How would you like to volunteer for a 30-mile mountain hike in sunny southern California? What if you also had to carry a rifle and 50-pound rucksack? What if I told you there would also be a 1,000-yard ocean swim, along with marksmanship events, underwater challenges, and plenty of other obstacles along the way?
If you answered “yes,” you must be a Recon Marine. Each year, teams of Marines travel to Camp Pendleton to participate in the grueling Recon Challenge to honor their fallen brothers. One of the Marines that participated in this year’s event was Jonathon Blank, formerly of 3rd Platoon, 1st Reconnaissance Company, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion. In 2010, an improvised explosive device took off both of Sgt. Blank’s legs during an operation in Afghanistan. Nearly ten years later, Blank and several brothers from his former platoon reunited to tackle the event, utilizing a specially made pack to carry Blank. We recently caught up with this highly-motivated (now medically retired) Marine who provided some insight into his incredible feat.
CHRIS CARTER: The Recon Challenge sounds like an Ironman Triathlon on steroids. What inspired you and your teammates to participate?
JONATHON BLANK: As Reconnaissance Marines we thrive on challenges and pushing past limitations set down by others. Members of our platoon have competed in every Recon Challenge since its inception. We had talked about it for many years; it was just a matter of getting the team together, working around everyone’s busy careers and private lives. Plus, many members of my former platoon are still active-duty Reconnaissance Marines. We knew it would be brutal considering I weighed around 150 pounds with all my gear. It sounded like an awesome challenge that would bring us together in a unique reunion. Nothing brings guys together like mutual pain, suffering, and teamwork. Everyone agreed it would be a great time!
CARTER: Of course a Marine would say that pain and suffering sounds like a great time! How did you guys overcome the unique challenges you faced?
BLANK: Our main concern was completing the course within the given time limit. Making it happen, completing that mission. Also giving everyone a shot at an obstacle. So although I trained intensely to compete at each obstacle I only ended up swimming the 1k pool swim. We had to change out who was carrying me throughout the course. Then throw in how long it takes to strap me in and out of our mystery ranch ruck. In the end we hit each obstacle hard and fast. I was proud of how our guys performed.
CARTER: OK, I’ve humped that much weight around before, but not over the exhausting terrain and distance you Marines covered—especially after a swim and all the obstacles. It sounds insane. What kept you and your team powering through the Challenge?
BLANK: There is one thing that we always have to fall back on: we are RECONNAISSANCE MARINES. Not only that but, Force Recon Marines. We have a tremendous reputation to uphold. It’s in our creed. Each man knows he can not let down the community as a whole and his brothers in the team. This mindset not only got us through the challenge but it’s what powers me through most of the obstacles in my life.