FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, IRAQ
By Sgt. 1st Class Scott Maynard
3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division
FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq - At 5:30 a.m. on, April 6, 3rd Brigade Combat Team Soldiers throughout the brigade's area of operations were working hard to do their part in the war on terror.
At Forward Operating Base Hammer, Soldiers from 203rd Brigade Support Battalion were busy building the team through a series of physical and mental tests known as the "Eagle Challenge."
The challenge tested physical endurance with a one-mile run with their rifles; a four- and a half-mile foot-march, which included stops to test their general soldiering knowledge and unit history; a 30-minute physical fitness and agility session; and four testing stations which evaluated Soldiers' ability to treat a casualty; disassemble and assemble a rifle, perform a functions check then load; and fill a radio to make a radio check.
"It's not all Soldiers' common task training in the challenge," said 1st Lt. Natassia Fay, from Youngstown, Ohio, the battalion logistician.
"There are rules that must be followed as well."
The rules stipulated that contestants could compete as individuals or teams, there was no use of rank during the challenge, no disputes with the cadre and a positive attitude must be maintained.
The entire 203rd BSB could not participate due to mission tempo, but 48 out of 250 available Soldiers prequalified and took on the team building event.
Lt. Col. Kelly J. Lawler, from Monticello, N.Y., commander of the 203rd BSB, addressed the 48 203rd Soldiers, known as "Crows", prior to the start.
"Thank you for participating in the Eagle Challenge,' Lawler said. "Right now you are a 'Crow' but by the end of the day some of you will be 'Eagles'. You are the reason for this battalion's success and for that I thank you ... I have my buckle. I want you to have yours."
The sign of an "Eagle" is a brass belt buckle with the head of an eagle wrapped in the words, "203rd Brigade Support Battalion, Eagle Challenge, Support and Defend, 3rd Infantry Division."
"You will be proud to wear your belt buckle after today's challenge," Lawler said. "Other Soldiers will ask where you earned it, and you can tell them FOB Hammer, Iraq."
The Crows were herded off to have their rucksacks inventoried and the challenge began.
"Hurry up crows, get those rucks emptied out," barked Capt. Fenicia L. Jackson, from Hartsville, S.C., the battalion operations officer.
"Crows! You are not moving fast enough, front-leaning rest position, move!"
After the Soldiers warmed up for the one-mile run with Jackson, she inventoried the gear, had them load it up in the truck and moved them to the starting line.
Lawler was there waiting for the group.
"Are you warmed up, Crows?" Lawler asked. "Maybe another warm-up exercise will get you ready! The side straddle hop, ready, exercise one, two, three!"
After the exhausted Soldiers finished the exercises, Lawler sent them running into the sun. Some left with smiles, some with frowns and many with a set jaw and determined look.
Once the run was complete the contestants put on their rucksacks and moved on to the foot march. Sgt. Michael Decker, from Columbus, Ga., was in the lead with Spc. Clinton Biddle, from Paris, Ky., close behind.
They were followed by team "Wolfpack," which consisted of Sgt. Paul Zadzura, from Sturges, Pa.; Spc. Mark Shaheer, from Chicago; and Spc. Louis Pinault, from Fitchburg, Maine.
After the march, the leader board remained the same. Decker stayed out in front, Biddle a close second and Staff Sgt. Willie Farris, of Pinebluff, Ark., in third place for the singles competition. Team Wolfpack led in the team category; the leader board remained the same for the rest of the events.
The march was followed by a mandatory rest period at the home station. However no one got any rest.
Behind the break area lurked a giant water truck. They were soon both drenched and covered in mud.
"I didn't see that coming," said Sgt. 1st Class Perry Flournoy, of Columbus, Ga. "It felt good at first. I was hot and sweaty after moving out with that ruck on. Next thing I know, we were covered in mud."
The 30-minute 'mandatory break' turned into an exercise in discipline, dedication and motivation where Soldiers had to demonstrate low- and high-crawl techniques.
"At that point we were half way through. I have never been a quitter - I wasn't going to start then," Flournoy said who was elected the event's Most Valuable Player by the cadre. "By the time the break was over, I needed a break. My eye-pro was covered in mud, which meant I was covered in mud."
After the break, contestants were released to the testing stations according to the time they came in to home station.
Wet and dripping with mud, the Crows took their score sheets and were directed from station to station by the cadre.
At each station, they dried out a little more, until they finished the challenge.
"I knew this team had what it takes to win," said Zadzura, whose team, Wolfpack finished in 1st place. "We pushed each other hard ... We won together."
The day capped off with a banquet to award the Soldiers their belt buckles and recognize the winners with Army Achievement Medals.
The event started with 48 Crows and finished with 48 Eagles earning their right of passage - an Eagle Challenge belt buckle.
The day was best described by Capt. Emanuel Velez, from Quebradillas, Puerto Rico, and the commander of Company A.
"For a few moments today; I forgot I was in Iraq, he said.
The 203rd BSB is assigned to the 3rd BCT, 3rd Infantry Division from Fort Benning, Ga., and has been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom since March 2007.
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This work, 203rd BSB takes on Eagle's Challenge, by SFC Scott Maynard, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.