Earning the Silver Spurs

I finally have them. And believe me, they weren’t easy to earn. In fact, my right leg still sports bruises from the event. I’m talking about a pair of Silver Spurs. Not real silver. $20 spurs that fasten to my boots every Friday, as I wear them with my Stetson. Part of the privilege of being in a Cavalry unit. Much like my friend Chaplain Jose Rondon who gets to wear shiny, black, very cool looking jump boots with his dress uniform as part of an airborne unit.

The Spur Ride is a three day event that one must successfully complete in order to ceremonially earn one’s Silver Spurs. The first day was a Power Check starting at 0400 (4:00am). I was not going to do it alone so I ‘voluntold’ my Chaplain Assistant to do it with me. The plan was to not do the entire thing but be out there for religious support, giving out candy and assisting with morale. So much for those plans! It’s all or nothing with these guys, as we quickly realized.

In order to ‘be with my Soldiers’ I packed my rucksack to 35 lbs, which was their standard. My assistant is currently medically unable to ruck with anything over 20 lbs. so I had him just bring a camo bag of candy and his camelback water source.

We stood in formation as ‘Team UMT’ along with all the other ‘Spur Candidates.’ There was alot of fun ‘hazing’ (but nothing wrong or innappropriate – as this Chaplain witnessed) of the Candidates. Even towards the Chaplain during the event! But verbal ‘hazing’ that made me laugh and encouraged me to dig deeper to complete the event is a good thing.

Part one of the event was a 6 mile ruck march in full ACU uniform. Carrying 35 pound pack. Since I couldn’t carry a weapon I held my Bible in my hand for the road march. As soon as that event ended, we shed our packs, our boots, our caps, and our overshirts. We changed into tennis shoes and prepared for our 5 mile run. There was no way my Assistant and I were going to get away with doing only part of this. All eyes of the other Soldiers, including the Squadron Commander, were upon us. It was all in or nothing. So we beared down and completed the run. My Assistant was on a walking profile, but he knew he could still jog-walk. So we did that. We crossed the finish line last but we both made it. We did not want to risk injury.

Immediately after a ten minute break we began our PT test. 2 minutes of (hopefully) 45 pushups and 2 minutes of 45 situps. It’s VERY motivating laying on a paved road surface pumping out these exercises with the Commander standing beside me encouraging me to complete the mission. I pushed through the pain. The ridiculous humidity that long morning had us soaked in sweat. I was as wet as if I had gone swimming in my uniform. Dripping. And my body felt it was running on fumes. Hurting everywhere. But we all lined up for that last two mile run in 20 mins or less.

Alot of guys never made the 20 minutes. Some guys like me made it in around 30 minutes. Some guys fell out and had to quit the event. On the run my Assistant and found some energy somewhere and we managed to jog-walk our way past six other Soldiers half my age and willed ourselves across the finish line. We made it! I have completed a half marathon in Atlanta in March of 2011, but this Spur Ride Power Check was the most physically-demanding thing I’ve ever done – in
a South Georgis sauna of humidity.

Younger guys around us were pleased and surprised that my Assistant and I completed the power check. They gave us some congrats. As did the Commander. So we rested up and prepared for the actual Spur Ride beginning at 0900 the next morning.

That night I studied the history of the 1st Cavalry, of 3-1 Cav and memorized “Fiddler’s Green.” My body ached all over. But at this point nothing was going to stop me. My Assistant said he couldn’t memorize the history or Fiddler’s Green. I studied it and would try to carry that load for us. The next morning, while he covered the office duties, I stayed with the other candidates for some hazing, a ridiculous amount of pushups and overhead arm claps, and alot of reciting “Fiddler’s Green.” I was placed on a team that had lost some guys from the day before. After a written exam, an oral interview, and some humiliation at the expense of current Spurholders – all but two outranking me, it was time for the all-night land navigation event. My Assistant would join me. We were given a list of what to bring and what to wear. When they said ‘rubber duck’ I knew what they meant, but since I can’t carry a weapon, even a fake one felt wrong. So I carried a pocket Bible and a small yellow rubber duck! It made the Spurholders laugh to see that rubber duck and they told me it motivated them. One said the SCO ought to just give me the Spurs right then. But there was too much left to do. I wanted to earn them like the other 84 guys in our unit left trying.

I was able to skip lunch and get in two counseling appointments. These couldn’t wait. Then we loaded onto a bus at 1530 (3:30pm) and rode way out to a secluded part of the base. Out where the airborne Soldiers jump from aircraft. Out where the movie “The Green Berets” was filmed in part.

