Living by the bayonet
June 17, 2013
JOINT BASE LEWIS MCCHORD, Wash. - The 7th Infantry 'Bayonet' Division is a team of teams, providing mission command and training oversight for seven brigades - comprised of more than 20,000 soldiers. How does such a large element promote esprit de corps, overall fitness and heritage throughout its ranks? The Bayonet Division decided to pit each brigade against one another in a weeklong tournament of sporting events, May 18 through 23.
The weeklong bash, known as Bayonet Week, was essentially a tournament of tournaments for the team of teams. Each brigade sent teams of soldiers to compete in various events, ranging from time-honored sports, like basketball, to less traditional ones, like dodge ball. The soldiers were all fighting for the trophies that would earn their brigade the bragging rights as the best in the division.
During Bayonet Week, 17th Fires Brigade hosted the division combatives tournament and the division video gaming tournament - two seemingly unrelated sporting events that are ultimately linked through the Bayonet Week theme and motto: celebrating resilience through fitness.
Combatives, the U.S. Army hand-to-hand combat program, exudes resilience through fitness in a very blatant sense, said Sgt. Sarah Spencer, an East Galesburg, Ill., native and horizontal construction engineer with 14th Engineer Battalion, 555th Engineer Brigade.
During a match, soldiers are constantly struggling in an attempt to stay in the fight and gain the upper hand, changing strategies as necessary and applying different techniques and tactics to get out of a bad spot, Spencer said.
"You're literally trying, with resilience, to make sure they don't hurt you and you don't lose," Spencer said, adding that lasting an entire six-minute bout feels "like you just ran five miles at the fastest pace that you possibly can."
According to Spc. Mitchell Peterson, a Des Moines, Iowa, native and combat medic with 5th Battalion, 5th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, the large amount of physical resilience one needs to compete in a tournament has to be met with an equal amount of mental resilience.
"I've wrestled since I was four years old, [I was] taught never to quit, to basically just fear no one, even if they are better than you...the match isn't over until it's over," Peterson said. "That's the way I always think about it. It's easy to mentally break someone down if you're beating them, but you can always come back."
Peterson, a regular competitor in brigade-level combatives tournaments, said the inclusion of the division's best contenders added a heightened level of competition.
"I love it, just seeing all the different styles out there, from wrestling to jiu jitsu, judo, it's all here. There are some fantastic fighters in this," Peterson said.
The high caliber of fighters forced Peterson to be more resilient, he fought hard to stay in the tournament and adjusted his strategy to come back after a defeat and place third for his weight class in the division.
While Peterson's obvious use of physical resilience and never-give-up attitude helped him place in the combatives tournament, video gaming offered soldiers a more subtle chance at building personal character and increasing camaraderie throughout the division.
For soldiers like Pfc. Jon Spargur, a Bremerton, Wash., native, and a fire directions controller with Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 17th Fires Brigade, gaming has helped him develop perseverance and patience that he applies in other factors of his life.
"If I'm bad at a game I'll push at it, and that's really gone into other things that I try in life, like if I try a new sport or something ... it helps you understand that you can't just be automatically good at something," Spargur said.
Spargur picked up video gaming as a child while watching his father play. He recognized that reacting to flashes of light on a television screen, using critical thinking and timing button combinations has its own developmental benefits, but for him the act of gaming provides something important that no soldier should overlook: a way to relax.
"It's just fun," he said, shrugging with a grin. "It's a good escape from reality."
Having a way to get rid of stress and unwind can give soldiers a clear mind, allowing them to maintain resilience without pushing themselves too hard.
While Spargur was content with testing his gaming skills against the division's best, he was amazed at the variety of soldiers that participated in the tournament.
"A lot of people you wouldn't expect to be good or even want to play [were here], so it's really cool to meet some of these people and hear what they have to say. Their opinions on strategies and tactics were really interesting," he said.
The diversity of participating soldiers at the tournament was one of the reasons that gaming was such an important part of Bayonet Week, said 1st Lt. Jerome Greene, a San Diego native and assistant operations officer with 5th Battalion, 3rd Field Artillery Regiment, 17th Fires Bde.
While Greene is not a gamer, he was in charge of the gaming tournament and believes recognizing other soldiers' interests is an important part of the Army.
"It promotes camaraderie, it gives them confidence, it gives them somewhere to belong. It creates community," Greene said.
Gathering soldiers from the seven brigades in the division, whether it's through combatives or gaming, gives soldiers a chance to meet face to face and develop friendships throughout the division.
By building morale and cohesion through Bayonet Week, the 7th Inf. Div. succeeds at keeping their title as a team of teams.