It started with the Army Physical Fitness Test: push-ups, sit-ups and a two-mile run. Then it got harder, eight pull-ups, eight chin-ups, 15 dips, bench press 10 times at 80 percent of body weight, and leg press 10 times at 150 percent of body weight. Finally, for those who pass these prerequisites, the final ordeal, a six-mile ruck march, with 35 pounds on the back, in 90 minutes.

Such was the schedule of events for the Steel Challenge held for the approximately 200 Soldiers of the 14th Military Intelligence Battalion. Normally a quarterly event, this would be the last opportunity for Soldiers to achieve the coveted title of "Steel Warrior" before the battalion's anticipated deployment overseas. Forty-five took the challenge, and only five earned the title. Each "Steel Warrior" received a "Steel Warrior" T-shirt, a certificate of achievement, a four-day pass and a numbered challenge coin.

Lt. Col. Greg Meyer, battalion commander, developed the Steel Challenge as an opportunity to reinforce the value of physical and mental toughness. "It is a demanding event that recognizes Soldiers who meet the standards of the Steel Challenge, and ultimately gets us all ready for the rigors of combat operations," said Meyer.

The challenge started before sunrise on the field across from Fort Sam Houston's main chapel. The APFT was graded factoring in gender, age and time.

"You had to score 270 out of a possible 300 to pass this part," said Staff Sgt. Joshua Kunz, one of the two enlisted Soldiers who mastered this Steel Challenge. "You could go over and beyond (the required number in each category), but you wouldn't get any more credit."

This latter part was also true when the challenge moved into the Jimmy Brought Fitness Center. Those who could not perform the stipulated number of repetitions were no longer "Steel Warrior" candidates, but all strived to complete the remaining events.

Spc. Javin Williams, the other winning enlisted Soldier, was already starting to feel confident. He explained that he had injured his neck and hadn't run for almost three weeks. He had to obtain a memo from his doctor in order to participate in Steel Challenge.

"This was my first time, and I wanted to do it," said Williams. "When I made the two-mile run, I felt I could complete the whole thing."

Kunz said the ruck march seemed the hardest part because it was the last event, but he was determined to stay even with two other "Steel Warriors," 2nd Lts. Matthew Barry and Patrick Beverly.
"We started together and we tried to stay together," said Kunz.

The ruck march, which took off on Wilson Road and continued on along Stanley Road toward Building 1000 before looping back, included carrying 35 pounds of actual deployment items, which were weighed - not including water - and checked before the event.

Steel Challenge participants, who had begun exercising early in the morning, completed the six-mile trek around 1:30 p.m. When the tallies were complete, it was official that Capt. Erik Larsen, and the two lieutenants, Kunz and Williams had triumphed.

Williams advised future potential challengers, "Keep trying and work harder." Kunz advised them to work on their pull-ups and chin-ups.

"If you don't do those all the time, you're not going to be able to do them in a crunch," he said, adding that all the elements of Steel Challenge "are things Soldiers should be able to do."