News: Alaska soldiers challenge local hockey team
Story by Sgt. Thomas Duval
FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska – If there are two things the Fairbanks community can count on it’s that the soldiers of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, are prepared to defend the nation at a moment’s notice and the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ hockey team is prepared to defend the ice.
Although the overall mission and goal of these two organizations will never be on the same battlefield, the soldiers of the 1-25th SBCT hosted a unique competition for the UAF Nanooks hockey team here, Sept 14.
“We have a great relationship with the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the hockey team,” Sgt. Maj. Erik Talken, 1-25th SBCT operations sergeant major, said. “They have always supported the military and this is our way of trying to give back.”
“The university and the Army are a huge part of what Fairbanks is,” Mike Curtain, the Nanooks’ strength and conditioning coach, said. “It’s nice to have the cooperation of the Army because this is what they do; they build leaders.”
The search for the team’s future leaders brought Curtain and Nanooks Assistant Coach Lance West to Fort Wainwright where players traded in their hockey sticks and skates for a chance to test their physical prowess against the Army’s physical fitness regimen.
For the UAF Nanooks, conquering the Army challenge meant stepping away from the comforts of the daily routines of plyometrics, weight training, and interval cardiovascular training to face the rigorous battle-focused training common among infantry units.
While hockey players must be agile, fast and graceful, soldiers must often times be strong and powerful which means more extreme and unique training tools.
“A lot of these guys were born on the ice,” West said. “Taking them out of their comfort zone allows us to see who our natural leaders are.”
Members of the 1-25th SBCT separated the hockey players into small teams, similar to infantry fire teams, and sent them out to complete five separate stations, each one pitting the players against common Army challenges like the Humvee load and pull, litter carry, ammo box carry, SKEDCO drag, and pentagon rope and water can carry.
To make the training realistic, simulated casualties weighing more than 200 lbs lay lifelessly in the SKEDCO, while the ammo box and water cans overflowed with their respective elements.
The SKEDCO drag lived up to its daunting reputation among soldiers as one of the harder physical training challenges, as the hockey players negotiated more than 1.5 miles of dusty, rocky trails to reach the end.
Tasks such as these may seem to be unconventional ways of measuring success to a hockey player, but for soldiers the importance of these tasks are a harsh reality.
The SKEDCO and litter carry play a vital role in casualty care and are two devices medics heavily rely on to transport and save their battle buddies, while the Humvee pull and the pentagon rope challenges are commonly used to strengthen teamwork and cohesion in an Army unit.
Though these are military tasks, Curtain said the training can improve the team’s physical performance on the ice and give his players the confidence to rely on each other.
After a grueling two hours of continuous physical challenges, the UAF Nanooks completed each of the five events and celebrated their success alongside the Arctic Wolf soldiers.
Curtain and West hope the bonds created through events like the Army challenge will help strengthen the relationship between themselves and U.S. Army Alaska and lead to success in the upcoming hockey season.
“The UAF hockey coaching staff and players were great to work with. This was a great opportunity to get our two organizations together and do some challenging training that benefited both the UAF team, and the 1-25 team,” Brigade Assistant Operations Officer, Capt. Kenneth Morrison said. “Future events will continue to strengthen the relationship between the soldiers on Fort Wainwright and the greater Fairbanks community.”