Sgt. 1st Class Raymond Piper
Army News Service
Five cavalry scouts from U.S. Army Alaska won the inaugural Gainey Cup Competition, earning the right to call themselves the best cavalry scout team in the Army.
The five-day event held at Fort Benning, Ga., in early March tested the soldiers both physically and on the basics of being a cavalry scout.
The competition was named for retired Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, who was the first senior enlisted adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – a position created in 2005.
"It re-established all of the fundamentals of my job with me," Staff Sgt. Justin Miller, a team leader with 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, said.
Adding, "It was just a great training experience, and I’ll take it back to my unit and teach it to my guys and make them a better team."
The competition began with the "Disciplus Validus," a four-hour physical test that incorporated both traditional exercises, such as pull-ups, dips, push-ups and sit-ups, with nontraditional challenges, such as tire-flipping, pulling a wounded person on a casualty sled and pushing a Humvee uphill.
The teams started at 10-minute intervals and were awarded points for each station based on their overall performance.
Spc. Ramuel Figueroa, a cavalry scout with 4th Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, representing the 2nd Infantry Division, said the Humvee push, following a five-mile ruck march, was the toughest event of the test.
"We were going pretty good when we started, then you just hit a wall," he said. "Then you’re fighting for every inch, waiting for that guy to say go, go, go."
Staff Sgt. Michael Christensen, a team leader with 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, agreed that the Humvee push was probably one of the hardest events of the day for him and his team, but it showed what they were made of.
"You know when you get really tired you just got to dig down deep and think ‘don’t put the quit in,’" he said.
Adding, "Once the quit gets in you, it won’t leave, so you can’t have that poison in your mentality. You have to just keep pushing forward."
Following the "Disciplus Validus," the scouts took a written exam to test their ability to recognize various U.S. and foreign vehicles, helicopters and weapon systems.
The soldiers then received weapons and radios they would need for the rest of the competition.
Throughout the next two days, the teams would face a day and night live-fire exercise and reconnaissance lane with a variety of tasks.
"It’s a great opportunity to see as a representation of their units where their unit is in their training path, and it gives them an opportunity to focus on the fundamentals of reconnaissance and security tasks that we may not have been able to do necessarily over the past decade of conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq," Command Sgt. Maj. Michael S. Clemens, 316th Cavalry Brigade, said.
During the live-fire exercises, cavalrymen were tested on their ability to observe named areas of interest, known as NAIs, acquire targets and engage them with both direct and indirect fires, and use proper reporting procedures.
The teams were issued a fragmentary order which both instructed them to observe two NAIs and specified their engagement and displacement criteria.
The scouts were supported by a section of 81mm mortars providing indirect fire support and targets to engage with them. They were allotted one adjustment and then a fire for effect.
Additionally, a series of trucks, troops, and armored fighting vehicles were presented to test their knowledge of the engagement and displacement criteria and marksmanship.
"I have personally never called for fire with live mortar rounds, and we actually had to engage small-arms targets at the same time, so I thought that was awesome," said Figueroa.
The next test following the range was the disassembly, assembly and functions tests of weapons common to the scouts’ mission.
They were tested on the M-9 automatic pistol, M-4 carbine, M-240B machine gun, M-2 heavy barrel machine gun and MK-19 automatic grenade launcher. Team leaders selected one member from their team for each weapon.
Each system was given a time limit, and if they went over the allotted time for the weapon, graders began to deduct points.
For example, soldiers were allotted three minutes for the M-4 carbine.
"I’ve seen a really high level of professionalism and motivation," Clemens said.
Adding, "These guys are fired up; they want to be here, they are proud to represent themselves and their units. They want to the best job they can possibly do."
The reconnaissance lane tested the cavalrymen’s ability to plan and execute a dismounted reconnaissance operation.
Teams were issued a fragmentary order instructing them to observe an NAI approximately seven kilometers from their location. They were required to plan their route, conduct a link-up with a host nation force, maneuver into their observation post and report any activity within their NAI without being detected by enemy forces.
Once they reported activity they were instructed to displace to a specified location and establish a helicopter landing zone. As they maneuvered through various checkpoints, they tackled additional tasks and challenges.
Participants had to evaluate a casualty, set up a field expedient antenna, react to a chemical attack, and demonstrate their use of explosives to create a hasty crater.
"I think it definitely put into perspective some of the stuff I would have to work on and some of the stuff that I’m like ‘I’m pretty good at this kind of thing,’" Figueroa said.
The scouts took to the air on the final day, as Chinook helicopters flew them from the training area to the last event: an obstacle course two miles from where they landed.
The entire event was timed, and points were awarded based on the best completion time.
"The obstacle course was probably the roughest part. It definitely took a lot of teamwork to get over it. We were all out of breath but you just had to go, go, go, because we had that time hack," Spc. Sam Shuler, 1st Squadron, 108th Cavalry Regiment, 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, said.
After the last obstacle, the scouts completed a written exam that tested their knowledge of the fundamentals of reconnaissance. With the tests completed, they completed the final three miles that took them to the finish line.
No matter what, win or lose, the experience is one that the scouts can use to hone their individual and unit skills.
"Even if you come in last place you’re going to learn so much from every other team and about yourself," Figueroa said.
"You’re going to learn what you need to work on, you’re going to learn what you’re good at, and you’re just going to learn your job better. You can’t leave here disappointed; there is a positive aspect to everything you do here," he added.
That’s a sentiment Miller agrees with and one that he will share with future soldiers.
"I’m going to tell them it’s a great training experience," Miller said. "Anytime you can get some training like this, go ahead and take the opportunity."