By Cindy McIntyre, Fort Sill TribuneApril 6, 2017
FORT SILL, Okla. (April 6, 2017) -- It's a rite of passage of sorts, meant to forge leadership through shared challenges: Operation Mungadai.
Six teams of 10 Soldiers each from the 434th Field Artillery Brigade (FAB) embraced those challenges to push, pull, swim, run, shoot, and even fly (albeit in helicopters) in a friendly competition that ended the first day with some R&R at Lake Elmer Thomas Recreation Area (LETRA), March 31.
Senior enlisted members and officers all the way up to Col. Lee Overby, 434th FAB commander, were equals in the events, which began at Rinehart Fitness Center on a comfortably sunny day. Each team had to complete 300 sit-ups, 300 push-ups, 100 pull-ups, a 50-meter swim wearing the Army Combat Uniform, a five-mile run, and a stress shoot of 40 rounds at Modified Record Fire Range 3.
That's where they fire 40 rounds, running various distances to retrieve magazines when they run out of ammo, and then fire again.
Maj. Bill Nguyen, 434th FAB operations officer, said he became acquainted with Mungadai through the 101st Airborne Division in Fort Campbell, Ky., and thought it would be a great way to build teamwork through rigorous training.
"It's something people can be proud of when they finish," he said.
The Mungadai were members of Genghis Khan's Mongolian army, said Nguyen. "The ones who survived the test were selected for his elite army."
It was a "perfect marriage" of opportunities when the Army Reserve 7th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment out of Fort Hood, Texas, scheduled its annual two-week training at Fort Sill. Nguyen incorporated an airlift component into the Mungadai challenge. It enhanced the competition while giving Soldiers added experience with aircraft, along with expanding training for the aviators.
"It gave us customers to pick up," said Maj. Brian Satterthwaite, 7-158th training officer. "With the helicopter it's all about weight. If you're picking up heavy loads, the aircraft acts different. You have to plan for that extra weight and make sure fuel and everything else is taken into account."
Two CH-47 Chinooks (from Washington and Kansas) and a UH-60 Black Hawk from Fort Hood arrived in a field near the firing range and the Soldiers filed in for an airlift across post where several Humvees waited. For many, it was their first ride on a chopper, and one Soldier was overheard to say he did a live Facebook post while aboard. "I was surprised I had cell coverage," he said.
The teams pushed the Humvees around 1.5 miles (mostly down a slight incline), then drove to the LETRA Lodge for an overnight stay on cots under the stars. From the laughter and high spirits, an afternoon of physical effort didn't dampen the enthusiasm when it came time for grilled burgers, brats and liquid refreshments. Although, there were a few folks limping and sunburned.
For some Soldiers, the swim was the hardest. "It was worse than the five-mile run," said one.
Sgt. 1st Class Mary Nesmith, acting first sergeant of C Battery, 1st Battalion, 31st Field Artillery, had a similar opinion. "I'm a decent swimmer," she said, "But I thought I was gonna drown." The teamwork was invaluable. "We encouraged each other to keep going," she said. "I feel I accomplished something."
Nguyen, too, said the pool was his nemesis. "I can't swim," he said. "I had multiple flotation devices. When I was done my legs froze up." He laughed. "The cohesion-- if we get that, it is a victory for us. You build a better team through shared hardship."
Capt. Jeff Caslen, commander of D Battery, 1-31st FA, said he liked the stress shoot best, but found the five-mile run to be the most challenging. The best part for him: "To walk away with new relationships across the brigade."
Overby was all smiles at the end of the day.
"We're having a great time," he said. "This is our first time to do Mungadai. The purpose is really to be a team-building event, for esprit de corps, to have a friendly competition and a good time. We want to walk away from this with a closer-knit group, to learn from each other, and share experiences."
He said he's never experienced Operation Mungadai, but he's done a cavalry-style spur ride, which is also a team test of soldiering skills as well as organizational history, where the prize is a silver spur.
"This is a blast," said Overby. "My 24 years in the Army has shown me that any time you have a shared experience, whether it's a physical or mental challenge, it brings the unit closer together."
Overby said the hardest event for him was the Humvee push, and the activity he enjoyed most was the five-mile run. "Running together as a team and helping each other out -- we couldn't finish until the whole team finished."
He said they will probably do Operation Mungadai next year, incorporating new events and learning from the things that didn't work as planned. "The weapons we shot weren't zeroed in, so we had a hard time hitting the target," he said, by way of example.
"We really enjoyed the aviation support we got," said Overby. "That was an Army Reserve unit from six states. They got training out of it, we got training out of it. A lot of our officers had never been in a helicopter before."
They all got a second chance the next morning when they hiked 2.5 miles up Mount Sherman, and were airlifted off the summit. On the way back, Drill Sgt. (Staff Sgt.) Arleen Benavidez had a re-enlistment ceremony on the lead Chinook as it flew over Fort Sill. She was sworn in by Lt. Col. Carl Chasteen, but only those with headphones could hear what was said. No matter. When they shook hands, everyone knew to applaud.
It was yet another rite of passage for the 434th Field Artillery Brigade.