FORWARD OPERATING BASE SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan - Soldiers with Combined Task Force 2-23 (2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment) contended in the Top Tomahawk competition that began March 29 here.

The competition vetted three-man teams against each other to test their physical stamina, marksmanship skills, and technical and tactical proficiency.

"[The competition] was geared toward the environment we deal with as infantry," said Command Sgt. Maj. Steven Lewis. "It [included] tasks the soldiers could benefit from and at the same time tested their physical, technical and tactical skills."

To simulate a battlefield environment the contestants were in "full battle-rattle," or full combat gear with weapons and ammunition that weighs approximately 65 pounds.

The tasks were also set up to simulate combat and entailed changing a 200-pound Stryker armored vehicle tire, bore-sighting a .50-caliber remote weapons system, loading radio frequencies and map overlays into the Stryker computer system, evaluating and safely moving casualties, and target shooting under stressful conditions.

"The pace was frenetic and a whole lot of stress from being physically tired, mentally drained," said Pfc. Brian J. Ure, from Long Beach, Calif. "I thought the tasks were very appropriate for our job."

It was physically, mentally and technically challenging, said Sgt. David J. Reilly, a team leader from Redding, Calif.

In spite of all the challenges the competition was meant to instill teamwork and boost morale.

"It was to kind of breakup the monotony of the deployment," said Sgt. 1st Class Michael L. Randolph, the battalion operations noncommissioned officer. "Its an esprit de corps thing."

"We wanted to boost morale now that we are halfway through the deployment," said Lewis.

After completing the physical and technical activities the teams faced a mystery event that they were surprised to discover was a written history exam consisting of general knowledge and unit history questions.

"It was the total soldier concept," said Lewis. "We wanted the soldiers to open their minds and know that what you expect is not always the case."

The total soldier concept continued on day two with a tomahawk throw and a board interview.

The interview questions were intentionally different from typical board questions and incorporated sports, U.S. presidents and military history, allowing the younger soldiers to participate without having the knowledge and experience expected of the team leaders and also taught the team leaders to think outside of the box, said Lewis.

The teams will have to wait until a later date to find out the winners because the task force is planning a large awards ceremony to coincide with other awards but the intent of the event, team building in good-natured competition, was met.

"It's good for bragging rights," said Reilly. "To keep up to date on who the best team in the battalion is."