HUMANS NOT HARDWARE
It was shortly after the planes hit the World Trade Center Towers on 9/11 that Jason McCarthy felt the call to service. While it didn’t sink in immediately, he had sudden clarity that he needed to help and enlisted in the Army in 2003. He called his best friend Emily and in a rush of excitement said he was aiming for the Special Forces and that she should as well. They had been friends for years, and both had reacted similarly to the events of that day. In the years that followed, Jason ended up as a Green Beret, and Emily fought her way through the rigorous screening and training demands of “The Farm” joining the CIA.
Their relationship endured despite the incredible demands that both careers put on them, managing to spend a day here or there in between deployments. Despite only seeing each other two or three days a year, a deep bond began to form that eventually blossomed into a relationship, and ultimately a marriage.
Their years of service were challenging. They found themselves in war torn Africa and the Middle East doing things they couldn’t have dreamed about even a few years earlier. For both of them, one dominant thing began to take shape: the incredible loyalty they felt for their teammates. As Jason explained on an early morning phone call, the military has a saying: “humans, not hardware.” He went on to explain, “even your most expensive equipment will fail. You’ll find yourself in a sandstorm and your gun will jam. And when it does, you will need to rely on the buddy next to you. It all, eventually, comes down to the people you are with and your dedication to serving them.” That profound lesson was going to inform the rest of his life.
In 2008 the rigor of their jobs began to creep into their personal lives, and they decided to separate, and then divorce. Jason found himself, for the first time, wondering what he was going to do with his life. He’d left the service and ended up sleeping on a friend’s couch. Trying to regain a purpose he began to think back on a “Go Bag” he had made for Emily when she was stationed in Africa and he worried daily about her safety. It was a simple bag, but it symbolized something more profound to him. It represented safety, capability, and security. The military viewed the backpack, and a human’s ability to carry it, as the foundation of Special Forces training. Jason was struck by how little of that thinking had penetrated civilian thought. “One’s ability to move quickly and capably with weight on your back, is one of the most basic requirements of Special Forces training.”
This concept of “rucking,” carrying a weight in your pack over a distance, is beautiful and profound in its simplicity. It allows people of vastly different capabilities to compete, work out, and encourage each other together. It helps posture, it builds muscle, it limits impact on joints, it increases cardio capability, it helps to maintain a healthy weight.
And maybe most importantly it got people together to tackle a challenge. With that insight: Jason realized he had discovered something important. He wanted to recapture that profound sense of connection and humanity that he felt with his buddies in the military.
The concept of GORUCK was born out of a basic idea. Build the best version of a backpack, that could stand up to the intense rigors of the CIA and the Special Forces, but design it for the civilian, urban environment. Countless sketches and early prototypes followed.
Like so many entrepreneurs before him, Jason didn’t know the first thing about making a great backpack, but he replaced inexperience with work and tenacity and nearly three years later, after thousands of iterations, his first product, the GR1, was born. Durable, rainproof, and sleek, it was constructed out of military grade materials urbanized with added features like a super-protective laptop compartment and comfortable, anatomical shoulder straps, making the bag accessible to people that had never been a part of military training.
With the GR1 in hand, Jason hit the road and found himself at a friend’s Tough Mudder race. The camaraderie and sense of accomplishment he felt being a part of that race was the second critical piece of the puzzle for him. In that event, he recognized his early insight, people are more important than hardware. No bag, however good, could replace the importance of people.
He decided to host his own event. The inaugural GORUCK Challenge in San Francisco in 2010 began something that has taken on a life of its own. Friends from the Special Forces heard the call and helped host other GORUCK events across the country.
In 2014, Jason and Emily reunited, remarried, and are currently living in Florida with their three kids. Emily now runs the events and community which have become the backbone of GORUCK. “We had to step back from each other and our careers to re-find ourselves and our marriage, and in that, our purpose” she said.
Today GORUCK has a much larger product line that extends beyond bags and includes apparel and training gear. But at its center are the events and the people that participate. That human connection keeps Jason and Emily going. These events are about something larger than product. They serve as a reminder of the good that comes from people gathering to do something hard and challenging together.
To learn more, visit goruck.com.
Interested in their GORUCK events? Sign up at, goruckevents.com.