MCGREGOR RANGE, N.M. — A tradition-rich cavalry unit from Fort Bliss reached back into its own past and the history of the cavalry service last week.
The 1st Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team held what is known as a Spur Ride — a combination history lesson and training exercise.
The tradition of the Spur Ride dates back to the old horse cavalry days when spurs were often in short supply, squadron commander Lt. Col. Kevin Beagle said. New cavalry soldiers had to "earn their spurs" through competitions like this, Beagle said.
The expression "earning your spurs" originated from these types of events.
Last week, 84 scouts and other soldiers from the 1st Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment competed in a two-day-long event designed to test their mental and physical endurance and their basic soldier skills.
Forty-six successfully completed the event and were awarded silver spurs they can wear at unit functions. Gold spurs have to be earned in combat.
"What we hope to accomplish is every soldier who participates in the Spur Ride finds out a little bit about himself or herself, how much they can push themselves physically," Beagle said. "They can find out about their buddies and how to work as a team and be the flag bearer or future of the cavalry.
"Eventually, I'll be gone and one of these young soldiers will take over my job years down the road," Beagle continued. "They have to make sure this tradition stays alive."
Cavalry units usually have Spur Rides every summer or at the discretion of their commander.
The 1st Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment dates back to 1833. It bills itself as the oldest cavalry unit in the Army and the most decorated battalion-size unit. A squadron is the cavalry equivalent of a battalion.
The modern-day cavalry still plays a vital role by doing reconnaissance duties and being the eyes and ears for the rest of a brigade or other units.
Last week, novice cavalry soldiers went through a series of 15 tasks designed to test their soldier skills. They had to walk to each station — usually a mile or two — and get there using a compass, map and protractor while carrying a rucksack weighing 40 pounds.
They had to pass a detailed inspection of the equipment they needed to bring, go through an Army physical fitness test, put on their chemical suits and go through a gas chamber filled with crowd-control gas, participate in a stress shoot where they do strenuous exercise and then fire their rifles at targets, assemble a radio, put on face camouflage paint and create a machine-gun nest, among other tests.
The final day culminated with a water survival test at Replica Aquatic Center, a history test and a 9-mile march.
The Spur Ride is designed to test soldiers on "their mettle, their endurance, strength and knowledge of cavalry history," said Capt. Tim Grudle, officer in charge of the Spur Ride and the assistant plans officer for the squadron.
Each testing station was linked to a particular era of the squadron, a campaign or battle the unit participated in. Soldiers were then given a crash history course as part of each station.
As an example, the face camouflage and machine gun nest station was tied to the Vietnam war. To help conjure up the right mood, 1st Lt. Zack Crahen, the officer in charge of this training lane, had 1960s-era music from the likes of Jimi Hendrix filling the air.
"The Spur Ride is really a culmination of cavalry history, trains these guys on soldier skills and also tests to show that they are worthy of wearing spurs, which are symbolic of cavalry scouts," said Crahen, who serves as the executive officer for Bandit Troop.
In another nod to cavalry history, spur candidates are known as "shavetails." In the horse cavalry days, new soldiers were given horses with shaved tails as a warning to their more experienced comrades that they were dealing with inexperienced soldiers, Crahen said.
The command team for the squadron's Comanche Troop — Capt. Rick Chersicla and Sgt. 1st Class Chuck Meecham — also added to the color and flavor of the event by dressing up in authentic wool uniforms from the Indian war era.
"This promotes espirit de corps," Chersicla said. "Part of it is to learn the history of the unit. The more they learn, they more invested they are. If they think about some of the (stuff) their forebears had to go through, that can motivate them and make them less likely to quit" during the Spur Ride.
Capt. Christina James, a Woodland, Calif. native who serves as the squadron's human resources officer, was the only woman candidate on this particular Spur Ride. She was one of the 46 to successfully get their spurs.
"Because of how physically and mentally challenging the Spur Ride was, it means that much more to have received my spurs because I definitely earned them," James said. "It wouldn't mean as much if it was easy. I'm hoping to motivate other females in the unit to complete the next Spur Ride because if I can do it, there's no reason they can't."
Capt. Brian Trenholme, commander of Delta Troop, a logistics unit within the squadron, oversaw the training lane in which spur candidates had to assemble a radio and make a call.
"Radios are the most important weapon a cavalry scout has," Trenholme said.
The skills they are tested on are simple enough by themselves, he said. What turns the Spur Ride into such a grind is having to march from site to site in the searing El Paso heat and then do those tasks, he said.
"It's really a gut check for all the guys," Trenholme said.
David Burge may be reached at 546-6126.