It was a nice, breezy Miami morning. The sun hadn’t even risen yet and I was on my way to South Beach to take part in the S.E.R.E. Urban Challenge event. Our Cadre, Instructor Cuthbert, had sent us emails to where our rally point would be. We had to be at South Pointe Park on the observatory deck by 6:30 AM. We had to dress in tourist attire, because as our mission stated, we had to blend in with the civilians.
I was already excited. I originally thought that the SERE event would be something similar to a GoRuck event, but with these emails and instructions, I realized that it was already going to be a new adventure.
So before I hit the road, I was thinking to myself, South Beach. “What would a tourist wear in South Beach?” Boom! I rocked out a plain white t-shirt, my sprinter elite American flag ranger panties, long white compression socks and some running shoes. I was ready to go.
So when we met at the rally point. Our Instructor had told us to get together with our teams. The teams were set up prior to us meeting that day and we were notified through email. I was on Team Charlie, or as we later came to call ourselves “Team Badass.” Along with myself, we had Amy Lawson, Cindy Mckloskey & Peter Yu who was our team captain. We already were down one person, but we still had a pretty solid team. So of course, what happens first when we get to these types of events? WELCOME PARTY?!?!?!?!
Push ups, low crawls, rocking chairs, flutter kicks and more low crawls. We did this for about 45 minutes both in the sand and in the water before we were able to stand back up, wash ourselves off and head over to sit in the grass so we can have our first talk.
Here we actually learned a lot. We learned about the grey effect. People who want to travel unnoticed throughout crowds in large areas while blending in. People in this scenario would wear drab colors, dress like the locals and do anything to not cause any unneeded attention towards themselves to get the mission accomplished. This is where I stuck out and the instructor made sure to note it. I am 6’2”, had a pretty big beard and was wearing LOUD American flag shorts. So I of course would have problems walking around South Beach without getting noticed.
So before we were separated into our teams again, we had a little challenge. Each team had to do a low crawl relay for about 50 yards. One person would start the low crawl and reach the point where Instructor Cuthbert marked as the finish. They would get up, jog bag to the start and tag the next person in. Peter actually had to go twice because we had four people on our team instead of five. But even though we had that problem, we ended up finishing the relay first and winning the prize.
What the prize was for winning the relay was that the information we were handed had already been decoded so we didn’t need to try and figure out where we our next rally point would be. We had to go from Washington and 1st to Flamingo Park, which was on Meridian and 12th.
Maybe about 45 min later and we made it there. Keeping what Instructor Cuthbert had said previously in the meeting, we thought he would try to blend in with the other park goers and go unnoticed. We saw someone sitting on a park bench underneath a tree with a pulled down baseball cap and glasses with a red t-shirt which had this weird logo on it and thought that had to be him.
Boom! It was. So after a little PT fun, we came together and he told us our next mission. The state of Miami was that it had been hit by a huge hurricane and all communications and transportation were cut off from the outside world. We had to go around the area and scavenge for any items we would deem useful in the situation that we were in. So we set off and just started looking for anything. We found a broom handle, an empty water jug, an old sweater and a basket. We thought at the time that we should take our time getting back to the instructor so it didn’t seem like we were cheating or anything. Which we weren’t, but since we had such a head start from knowing the location of the park, we just took our time. And that was a huge mistake.
When we got back with our items, another team had already beaten us there. And we were kicking ourselves because we were taking our time. So we had to wait in the plank position while Instructor Cuthbert gave the other team their new orders. When the other team set off, it was our turn to receive our orders. The next mission was to head to Star Island and get some intel on Buoy Park. The scenario that had been laid out was that there were injured people on the island and we had to get them out. We needed to scope out the area, get some pictures and figure out what would be the best form of transportation to get the people off the island and determine what type of terrain we would deal with. And oh yeah, the bridge that leads to the island had been demolished due to the hurricane.
The other team that had gotten back to the instructor before we did had a good head start on us. But our team thought quickly on our feet. Instead of running to Star Island, which we realized would kill a lot of time; we ran down the street a couple blocks and took some pictures from the perimeter of the island. The team and I quickly discussed that since this was clearly an intel mission, we didn’t necessarily have to be “on” the island. So we went across the street to a little place called the Bikini Hostel. We walked up to the front desk and started talking to the hostess. We told her we were on a scavenger hunt and needed some information, only problem was, we are not able to use any form of technology. So this lady starts asking what she gets in return for helping us out. Boom, right there Amy pulled out a Carrot Cake Clif Bar and the hostess was more than happy to help us. We got all the info we needed regarding Buoy Park. It was about 150m wide by 500m in length. It was right smack dab in the middle of the island surrounded on all sides by houses. We decided since there was no way to drive on to the island due to the bridge being knocked out, we decided the best way to get the injured civilians off the island would be by helicopters. And we were right?! We were actually the only team who did not actually run to Star Island, so we got back first with the info to Instructor Cuthbert.
