Editor's Note: This article is by Staff Sgt. Joshua Joyce for the Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System.
FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- Nine randomly selected squads from Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 18th Fires Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division assembled on the concrete slab behind the battery parking area on Oct. 30 to make their final preparations for what would be a very long day.
There was no complaining. They were prepared. Many had been looking forward to this day for some time and were anxious to show their peers what they were made of by finishing first in the Viper Challenge. The Viper Challenge was the battery’s first training exercise that allowed soldiers staff sergeant and below to compete against each other in a test of overall soldier skills.
“No one joined the Army to sit at a desk and check emails. They joined to be like the soldier on the recruiting poster,” Capt. Neil Stark, HHB, 18th Fires Bde. commander said.
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In addition to bragging rights, the first place winners would receive an Army Achievement Medal, a brigade coin presented by the brigade commander, and a four-day pass. Second and third places finishers would also be recognized as well and presented certificates of achievement.
“In a headquarters you don’t get to do a lot of high-speed stuff. In the field, our operations are geared to supporting and defending the (tactical operations center),” Stark said.
“I spoke with my first sergeant and XO (executive officer) and we decided that a training event would be the best opportunity for soldiers to perform warrior task and battle drills,” he said. “We can’t stop the brigade from functioning so we found a way to have an event that provided the most value.”
Each squad fell into formation according to the number pinned on their left shoulder pocket just above their 82nd patch to receive a final safety briefing and a final recap of the event rules. They appeared ready to go, with some squads visibly more confident than others.
Following the brief, teams began to depart in five-minute intervals headed toward the first station to don, clear, and seal the individual protective mask. It’s a task that every soldier is familiar with but usually struggles with due to the eight-second time limit associated with it. After attaining a proper seal on their protective masks each team was given a call sign and sent running with their masks on to the next station 1.5 miles away.
Arriving at station two the teams were permitted to remove their masks. They also removed their rucks as they were given instructions for the longest, and to many, the most challenging portion of event- land navigation. After shooting their azimuths, plotting their points, and determining the shortest possible route, the teams headed into the woods in search of the next station.
Over the course of 10 hours, the soldiers traveled more than 15 km over uneven wooded terrain with a 50-pound rucksack, Stark said.
The radio needed for the third task graded provided an additional eight pounds for one member of each team. After successfully making a radio call, the teams moved toward what they believed to be the right direction. Land navigation which continued throughout the day is what ultimately placed distance between the teams and allowed a few teams to quickly move to the next station.
“I was really happy with everyone’s performance,” Stark said. “They put forth maximum effort regardless of their level of skill.”
At station four, teams assembled, fired, and cleared a M240B machinegun before heading to station five to perform first aid followed by more land navigation and a night patrol wearing night vision goggles to end things on a high note.
“It was a new experience for them,” Stark said. “Only about ten percent had experience using them.”
Fatigue had set in but the teams were determined to finish in the shortest time possible or catch up to the teams that were ahead.
“We just kept going,” said Spc. Rodolpho Leal, Team 8 member. “We didn’t stop.”
The willingness to keep going helped Leal and the rest of his squad finish over 20 minutes ahead of the next team. When the competition began, Team 8 wasn’t favored to win and credit the cohesiveness of their squad and skills for the win.
“The winning team was a surprise and that was good for the battery,” Stark said. “Everyone thought they knew who would win. It’s good for morale.”
Team 8 Squad Leader Sgt. Rita Godwin, the only female soldier who competed in the Viper Challenge, is unsure of the factors used to determine the potential winner but was unfazed by being considered an underdog.
“It’s all about the team as a whole,” said Godwin. “We had the right team members with the right qualities.”