Cavalry earns its spurs

As part of its continued transition from an infantry company into a troop of 1-297th Cavalry Squadron, Kenai’s Alaska Army National Guard held a “spurs ride” over the weekend.

About 111 cavalry troopers from around the state set out to win their spurs by completing a series of combat-related tasks during a two-day testing event that took place at the Kenai National Guard Armory on South Forest Dr. and in the ravines of Kenai Municipal Park West.

Those testing worked their way through series of job-related tasks that started early Saturday with an 8-mile road march along the Kenai Spur Highway under heavy packs and ended with a traditional celebration dinner that night.

At one training station enlisted men and officers found a box of mixed weapons parts – a pistol, an assault rifle and a machine gun – awaiting a quick reassembly and a functions check. Troopers waiting their testing turns were kept busy and active doing push-ups or lifting the battlefield classic 84-pound Browning M-2HB .50 cal. heavy machine gun above their heads.

At another, the troopers were ambushed, during a simulated patrol, as an artillery simulator exploded. The men secured the site, recovered the “wounded,” began treatment and called for a medical evacuation.

The local guard began its conversion to a cavalry mission in 2008 and have since been modernized with the “latest and greatest” weapons and equipment, according to Brigade Commander Lt. Col. Chad Parker.

With some of the traditional language from horse-mounted warfare still about, including the Stetson hat, the cavalry’s current mount is the “up-armored Humvee.”

Recognized by the U.S. Army as a “tradition,” The Order of the Spur is not governed by Army Regulations as with other job-related testing, such as the Expert Infantry Badge. The exact testing and standards for the “ride” are decided by each squadron commander based on the needs of his troopers.

Parker said that Squadron Commander Lt. Col. Jose Gilbert decided to use the spur ride as a “team building exercise” and thus there were deviations from the standard, such as excluding higher standards of physical fitness and an expert qualification with personal weapons.

Rather than test individual skills, Guard leadership put men, enlisted and officer, into teams that had to work together to complete the tasks. No one individual could pass without the entire team.

“They pass as a team or fail as a team,” Parker said.

Though testing was abridged, to a degree, many in the unit wore Combat Infantry Badges and Combat Action Badges – signs that many have already seen combat in during the Global War on Terror.

Sgt. Michael Luper, a transitioning infantryman with seven years of service in the Alaska National Guard, was in his first attempt to earn his spurs and said the day’s testing was “more of a team thing.”

Luper acknowledged that he does like the older tradition, but that there is something more to the idea of everyone being equal and connected rather than the elite separated troopers from those that fail.

Brig. Gen. Leon “Mike” Bridges, Commander of the Alaska Army National Guard and Assistant Adjutant General, said the need to run a slightly different testing pattern for his cavalry troopers, would better build esprit de corps and bolster a deeper connection between the troopers than would a more traditional individual go-or-no-go testing, which would likely see about 80 percent of the men fail to win their spurs.

“It’s no good with (only) 10 to 20 percent walking away with spurs,” Bridges said.

Reach Greg Skinner at greg.skinner@peninsulaclarion.com

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