News: Alaska-based cavalry soldiers embrace tradition, earn spurs
Story by Sgt. Thomas Duval
FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska – Walking, and sometimes running, in the footsteps of history’s finest cavalry soldiers, troopers with the 5th Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division tested their intestinal fortitude and grit during a 16-hour “spur ride” Aug. 16, here.
The “spur ride” is a U.S. Army cavalry tradition dating back more than 200 years.
“Every cavalry unit, whether air or ground, has some form of a Spur Ride. It’s a time-honored tradition that tests the junior leaders and lets them prove how much heart they have to be in that unit,” Lt. Col. Eric Krivda, 5-1st commander said. “This is a great unit that we are in and it’s a huge tradition. It’s one of the most unique experiences that a soldier will go through.”
There have also been traces of the cavalry tradition that date back to the Middle Ages, when young boys were taken from their families to become tactically proficient by the early stages of manhood. It was only after they proved themselves that these squires would then earn their knighthood.
Although the requirements have changed with time, cavalry soldiers must still prove themselves in a series of soldiering skills to earn a coveted set of silver spurs.
“The spur ride really bonds the soldiers together. Everything they do is part of a team,” Krivda said. “The importance of this is to stress them both mentally and physically to prove their proficiency in the skills they are required to perform here in the ground cavalry and for them to learn about themselves.”
For the 5-1st soldiers, also known as the “Blackhawks”, the challenges began at 2 a.m. on a cold and rainy Alaska morning with an Army physical fitness test and a two-mile run to the squadron headquarters building where they were faced with a challenge specifically geared toward the Alaskan arctic climate; setting up arctic weather tents - a tent made of thick insulated fabric.
To add to the already demanding obstacles, senior noncommissioned officers previously inducted into the elite group known as the “Order of the Spur,” asked questions pertaining to the unit’s lineage and rich history. For every wrong answer, the instructors chose an exercise for the soldiers to perform.
“It’s pretty challenging,” Sgt. George Olsen, a cavalry scout with B Troop, 5-1st said.
“The biggest challenge is just staying motivated,” the spur candidate added before tucking his head under a small patch of shade.
Just a few hours into the day, spectators could practically feel the soldier’s pain as the candidates desperately gasped for air and grabbed for water, rushing to the obstacle course to face a variety of wooden beams and rope ladders.
“God only knows when this will end,” Sgt. 1st Class Michael Rasmussen, a platoon sergeant with C Troop, 5-1st said as he sipped water and looked toward the four miles of loose dirt and rock separating his team from the next phase. “We just grab our stuff and ruck on.”
Wet and muddied, Rasmussen and his team navigated through the obstacle course together ensuring each spur candidate remembered what he was fighting for.
“Our motivation to get through this is the pride that comes with being in a cavalry unit,” Rasmussen, a Minnesota native, said. “It’s all about pride.”
For the majority of the 12-phase challenge, teamwork played an important role, but events like the gas chamber and land navigation tested the will and mental toughness of each soldier as an individual.
“At this point they are just wondering when it is going to be over,” said Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Crawford, platoon sergeant for A Troop, 5-1st.
After traveling more than 18 miles in 16 hours, the question of whether or not the pain would end was answered as the first group of cavalry troopers successfully reached the finish line, cementing their places in the history of the 1st Cavalry Regiment.
Out of the nearly 60 hopeful soldiers who embarked on the journey to earn their spurs, 55 successfully completed the challenge and stood proud to receive silver spurs on their boots.
“Not only did they earn their spurs with the oldest cavalry unit, but they earned them on the Last Frontier,” Krivda said.
“For these soldiers to accomplish this task is a rite of passage,” 1st Sgt. Shawn Keene said. “These guys are now part of an elite group and it’s a tradition to be proud of.”