Lt. Abdul Isiaq, 5th Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, looks toward the finish as he makes his way down the slide for life obstacle during a spur ride Monday.

By Colleen Flaherty
Fort Hood Herald

Noncommissioned officers swarmed the recruits “shark attack-“style, shouting commands and critiques of their push-ups, sit-ups, squatting three-point turns and more.

Those who paused too long or quivered too much were removed from the formation and forced to lunge their way around it with their hands on their heads, serving as an example to others.

Although the scene sounded and looked like one from basic training, the recruits were full-fledged soldiers — some of the best from 5th Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division — voluntarily vying for a spot in the Order of the Spur.

One of the cavalry’s oldest and most enduring traditions, the spur ride offers troopers a chance to earn a pair of silver spurs and prove their worth through a series of physical and mental challenges. (Gold spurs are earned in combat.)

Now that more soldiers are back in garrison, following the end of deployments to Iraq, rides are becoming more frequent. According to information form the division, 1st Cavalry units will offer two spur rides a year.

Despite the fatigue on soldiers’ faces, 5th Battalion’s spur ride — which 56 soldiers began Monday — wasn’t even halfway done. After completing a physical fitness test that morning, soldiers still had to complete 15 obstacles at Fort Hood’s Air Assault School course, a land navigation test, 12-mile ruck march, questions about unit history and other activity lanes before receiving their spurs today.

One soldier said it amounted to a rite of passage in any trooper’s career.

“My sergeant told me it’s tradition,” said Pfc. Nigel Brown after completing his first obstacle on the course: a high climb up a ladder followed by a long shimmy down on a rope — backward.

Brown said his sergeant had made his rank after three years in the Army and a successful spur ride, and he was trying to do the same.

It wasn’t easy, however, said the soldier of 10 months assigned to the battalion’s Forward Support Company; despite the relative ease with which Brown completed the physical exercises, confronting the soaring heights of some of the obstacles was tough.

“I’ve never been challenged physically, but this is a challenge, mentally,” he said, smiling. “(I was thinking), ‘I’m really high up here, and if I fall I’m going to hurt myself.’ If I looked back, I saw that I had a long way to go, and my arms were already dead.”

There’s no set program for a spur ride, which is designed by the unit. But battalion Command Sgt. Maj. Calvin Coler said utilizing Fort Hood’s new Air Assault School obstacle course for the spur ride added difficulty and dimension to the event.

“This is physically the toughest (ride) we’ve done,” he said.

Staff Sgt. Perrin Gori, III Corps, an Air Assault School instructor who helped lead the battalion through the course, said some of the obstacles’ dizzying heights force soldiers to simultaneously confront and conquer their fears.

Team-building exercises

After completing the “Skyscraper,” a three-story teamwork exercise, 1st Lt. Abdul Isiaq, of Alpha Battery, said he felt it was important to earn his spurs as an officer.

“As a leader, it’s something you’re kind of meant to do, more than you want to do,” he said. “You lead the way for the guys under you. And if I can take their pain away a little bit and just laugh, it’s good.”

Battalion commander Lt. Col. Will Johnson, who earned his silver spurs at Fort Hood as a lieutenant in the 1990s, said the team-building nature of the spur ride is one of its most valuable assets, especially for a field artillery unit within a cavalry division.

“You get into the whole ‘esprit de corps’ aspect of it, wearing the Stetson, especially for our young soldiers,” he said. “And you know that three years from now, they will be the ones (leading the course), so spur rides are great for team-building.”

Coler said although soldiers earn their spurs individually, rides become team events.

“There’s a lot of motivation and esprit de corps, where soldiers help each other and want to see each other get spurs,” he said. “When you get your spurs, it means you’re part of a team, i.e., the ‘cav.'”

Isiaq agreed, saying that as a field artillery officer, the spur ride better helped him understand the world of the cavalry.

“It’s actually a lot of fun,” he said. “You’ve got to do these things in the ‘cav’ world.”

Fifth Battalion’s spur ride isn’t the only ride to have happened at Fort Hood recently; 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team and others throughout the division have offered their soldiers a chance to earn their spurs.

Lt. Col. Jose Polanco, 1st Squadron’s commander, said the spur ride blended tradition, training and physical excellence into an enduringly valuable event.

“First and foremost, these events are a rite of passage steeped in tradition, which allow our unit to maintain its heritage and build its esprit de corps,” he said.

“In an effort to make the most of the opportunity, the focus of the event is to demonstrate proficiency in common soldier tasks that are necessary for success on the modern battlefield. All of this executed in a physically taxing environment allows the trooper the ability to demonstrate his (or) her fitness to the more senior leaders in the squadron.”

The squadron’s senior noncommissioned officer, Command Sgt. Maj. Roger Heinze, said there’s nothing like getting that first pair of spurs.

“Getting your first pair of spurs gives the trooper a sense of accomplishment,” he said, “a sense that they have taken their place in the annals of the cavalry and that they have demonstrated their professional excellence to their leaders and peers.”