By Pfc. Brian Glass, 4th IBCT, 10th Mtn DivJanuary 27, 2010
FORT POLK, La. -- Attempting to join the Order of the Spur, 89 Soldiers from 3rd Squadron, 89th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division participated in a traditional "Spur Ride," Jan. 7-8.
The Order of the Spur is a time-honored tradition for cavalry scouts, said Command Sgt. Maj. Ronald Semerena, squadron command sergeant major for 3-89 Cav.
Troops from cavalry units are inducted into the Order of the Spur after successfully completing a "Spur Ride" or for having served during combat as a member of a cavalry unit, he explained.
"The tradition of having to 'earn your spurs' reaches back to the beginning of the cavalry," said Semerena. "When green troopers first arrived at their new cavalry assignments, they were assigned a horse with a shaved tail until they proved their skills."
To begin the Spur Ride, Semerena randomly assigned teams among the candidates.
Each team consisted of eight to 10 candidates, including at least one officer and one non-commissioned officer. Achieving spurs, however, is not the result of a team effort, as the responsibility of earning spurs falls on individuals as they work with their team members.
"The individual Soldier earns his spurs," said 1st Sgt. James Jones, Troop C, 3-89 Cav first sergeant. "This event is a testament to the cavalry lineage."
The Spur Ride is as important to the cavalry as the Expert Infantry Badge is to infantrymen, he added.
The Spur Ride started with pre-combat checks in 3-89 Cav's motor pool. After completion of equipment checks, the troops had to complete a written test concerning their unit history and the history of the cavalry.
"To qualify as a Spur Ride, troops must pass physically and mentally challenging tests," said Semerena. "That consists of leadership, technical and tactical proficiency, and the ability to operate as part of a team under high levels of stress and fatigue -- in both day and night conditions."
Those tough and demanding qualifying conditions were first met at an obstacle course on Fort Polk. When the troops arrived at the course, they were ready for the physical challenges that awaited.
"Once the Soldiers get inside the obstacle course area, they drop their ruck sacks and await instructions on the first obstacle," said Sgt. Tony Rolin, a Troop D mechanic who participated in 3-89 Cav's first Spur Ride after standing up here in 2005.
"The Soldiers have to either sprint or jog in place. There is no walking on this course."
The course included grueling events such as the "stairway to heaven," an obstacle encompassing two wooden poles connected by wooden bars that the troops climbed to reach a white flag before switching sides and climbing down.
Also, Soldiers negotiated the "swing across," a rope bridge suspended over a creek. To increase the difficulty, "spur holders," the senior non-commissioned officers running the event, shook the ropes while participants attempted to cross.
Other events included a netted-wall climb, high-step obstacle that required troops to walk over a series of logs without using their hands, and an obstacle on which candidates got a running start before jumping on a log suspended in the air.
As an integral part of the Spur Ride, the obstacle course served its purpose for getting troops ready for a long night ahead.
"It is a light smoking session," said Rolin, describing a Spur Ride as a "nice, stressful" event that builds team cohesion. "We get them worn down for the rest of the event."
The remainder of the Spur Ride took place at dark in the Rosepine training area, where subfreezing temperatures froze the water in candidates' Camelback hydration systems.
The night lanes pushed the troops through their fatigue as they performed Soldier common tasks including evaluating and transporting a casualty, interacting with news media and searching a detainee.
Other tasks included performing first-aid, functions checks on an M240B machine gun and correcting malfunctions on an M4 carbine weapon.
Even though Soldiers performed these tasks in pitch-black dark, the troops kept their heads about them throughout the ride.
"It is a good challenge," said Spc. John Henry, cavalry scout, Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 3-89 Cav.
"We get what we need to get done. There is great trust on this team. We do what we have to do; one team, one fight."
The Spur Ride ended at 7 a.m. the next day. Leaders issued certificates to the successful candidates, but "spurring" the new spur holders will happen during an upcoming ceremony.
Leaders of 3-89 Cav upheld the lineage of the Spur Ride honored with this event. The troops who successfully completed the ride have joined a group they will always be part of.
"The Spur Ride is an important event, as it connects all Soldiers who ever served in cavalry organizations," said Semerena.
"This bond underpins the fact that we are all part of something bigger than ourselves and endorses a long standing cavalry tradition."