Mountain Soldiers complete winter challenge, honor history
February 28, 2013
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Feb. 28, 2013) -- Training during winter months is nothing new to Soldiers stationed at Fort Drum. Whether it's individual training or collective team tasks that are being executed, most of the time the intent is to be ready for a wartime mission, but sometimes the purpose is a little different.
Soldiers from 10th Mountain Division (LI) conducted a Mountain Winter Challenge, Feb. 21-22, at the Childers Indoors Weapons Training Facility here, to honor past division Soldiers, foster esprit de corps and compete to be recognized as the top winter warfare team.
Approximately 60 three-Soldier teams engaged in events such as marksmanship, sled pull, cross-country ski, snowshoe and a mystery challenge. Several teams also had an optional support person who provided moral support as well as assistance with transitioning between events.
"It connects us to our history as 10th Mountain troopers," said Maj. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, Fort Drum and 10th Mountain Division (LI) commander. "Those troopers operated on skis and snowshoes, shooting their rifles on the snow and ice."
Soldiers started with the marksmanship event. Competitors engaged targets in the prone, kneeling and standing positions. Any missed shots resulted in a time penalty that got added to their overall finishing time.
Once the first event was completed, Soldiers hurried back to the start point, where they quickly changed their boots and equipped their snowshoes. Some Soldiers struggled, while others were grateful they had a support person to assist them.
Carrying their weapons, Soldiers navigated a trail through the woods as they attempted to snowshoe as quickly as possible. When Soldiers reached the third event, some were visibly exhausted, as they were breathing heavy while they wiped sweat that was pouring down their faces.
The sled pull challenge was not one welcomed by some teams. Soldiers had to drag a sled loaded with gear weighing approximately 100 pounds, while navigating obstacles without discarding or losing any of the cargo.
Some Soldiers took it slow, while others attempted to run with the sled to finish the task faster.
Second Lt. Chad Hatin, platoon leader assigned to 543rd Quartermaster Company, 548th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, said the sled pull was the most difficult event.
"There is no easy way to drag the sled," Hatin said.
With the challenge coming to an end, Soldiers hurried back to the start point to gather their skis and finish strong.
The cross-country ski event was seen by most as the most difficult, but not everybody shared that view.
Sgt. 1st Class Joey Mendez, a platoon sergeant assigned to 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, said the cross-country ski event was by far the easiest because his team had practiced and worked on their technique, and the trail was well-groomed.
For some Soldiers, the winter challenge was the first time they ever attempted to ski, and the lack of experience was evident as some Soldiers struggled to move forward.
Soldiers crossed the finish line with a sigh of relief. They congratulated each other and took some time to catch their breath, but it wasn't over just yet.
Soldiers were directed to a mystery event once the main ones were complete. Many had no idea what to expect.
"There is no way I would've thought I would have to build a fire," said 1st. Lt. Steve Gilbert, a platoon leader assigned to 4-31 Infantry.
Competitors had to carry a team member on a litter for approximately 50 meters and start a fire using some wood, flint and tinder. Once the wood burned for at least 10 seconds, they had to carry the team member back to the start point.
Teams who completed the event in less than 10 minutes got a few minutes deducted from their overall time. Teams that failed got a time penalty.
Once teams had completed all of their tasks, it was 1st Lt. Stephen L. Bruner, Staff Sgt. Alexander L. Laroche, Sgt. Henry K. Maldonado and Spc. Edward Stankiewicw, all assigned to 4-31 Infantry, who came out on top. They received Army Achievement Medals and the 10th Mountain Division Commander's Winter Cup.
"The battalion won it last year, and we are proud to keep it (the commander's cup) in the battalion area this year," Laroche said.
The challenge could not have been possible without the support of the Fort Drum Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation; Family Members; friends; and other members of the Fort Drum community. The 10th Sustainment Brigade hosted the event and subordinate units all played a role to ensure safety and mission success was accomplished.
"(The) 10th Mountain Division Soldiers of the past would be proud to see our Soldiers honoring them and doing so with pride," said Command Sgt. Maj. Jose A. Castillo, 10th Sustainment Brigade senior enlisted adviser.