On the starting command, G1, along with three other teams with the same start time, took off. The first portion of the competition was a ruck run. In full kit, the team ran from the start point to Buffalo Soldier Field, a mile away. Feet pounding, the four teams started to become mixed together. “Tighten up!” Sterling Willman, G1’s squad leader, yelled. The fastest runners at the front slowed down and waited for the rest of the team to catch up.
The demands of the race were just starting. G1’s next task was daunting. A crate lay filled with full jerry cans and boxes of supplies. The team’s mission was to carry the supplies to a Humvee, push the Humvee a certain distance, push it back, and return the supplies to the original configuration. They divided the task according to the talents of the team, with the strongest pushing and the smallest steering.
After that, it was time for the first movement of the day. Two miles up, out of the river valley, to a medical lane. Before G1 moved, however, there was some route planning to do. Willman took two of his senior team members to each plot the grid coordinates of the new location and ensure they were all on the same page.
The movement to the next lane did not go as well as the first movement. Early on, the three navigators—Sterling, Brian Crisman, and Conall Malloy—couldn’t decide which way we were supposed to go.
As we climbed higher into the hills, it became increasingly clear that we were in the wrong place.
Morale dropped briefly as we moved through a swamp to get to the objective.
The trek to the M4 range was typical of most movements for the competition. It was wet, muddy, and not sunny. Dozens of teams had passed before us on the same route, so we walked on the edge of the trail, trying to stick to the places where the mud was the shallowest.
As the team moved, again, the call frequently came to “Tighten up!” It was easy for the point man to find himself ahead of the rest of the squad. The variety of terrain on the trail added to the difficulty of staying together. Step after step through thick mud soon soaked boots and coated them with deposits of dark mud.
When we arrived at the range, we found our TAC officer, Major O’donnell, waiting for us with his family. The team dropped their rucks, received their instructions from the range safeties, and proceeded to knock down some targets. One member of the team, Benton Barber, reportedly managed to knock down two targets with one bullet, which would have been great if all of his other bullets had hit targets as well!
Once we arrived, the team received our campsite and we set up for some rest and food. MREs were the menu items and staying warm was the top priority. The temperature with wind-chill was about 28 degrees. We had minimal shelter and not quite enough clothes to keep the cold from seeping from the wet ground into our bodies.
Saturday morning at 0600, three different watch alarms went off in the G1 bivouac and the squad was awake. Complaints could be heard as cadets moved from their cold sleeping bags to the much colder outside. The team stripped off layers, knowing they would be warm as soon as they started moving. For the time being, though, they were cold.
After the obstacle course, the whole company ran with the team to the next event, the Zodiac boat event.
As the team moved from Buckner to the last two lanes, the team began to get tired. One of the techniques employed to keep the squad moving was to have a slower member of the squad latch onto the rucksack of a faster member, forcing them to keep pace and not fall behind. The team members paid careful attention to each of their teammates, ensuring that everyone was drinking water and doing all right.
The chemical warfare lane had the potential to be one of the hardest. Anyone who didn’t put their mask on in time would be declared a casualty and would have to be carried by the rest of the team. G1 all put their masks on in time and were able to easily run through the lane and the exercise that followed.
The last lane before returning to West Point was the casualty evacuation lane. The squad carried one member of their team, Johanna Forbes, for about half a mile. Two squad members, John Holeman and Conall Malloy, took turns hauling Forbes on their backs while other squad members carried the three rifles and extra rucks.