FORT BRAGG, NC, UNITED STATES
FORT BRAGG, N.C. — When the cavalry switched from horses to motorized vehicles, cavalrymen turned in their saddles and sabers, but were unwilling to part with their spurs.
Now, spurs remain an honored part of the cavalryman's uniform.
To earn them and the right to wear Stetsons, black cowboy hats specifically worn by members of the Order of the Spur, cavalry Soldiers must undergo a grueling competition known as a Spur Ride.
The 1st Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division held a Spur Ride on May 27-29.
This was the first Spur Ride at Fort Bragg since 1996, said Staff Sgt. Michael Doesken, of Headquarters Troop, 1st Sqd., 73rd Cav. Regt., who was awarded his spurs on that ride 13 years ago.
More than 100 Soldiers, broken down into three groups, completed the event. Each group took an entire day to finish the ride.
The Spur Ride is indoctrination into the cavalry, said Sgt. 1st Class Mark Mack, a platoon sergeant with B Troop, 1st Sqd. 73rd Cav. Regt., who earned his spurs on a three-day Spur Ride in Kuwait in 2000.
Mack compared the Spur Ride to being inducted into a fraternity. Being a cavalryman, it's what he aspired to do.
"I can't encourage my Joes to do it if I hadn't already done it," Mack said.
Spur candidates were not given formal training for the ride, but only a study guide about two weeks before, said Staff Sgt. Matthew Jordan.
"It's on their own to prepare themselves for the event," Jordan said. "It's how bad do they want it?"
The Spur Ride began with motivational training, a packing list inspection, instruction on how to mount a horse and squad presentations to the Spur Board. The board consisted of five Senior Spur Holders who asked candidates questions about cavalry, Army, and division history, said Sgt. 1st Class Richard Flint.
Candidates also sang the Army Song and recited "Fiddler's Green", the cavalrymen's poem, Flint said.
Candidates were then given coordinates to nine stations which they were to find using their land navigation skills.
The stations tested the candidates' proficiency in nine categories: communications, weapons assembly, preparation for airborne operation, tactical site exploitation, bypassing a danger area, reporting enemy contact, recovering a vehicle, casualty evacuation and a written test.
Flint said the ride is challenging both mentally and physically.
"They test your knowledge when you're exhausted," he said.
The mission at one station was for the squad to cross a creek without coming into enemy contact. One member of the squad would be injured by the enemy and the remaining candidates were to retreat back across the creek, keeping their teammate alive.
At the weapons assembly station, candidates were given 10 minutes to put together six different weapons from a bin containing the pieces of each weapon. They then carried them uphill and pulled security on the road.
Some who were awarded their spurs on days one or two worked the stations for the next day's ride.
Sgt. 1st Class Flint and Lt. Col. Mike Foster were two Spur Holders who completed the course on the first day and were able to assist with the second day's events.
Foster, 1st Squadron's Commander — and new Senior Spur Holder — said the Spur Ride is a chance to build camaraderie within the unit.
"It is an opportunity to take a look at our history as cavalrymen and paratroopers," he said.
The unit's goal is to conduct a Spur Ride once or twice every year, Foster said. Because there were so many troopers who volunteered for the inaugural Spur Ride, there will never again be such a large group to participate in the event, he said.
Since 1996, any new Spur Holders at Fort Bragg had obtained their spurs at another post, Foster said. Some took this opportunity to do the ride a second time to be awarded spurs with their current unit.
Doesken has received three pairs of spurs from three different units and knows of the difficulty in obtaining them.
"It's a test of knowledge. It's a test of skill. But more than that it's a test of heart," he said.
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