Schofield Barracks, Hawaii – Soldiers experience three sensations the moment they drop their rucksack and cross the finish line at the end of a 21-mile road march.
First, they feel relief as blood pumps into their shoulders and feet. Next, they feel a sense of accomplishment that can only be found after tackling a challenging task. Last, they feel an inexplicable bond amongst the Soldiers who walked beside them and shared in their hardship.
The 21-mile road march was only one of many events packed into 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division’s “Week of the Warrior.” The week gave leaders an opportunity to demonstrate the meaning of the U.S. Army’s “People First” initiative.
“Our Soldiers will never forget this week,” said Col. Neal Mayo, commander for 2IBCT. “We tested their mental fortitude, built self-confidence, and spent time reflecting on why we serve. Dedicating an entire week to ‘People First’ activities is one of the ways we are demonstrating to Soldiers and Families that they are our number one priority.”
The brigade provided guidelines and maximum flexibility to its squadron and four battalions on the week’s events.
On Monday, every unit conducted an all-day ‘crucible physical training’ event. The ‘crucible PT events’ gave Soldiers an opportunity to complete an adverse challenge, maybe even one they originally thought wasn’t possible. The 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment “Gimlets” conducted the 21-mile road march with a surprising Army Combat Fitness Test at the finish line. Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment “Wolfhounds” road marched over 13 miles until reaching a training area where they conducted a tactical platoon ambush.
“PT events like these develop character,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Weaver, 2IBCT’s Command Sergeant Major. “’People First’ means we develop expert Tropic Light Fighters that are committed, lethal, fit, disciplined and, ready to win on any battlefield.”
Monday finished out with the “State of the Brigade,” a live-streamed address from the brigade’s commander and command sergeant major. The team provided predictability and answered questions about the brigade’s upcoming deployment calendar, the COVID-19 vaccine, the block leave plan, upcoming Family events, and the brigade’s priorities.
On Tuesday, the units spent the day conducting a complete overhaul of their workspace and motorpools during their “This Is Our Home” event. Some units painted entire buildings while others landscaped over an acre of parking lots and barracks space. The 225th Brigade Support Battalion “Dragons” painted a giant mural of a dragon and 1-27IN re-painted the large-scale regimental crest in their battalion area.
“We want Soldiers to be proud of their area,” said Mayo. “Like many events during ‘Week of the Warrior,’ the ‘This Is Our Home’ event drives a caring for each other and builds a more cohesive team. Ultimately, we are building a culture of mutual trust, dignity and respect.”
On Tuesday afternoon, the brigade paused for a time of reflection during the Warrior Memorial Ceremony. The ceremony paid tribute to the 23 fallen Soldiers who lost their lives while serving in the Global War on Terrorism.
“Our fallen Warriors hail from the Carolinas to California, and everywhere in between,” said the Warrior brigade’s Chaplain, Capt. Kenneth Harrison. “Remembering their sacrifice is not just our responsibility or another tasking, it truly is our greatest honor. These men were someone’s brother, son, fiancé, husband, and father. Some of these warriors never got to hold their newborn child.”
“It is our prayer that speaking their names and remembering who they were will not only serve to honor their sacrifice, but inspire this new generation of warriors to live a life worthy of our calling and their sacrifice,” Harrison said.
Wednesday morning, the top five leaders from the brigade and each subordinate unit competed in a dynamic, tough PT challenge modeled after the ACFT. After tallying up points from the deadlifts, litter carries, kettlebell shuttle run, tire flips and relay race, 1-21IN was declared the winner.
On Wednesday, the brigade hosted the ‘People First Expo,’ a one-stop-shop for every Soldier and Family to learn about the resources available to them from both on and off post. The expo hosted over 30 tables from resources like Army Community Service, ROTC, and USO. The expo invited Family Readiness Groups, food trucks, and the Lightning Academy (the 25th Infantry Division’s unit responsible for instructing world-class training such as the Jungle Operations Training Course, Air Assault, Small Unit Ranger Tactics, and more). Outside of their allotted expo time, units broke into squad-sized elements for deeper discussion on a ‘People First’ topic of their choice.
On Thursday, Soldiers participated in the “Inspiration to Serve” event. They learned about the 25th Infantry Division’s rich history and combat tours while touring Schofield Barracks’ Tropic Lightning Museum. They listened to panels made up of Soldiers from a variety of countries who immigrated to the United States and joined the U.S. Army. They also attended non-commissioned officer induction ceremonies.
“The Soldiers before us demonstrated a tremendous amount of sacrifice,” Mayo said. “I think it’s important for our Soldiers to understand about the Soldiers who came before them. Understanding our unit’s lineage brings on a sense of pride and weight of responsibility. We honor them by continuing to follow their example.”
On Thursday afternoon, the brigade hosted a panel of experts discussing best practices for building a cohesive team. Retired Gen. Vincent Brooks, Command Sgt. Maj. Nickea Harris and Col. Jeffrey VanAntwerp gave their perspectives and answered questions about diversity, extremism, and the generational divide between senior leaders and young Soldiers.
“It’s evident we still have a disease,” said Brooks, when asked about his perspective on today’s challenge with diversity. “We are not what we want to be and maybe not even what we think we are. The expectation is that [the military] will figure this out before anyone else in society. So, you have to keep wrestling with this. What we have to guard against is pre-judgements that then translate into action.”
“You’re allowed to have your pre-judgements. Ideally, you’d work through those by listening to someone and trying to get their perspective. But, when you convert it into action, exclusionary action, you’re injuring the organization. And, you’re injuring the nation,” Brooks said.
Friday, Soldiers enjoyed a Family-friendly organization day. Soldiers put on their civilian clothes, packed the minivan and headed to the closest softball field for friendly competition and BBQ. Some units invited their Soldier and Family Readiness Groups for pie-in-the-face or dunk tank fundraising. Most importantly, the organization day provided a relaxed atmosphere allowing Soldiers to have conversations that directly build the team’s cohesion.