By U.S. ArmyFebruary 23, 2015
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Missouri -- The group labeled as Mercury Wolf outlasted tough teams from across the 4th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade to capture top honors Feb. 11-12 at the Mercury Challenge, a communications competition.
"The purpose of the last couple of days was to conduct a team-based training event that ultimately enhances the abilities of operators to communicate in different environments," said Col. Andy Munera, commander, 4th MEB. "We also wanted to push the mental and physical aspects among the teams in order to sharpen our competitive spirit."
The team from HHC, 4th MEB, 1st Infantry Division, faced stiff competition from Soldiers representing the 5th Engineer and 92nd Military Police battalions as they conducted classes, attended a board and competed in a 10-mile foot march, which featured various challenges. Mother Nature also ramped up the difficulty level as she added her own twist to the trek: freezing temperatures and 18-mph winds.
Sgt. 1st Class Jeremiah LaForest, lead signal noncommissioned officer and event organizer with the 92nd MP Bn., said all Soldiers, regardless of their actual job in the Army, must be proficient in a long list of basic tasks. LaForest said these are known as operator level tasks and include several like the communications tasks on which the Mercury Challenge focused.
"The teams went out and did things that they previously thought were a commo guy's job," LaForest said, citing examples such as setting up an antenna and establishing a retransmission site. "They went out there and did these communication operator level tasks and excelled at it."
The first day of the competition featured Soldiers working on individual tasks, which included some of the same ones they would perform as a team the following day.
The teams began the final day of competition before the sun rose, setting off on the 10-mile march and carrying up to 80 pounds of personal gear and radio equipment they set up along the route.
"I am cold," said Spc. Saul Diaz, a supply specialist with HHC, 4th MEB, as he was breaking down the antenna he had helped erect earlier. "I am both physically and mentally exhausted, but overall I am feeling motivated."
Diaz's Mercury Wolf team held the lead as Soldiers finished the march, but the view from the front didn't come devoid of hiccups.
Sgt. Maria Grenier, a automated logistical specialist with HHC, 4th MEB, said the team was forced to wait at the last checkpoint of the march while members located their vehicle containing critical radio equipment.
"We had to wait about 10 minutes for the SKL, which was in the truck that went to the wrong point to wait for us," Grenier said, referencing the simple key loader, a device used to load frequencies into radio equipment.
Team Mercury Wolf might have lost their lead altogether, but the team on its heels from 515th Engineer Company, 5th Eng. Bn., 4th MEB, known as Mercury Outlaws, was forced to send one member back to the previous checkpoint where they left a piece of equipment.
"It feels good, it's done," said Staff Sgt. Kurt Tyson, a wheeled vehicle mechanic with HHC, 4th MEB, at the finish line. "We were all prepared and worked pretty hard for this, but we weren't prepared for the weight. We practiced with 45-pound rucks and today they were more like 85-pound rucks."
With the foot race behind them and going into the final competition, a board, there were just more than three minutes separating teams Wolf and Outlaws.
Each team was led by a signal and communications specialist, who served as the team's coach. The coaches also participated in a separate board as part of the competition.
"It gave me real joy to train non-signal Soldiers and be able to teach them the main fundamentals of the signal life," said Spc. Nathan Volker, the Mercury Wolf coach, and a systems signal support specialist with HHC, 4th MEB.
Following the competition, Volker was named the brigade's best signalier due to his proficiency in coaching his team.
With the board underway in the 92nd MP Bn. conference area, the hallway was loaded with pacing Soldiers still trying to warm up from the morning event while some studied and waited their turn.
"This is by far one of the hardest things I ever had to do," said Spc. Jason Haro of team Mercury Workhorse and a combat engineer with HHC, 5th Eng. Bn. "The weather really made us second guess this competition. I learned a lot at the operator level and I would definitely do it again."
Laforest told the Soldiers they each did great things.
"You did it in the snow, you did it in some blistering winds and you did it on probably one of the coldest mornings this post has had in quite some time," Laforest said.
Building the anticipation, LaForest announced the third-place team, HHD, 92nd MP Bn., with 207 points, and the second-place team, Mercury Outlaws, 515th Eng. Co., 5th Eng. Bn., with 282 points.
Team Mercury Wolf won by a slim margin with a total of 288 points.
"What we did this week, with the classes yesterday and the event today, has increased our brigade's ability to communicate, and, for me as a commo guy, that is something irreplaceable and invaluable," LaForest said, beaming.
The praise continued for all the hard work put in by the competitors.
"Today, you became better mechanics, better MPs, better engineers, better personnel clerks -- you became better Soldiers," LaForest said. "Thank you very much for your hard work and excellent showing. You have a lot to be proud of."
The winning team members congratulated each other.
"We really put that equipment up in record time," an excited Grenier said. "We were just on point and it was awesome."