By Sgt. 1st Class Jon SoucyFebruary 6, 2017
FORT BENNING, Ga. -- Spc. Joseph Borden's ankle was giving him trouble.
He slipped while getting up during a reconnaissance mission earlier in the day and it had 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, was focused on other things -- like prepping for an upcoming run with his six-person scout team.
The run and the earlier recon mission were all part of an assessment of scout teams from throughout the Army National Guard to determine who would represent the Guard in the Gainey Cup, a competition in which teams from across the Army vie for the title of 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 his sore ankle all came down to one thing.
"I don't quit," he said."You just gotta cowboy up."
Led by instructors from the Guard's Warrior Training Center at Fort Benning, the assessment tested eight teams on a variety of tactical and technical skills used by scout formations and recon elements, including land navigation, reconnaissance and map reading.
"The selection process has been built off of previous Gainey Cups," explained Army Capt. Dwain Hinman, commander of the WTC's C Company, who oversaw the assessment.
After the assessment, four teams will be selected to return in April to the WTC, where they will go through a monthlong train up prior to the competition in May. For the competitors, the three-day assessment was a physical and mental challenge. It 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 demonstrating their skills in land navigation and map reading, the teams endured a number of long distance runs and ruck marches.
"They did about 23 miles in less than 48 hours," Arms said.
The recon run, which required teams to navigate a course while making note of significant features and obstacles along the way, was among the more challenging events for many of the teams. While the course itself was known, the distance was not.
"The recon run was definitely tough," said Army Staff Sgt. Robert Melvin, with the North Carolina Army National Guard's Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 252nd Armor Regiment. "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."
But the run was all part of his team's job as scouts, he said.
"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," Melvin said, "and we just tried to remember everything we saw and get back as fast as possible."
The recon run was just one part of a long day of tests. After undertaking a ruck march and other events, teams then had to man observation posts.
"I think the whole [observation posts] event was sort of a culminating event," Arms recalled. "We went out of land nav into a six-plus-mile ruck run straight into the [observation posts] lanes, which were all night."
Just getting through the assessment meant performing as a team, according to 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 brief periods 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."
For Hinman, one of the most rewarding aspects of the competition was getting to witness the all the team members push themselves.
"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, the fact that a tank crew from his battalion won the 2016 Sullivan Cup showed that his unit can "perform at the highest level."
The Gainey Cup stands as the partner to the Sullivan Cup, which tests tank crews from throughout the Army, and Melvin was hopeful his team would achieve similar results in 2017.
"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.