BAGHDAD -- More than 100 service members from across U.S. military and coalition nations participated in an event-packed race around Forward Operating Base Union III Aug. 6, 2016.
It was the Amazing Race, and the intent was to provide an opportunity to personnel stationed at Union III as part of Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command -- Operation Inherent Resolve to have fun and take their minds off the mission for a couple hours, said Sgt. Maj. David Armour, the primary planner for the event and operations sergeant major for CJFLCC-OIR and the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).
The 101st Airborne Division headquarters, which leads CJFLCC-OIR, is approximately halfway through its nine-month deployment. This event was a way for the commanding general and his staff to show their gratitude for the service members' contributions to the mission.
"This is a long deployment, and this is just an opportunity for us all, in the command group, to thank each and every one of you for what you've done and what you're fixing to do for the next four months," said Maj. Gen. Gary J. Volesky, commanding general, CJFLCC-OIR and 101st.
There were 10 events set up in a round-robin rotation spread across the entire FOB so that none of the teams could gauge how well the others were doing. Many of the events were kept secret so teams didn't know what they were racing to.
The event's alias, mandatory fun, hinted at what most people thought would be a day of Army tasks and drills turned into timed events, but this was not the case.
"It was a good day. I kind of thought 'man, mandatory fun?' but as the day progressed it got more and more fun. It was actually a good, fun day," said U.K. army Capt. Kieran Galea, a member of the engineers' team and the counter-improvised explosive device planner and coordinator for CIED training and equipping across CJFLCC-OIR's training sites.
Some events were meant to test balance and nerve, such as an egg-balance obstacle course. Participants had to hold an egg with a spoon using their mouths while negotiating various foot traps.
"I thought we were going to be pulling stuff, doing [only] physical challenges, and as you know, I put a spoon in my mouth and carried an egg on it," said Volesky with a laugh.
Other events were intended to test participants' physical might and agility, such as a vehicle push and a three-legged relay with two 5-gallon water jugs. But there were others that tested esprit de corps as well. Namely a spirit contest and a randomized karaoke concert.
Staff officers and privates alike found themselves singing pop-music hits on a stage in front of their peers who judged them according to vocals, stage presence and other elements.
For the spirit contest, Galea's team mimicked a popular comedy sketch, but replaced the original content with jokes about the CJFLCC-OIR lethal fires section. Unfortunately, said Galea, all of the judges were from the fires section. He felt they received poor scores for their performance.
The final event brought all the teams together for a dodge ball inspired water balloon battle. The last team standing -- engineers -- received the opportunity to take on Volesky and his team of general officers and support staff.
Ultimately, after a bit of bending of the rules by the command team, and a purposely biased set of rules favoring their competitors, the engineers won, taking first place in the inaugural Amazing Race. One team member in particular had a specific strategy.
"All I remember is brigadier Noble (CJFLCC-OIR deputy commanding general) bending down to pick up water balloons, and I just threw water balloons at his head," said Galea. "That was my only strategy, and I only had a handful [of water balloons]."
Galea and his teammates received water- and dust-proof Bluetooth speakers, courtesy of the USO, and a day off, courtesy of Volesky.
The engineers are a microcosm of what CJFLCC-OIR is on a much larger scale, said Volesky.
"They represent the team I get the opportunity to serve with every single day. It takes a great team to get things done," he said.
Participants who didn't win still had an opportunity to win prizes. At the beginning and end of the event, raffle drawings were held where service members walked away with GPS watches and other electronics -- all sponsored by the USO.
All in all, 11 volunteers took on the planning and preparation for each of the events, and an additional 15 volunteers took on judging tasks the day of the event.