PALDISKI, Estonia – “From this point forward, you are no longer privates, sergeants, lieutenants or even majors.”
The command boomed across the parade ground.
Standing on top of several stacked boxes of Meals Ready-to-Eat, Capt. Colin P. Bair, commander of Troop B, 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, let his statement sink into the minds of more than 40 American and Estonian Soldiers who had volunteered to participate in a 26-hour event rooted in the traditions of medieval knights and 19th-century cavalrymen.
Estonia’s first ever spur ride had begun.
The 173rd Airborne Brigade joined forces with the Estonian Single Scouts Infantry Battalion to host the country’s first spur ride July 31-Aug. 1. The paratroopers are deployed to Estonia as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, combined exercises designed to foster closer relationships with allied forces and demonstrate commitment to NATO obligations.
“The learning curve of today’s cavalry scouts is about as steep as the old horse cavalrymen,” Bair explained. “Even though we have replaced the horse with the Humvee and Stryker, we honor the tradition of the spur to preserve the uniqueness of the cavalry.”
It is unclear when the U.S. cavalry started the tradition of awarding spurs, but upon arriving at a new assignment, the inexperienced troopers were put through extensive training and only after proving the ability to perform with their horse and saber, were spurs awarded.
“For decades, the horse was the U.S. cavalryman’s primary mode of transportation,” said Bair, a native of Anchorage, Alaska. “It took a lot of time, training, education and experience for a cavalryman to master his steed. Only then would he earn the right to wear spurs.”
The spur ride directed five integrated teams of Estonian scouts and American Soldiers to five specialized stations that tested not only their speed, strength and endurance, but also their technical skills, leadership ability and motivational drive.
“We set up an OP [observation post], called for fire [artillery support], conducted sling load operations, recovered a Humvee and assembled weapons blindfolded,” said Pvt. Kenneth M. Reyes, a spur ride candidate attached to 2nd Platoon, Troop B. “It was a challenge, but part of being a cavalry scout is accepting those challenges and pushing yourself farther.”
The "spur holders" overseeing the stations intensified the event by depriving teams of rest or even time to think beyond the task at hand. Rank and nationality had no bearing as junior enlistees and officers alike received the same treatment.
“Everything was happening so quickly as the instructors gave us one assignment after another,” said Junior Sgt. Martin Aavik, a spur ride candidate attached to 3rd Platoon, Company B, Estonian Single Scouts Infantry Battalion. “I didn’t have time to prepare, and I didn’t know what to expect. That was part of the fun.”
“If we weren’t running or rucking somewhere, we were doing pushups and flutter kicks. I’m surprised that my body held up for all that,” said Maj. Jeffrey S. Mills, the spur ride’s oldest candidate at 46 years old.
The teams’ diverse makeup enhanced the spur ride’s exhausting yet exciting atmosphere.
“This was my first time working with Estonians outside of an office setting,” said Mills, a Denver, Colorado, native, serving as an Army liaison officer at the U.S. Embassy in Tallinn, Estonia. “I was impressed with [the Estonians’] speed and endurance during ruck marches and their proficiency in basic soldiering skills such as weapons assembly and land navigation. I also got to see firsthand how each Army does certain things differently like constructing an observation post.”
Bair commented the American Soldiers and Estonian scouts rarely hung around each other prior to the spur ride.
“Now, after working, sweating, eating and bleeding together, they share a common bond,” Bair added.
While most 'spur holders' and candidates focused on what awaited them hour by hour, mile by mile, several of them looked beyond the closing ceremony to analyze the spur ride’s lasting impact.
“The whole point of our mission here is to develop better relations with our Estonian allies,” said Reyes, a native of Plainfield, New Jersey. “The spur ride is a great way to get know each other.”
“The event brought together an eclectic group of cavalrymen, artillery men, supporters, sustainers and Estonian scouts to achieve a common goal,” said Bair. While we’re here [in Estonia] as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, we’re discovering one another’s strengths and weaknesses and learning how to improve them. The spur ride is one way to do that by incorporating stress.”
That stress culminated in an 8-mile ruck march through the city and into the Paldiski barracks.
“I remember saying, ‘Thank God. It’s over,’” said Mills. “I was grateful that no one on my team quit, no one got hurt, and we didn’t leave anyone behind. We crossed the finish line as a team, and that’s the purpose.”
After 26 grueling hours, the exhausted candidates gathered where the ordeal started. Bair and his first sergeant entered the parade ground on horseback to congratulate the candidates.
“There are usually no horses to be had in the airborne community, so it was uniquely appropriate to incorporate them into the event,” said Bair. “This would have not been possible without the support of our Estonian partners.”
After forming into ranks and listening to the history of the Order of the Spur, the inductees were ordered to take the pushup position and the cadre hooked silver spurs to their boots.
The candidates had become cavalrymen.
“The spur ride may be an American tradition, but I believe the spurs themselves represent what it means to be a Soldier,” said Aavik.
||ANCHORAGE, AK, US
||DENVER, CO, US
||PLAINFIELD, NJ, US
This work, 173rd Airborne Soldiers and Estonian scouts earn their spurs, by SGT John Carkeet IV, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.