S.E.R.E. Urban: Chicago is a Dangerous Place

I’ve spent the last few days trying to figure out practical uses for my shiny new KA-Bar,* spoils of being crowned “Top Team” at S.E.R.E. Chicago this past weekend. I typically display my race schwag on my desk at work, but somehow I think that a 7-inch knife wouldn’t go over too well and may result in losing my job even more quickly than I’m probably on track to lose it. So far, I’ve discovered that the KA-Bar is excellent for eating apples and opening the numerous Amazon boxes I get every week (GEARWHORE), and is just so-so serving as a steak knife. It does make for a great rendition of Psycho in the shower, though I wouldn’t recommend it for getting out splinters. But enough about knife uses.

This past Friday at 2200hours, we set out S.E.R.E. Urban Challenge Class 006 in Chicago: the first of its kind. But wait wait wait, you say. Didn’t you complete a S.E.R.E. Challenge back in January in DC and almost die of a cashew allergy at the same time? Why yes, yes I did. I was part of S.E.R.E. Beta: once again, the first and only of its class. But the challenge has morphed over the past few months, so I came into Class 006 not having the foggiest idea of what to expect, except that we would be divided into teams within our class and one team would come out victorious as “Top Team.”

Any challenge that starts out with (1) low crawling along the pavement in front of Buckingham Fountain; and (2) “neck drags” around a baseball field, is certain to be a good time. At least in my book. But while we started with some standard PT and physical challenges, we quickly learned that S.E.R.E Urban is a different ballgame altogether. For it’s not about carrying heavy rucks** and stopping to do push-ups and monkey fuckers every few miles. It’s about leadership, building a strong team, learning survival skills, and completing missions in a quick and efficient manner.

Class 006 had three S.E.R.E veterans: myself, Todd, and Kimmie from the Beta class. As such, we were assigned to be team leaders. Teams were semi-randomly selected through the scientific art of sugar cookie-ing T-shirts and then duking it out against the other leaders in a low crawl, lunge, and push-up challenge. Needless to say, I lucked out with a rock star team, which set the tone for the rest of the challenge.

Throughout the night, we (as team leaders) were given intel and missions with information and objectives to relay to our teams, all centering around a potential terrorist attack on Chicago. Hmm…playing war games, you say? Perhaps, but fucking AWESOME games. For example, after a nice dip in Lake Michigan followed by a recon mission at Northerly Island, team leaders were told to call a specific number and relay a message to await further intel. The only catch was that all cell towers were destroyed so we had to use a landline.

3am. Chicago. No cell phones. And who the hell has payphones anymore? To make things even more fun, I, as team leader, suffered chemical burns to the eyes and needed to be blindfolded.

If you have never run 6+ miles at a decent clip (8min mile pace?) completely blindfolded, it’s an exercise I highly recommend. Especially if you have 4 dudes leading you blindfolded through downtown Chicago in the middle of the night. NOTHING TO SEE HERE OFFICER, MOVE ALONG.

And so the night continued. Missions interlaced with dips in Lake Michigan (death to rockingchairs!!), covering considerable distance (from Northerly Island up to Wrigley Field and back, and various zig zags between), and, perhaps most unique and important, survival and skills lessons. Let’s recap. I learned, among other things:

how to safely carry a person with a gaping stomach wounded. It’s called a neck drag and I highly do NOT recommend it.
that while it may be fun to kick boys in the nuts and poke them in the eyes, the art of muay thai is way more practical if you are ever going to get in a street fight. Watch out, boys.
that flailing your arms frantically at a helicopter isn’t the best means of communication. And that a large “LL” will prevent an awkward “no, I’m fine but thanks for stopping.”
that sand tables are NOT just big kid sandcastles, though they are certainly fun to build like one.
that if someone throws a black tag on me, I’m fucked.
Points were awarded to teams for winning certain missions throughout the 13+ hours, right down to the final, frantic buddy carry run from Millenium Park to the big black anchor at Navy Pier. And while it was an accomplishment to be crowned Top Team, it was an incredibly tight race. Each team overcame adversity and potential drops, and we worked together as a class at several points during the night. While Team “Random Tom Cruise Movie” (at certain points it was more “Vanilla Sky” than “Cocktail,” but it was always “Risky Business”) was light and fast on our feet (we may have ran from North Ave Beach to Wrigley in record time), other teams were perhaps more cunning and wise in their execution of missions.

With NATO coming up this weekend in Chicago, I’m crossing my fingers I’ll be able to pull some muay thai moves out on a few protestors as I head into the office. Let’s just hope I don’t have to neck drag any of their asses.

*A few months ago, I had no idea what a KA-Bar was. It’s a knife. A big, fatty, 7-inch knife with a sheath. Technically, its a combat knife used by the Marines (hat tip to Wikipedia for my minimal knowledge).
**because, really, in an urban environment, no one is going to be carrying a 40+lb pack


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