By Sgt. 1st Class Jon Soucy | National Guard BureauFebruary 3, 2017
FORT BENNING, Ga. -- Spc. Joseph Borden's ankle has been giving him trouble. He slipped while getting up during a reconnaissance mission earlier in the day and it's been sore ever since. At the moment, however, Borden, a scout with the Hawaii Army National Guard's C Troop, 1st Squadron, 299th Cavalry Regiment, is focused on other things -- like prepping for an upcoming run with his six-person scout team.
The run, and the recon mission earlier, were all part of an assessment of scout teams from throughout the Army Guard to determine who would represent the Army Guard in the Gainey Cup, which pits teams from across the Army to earn the title of the Army's best scout team.
Named after retired Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey -- who served in a variety of armored units before being selected as the first senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- the Gainey Cup has been held every other year since 2013.
For Borden, getting through the assessment despite the sore ankle all came down to one thing.
"I don't quit," he said."You just gotta cowboy up."
Led by instructors from the Army Guard's Warrior Training Center at Fort Benning, the assessment tested eight teams on a variety of tactical and technical skills including land navigation, reconnaissance and map reading.
"It tests the tactical and technical skills that scout formations and recon elements use," said Army Capt. Dwain Hinman, commander of the WTC's C Company, who oversaw the assessment."The selection process has been built off of previous Gainey Cups."
After the assessment, four teams will be selected to return to the WTC in April where they are scheduled to go through a month-long train up prior to the competition in May.
For the competitors, the three-day assessment was a physical and mental challenge.
"It is a challenging event," said Army Staff Sgt. Robert Melvin, with the North Carolina Army National Guard's Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 252nd Armor Regiment."You do not want to underestimate it."
The assessment was designed to be as strenuous as possible.
"We wanted to put together a course that would challenge guys who are in good physical shape," said Army Staff Sgt. Bradley Arms, an instructor at the WTC."That's going to be a prerequisite for being able to compete in the Gainey Cup."
In addition to land navigation and map reading, teams took part in a number of long distance runs and ruck marches.
"They did about 23 miles in less than 48 hours," said Arms.
The recon run, which required teams to navigate a specified course while making note of significant features and obstacles along the way, was one of the more challenging events for many teams. While the course was known, the distance, however, was not.
"The recon run was definitely tough," said Melvin."You're already physically exhausted at this point, you've had very little sleep. We went out a few miles and pushed on to complete it."
The run was all part of his team's job as scouts, said Melvin.
"Our job is to observe and report everything we see," he said."We paint a picture for the commander."
That meant keeping their eyes sharp while navigating the course in the shortest amount of time.
"We came upon some obstacles that were in place and we just tried to remember everything we saw and get back as fast as possible," said Melvin.
The recon run was only part of the day. After a ruck march and other events, teams then had to man observation posts.
"I think the whole OP event was sort of a culminating event," said Arms."We went out of land nav into a six-plus mile ruck run straight into the OP lanes, which were all night."
Getting through the assessment meant fully working as a team, said Melvin.
"In an event like this, you've got to rely on your Soldiers," he said. "It's humbling to know that I can step back and I have trained Soldiers who can do it."
It also meant taking advantage of the small amounts of downtime during the assessment.
"We noticed that during downtime a lot of other teams were sleeping," Melvin said."Not us. We were rehearsing and prepping for every mission."
Watching the teams push themselves was one of the most rewarding parts of the competition, said Hinman.
"The best part is seeing the competitors actually just move out and do what they've got to do and stay motivated the whole time," he said.
For Melvin, there may have been an added motivator. Last year's Sullivan Cup, which tests tank crews from throughout the Army, was won by a crew from his battalion.
"That sets the status that our unit is not a lightweight," he said."We can perform at the highest level."
The Gainey Cup stands as the partner to the Sullivan Cup and Melvin said he was hopeful his team would have similar results this year as the tank crew from his unit had with the Sullivan Cup.
"We've come here to perform at the same level that the [252nd Armor Regiment] tank companies already have."
But Borden, whose ankle was still sore as he finished up the assessment, had other thoughts on his mind.
"Some cool breezes and palm trees would be great about now," he said.