GORUCK Constellation 015 AAR

Disasters and hobo jet boils and homemade gas masks, oh my!

GORUCK describes their new Constellation series of events as:

GORUCK Constellation is a scenario-driven event led by GORUCK’s Special Forces Cadre, all experts in urban survival. You and your small cell will move through a series of tasks and checkpoints — the stars that form the constellations in the urban terrain. You’ll learn how to prepare and plan for chaos and how to connect the dots of your city, on the move. The goal, of course, is to sharpen your mind into the greatest weapon you have.
Because the difference between a hard target and an easy target … is everything.

GORUCK did not disappoint on this promise. This is my 6th GORUCK event, I’ve completed 4 Light GORUCK Challenges, and participated in a local Operation Clearfield Scavenger event. When GORUCK announced the Constellation series, I was more than excited to link up with Fred, my GORUCK “Battle Buddy”, and get signed up. I’ve always had a fascination with disasters and survival situations, so this event sounded right up my alley. This was also my first overnight event, so I was curious how I would make it through the morning hours of the event.

I trained for this event like I have my other events, rucking with my local buddies from Team RWB, and brushing up on AARs of previous Constellation events (hint: there aren’t a lot of AARs out there). Putting together the gear list for this was interesting too, after 4 Lights, I pretty much have a typical loadout and layout for my gear. Since the packing list is so radically different for this, my mind kept telling me “You’re overpacking, your ruck is never this full of random stuff. It’s like a gypsy camp exploded inside your ruck this isn’t right.” That said, we used every last bit of gear on the list.

Our event was slated for Minneapolis, MN, but took place in Apple Valley. I guess this allowed for the smoothest event and least amount of interference from locals and/or local police. We arrived the day prior to the event to avoid travel fatigue, and spend some time with family that lives north of Minneapolis.

(From left, top to bottom — GORUCK GR1 26L with Ruck Bands, Snacks, Nalgene Bottle with Pace Lid, 2L Camelbak, 2L Seltzer Water, Dust Masks, 9V Batteries, Large ziplock bags, Mechanix Gloves, Pelican 1040 Case with Black Diamond Headlamp and extra batteries, CAT Tourniquets, Rope, Small Coffee Can. Not pictured: Kershaw Pocket Knife, Fine Steel Wool, Duct Tape)

Fred and I arrived in Apple Valley just about an hour early, and most of the participants showed up around the same time. We met up with some other Iowans that showed up from Des Moines, and a couple that flew in all the way from Maryland for the event. We all stood around in the parking lot and hung out until Cadre John came out, told us to file in to the CrossFit box and await further instructions once inside. We lined up in equal columns and went through the usual check-in and safety brief, then split up into teams of 8. We again linked up with the fellow Iowans and couple from Maryland to form Team Alpha, and received maps with our area of operations for the event from Cadre John and Cadre Chase. Constellation 015 had officially begun!

Our first instruction and movement was on urban land navigation and map reading. Those who know me know that I’m “directionally challenged”, so this instruction was actually really beneficial for me. Fred jumped at the chance to be TL, and the Cadre marked his map into quadrants and gave us our targets. We were given a scenario where martial law was declared after storms, tornados and floods knocked out all infrastruction in the city. Yeah. That could easily happen in the Midwest. You have my attention!

Our first target location was a Sam’s Club over a mile away, and gave us a 30 minute time hack to reach the location, find cover to recon the area as a team, and get a picture at our first target. This was a tight time hack, and we had to full out run a good chunk of it trying to reach our hack. We didn’t. On our way back to base, Higher messaged our Comms and told us to return with 1 gallon of water. We sent 2 of our team members ahead and took their rucks so they could move faster. However, we did not plan a rendezvous point once the water was obtained. Luckily, we are able to call them and fix our mistake, but this added at least anther 10 minutes to our time. It felt like an eternity. Lesson learned: “Two moving elements cannot link up” — If separated, have a meeting spot, and even a backup meeting spot, as we’d learn later.

So we were the last team back, but we learned some lessons. Luckily, this was a “Gentleman’s Course”, our “losing” wasn’t met with burpees and a beat down, but rather a quick debrief of lessons learned. Phew.

