CAMP ARIFJAN, KUWAIT -- Soldiers of the 29th Infantry Division competed for limited and coveted slots in the U.S. Army's Air Assault training course in a timed 12-mile ruck march here on February 11, 2017. The top competitors will represent the Division at the 10-day Air Assault School and have the opportunity to earn the United States Army Air Assault Badge
Forty-seven members of the Division competed while wearing a weighted backpack, called a ruck sack, in the last of three pre-qualifying events that included the Army Physical Fitness Test and a rope climb. Soldiers, or "ruckers," were required to complete two laps around the base perimeter in under three hours.
Spc. Mitchell Steichen, 25, of the Maryland National Guard was the first across the finish line with a time of two hours and 16 minutes. Other ruckers describe the whippet-thin Steichen as taking off at a run that never stopping. Steichen humbly described his winning performance as a way of embracing the suck.
"Shoot," said Steichen, "I just powered through and wanted to get it over with…especially the last five miles."
Like marathon runners, each rucker reached a "wall" where the competition tested their endurance. Ruckers were allowed to walk, jog, run or shuffle as they gutted it out across the terrain. Terrainranged from sluggish, soft sand, to treacherous, tiny pebbles. But this old school event had a 21st Century twist: Soldiers were allowed to use their cell phones to utilizetimers, pace tracking apps, and play music. One rucker treated the group to the song "All By Myself" - symbolizing that the competition was a test of personal fortitude.
"I tried out for the Air Assault course to show that I'm able to pass one of the hardest courses in the U.S. Army…that I'm tough enough," said Spc. Charles Calloway, 24, an Air Defense Systems Operator with the Virginia Army National Guard. "It's a badge of honor."
Ruckers crossed the finish line to the tune of "We Are The Champions" and then had their rucks weighed to validate that they were at least 38 pounds -- the minimum weight requirement. Air Assault School students conduct a ruck march in body armor while carrying a weapon -- an additional 15-30 lbs. of weight. The excess weight takes its toll on the human body.
The march "done gave my ankles a pounding," Calloway said. "I wouldn't say this is the best thing for your body," he added.
Steichen shrugged and added, "My lower body is killing me…but I think I'll be aight."