CONTINGENCY OPERATING SITE MAREZ, Iraq - The 515th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion sponsored a safety rodeo Oct. 3 emphasizing driving and operating skill as well as safety.

The purpose of a safety rodeo is to test the Soldier's skill on their assigned vehicle including vehicle operation, team work, and safety.

The vehicle operator is required to drive through a series of stations which simulate practical conditions the Soldier might encounter while on mission. At each station the operator is rated for both time and skill.

At the end of the rodeo the scores are tallied and the winner earns bragging rights as the top operator, said Sgt. Humberto Sanchez, who has been in the Army for more than 7 years and has participated in 11 similar rodeos. In 10 of those rodeos, Sanchez earned the top operator bragging rights.

To earn the bragging rights as top operator, the driver must maneuver their truck through four stations with a flatbed semitrailer.

According to Sgt. Xavier Salone, who has been in the Army for over 9 years and has participated in six rodeos, the specific truck used is a military tractor-trailer used in transportation companies for the purpose of rapid and efficient transportation of supplies and equipment.

At each station the driver is required to position the truck and trailer so that equipment can either be loaded or unloaded from the trailer.

The operator must exercise skill maneuvering the truck and trailer into the yard and staging it to be loaded. Points are calculated according to the number of attempts used to position the truck and trailer as well as the speed and safety exercised, said Salone, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the central receiving shipping point, or CRSP, yard for the 359th Inland Cargo Transport Company and a La., native.

Drawing on experience from the prior rodeos, Salone incorporated all aspects of the mission requirements while emphasizing skill and safety.

Using the mission necessary equipment, Salone created the stations involving a forklift, a container handler, and the tractor-trailer.

The rodeo was inspired by an accident in a different battalion, Sanchez said.

"A load was dropped and a Soldier was injured," Sanchez said, which made the 515th examine the issue of safety.

Sanchez wanted something that would be fun, competitive, and emphasize safety.

There are four stations, each one testing the Soldier's skills in quickly backing, loading or unloading equipment from the tractor-trailer. Once each station is complete, the Soldier is required to proceed through each station in reverse order.

The competition itself has been a work in progress - the first safety rodeo was scheduled for Sept. 18 with three teams competing. However, a convoy came in and the Soldiers had to go to work, shortening the time of the rodeo

"The mission comes first," Salone said, and the rodeo was rescheduled for Oct. 3.

"The hardest thing is to schedule the rodeo around the mission and to allow the Soldiers enough time to practice," he said.

Due to mission requirements, several quick changes had to be made on the day of the rodeo, but the competition continued.

There were three teams of three Soldiers in the competition, and in the end, the bragging rights went to Pfc. Adam Ridgway, Spc. Angela Otero and Spc. Meinardo Benitez. According to Salone, this team had the best time and was the most efficient while operating the equipment safely.

"It feels great!" said Ridgway, a truck driver from Iowa.

To earn the top operator title, Ridgway had to back a forklift off the flatbed trailer, drive it into a container, pick up a load of boxes and load them onto the trailer.