4-6 ARS rides out in tradition
April 22, 2013
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - Halfway down the trail to Hell in a shady meadow green are the Souls of all dead troopers camped near a good old-time canteen."
Cavalrymen and women from 4-6th Attack Reconnaissance Squadron gritted their way through a two-day rite of passage at Joint Base Lewis-McChord starting April 8.
"The spur ride is essentially a physical and mental challenge for those who participate, but it's also folks who we've identified through a series of prerequisites for being qualified to go," said Lt. Col. Brian T. Watkins, 4-6th ARS commander.
For more than 30 straight hours, 42 soldiers were tested in events focused on teamwork, leadership and dedication to earn the right to wear the U.S. cavalry's coveted silver spurs.
"It's a phase that everyone in a cavalry unit can go through, and I chose to go through it because it's like a band of brothers," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Steven B. Shedd, 4-6th ARS OH-58D Kiowa helicopter pilot.
The first team-building event squads had to go through was navigating an obstacle course followed by a confidence course with the focus being on squad cohesion and support.
"Our eyes are on building those candidates into teams where we have dissimilar personnel ... personnel from different units, personnel from different MOSs [military occupational specialty] so that we can build that small team where they learn more about each other," Watkins said.
"Our sergeant major [Command Sgt. Maj. Stanley Williams] said we're only as strong as our weakest link, and I totally believe that," said Spc. Frank De La Cruz, 4-6th ARS crew chief.
Upon the final squad's completion, the spur candidates were transported to a training site on JBLM where each were given a chance to take leadership roles in a series of physical and mental tasks.
"We aim those [situational training exercise lanes] more toward downed aircraft or vehicle-recovery type scenarios ... all relevant to 4-6's mission sets," Watkins said. "It's focused primarily around the 'conduct survivability operations' tasks."
Ranks within the squads ranged from enlisted soldiers, to warrant officers and commissioned officers.
"It was overwhelming to be in charge of a lot of people who outranked me," De La Cruz said. "I went back to my Warrior Leader Course training. I learned a lot of leadership skills in WLC, so I applied it to the task at hand."
As squads attempted to complete assigned missions throughout the day, spur-holders, soldiers who have earned their spurs, quizzed candidates and challenged them to recite works from memory such as the Fiddler's Green poem.
"Right now we're not in combat, but everyone knows once there's lack of sleep and lack of food that it becomes a high stress point, so it's good to always incorporate stress scenarios in there to keep the Soldiers on their toes and also constantly thinking," said 1st Sgt. Ronald Burleson, Charlie Troop first sergeant.
Spur-holders kept drilling candidates at a charging pace throughout the night with physically demanding tasks such as night patrols and mentally challenging tasks by holding boards to test individuals' knowledge.
"I think the physical part was the spur-holders trying to encourage us to be motivated when we were tired and losing motivation," Shedd said.
The following morning found candidates and spur-holders alike packing and preparing for the final leg of their ride, the ruck march back to the 4-6th ARS hanger.
"The hardest part was the ruck march because I woke up this morning and my blisters were forming," De La Cruz said. "But even though I had blisters, I continued with the three-hour ruck march."
After two days of recovery, cavalrymen and women wearing dress uniforms and donning their Stetsons trickled back into the hanger for the final ceremony. Sounds of clanking followed sponsors who carried extra pairs of silver spurs.
With the hanger outlined with OH-58D Kiowa helicopters, squads took turns assuming a push-up position as sponsors clamped sets of silver spurs on each of the candidates.
"I would say the most important thing is they weren't given those spurs. They earned them," Williams said. "There was a lot of tired faces when they got back, so they earned them."
"It's an amazing experience. You learn a lot about being under stress," De La Cruz said. "It instills a lot of pride in you."