'Thunderhorse' Spur Ride starts new tradition
December 3, 2009
FORT HOOD, Texas - It's been a long wait for Cavalry Scout Sgt. Colten Stepp in earning the coveted, silver spurs, but he and nearly 30 others received theirs Nov. 24, during 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment's first-ever, "Spur Ride."
The "Thunderhorse" battalion put more than 60 troopers through the grueling, two-day event. By the end of the second day, only 28 troopers donned the spurs.
The Spur Ride, derived from Cavalry traditions, is a Cavalry unit's test of scout-related skills. Through the years, some tasks and skills were changed to keep up with the times. Horsemanship has gone away and which made room for more modern skills. Yet, the honor associated with earning them has remained the same, said Lt. Col. Joe Holland, Thunderhorse's battalion commander.
Stepp, of Houston, assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Bn., 12th Cav. Regt., 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, waited nearly five years to be able to receive a chance of being a spur candidate. Since arriving to the unit, he has earned his golden, "combat" spurs during the unit's deployment to Iraq. Yet, earning the silver spurs was "better."
"I like these better," he said looking down at his newly, earned spurs. "For one, being in a unit where we constantly deploy, just about everyone has combat spurs, but not too many people go through [a spur ride] - this is unit specific."
For most of 2nd Bn., 12th Cav. Regt.'s Soldiers, their history with the unit started on Fort Hood, Texas, when they reflagged under the 1st Cav. Div. from 4th Infantry Division (Mechanized) in 2008, just before their deployment. So, upon their return, the command wanted to continue Thunderhorse traditions with their first-ever spur ride.
Spur holder Staff Sgt. Robert Kirkpatrick, who's earned his spurs three times over, said spur rides are unit specific. He earned his spurs during his first assignment with the "First Team" in 1993, then again in 2001 with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment.
Each one, he said, was very different. The only similarities each of them shared was they were all "fun" and "stressful."
"The spur ride is made to put stress on Soldiers," Kirkpatrick , of Braidwood, Ill., said. "We want to see how they act under pressure; it's not punishment but stress."
Many of the Thunderhorse spur holders helped organize and run the event, and although many of them admitted that their own spur ride years ago was earned with a lot hazing, and what seemed to them at the time as punishment, that this new spur ride would focus more on training, skills, pride and tradition.
"If we, as leaders, don't pass on the information and knowledge to the next generation, then we're not doing our jobs," said Staff Sgt. Philip Gross, a Company D platoon sergeant.
Gross, who earned his spurs in the "mud" with 1st Squadron, 10th Cav. Regt., 4th Inf. Div. (Mech.), focused his skills test station on just that: skills.
"We train to standard; it's what the spur ride is all about," Gross of St. Louis, said. "And there's only one standard."
For Stepp and the other scouts who exercise those tasks and skills nearly every day, to be tested in those areas was a challenge, but the spur ride was open to all Thunderhorse Soldiers of all occupation.
"I think I might have had an advantage because I do [scout skills] on an everyday basis," Stepp said. "It had to have been a challenge for the others, but it says a lot about them keeping up with us."
Spc. George Warren, a Company C Armor crewmember, of Santa Cruz, Calif., is one of those non-scouts. As a proud tanker, he admitted the spur ride was a challenge.
"I was 'volun-told' to do this, but I'm happy that I got the spurs," Warren said. "My first sergeant was out there ruck marching with me every day to get me ready for this."
One of the toughest hurdles the candidates faced was the unit history portion. The histo
y test single handedly sent many of the candidates home without their spurs.
The candidates who made it to the end covered more than 20 miles in the two days, were sleep deprived and had very little to eat in their quest to earn their "right-of-passage." Yet, for the few who made it to the spur ceremony, they all stood on a "line" that represents many things to the cavalryman.
"It represents the sacrifice of those men who forged this invisible line with their blood, sweat and tears," Holland said to the new spur holders. "It represents the Families forced to rebuild and redirect their lives due to the ultimate sacrifice paid by their loved ones. This line that we stand on symbolizes a nation that will stand up, protect and defend those morals and beliefs that hold true in God's eyes and here on Earth: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
Holland continued his speech by telling brave stories of past 12th Cav. Regt. Soldiers and reminded all his troopers they must always hold true to their responsibilities, duties and dedication as cavalrymen.