Cavalry Soldiers rely on warrior knowledge, camaraderie to earn spurs

Soldiers of the Virginia National Guard’s Portsmouth-based 2nd Squadron, 183rd Cavalry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team participate in a Spur Ride Nov. 15, 2014, at Fort Pickett, Va.  The traditional event started with an early morning physical fitness session and included a land navigation challenge, the Air Assault obstacle course, a physical test of Combat Lifesaver skills, history lectures and a class on how to properly saddle a horse. In the evening, the Soldiers demonstrated proficiency in cavalry-specific military skills like advanced optics and communications, vehicle recovery operations and familiarization with the Raven unmanned aerial vehicle. More than 40 Soldiers successfully completed the Spur Ride and are scheduled to receive their spurs during a unit ceremony early next year. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Miko M. Skerrett, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

Soldiers of the Virginia National Guard’s Portsmouth-based 2nd Squadron, 183rd Cavalry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team participate in a Spur Ride Nov. 15, 2014, at Fort Pickett, Va. The traditional event started with an early morning physical fitness session and included a land navigation challenge, the Air Assault obstacle course, a physical test of Combat Lifesaver skills, history lectures and a class on how to properly saddle a horse. In the evening, the Soldiers demonstrated proficiency in cavalry-specific military skills like advanced optics and communications, vehicle recovery operations and familiarization with the Raven unmanned aerial vehicle. More than 40 Soldiers successfully completed the Spur Ride and are scheduled to receive their spurs during a unit ceremony early next year. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Miko M. Skerrett, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

FORT PICKETT, Va. – The night of Nov. 15, 2014, Virginia National Guard Soldiers of the Portsmouth-based 2nd Squadron, 183rd Cavalry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team felt the below-freezing temperatures at Fort Pickett seep through their cold weather gear and straight to their bones. But for these Soldiers, it’s all worth to earn those coveted spurs.

Fighting physical and mental fatigue, exhaustion, the unusually cold weather and other obstacles, the Spur Ride candidates, acknowledged as “shave-tails” during the event, participated in the unit’s Spur Ride, a two-day challenge that includes a nearly 24-hour long culmination event hosted by “Spur Holders,” or Soldiers who have already completed a Spur Ride. “Shave-tail” is a reference to the shaved tail of a Soldier’s horse, a visual indication that the riding Soldier was new and inexperienced. In order to be a shave-tail, the Soldier must have obtained the cavalry scout military occupational specialty and apply to participate in the Spur Ride.

“While the requirements to earn your spurs vary between units, some of the requirements in our unit included scoring at least 70 points in each [Army Physical Fitness Test] event, being a part of a professional association, and having a rank of at least E-5,” said Sgt. Malcolm Knight of 2nd Platoon, Troop A.

The Spur Ride started on Friday, Nov. 14, at an easy pace. The Soldiers participated in classes such as combat lifesaver techniques and refresher training on warrior skills and cavalry-specific tasks.

“The idea is that the training sessions give the Soldiers the information needed to successfully complete the challenges they will encounter during the Spur Ride,” said 1st Lt. Patrick Hueg, the Spur Ride officer-in-charge, or “Spur Master.” “It’s on the Soldier to apply the knowledge to the event.”

Following the tradition of assigning the youngest officer who completed the previous Spur Ride as the next one’s officer-in-charge, Hueg was presented with several challenges this year, to include the weather and a special shave-tail.

“Planning this was a little difficult because our commander [Lt. Col. Russell McGuire] was going to participate in the Spur Ride,” said Hueg. The lieutenant and others had to figure out ways to plan the events without their commander, as the obstacles are not revealed until the shave-tails approach them on the Spur Ride.

The unit as a whole planned the Spur Ride together, said Hueg. With certain tasks marked as tradition, such as the early morning physical training session and a mass inspection of all gear and supplies, the option for other events was passed down to each troop. Each troop planned, coordinated and supervised their own event for the Spur Ride.

The second day began during the early morning hours of Nov. 15 with a physical fitness session. The Soldiers then faced a land navigation challenge, the Air Assault obstacle course, a physical test of Combat Lifesaver skills (to include a supervised “live stick” of an IV), Raven unmanned aerial vehicle orientation and history lectures. After a road march to dinner, the shave-tails were able to catch their breath before heading out to the night lanes where they had to demonstrate proficiency in cavalry-specific military skills in advanced optics and communications, vehicle recovery operations and operating the Raven unmanned aerial vehicle.

The history lane included cameos from family members and even a former member of the unit. Retired Sgt. 1st Class Scott Culpepper hosted a section of the history lane. At his station, Culpepper explained the living conditions of cavalry Soldiers on both sides of the Civil War. Dressed in the uniform of the period, Culpepper brought in artifacts and replicas of the various tools and comfort items these Soldiers carried. He even provided homemade “hardtack,” a hard, flat cracker that Soldiers of the Civil War consumed for the Soldiers to taste.

The Soldiers were then introduced to Jennifer and Jessica Walker, nieces of 1st Sgt. Mike Seaton. Along with quarter horses Shadow and Spanky, the Walker sisters demonstrated saddling horses and how to properly mount and dismount the horses. The Soldiers rode the horses around the immediate area for a few minutes, and some admitted that it was their first time on a horse.

“We are waiting for someone who is completely terrified of horses, but we haven’t met anyone yet,” said Jennifer. “Or, no one has admitted it to us yet.”

Seaton’s parents were also present at the Spur Ride and provided the Soldiers a bit of warmth during the cold day.

“I made about 35 gallons of Brunswick stew for the troops,” said Jim Moss. “It takes about eight hours to make, from start to finish.”

“Today is really tiring, but the end result is completely worth it,” said Knight. A political science senior at Old Dominion University, Knight said that he had no idea what he and his fellow shave-tails would encounter during the Spur Ride, but walked into the event confident due to his training and trust in his Spur Ride mentors.

Hueg noted that two of the biggest lessons he took away from his own Spur Ride was the importance of perseverance and camaraderie. In planning this year’s Spur Ride, these were two lessons he really wanted to pass on to the Soldiers before they could earn their own pair of spurs.

“When these Soldiers come out of the Spur Ride, they are definitely a group,” said Hueg. “It’s a stronger bond with the Soldiers you went through the Spur Ride with. You suffered through something together and came out on the other side stronger.”

While the next Spur Master has not been officially named, Hueg said that the biggest piece of advice he can pass on is for the OIC to put a lot of thought into the selection of the Spur Ride noncommissioned officer-in-charge.

“Sgt. 1st Class Latane Gilliam took care of things that I didn’t even know existed,” said Hueg. “I had a lot of trust in him, and I chose well. The Spur Ride wouldn’t have been as awesome as it was without him.”

More than 40 Soldiers successfully completed the Spur Ride and are scheduled to receive their spurs during a unit ceremony next year.

Photos: Cavalry Soldiers complete traditional Spur Ride