JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash.—The echos of platoon mottos and the steady sound of blank fire filled the air across the Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., training area, as aviation soldiers got out of their aircraft hangers and into the woods March 25-29.
For the second year in a row the 46th Aviation Support Battalion, 16th Combat Aviation Brigade conducted Bellator Stakes, a week-long exercise that combines warrior tasks with a competitive spirit.
During the event more than 300 of the battalion’s soldiers moved through a series of seven lanes, consisting of situational training scenarios, a grenade course, improvised explosive device convoy training and resiliency challenges, each with there own level of difficulty.
The soldiers were broken down into squads of 10-15 and were formed at the company level before coming out to Bellator Stakes, which meant that some of the Soldiers didn’t necessarily work together on a daily basis. Each member then rotated through the role as the squad leader during the event.
Squads and individuals were scored on how they accomplished all the tasks and how well they led the squad. The final tallied points then determined the winner of the competition.
“This is not a training event. This is actually an assessment, a culmination to show the productivity of their sergeant’s time training,” said Sgt. 1st Class Shaun McLaren, operations noncommissioned officer, Headquarters Support Company, 46th ASB. “We want to physically task them. They should be tired when they leave here. As part of the resiliency lanes and the evaluations, we wanted to mentally wear them out as well. You can’t push your limit until you know your limit.”
Resiliency was a particular theme and training lane, which was at the top of the 46th ASB commander’s list of important and valuable events for the week.
“We wanted to focus one lane specifically for resiliency,” said Lt. Col. Mark Sisco, battalion commander. “This is clearly one of the favorite lanes out here. When they come to the resiliency lane they are enjoying the teamwork and the camaraderie of the event. There are a lot of smiles on faces out here.”
Sisco also added that the high motivation and morale for the event stemmed from a generally positive attitude and outlook from across the battalion, not only out on the lanes but also daily in the maintenance areas.
As part of the resiliency lane, soldiers had to move through the gas chamber and then immediately into fine motor skill and mental tasks.
For some aviation soldiers, the excitement and motivation echoing through the training area came from conducting the drills and working as a team. Despite cold, rainy weather and exhaustion the squad continued to move.
“We are all avionics and we don’t ever get to go out and shoot and move,” said Pfc. Stephanie Pelaez-Ortega, avionic and survivability equipment repairer, B. Company, 46th ASB. “When we actually get a time to do the battle drills and have senior NCOs guide us through, it gets exciting and gets the adrenaline going.”
For those who were brought in to act as cadre for the event, the motivation of the soldiers had become contagious. Even tear inducing gas couldn’t bring down the spirits of those out taking part.
“Everyone has been so motivated coming out here, it has been so awesome,” said Staff Sgt. Chastain Hollins, medical logistics NCO, HSC 46th ASB. “It’s just great to see how they work together as a team and support each other. No one is getting on each other and they support each other through the tasks.”
The 16th Combat Aviation Brigade Commander, Col. Robert Dickerson, believed that Bellator Stakes served as an opportunity for Soldiers to remember what accomplishment felt like and showed them that when they work as a team they can accomplish anything.
“A lot of these soldiers are recently out of Basic Training and AIT (Advance Individual Training) so this training reminds them of how they successfully completed that,” Dickerson said. “We are giving these younger soldiers the coping skills to accomplish anything. No task or problem is too great and there is no stress they can’t overcome.”
At the end of the event, Staff Sgt Kristofer Safranek and his squad, 4th Squad, B. Company, came out the big winner. Safranek and his squad set themselves apart by earning a perfect score in all events.