other,” says Jon Vandiveer, a Memphis-based Information Assurance specialist and former military contractor who also completed the December Challenge with Maglisco. “Through the encouragement of the team, I pushed beyond what I thought I could do. Everyone worked together and encouraged each other, helped where they could and suffered as a group without whining. There was a tremendous sense of community, relying on the team and pushing through personal limits.”
As for limits, Maglisco’s own self-imposed ones began when she first met her fellow teammates, including Vandiveer. “How was I, this 5’5” little blonde chick, going to be a strength to this team full of big guys, many of whom were former military? That’s when I realized my real fear: being the weakest link. Cadre Bruce gave us our patches on the banks of the Mississippi, with the sun rising behind us. He told us that we started as 12 individuals, but we finished as one team. He handed me my patch and shook my hand, and said, ‘Congratulations. You did great.’ I cried. After spending the whole night trying to be strong and not show any fear, I cried.”
Even with responses like this from civilians, the greater achievement of the GORUCK organization is still in how it works to support and engage Special Forces Veterans at home. In fact, that support is at the core of its mission. The GORUCK organization was founded by Jason McCarthy, a former Green Beret, who had three particular goals for it—to serve as a voice for good, to employ more veterans of Special Operations than any organization outside the U.S. military, and to bridge the gap between military and civilian worlds.
GORUCK is also dedicated to working closely with the Green Beret Foundation, a nonprofit support group for wounded Green Berets and their families, through fundraisers and awareness campaigns. “I am very happy to see a much higher appreciation for veterans than there was in the past,” says Klein, “but I think the media does a disservice by making veterans seem unapproachable. I think [GORUCK] is important because it helps bridge the gap for civilians being able to have a better understanding of who veterans are and not being ‘afraid’ to speak with them.”
And it is this confrontation—with fear of the unknown and self-doubt—that is at the heart of what the GORUCK experience is about for many. “I would love to see more women do these events,” says Maglisco. “Whenever I tell other women about what I did, they almost always respond with ‘I could never do that.’ That response is exactly why they SHOULD do it. If I can get just one woman to stop saying ‘I can’t’ and see that she is capable of so much more than she ever knew, I would be happy with that.”
For more information about GORUCK or to sign up for a GORUCK event, visit goruck.com.
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