FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Aug. 24, 2017) -- Soldiers from 642nd Engineer Support Company competed in a series of physical and mental challenges Aug. 17 to test their endurance, strength and warrior task proficiency.

The inaugural Deuce Challenge began with 10 teams leaving the company area for a pre-dawn 5-kilometer ruck march to the training area -- newly reconstructed in a round-robin configuration with deep trenches and high berms to conceal each lane.

That kept the Soldiers guessing whether the next activity would be something that would exhaust them physically or one that would test their knowledge or decision-making abilities under duress.

Spc. William Broome dropped to his knees after he finished an event that required his team to carry several five-gallon water cans over four berms of varying height and complexity. Another 3rd Platoon team member, Sgt. Justin Lyles, was catching his breath nearby. He had managed to catch sight of another physical challenge and hoped they would recover before encountering it.

"We're going to have to pull deep from our inner chi to do that tire flip," Lyles said, referring to the functional fitness lane that also included the 40-pound medicine ball overhead toss.

Some teams struggled in the litter carry event, frustrated by an inability to quickly assemble the lifesaving military stretcher as precious seconds ticked away. In another lane, teams had to use bounding movements and quietly locate a high-value target and secure the perimeter while subduing the detainee. If the target heard a team approach or moved out of the area, it was deemed mission failure … but not exactly.

"There is no failure here," said Staff Sgt. Alain Moran, grader for that lane. "In a real-life scenario, you don't want to make mistakes, so you make them here and you learn what not to do."

Spc. Adrian Gacuma had just lifted himself up after the final low crawl under barbed wire when a look of pain shot across his face. His leg seized up with a muscle cramp, which he immediately set upon to work it out. After a few swigs of water from his canteen, he felt good enough to offer fist bumps to his teammates from Headquarters.

"I'm feeling beat … drained," Gacuma said. "The last three or four events were brutal. It was a mind game, a mental thing, but I loved it and I loved my team."

The Headquarters team, which placed third overall, included Spc. Erik Felix, Spc. Aaron Vigil, Pfc. Earnie Cano and Spc. Johnaris Sanchez. They tied with 1st Squad, 1st Platoon, but came out ahead with a faster time on the ruck march.

"Even the ruck march at the beginning of the challenge, which seems like an individual thing, was a team event," Cano said. "I came in first, but I was told I had to go back and finish as a team. We motivated each other."

Winners of the inaugural Deuce Challenge were Spc. Dylan Kelley, Pfc. Kevin Carrillo, Pfc. Brian Hutchingson and Pvt. Richard McPherson from 2nd Squad, 2nd Platoon.

"Man, that was pretty tough," said Kelley.

"It was definitely challenging," McPherson said. "(It was) a nice combination of physical and mental challenges that made us work as a team."

They finished one point better than the 3rd Squad, 2nd Platoon team of Spc. Joey Hernandez, Pfc. Peter Kline, Pvt. Dominique Hayes and Pfc. Irvin Portillo.

"We were pretty confident, but a little nervous about 3rd Squad, though," Kelley said. "We always did better than average, but then we would alternate between doing really well and not so well."

Carrillo said that the physical events made them work together, but teamwork also mattered when they were tested on unit history in the knowledge lane.

"As a team, it really helped having all the different heads working together," he said.

"Our strength was in decision-making," Kelley said. "We were able to look at the scenario and go in without a lot of communication."

Second Lt. Robert Skinker, officer in charge of the Deuce Challenge, said that even though it only took about six hours of labor to build the course with their heavy equipment, planning for the event took several weeks.

"We also had a rehearsal with all the unit leaders testing everything out just to make sure each event was ready to go," he said. "We wanted to make sure we could give our Soldiers something that would motivate them, test them physically and mentally and build esprit de corps."