Cavalry troops earn their spurs
June 14, 2012
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- More than 50 Soldiers from the 1st Squadron, 89th Cavalry Regiment and other 10th Mountain Division (LI) cavalry organizations participated June 6 in a time-honored event unique to U.S. cavalry troopers known as a "spur ride."
Cavalry spurs, coveted among those assigned to cavalry units, are worn on special occasions and days designated by the command. For 1-89 Cavalry, spurs are worn in the squadron area the last working day of the week along with the cavalry Stetson, another piece of unique military accoutrement.
Cavalry units routinely celebrate their rich tradition and heritage. The spur ride exemplifies one of the oldest traditions in the U.S. cavalry -- that of having to earn your spurs, or prove yourself. Those troopers seeking the honor of wearing their silver spurs are referred to as spur candidates or "shave tails," a term reaching back to the first days of the cavalry where new troops would be assigned a mount with a shaved tail.
Under the cover of darkness, 1-89 Cavalry began the spur ride at 3 a.m. with a modified team-oriented physical readiness test in which each of the six teams completed a combined 1,000 pushups, 1,000 sit-ups, and two-mile run -- all as a team.
"Teamwork was the watchword," said Lt. Col. David L. Sanders III, 1-89 Cavalry commander. "Teamwork, pride in the unit and sharing hardships builds mental toughness. We developed the teams to be a mix of Soldiers from different units and troops so they could better get to know one another."
Following the PRT, the "shave tails" executed inspections to ensure each candidate was properly equipped for the day. If any team member failed to adhere to the prescribed packing list, additional weight was added to the basic load in their rucksack.
After the layout and still before dawn, spur candidates set out on a six-mile road march. The goal was to complete the task as a team.
At about 7 a.m., each of the six teams of shave tails executed dismounted movement to rotate through one of seven stations set up in approximately a seven-mile area around Fort Drum to test warrior skills proficiency: call for fire, crew-served weapons assembly and employment, medical evaluation and treatment, route reconnaissance to clear a suspected improvised explosive device, vehicle recovery, and short-range marksmanship.
"Compared to other things I've done in the Army, this was the most challenging," said Sgt. Michael Bettner, a team leader with C Troop, 1-89 Cavalry. "The worst part about it was the constant movement. Once we got to each station, we had to drop our rucks, do the task, take a few minutes to check our feet and rest, and then move on to the next station."
"Mentally and physically grueling," said Matthew Symons, Reserve Officer Training Corps cadet from Auburn University, Auburn, Ala. "Building camaraderie was the best part of today. These are a great bunch of guys, and they pushed me and helped me through today. Not once did I feel like I wasn't part of the team."
The shave tail's final test was in front of the "spur board," where knowledge of unit and cavalry history, traditions, and tactics were displayed by answering questions from a board of senior spur holders to determine the worthiness of each candidate.
For several troopers, this spur ride would be their last in 1-89 Cavalry. Sanders, who would pass command of the unit to Lt. Col. Robert F. Griggs on June 12, reflected as he watched the new spur holders beam with pride.
"This was a great event," Sanders said. "I love these troopers. Let's just say that for my last event, seeing these troopers when they are physically exhausted continue to push themselves with the motivation I saw, I couldn't have been prouder."
Command Sgt. Maj. Robert DeBlois, also leaving the unit soon, also reflected on the troopers' display.
"Every day, a trooper does something that makes me proud to be part of this outfit," he said. "Yesterday it was a young (specialist) who lived the warrior ethos and did not quit even though his body told him it is time to take a knee. The Soldier overcame physical exhaustion and finished with his team -- amazing."
The following day, nearly all of the candidates who had set out the day before were inducted into the Order of the Spur and awarded their silver spurs at the traditional "spur dinner." For 1-89 Cavalry, this meant mounting a ceremonial steed while their sponsors placed the silver spurs on their heels. Following the adornment, the troopers sat down to a steak dinner to swap stories, reflect on the event, and share in the camaraderie unique to U.S. cavalry units everywhere.
Those new to the squadron arrived just in time to take part in the spur ride, which is held only a few times a year. The incoming commander of 1-89 Cavalry expressed his gratitude to Sanders and DeBlois for inviting him to take part in the challenging tradition before taking charge of the unit.
"As a former 'shave tail,' including me in this spur ride was a great gesture offered to me as a cavalry trooper," Griggs said. "For the squadron, it will ensure that as I take over as commander next week, I am current in the honor and traditions of the cavalry. While I have participated in a myriad of similar events in the different communities in which I have served, earning my spurs will endure as arguably the most rewarding event of its type."
(Greenberger is a member of 1st Squadron, 89th Cavalry Regiment.)