Our next lesson was on “Going Ugly, Early”. Scavenging for food and supplies and hiding places no one wants to look. At this point in our scenario, biker gangs. (Mother F-ing Cobra Kai! — Cadre John) had taken advantage of the martial law and were locking down major supply areas and stores. I think John and Chase must have binged Mad Max on the flight in. We were given a second location to scout, and advised to scavenge for food and fire supplies on the way, as well as find a “dirty hide” to hide in. Our second location was a school that was opposite a park with a pool. Scavenging heaven. We found plenty of cardboard for fuel, plenty of half eaten bags of chips, a single Chic-Fil-A waffle fry, Chic-Fil-A sauce, and an unopened bag of apple sauce. Score. We also found plenty of recyclables for fuel, and did I mention they were in dumpsters? Boom. Dirty Hide.

Our next learning session was on first aid. Cadre gave us a quick demonstration on a good, minimal go bag, as well as correct tourniquet application and how to make an impromptu stretcher. Remember that seltzer bottle? Yeah, Cadre killed it. With a knife. This simulated an arterial bleed, and just how much duct tape it took to stop that bleed (spoiler, a lot). This trauma care was review for me, as I had taken a trauma first aid class through a buddy of mine. Everyone should take these classes and get this training. It saves lives.

Our next movement was, fittingly, to a local animal hospital. Higher contacted us twice to apply tourniquets as practice. Our pace was much faster without the extra 2L of seltzer in our rucks. We still had the bottles, and they were essential to hold onto for later instruction.

Alpha Team referred to our next block of instruction as “Arts and Crafts with GORUCK”. This block was about 2–3 hours, and seemed to be when the “sleepy sleepy monsters” began to work themselves into the crevices of our minds. Cadre instructed us on how to make two important improvised devices, the “Hobo Jetboil” and an improvised gas mask, as well as the basics of firestarting. We made the jetboil out of our coffee tin, and let me tell you, that was some tough metal cutting (ugh that noise of pocketknives on tin…). Fred was uncharacteristically quiet during this time, and I knew I was getting tired. I shared some caffeinated Jelly Belly jelly beans with the team who wanted some. Yes, caffeinated jelly beans are a thing, and they are awesome! We also passed around a few bags of beef jerky while we worked. After our jetboils were made, we practiced firestarting with the 9V batteries and steel wool. We had to continue to scavenge for tinder around the CrossFit box (yay tree mulch) to keep our fires going. A few teammates were able to get water to boil, but I had a hard time keeping a fire. Cadre John and Chase did an excellent job floating from team to team and advising us who had trouble. Fire steel is still my favorite way to start a small fire, and Cadre had one and let us practice with it. Boom. That worked.

After this instruction, we were given our instruction on how to make homemade gas masks. If you’ve read an AAR on Constellation, you know this is one constant throughout the events. Apparently variants of these have been used by people to escape riots where tear gas and pepper spray have been used in the past. Pretty cool, and I felt like Darth Vader. A sleepy Darth Vader.

Our final movement consisted of multiple parts — escape and evasion, and the difference between a safe house and shelter. The E&E portion was pretty awesome. Turns out duct tape hand restraints can be defeated by physics (and I felt like a beast escaping them). The safe house shelter portion was very blurry to me — it was like learning Greek. As one big team, the 61 participants of Constellation 015 planned a defense of our safe house, and enacted that plan when Cadre alerted us that Cobra Kai was back and broke through our defenses and we had to meet at our rally points to move to the next objective. This was a free-for-all, bounding groups of 2 on the way to our objective to avoid contact with other teams and the Cadre, who were on the hunt. I guess Cadre caught Hotel Team at the Animal Hospital, and that team got to test their improvised gas masks early. We were able to sneak by the other teams, and snipe a few pictures of another team while they were confused and heading to an alternate rally point rather than returning to base. Maybe they should have stayed at the alternate rally point had they know what was coming next…

The sun had risen, and it was time to test those gas masks. Yep. Pepper spray. To the face.

Surprisingly, the mask worked wonders! I had spent some extra time on mine during arts and crafts time (Thanks All Day Ruckoff for that tip!) My eyes and face were absolutely untouched by the spray. My arms burned from the residue for about 3 hours after (think a really bad, hot sunburn), but the mask worked. Whoa.

Finally, we assembled back into our teams and were given our patches, and took a class picture. Heck of a way to earn a patch — and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Cadre John and Cadre Chase were excellent instructors, and you could tell they truly enjoyed sharing this knowledge with us. GORUCK events are always evolving, and I can’t wait to see how Constellation evolves in the future.

Fred, Cadre Chase, Cadre John, and Myself