I was excited to begin Air Force ROTC my freshman year, but I had little idea of what sort of time commitment to expect from the program. I soon learned that there were bi-weekly workouts, weekly aerospace class, and leadership laboratory (My fellow cadet Julia Graham has an excellent blog on this site specifically describing a week in the life of an AFROTC student which can be found here). However, every cadet’s week in the life is a little different because our cadre (the officers which oversee the program) and cadet leadership work hard to provide us with exciting additional opportunities. Students join ROTC because they want to enter the military while maintaining a traditional college experience. These extra opportunities allow cadets to choose how much they want ROTC to be a part of their life as a college student. In my first year with ROTC I went indoor skydiving, flew a cessna, and initiated into the affiliated service society - Arnold Air Society. I also participated in the 2020 Tough Ruck, the focus of this post.
The Tough Ruck is a 26.2 mile march with either a 15 lb or 35 lb rucksack. Traditionally it is completed in uniform and the course is in Concord, Massachusetts where the Revolutionary War began. Sign ups began last spring for cadets that were interested. Seeking some extra exercise, and because 26.2 miles sounded like lightwork two months out, I signed up. A fellow Tufts cadet and two more MIT cadets signed up as well. Anticipating an April race day, we all got to training right away.
My new Saturday morning routine consisted of an 8:00 wakeup call. Breakfast is essential before a big ruck, so I would journey over to Carmichael Dining Hall to stock up on eggs, hash browns, and a concoction of chocolate milk and iced coffee that fueled my freshman year. After a hearty meal, I grabbed my rucksack filled with 35 pounds of sand, hockey pucks, water, and snacks. While prepping for the race, we would spend between two and four hours rucking each week, building up from six to thirteen miles. Rucking together was an opportunity for us cadets from different grades, majors, and schools to get to know each other very well. The cadets at Detachment 365 are incredibly bright, hardworking, and have chosen a path of service. Learning my peers' life stories was inspiring. Working towards a commission in the Air Force with some of the brightest students in the country allows me to stay focused on school with a clear set of goals in sight.
The Tough Ruck was postponed in the spring due to the pandemic, and it was rescheduled as a “Virtual Ruck” for the weekend of September 11th, meaning we had the option to complete the ruck on our own or with small groups. I was able to meet up with two cadets and embark on the Minuteman Trail in Concord, MA. We set off at a good clip, and before I knew it we had traversed the first five miles. Easy. We made our way to the Shot Heard Round the World site where we met the 13 mile mark. Here we passed the furthest difference any of us had ever rucked. Even though our feet and backs were aching our spirits remained high with the beautiful weather, lively conversations, and changes in scenery. The longer that we rucked, the longer the miles became. Brief stops for water and snacks provided relief and motivational boosts. As we neared 20 miles there was a combined sense of accomplishment and dread. Still 6 miles to go, my feet went numb. Conversation now became more dispersed. Remembering the sacrifices of the heroes that served before me gave perspective and my own pain seemed insignificant. While it is a heavy topic, that is what the tough ruck is about. Dead silence filled the air on the last mile, but it was louder than any conversation from before. Finally, the GPS reached 26.2, and we had finished.
When we got back to Tufts we enjoyed a social distanced Chic-Fil-A meal with our fellow cadets. Their support was much appreciated and their food was consumed with gusto. We finished with a time of 8:26:21, and it was probably the most difficult thing I have ever done. The male heavy division champion managed a 4:36:19. There is work to do for next year, and I cannot wait. Spending time with my ROTC peers outside of official events is always a pleasure and I seek every opportunity to do so. If you choose to take on the opportunities which Air Force ROTC provides, you will have the most exciting, challenging, and rewarding experiences you never thought would be possible. If you have two extra minutes check out the video my fellow cadet Matthew Clingerman made of our ruck!