FORT SILL, Okla. -- More than 75 Soldiers participated in an intense physical and mental challenge during the 214th Fires Brigade Leader Gut Check competition Feb. 7-8, 2013 at Contingency Operations Location Sanders (commonly called FOB Mow-Way), here.
At the end of the all-night competition, the team from Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 2nd Battalion, 5th Field Artillery took home the trophy almost 35 minutes better than the next closest team.
The timed competition, which was designed for junior enlisted Soldiers, required four-Soldier teams to go through 19 stations over a 12-mile course. Each station tested a specific warrior task at Skill Level 1, or the proficiency expected of privates and specialists. To make the competition more challenging, Soldiers had to carry a 40-pound ruck sack, and it was conducted at night.
"In the Army we fight at night, that's why we need to train to fight at night," said Sgt. 1st Class Robert Kern, Gut Check noncommissioned officer in charge. "It also adds gamesmanship."
Before the start, Col. Tim Daugherty, 214th FiB commander, told the competitors he was proud of them and they were an outstanding cut of Soldiers.
"I told them that it's going to be a tough, long night and not to quit that's what being a Soldier is all about. And, I wished them luck," Daugherty said.
The competition began with physical training with pushups, situps and chinups inside at COL Sanders. After that it was all outside with stations ranging from Mission Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP) gear set up to weapons assembly/disassembly and functions check to evaluating a casualty.
Some stations also tested Soldiers' administrative duties, such as counseling a subordinate, talking with the media and taking a 40-question written test on Army knowledge.
"They have to do some everyday tasks they would do dealing with Soldiers, and not just field crafts," Kern said.
The competition was open to 214th's 19 battery and company elements with an emphasis on junior enlisted Soldiers, but a team could have senior NCOs and one officer, Kern said.
When asked why he competed, Spc. Coty Hawes, Company B, 168th Brigade Support Battalion utility repairer, said, "I want to take the trophy. I love this kind of stuff."
Pfc. Danielle Harris, HHB, 1st Battalion, 14th FA medic, was one of three women competing.
"I like to challenge myself, and I thought it would be a good experience (for future deployments), and I wanted to do something fun," she said.
Sgt. Coré Thompson, 529th Signal Company, said he participated because he saw the Gut Check as a test of himself.
Each battery or company provided graders at one station. They were NCOs who were subject matter experts in that area, Kern said.
At Station 14, Soldiers had to search a vehicle in a tactical environment, where Staff Sgt. Steven Watson, B/2-5th FA gunnery sergeant, was an observer/controller.
"The Army sets standards for everything so we are looking for by-the-book standards during the inspection," said Watson. "We've got some things hidden, and we're going to see if they can find them."
Kern emphasized the evaluations of Soldiers' performances were to see if they were doing tasks according to Army standards in the Soldiers' Manual of Common Tasks.
"Everything is done to Army Standards. It's not done to a 214th Brigade standard, it's not done to an NCO standard," Kern said. "So it's even for each team."
Each station had a go or no-go evaluation system, Kern said. A no-go required that the team receive on-the-spot training to try the task again, adding time to their overall score.
"They will stay at that station until they have fully negotiated the task," Kern said.
Early in the competition, Spc. Eric Milzarski, 529th Sig communications specialist, said his team was strategizing.
"We're going to the stations that have the least people ... to avoid the huge rush (at stations) where people will have to sit around and wait (to be tested)," said Milzarski, who has been in the Army almost five years.
At the search-a-detainee station, a common mistake was failing to immediately restrain the detainee before the search, said grader Sgt. Jason Rosenstrom, C/2-5th FA.
"I'll ask them first just to see if they catch their own mistake. If they don't, I stop them and give them a couple minutes to rethink what they've done after I've explained it, and they will start over," Rosenstrom said.
After nine teams had gone through Rosenstrom's station, there were six first-time "go's" and three first-time "no-go's," he said.
Go for it
Sgt. Mike Goff, 1-14th FA maintainence, said his team was doing pretty good after 11 stations. He recommended the competition to junior Soldiers.
"Do it! And train hard," said the seven-year veteran. "It's challenging ... and for the Soldiers it's a great opportunity to explore their physical and mental abilities."
To add to the Gut Check's camaraderie and before it began, a chili cook off competition fed the hundreds of Soldiers who came out to support the competitors, said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Gwendolyn Cunningham, 214th FiB food adviser. Four award-winning food service specialists from the brigade's four battalions prepared their special recipes, which diners rated for taste on ballots.
All Gut Check competitors received a fitness excellence T-shirt and the brigade commander's new coin of excellence. The top-five teams' members were recognized with Army Achievement or Army Commendation medals. The 214th FiB is planning an officer version of the Leader Gut Check this summer.
1. HHB/2-5th FA: Spc. Matthew Drake, Spc. Joshua Sanchez, Staff Sgt. Christopher Hatton and Staff Sgt. Seth Lacroix; 6 hrs., 50 min.
2. H/26th Target Acquisition Battery; 7:24.
3. C/2-5th FA; 7:39.
4. HHB/1-14th FA; 7:52.
5. B/2-5th FA; 7:54.
Chili cook off winner: Spc. Tricialynn Blair, 2-5th FA.