So then the learning continued. For this portion of the mission, we had an injured teammate. Amy had been selected and we got a quick run through on how to bandage up or treat minor injuries in the field. So we set off. We had to take our injured teammate from Flamingo Park (12th and Meridian), all the way to Mt. Sinai Hospital (Alton and 43rd). Which is really quite far by foot. We didn’t want to fireman carry poor Amy all the way to the hospital, so instead we chose piggy back. We switched between all three people in the team every couple blocks or so. We were lucky enough to find a shopping cart on about Alton and 21st, so we chose to employ that form of transportation to carry our wounded to the hospital. The only problem with this was that in the beginning of the day, Instructor Cuthbert had told us that we were not able to use any form of transportation during our missions, which included bicycles, skateboards, taxis, busses, and even segways. So we called him up to ask if it would be okay to use the shopping cart. Our mindset was that, we were in the field, and were thinking smart, not hard. Use what you can to get the job done. And the best part was that he allowed it!!! So we started rolling towards the hospital. No pun intended. And after a little while, we finally made it. Got our picture at the emergency room of the hospital and awaited our next set of instructions from instructor Cuthbert. Now, you might be asking how we were able to use a cell phone to contact Instructor Cuthbert during this portion of the mission, when all forms of technology were not at our disposal to use. The answer to that is that the team captain is the only person who is allowed to have a cell phone on him. The reason being that since this was a team event, we were not always with Instructor Cuthbert during our missions. So every half hour or so, we would have to check in with him so he would know we were still okay.
After leaving the emergency room, we were still carrying the items we had previously “scavenged” from our first mission. The first thing we had to do before starting the mission was to up to people on the street and “trade up” our items. We basically had to barter our items to get something better in return for our older crappier items. We got super lucky. There was a group of sub contractors doing some agricultural work on the outside of the hospital. We went and tried to talk to them and we actually got a pocketknife out of it!
What was even better was that Amy was allowed to walk again. The next part of the mission was to head back towards Miami Beach and locate the memorial that had been set up in honor of the fallen soldiers. So we started booking it. We left behind our shopping cart and some of the other items that weren’t deemed necessary and started practically running back. We would jog a couple blocks and then walk one, and jog a couple more. We ran all the way to Washington and 11th to the police station to ask where the memorial was. We thought for sure if anyone would know where it was, it would be the police station. What was funny was that I ran right past instructor Cuthbert on my way in towards the front desk. And that evil receptionist said she didn’t know where it was and that another team had already beat us back to the station.
The memorial was in fact, right outside the police station. And with a big smile on his face, Instructor Cuthbert gave us a penalty PT. He felt that our team was too far outstretched with two teammates across the street waiting and myself running into the police station. So we had to knock out 30 burpees before we continued.
We received our next mission after we had a briefing on the significance of the memorial. The next mission was the American Flag. We had an American flag handed to us and had to protect it at all costs. If we were to come across a team prior to reaching our next rally point, they had the opportunity to challenge us. It would be a plank off. Both teams would have to get in the plank position and when one teammate had fallen, that team lost. Or we pick one person from each team to go head to head till one person fell.
What we thought was not fair, was that instructor Cuthbert sent out those instructions when we first reached the police station. So we were in a hurry. We used the restrooms, filled up our bladders and we were off.
We had to get from the police station on Washington and 11th to the Holocaust Memorial, which is on Meridian and 20th.
So right there we decided we would double back. We went from the police station on Washington down towards Ocean (to walk on the beach) so we can blend in more with everyone. And to blend in even more, since I stuck out like a sore thumb, we thought I should change my appearance. So we found a black t-shirt that I wore like shorts. I took my pony tail out to let my hair hang down and I even rolled down my socks to change my appearance just so the other teams wouldn’t notice me.
We went down from Ocean and 11th to Ocean and 27th and then double backed and started walking towards the Memorial. What was funny was that Instructor Cuthbert actually called us to tell us that no one is out looking for us anymore. Which honestly, my whole team thought was a huge lie just so we would let our guard down. So we picked up the pace to get back to the memorial, but at the same time were still looking for the other teams. We made it to the front of the memorial and were crouching behind a wall looking to see where the other teams were. We saw all of the people from the other teams and Instructor Cuthbert all waiting at the front of the memorial. We still didn’t know whether to trust what he had said about the mission being over, so we waiting a little. He actually called us back again and just told us to get there.
When we made it back it was great seeing everyone again, and they were happy we were there so we can finish off the mission.
Then from the holocaust memorial we had one person from each team grab an end of the American Flag and we folded it into a triangle. It was pretty cool. Then from there as a unit we all jogged back in two lines from the Holocaust Memorial back to South Pointe Park.
And that was it! The first SERE Urban Challenge event was in the books.
Team Charlie (my team) ended up taking best team and we received these super sweet SERE coins.
I would definitely do and recommend partaking in another SERE event soon.
-Listen to the Cadres instructions prior to getting there event day.
-It is imperative you work as a team
-Use your heads and stay calm (this is both a physical and mental event)