BAGHDAD -- What are you doing, Judy Benjamin? Senior Airman Courtney Beard dropped her gear and was convinced she was done. 1st Sgt. Brian McCutcheon, United States Forces - Iraq, A Company first sergeant, and others advised her not to give up and waste the past 14 hours of her life.
“If she completed this grueling challenge then she could use this as a foundation for any points in her life or career when something appeared to be bigger than the individual,” McCutcheon said. “Finishing the Spur Ride would forever be proof that she could attack any obstacle head on and be successful.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Timothy P. Livengood, III Corps Special Troops Battalion, even yelled at her, calling her Judy Benjamin, a character from the movie “Private Benjamin” and one of the many nicknames the Brooklyn, N.Y., native was given along the way, that she wasn’t done and to pick up her gear.
“I picked up all my gear and put it back on,” Beard said. “I wanted to see if I really had what it took to finish.”
As the journey continued, Beard walked past the Perfume Palace where she works every day.
“This only made me dream of where I would be if I hadn’t signed up for the Spur Ride,” she said.
Upon arrival at the sniper hill location on Camp Slayer, Iraq, the participants entered a scenario with explosions and enemy fire. They had to run from the beginning to the end of the lane hitting the ground for any and all incoming fire. They also had to evacuate “injured” soldiers and perform simulated first-aid once they got to the bottom of the hill.
Now they had to get up the hill, but they had to rush to the top doing up-downs.
“I was extremely exhausted by this point,” she said. “By the time they said ‘I’m down,’ I was barely getting up.”
Beard said she let go of every muscle in her body and dropped to the ground to make sure she was doing it right.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t do it well enough” she said. “We were sent back to the bottom of the hill to try again.”
She made it up this time but with a little help.
“I was very thankful for my teammates at this point,” Beard said. “One of them kept a hold of my camel pack and jerked me up the hill each time we were told to get up.”
As they made their way down the hill, they were sent back up to look for a few soldiers that were lost. After the soldiers were found, they came back down and encountered a few more physical tests.
“We had to hold our weapons over our head non-stop,” she said. “Then we marched to the fire station and pulled security.”
They eventually made their way back to the motor pool, where they started the day 17 hours earlier, to begin the last portion of the Spur Ride. This part was dedicated to all of the fallen military members in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We were divided into teams and carried one person each around the motor pool,” Beard said. “We did one lap of every thousand that have fallen since the beginning of the war.”
The Spur Ride concluded with Sgt. Maj. Livengood recognizing the efforts of the 27 participants that finished. He also expressed how thankful he was for their service.
There was food waiting for them and at this moment Airman Beard felt like one of the boys.
“I felt like a true soldier,” she said. “I just picked up my food and ate it with my hands without a care in the world.”
Beard once again heard music, this time it was the song “American Soldier,” and emotions took over the 22 year old.
“After a long day that was full of physical and mental stress, all I could do was let the tears fall from my eyes.”
How it all ended… Relief was the only thing Beard could think about after the 18 hour Spur Ride was over.
As with all Spur Rides, those that complete it get recognized at a dining-in and, like the day before, Beard was the lone female Airman in a crowd of male soldiers.
“The dinner was the perfect remedy for what the previous day was full of,” she said. “It was very rewarding but also overwhelming to be in crowd that was all Army and all male.”
Beard explained that it took weeks for her to realize what she had accomplished.
“It took a few people recognizing me and congratulating me on what I did for me to realize how big a deal it really was,” she said.
Beard was asked by the III Corps commander to cross over into the Army. Another soldier told her that she needed to look into the “blue to green” program, which allows Airmen to transfer to the Army.
“It was after all of these encouraging words that I realized what I had accomplished,” she said. “Although, I feel that no one will ever really understand what those 18 hours were really like unless they were actually there for every minute.”
But there was still more. One of the traditions at a military dining-in calls for spur recipients to drink from the “grog.” The “grog” included a mixture of the mud they had crawled through the previous day, vinegar, tobacco sauce and an entire can of tobacco dip.
“I spent the whole night dreading this moment,” Beard said. “I decided that just straight downing it without stopping would be my best bet.”
She downed the “grog’ and was presented her Spur Ride certificate by McCutcheon. Beard left that night with her stomach feeling queasy but with her head held high.
“Completing the Spur Ride means a lot to me,” she said. “I still look back and think about all the soldiers that couldn’t complete the challenge but, not me, I did it.”
Editor’s Note: This is part three of a three part series about Beard and her Spur Ride experience.