How it all Began

Although the Green Beret Challenge was officially founded in 2012, it’s genesis actually dates back to 1997. 

It was while serving in 1st Ranger Battalion of the 75th Ranger Regiment in 1997 that I decided to move forward with the next step of my military career and become a Green Beret. As all candidates do, I had to attend and pass the Special Forces Assessment & Selection (SFAS), known to all insiders as “three weeks of hell”.

There’s a reason for this nickname. For three weeks, we were tested and pushed to extremes and to the verge of physical and mental breaking points. Navigating hundreds of miles carrying a 70-pound ruck sack for 14-16 hours a day while negotiating brutally demanding tasks as a team will drive anyone to question their sanity and ability to persevere. Through mental grit, I made it through the three weeks of hell and passed. After such an experience, I had gained a new perspective and an insatiable desire to do more and be more.  I was more determined than ever to finish the process and earn the coveted title of Green Beret.

Throughout my journey as a Green Beret, I continued to grow my skill sets.  The core Special Forces attributes such as courage, integrity, adaptability, personal responsibility, teamwork and of course perseverance, continued to develop and define me as a person. Over time, the manner in which I responded in each of these areas solidified my reputation in the military and with my brothers in arms, many of whom remain in my life today.  

In 2010 I became an instructor for the Special Forces Qualification Course assigned to train Special Forces (SF) students on how to conduct core Special Forces Operations. It was during this time that I first became aware of the OCR industry, noticed their growth in popularity and began studying their service models. At that time, the larger OCR companies were only focused on providing an individual race experience through mass-produced obstacles that were replicated and repeated at each event. It was then that I realized I could develop a niche. In looking back at my own experience during SFAS, I realized I could adapt certain elements from our Special Forces Selection, redesign the events to accommodate a four-person team challenge and develop a new model unlike anything in the OCR industry. In my model, a team, rather than an individual would have to complete a race by virtue of pushing, pulling and carrying heavy objects to make it across a finish line. This concept was vastly different than what any other OCR company could offer.  

In 2012 I gathered a small team of Green Beret brothers to plan and launch our first Green Beret Team Challenge. As Green Berets, one of our core strengths outside the battlefield is planning. By virtue of necessity on the battlefield, we have the ability to plan and account for any possible deviation from the plan as a standard practice. We call this PACE:  Primary, Alternate, Contingency and Emergency plans. Our first GBC would be no different than anything we had planned for in the field. There were 25 teams registered, and none of us, including me, knew what to expect, but we planned for everything.

I spent two weeks building an 8-mile course, personally testing it about 100 times to ensure it made sense and every safety measure was accounted for. We thought of and rehearsed every possible scenario. The event was executed flawlessly.  

As the teams began crossing the finish line, we began shooting on-camera interviews. One of the most memorable interviews came from a team called “Hard to Kill”. When asked for their thoughts on the event, they said, “The GBC is no joke, those boys at Spartan Race need to step it up a notch”. At this defining moment we realized the GBC was on to something.  The OCR community was hungry for what we had to offer.

Despite an early start with mostly grass roots marketing, dozens of internal and external challenges, a lack of major sponsors and endless sweat equity, we still managed to grow our customer base and remain a strong and unique player in the industry throughout 2017.

We wouldn’t have gotten as far as we have without the work, support and trust from too many individuals to name here. However, I do want to thank all of you who have stood by and believed in me, and those of you that have continued to support our events.

We will continue delivering events that are Beyond Legendary and look forward to seeing all of the familiar and new faces at our upcoming events!

Mark Ballas
Founder and CEO
Green Beret Challenge