Cavalry troops compete for place in the 'brotherhood'
May 27, 2010
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - More than 70 paratroopers, covered in sweat and red clay, climbed ropes, ladders and crawled under barbed wire, while Soldiers donning Stetson hats and spurs stood close by, shouting words of encouragement.
This was just the beginning of a long day for the "spur candidates," members of 1st Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, as they accepted the challenge of earning spurs and Stetsons of their own.
The 1st Sqdn, 73rd Cav. Regt. Spur Ride, held this year on May 12, is a 24-hour event designed to test Soldiers' physical and emotional toughness as well as their knowledge of Army and cavalry history. Only Soldiers in the squadron ranked specialist or above are eligible to participate, but only the most motivated of these Soldiers complete it.
"We let them fail themselves," said Command Sgt. Maj. James Westover, the squadron's senior enlisted advisor. He explained that this event is not designed so that some pass and others don't; as long as the Soldier is motivated and doesn't give up, he will earn the title of "spur holder."
The spur ride began at dawn, when the candidates ran about three miles from squadron headquarters to an obstacle course at Pike Field on Fort Bragg. They were then separated into eight to ten man teams and began the obstacle course, a series of towers, fences and walls.
Next, they attempted the leadership reaction course, a group of obstacles that require a lot of planning before they are begun, and challenge the candidates' intestinal fortitude as well as their ability to problem solve.
These courses highlight the importance of teamwork and encourage each Soldier to participate. "It's not about the individual," said Lt. Trevor White, Troop A, 1st. Sqdn., 73rd Cav. Regt. platoon leader and spur hopeful. "(The cavalry) is a community. You can't do the mission by yourself."
After they were thoroughly drained and covered in dirt from head to toe, each team faced the Spur Board, a group of six senior spur holders. Candidates were required to answer questions about Army and cavalry history and recite Fiddler's Green, the cavalryman's poem.
After the board, candidates completed a stress shoot. They were timed while they ran from cover to cover - windows, doorways, walls and rooftops - set up in front of 30 targets. The purpose of this exercise was to test the Soldiers' ability to shoot accurately when exhausted.
Knowing their mission had only begun, most candidates slept while other teams completed the stress shoot, taking every opportunity they had to rest.
At the completion of the stress shoot, they were then given coordinates for six stations, each requiring specific Soldier skills; communications, placing weapons into operation, casualty evacuation, reporting enemy contact, recovering a vehicle and preparing for airborne operations. The Soldiers used land navigation and ruck-marched to each destination.
At the weapons station, not only did the Soldiers have only 10 minutes to assemble five weapons from a box of parts, four of the candidates were blindfolded. The Soldiers who weren't blindfolded could hand pieces to the Soldiers who were, and told them where each part fit, but could not help in the assembly process.
Finally, after Soldiers had visited each station, the event was capped off with a two-mile ruck-march, completing the event in the early hours of the morning.
Although the schedule for the spur ride is full and taxing on the candidates, the goal for the future is to add an airborne operation into the mix. "We eventually want to jump in," Westover said. As one of the few airborne cavalry units in the Army, it is important to incorporate an airborne portion into the event, he said.
According to Soldiers who were participating in the event, as well as those who earned their spurs years ago, motivation and the will to complete the course is the deciding factor whether or not a candidate succeeds.
"If you want it bad enough, you can make it through," said White. "I'll push all of them. It's a great thing."