By Chuck Cannon, Fort Polk Guardian staff writerJanuary 16, 2009
While many of Fort Polk's Soldiers may have eased their way back into physical training following the Christmas holidays, that was not the case for the post's Opposing Force Warriors.
The 1st Battalion (Airborne), 509th Infantry Regiment, as is their custom, hit the ground running - literally - as they competed in the biannual Yarborough Mile Jan. 5.
The event is named for Lt. Gen. William Yarborough, who joined the newly formed 501st Infantry Regiment as commander of Charlie Company in 1941. Later, as test officer for the provisional parachute group, he designed the paratrooper's boot and the parachutist's qualification badge.
Yarborough also petitioned and received permission from President John F. Kennedy to allow Special Forces Soldiers to wear the green beret in 1961.
Command Sgt. Maj. Doug Matti, the 509th's top enlisted Soldier, said the Yarborough Mile - held after each semi-annual block leave - allows the 509th Infantry Regiment to pay homage to its roots.
"General Yarborough is considered the father of the Airborne Corps," Matti said. "Not only can we pay tribute to our heritage, it also helps us to refocus ourselves after block leave."
Matti said the course is longer than its name implies.
"It's about three miles through creeks, ditches, culverts, swamp and woods," he said. "Back in the day, airborne Soldiers didn't count miles - they counted hours."
During the event, each platoon in the 509th Inf Reg enters a team of at least 16 Soldiers. Each team carries a 55-gallon drum, mortar rounds, an SA-7 and other equipment.
"They start out as a group," Matti said. "Along their route there are leadership problem-solving issues that arise. It's good training for our young leaders."
There is another lesson the teams can learn, Matti said: "The teams that stick together and have strong leadership with a good game plan are the ones who will do well."
Staff Sgt. Claudio Ascension, 2nd Platoon, Delta Company, said the event builds unit cohesion.
"I think we should do it more often," Ascension said. "Not only does it develop teamwork, it also breaks up the monotony of regular PT."
Sgt. 1st Class Robert Cini, 3rd Platoon, Bravo Company, said crossing the swamp is usually the toughest part of the contest.
"The water will be deep today because of the recent rains," he said. "It will be tough to navigate with the equipment we're carrying."
While Matti said the Yarborough Mile is a good tool to make sure Soldiers keep up their physical training over block leave, Cini said that's not the case with him.
"Some of the younger ones might need reminding that they're still in the Army, but most of us don't need that," he said. "We know we're Soldiers even when we're on leave and that we have to maintain a high level of physical fitness."
The winner of the event was Headquarters and Headquarters Company's Medic Platoon with a time of 32:17. Alpha Company's 3rd Platoon finished in second place, while HHC's Mortar Platoon came in third.