We contnued to memorize and recite “Fiddler’s Green.” my Assistant brought candy that we distributed to our fellow candidates. Eventually at dusk the actually event began. We’d been given maps. Our team leader – a Ranger, was issued a compass. We could only use red lights during the night. After an MRE supper in a cloud of gnats, our team set out for the first station. When we arrived deep into the woods, our Commander and Command Sergeant Major had us rolling telephone poles cut in half, by sitting on the ground and pushing them with just or feet. Also had to flip a diesel truck tire end over end. All of this about 100 yards and as fast as possible. I let out a war cry and starting flipping that tire to get it done.

We finished and then navigated to the second station. It was the medics, who were known for seriously smoking Soldiers. And roger, that they did. We were racing against the clock to medivac a heavy Soldier on a strecher from a crashed helicopter, to carry that casualty over an 8-foot high wall, to get our team over that wall, and to run through marshy ground with him. Then we had to all lie face down in a massive 15 foot long mud puddle and push the stretcher through the mud, not touching the ‘trip wire’ one foot off the ground over our heads. We completed that station and then hiked about 4 miles in the moonlit night to our next station. There we crawled through another ice water pit and I injured my right knee. Had a medic look at it and wrap it. I chose to complete the Spur Ride but was hobbling the last 7 miles.

When we got to stations where weapons handling and calling for fire was a part of the test, I found alternative activities to do or watched my team and encouraged them. One Team One Fight. We were going to earn our Spurs tonight!

One station was hilarious because young Spurholders told us riddles and if we couldn’t answer in 20 seconds we’d have to do pushups. God must have helped me out because I got 8 out 10 riddles correct, thus saving our team from pushing. I laughed and toldthe SGT that he can’t fool the old Chappy!!! LOL I’m smarter than your average bear. Hahaha. One station had us searching in the darkness in a swamp filled with waist-high poison oak, ivy, weeds, and stinging nettle for a nonexistent 5 gallon water jug while our teammates assembled a radio and called for fire. Another station a mile away had my team assembling a mortar while I was singing goofy songs and doing overhead arm claps until my arms lost feeling. Finally, the last station had us pushing a Humvee 100 feet through the mud so we could PMCS the vehicle, then push it back.

You should have seen us hiking the two miles back to the finish line. Even our Army Ranger was seriously dragging. I had never been through something like this before. It was brutal, but somehow fun. And above all – Rewarding! We had done it! We got onto that bus at 0730. From sun down to sun up, we navigated over 17 miles. 30 miles in 2 days. And a very rough 30 miles. Mentally and physically exhausted. No more ‘smoke sessions.’ No more hazing. Only cleaning up and preparing for the Spur Banquet that night.

I got my hair cut, my uniform picked up from the dry cleaners, and even a back and neck adjustment. I wrote out an Invocation and Benediction for the Banquet. My Assistant and I arrived looking sharp – but both pretty beat up. He thanked me for pushing him. He said he really didn’t want to do the Spur Ride, and wasn’t sure if he could complete it. But he said he was so glad he did. I thanked him for pushing me when I was tired during the Power Check. At the banquet, I was surprised to be awarded a coin for the Best War Cry in the Squadron.

We drank the Grog, toasted to several things, sang songs, observed silly skits, ate a decent meal, rendered honors, and heard from the head of the Armor School. It was an amazing night, capped off by kneeling down beside my Assistant and I and having Soldiers pop our Silver Spurs onto our shoes and pat us on the back. Tears filled my eyes for the moment I had long imagined at CH-BOLC had arrived. No, it was no ‘mortar pile.’ But when you are kneeling down on your wooden ‘horse’ and feel that SGT pop that spur onto your heel and pat you on the back saying ‘Way to go, Chaplain,’ you know you are truly part of the Cavalry unit.

My Assistant and I had set out to provide religious support to those competing for their Silver Spurs. We wound up being fully integrated and embraced by our unit, and feeling like we found a home. On Fridays we will wear our Stetsons and Spurs with pride. For I may not be a combatant, but our UMT is willing to go anywhere with our unit. And I know that after NTC and after this Spur Ride, my Assistant and I are truly a team and I am confident we can accomplish anything. We never quit. We love our unit. And they know and support and love us. The Spur Ride genuinely helped our UMT ‘seal the deal’ with the unit.

I thank God for where he placed me. I can’t say how long I will be in a Cav unit, but I can say I am truly blessed to be part of this one. 3-1 Cav! Blackhawk!

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Buford Pennington on 12 June 12 at 14:04

    I am truly amazed at your courage, William! Your retelling of this “mission” brought tears to my eyes! Marion and I are so proud of you! God has brought you to this place “for such a time as this”! You and your talents are needed and you are indeed in His will for your life. May you continue to be blessed and be a blessing.
    Love,
    Linda

    Reply

  2. Posted by Indiana on 27 June 12 at 02:47

    So proud.

    Reply

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