FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — After a long day of learning how to perform some of the required tasks of an Army Horizontal Construction Engineer Aug. 25, the Soldiers of Company A, 554th Engineer Battalion, gathered in formation at the exercise yard of their barracks building.
On most days, they would be heading over to the dining facility for dinner, but one day each week at Alpha Company is special. On that day, the platoons get to compete against each other in what’s called the Move Mountains Challenge.
Introduced here in April by Sgt. 1st Class Vincent Kennedy, Alpha Company’s first sergeant, the name comes from the motto of the unit.
“Just like any organization, we have a motto — our motto is ‘All Steel,’” said Kennedy, who added that the challenge idea came from one of his mentors, Sgt. Maj. Victor Carambot. “Our NCOs sound off with ‘All Steel,’ and then our commander replies back with ‘Move Mountains.’ It just ties in with and encompasses our company.”
The challenge takes many forms — at its heart, however, Kennedy called it a team-building exercise designed to produce cohesion and camaraderie within the unit.
Kennedy said the challenges can be physically or mentally demanding — one recent challenge involved correctly identifying, by face alone, each person on the chain-of-command board outside the barracks — it’s up to the cadre member chosen to design that week’s challenge, and the Soldiers only get to compete once during the eight-week course. The winning platoon gets bragging rights for the week and a Move Mountains streamer for their guidon. They also lead the remaining platoons into the DFAC for the rest of the week.
“They all come together to choose who they want to select,” Kennedy said, as the Soldiers gathered around to learn about the week’s challenge. “Sometimes, it’s physical; sometimes, it’s mental. I’m sure they can see this is going to be a physical event, so they will probably pick their stronger athletes.”
For the Aug. 25 challenge, Staff Sgt. Thomas Hutchings, an Alpha Company drill sergeant, designed the event, which included eight-count ‘T’ pushups, leg tucks, carrying 35-pound water jugs across the exercise yard and dragging a 90-pound sled back.
Hutchings, who has been with the company for more than five years — he started as an instructor before becoming a drill sergeant for the unit — said he modeled his challenge after aspects of the Army Combat Fitness Test.
“The first team to have both Soldiers complete the challenge wins,” he said to the four, two-person teams of Soldiers picked by their platoons to compete.
After it was all said and done, the winning team for the week was 1st Platoon. Their two competitors, Pfc. Eli Rivera and Pvt. Gabriy’el Fraser, actually graduate from AIT today, and this was their platoon’s first win while they were here.
After attaching the Move Mountains streamer on their platoon’s guidon to great applause from the other Soldiers in the unit, Fraser said competition “makes your true strength come out.”
“I feel like competition brings the whole platoon together to work as a team and motivate each other to strive for greatness,” said the New York City native. “Everyone works hard here, but no one knows their true strength until they put it out there for everybody.”
Rivera, who hails from Brownsville, Texas, said he has learned during his brief time in the Army that “winning matters.”
“Competition drives us — not to just eat first, but to see who’s the best,” he said. “It’s good competition amongst the platoons.”