By Sgt. Kyle Fisch, USASOC Public AffairsMay 4, 2017
FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- The U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School's maintenance company's motorpool parking lot was converted into a rodeo April 26, with big orange traffic cones designating the course as far as the eye could see.
The truck rodeo was a skills competition for 88M Motor Transport Operators, organized by B Company, 1st Special Warfare Training Group at USAJFKSWCS, according to Lt. Col. Michael Summers, battalion commander for Support Battalion 1st SWTG.
The competition required 88Ms to maneuver 5- to 10-ton vehicles through tight spaces and orange traffic cones, in the fastest, safest way possible. The driving portion was prefaced with a test of physical ability for the teams participating.
"I think it's great; B-Company has done a great job running the event. It's a very professional setting for Soldiers to compete in. I think it challenges them to the maximum level that they can be as Soldiers," Summers said. "(The) physical events really wore them down, I don't think they were expecting that much physical activity, but it is just as important as testing their MOS knowledge."
The participants for this event included two teams from Company B and a team from 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command, but all drivers across the Army were invited to compete.
"It hones the skills of our drivers and gives them an opportunity to showcase those skills in a competitive environment," said Sgt. Maj. Randall Krueger, Operations Sergeant Major for Support Battalion 1st SWTG. "It also gives the winners some 'bragging rights' among their peers."
"In an event like this, just like any other competition or sporting event between units, it fosters esprit de Corps," Krueger said. "It's not only a driving event, but also a test of physical fitness by way of a team-building road march and an obstacle course, as well as a written test."
The tight distance between cones and the truck's wide turn radius make it a difficult course to navigate in addition to the physically demanding activities participants were faced with the day prior.
"Getting 88M's together from across Fort Bragg and across the Army is exciting; they can network and share experiences," Summers said. "I think it is critical that we make time for these events, as a logistician, I've been a part of rigger rodeos, truck rodeos, water rodeos, and it's critical because they have to be able to train and network and learn what their peers are doing and what skills they individually bring to the table."
The scoring for the truck rodeo is done in a points-awarded based system. Points were awarded for the physical and written tests as well as the heavily weighted driving test.
"They'll be given scores from the road march, obstacle course, and driving portion based on time and they'll be scored on their written test as well," Krueger said. "The scores will then be added together for a total, and the team with the highest score wins."
These truck rodeos were very common in the past according to 1st Sgt. Jermaine T. Wiley, B-Company's first sergeant.
"Back in the old days, we used to have these truck rodeo competitions between units to build esprit de corps and to see who has the best drivers," Wiley said. "They kind of fell off the radar around 2011 or 2012, and since I got here, this was something I wanted to do. I want to give my Soldiers a chance to compete in anything they want to."
Summers noted that in this competitive setting, leadership can observe strengths and determine which Soldiers may need more training on a particular vehicle.
"I think overall they are doing very well. You can see some Soldiers don't have as much experience on certain vehicles, but this also helps them assess their capabilities and where they are at currently and where they may need more training and experience in the future," Summers said.
Assessments and training aside, Wiley explains that these types of events are very important for unit cohesion, building trust among Soldiers and enhancing unit readiness.
"I think it boosts morale and camaraderie for two reasons; The first day we did the physical events, we did a four mile ruck and within that event they had a special task to (as a team) carry a High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV) tire that weighed approximately 197 pounds with a pole," Wiley noted. "They had to carry that for about a mile, so they had to work as a team to accomplish that task."
Despite Company B's high op-tempo, they were able to successfully host this year's competition.
"I would argue that they drive the most miles outside of maybe some OCONUS (outside of the continental United States) units than any other transportation unit in the U.S. Army right now," Summers said.
The Soldiers who took part in the competition seemed to agree with the benefits of these types of competitions for both skill-improvement, and morale-boosting.
"This is my first time competing and I'm happy and willing to compete in all of them. I think we're doing great, I'm confident and I feel comfortable," said Pfc. Jadzel Reyes Portela, an 88M with, Company B, Support Battalion 1st SWTG. "It's all about the training that our cadre has given us. It makes you feel right at home and confident in your skills."
"It's important because you can see all the work that your sergeants are putting into training you, and when you see other people or units competing against you, you feel like it's worth it and it pays off," Reyes said. "You know that your leadership has set you up for success."
Wiley says that while support elements within a unit may sometimes be forgotten, unknown, or overlooked, they are vital to the mission.
"I came out of 7th Special Forces Group and they didn't call us support Soldiers, they called us enablers. We enabled them to complete their mission. When you work with Special Forces units you understand that oftentimes you're going to be asked to do more than you have to," Wiley said. "We do more with less, and it is exemplified in the Special Operations community."