I Wanna be in the Cavalry!

Here's a snapshot of our Cavalry Spur Ride!

Every part of the Army has its own mini-legacy that is part of the broader history and tradition of the Service. For my third assignment, I am in a #Cavalry unit, or Cav for short. It has its roots in mounted horses and whose members would scout out ahead of the main force. Although the use of horses drastically upgraded with the advancement of technology and vehicles, we are still proud of our roots. (For example, we call our motor pool our "stables" and our Stryker vehicles our "horses".)

Part of the historical tradition was for new Cav Soldiers, (more appropriately called Troopers), to earn their Spurs. More than a rite of passage, the wearing of Spurs set Cav #Troopers apart as the most competent in the profession. Surviving the iconic "Spur Ride" is the way to earn one's Spurs, even today. As one new to this part of the Army, I got added to the list of Spur Candidates. It came as no surprise. As soon as I found out I was headed to the Cav, my first thought was, "Spur Ride." Like it or not, here it comes.

The #SpurRide kicks off with a team physical fitness event and is followed by a 30-something hour crucible-type training event. The instructors, called Spur Holders, enjoy the opportunity (sometimes too much) to test the candidates required knowledge and inflict additional physical discipline if such required knowledge is not correctly recited. Teams will walk numerous miles (25-30ish) over the course of the event and have the "privileged" of getting "smoked" (doing even more physical training tasks) at each station. Ambiguity is the name of the game and teams operate with little information.

Our first station was the #gaschamber. Lovely. Let's just get it over with. As we approached the area, our Lane Walker (team guide) saw that it was his guys running the lane and laughingly said, "Oh man, that's Hellcat. You guys are gonna get f#@%ed up!" He was not wrong. Before heading over to the gas chamber, we got taken into the snowy woods to endure some extra PT for not moving fast enough and not knowing enough answers to their questions. All part of the game.

Then came the gas chamber which is the closest thing to hell I have physically experienced. Entering the room with our masks on, I could already feel the gases burning my skin. Once we were all in, we were instructed to take our masks off. Big breath. Go. I heard some of my teammates begin coughing almost immediately. One guy lost his breakfast in a corner. After perhaps 30-60 seconds in the room after taking off our gas masks, I was to the point of having to resist a strong urge to bolt for the door and fight my way out if necessary. But they finally let us go. (Watch the video above all the way to the end, after the credits, and you will see our team coming out. I am the third to last one to exit.) After that, it was just a matter of getting through the other stations over the next 24 hours or so.

Following a very short night, the teams set off on the final event, a multi-mile foot march during which additional carrying requirements get added to the group. The closer to the finish, the heavier the items became. Thankfully, I answered one of the questions correctly for our group and thus avoided having to carry a patient on a litter (stretcher) for who knows how far. By the time we finished, I felt like my body got hit by a truck. Not having a meal before we started that morning, we were thankful to have some good food at the end point. It was the most physically demanding event since I attended Officer Candidate School. At that time my body was nine years younger.

There was a somewhat unexpected positive outcome of the chaplain participating in this training event. Even though I carried a faint awareness, I did not realize how my simply being out there enduring the pain would make such an impact. After the event, I was told multiple times, first and second hand, that when other Spur Candidates saw me out there suffering just like they were, it gave the some extra motivation to keep going. Just hearing reports like that boosted my spirits and reminded me that a ministry of presence is an important part of the work of a chaplain. At any rate, I'm glad that's done!

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