Illesheim's 2/6 Cavalry earns its spurs
Stars and Stripes June 26, 2003
ILLESHEIM, Germany — Clad in desert camouflage and boots, Pfc. Sena Coston mounted the bale of hay as if she were riding a horse. She smiled sheepishly as two of her troop mates fastened a shiny set of spurs to her heels.
Then she stood up, grinning broadly, accepting backslaps of congratulations.
“It’s a special moment,” said Coston, 27, of Wilmington, N.C. “Now you’re part of the group.”
“I feel good,” added her friend, Spc. Roderick Dunham, 24, of Itta Bena, Miss. “This will stay with me throughout my career.”
Coston, Dunham and 161 other soldiers who went to war with the Illesheim-based 2nd Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment donned their new spurs for the first time Tuesday night in a ritual that dates to the regiment’s formation in 1861.
Helicopters long ago replaced horses as the favored mode of travel, but cavalry troops still hold onto some of their mounted forebears’ traditions. The spur ceremony is one of them.
The peacetime way to earn one’s spurs is to endure a “spur ride,” an all-night ritual that is part boot camp, part fraternity prank.
Soldiers must pass a series of physical and mental tests, finish a cross-country orienteering exercise, all while under duress from their already-spurred comrades.
In one event, for example, soldiers must pass a timed written test by candlelight while their mates try furiously to blow out the flame or douse it with squirt guns.
“Being a spur-holder is a big deal to a cavalry guy,” said Maj. Carl Coffman, the unit’s executive officer. “You have to achieve a certain standard that’s above the normal level.”
“It’s one day of real intense pain,” said Capt. Joel Magsig, 27, of Homestead, Fla., a troop commander.
According to Army tradition, though, a soldier can bypass the spur ride by going into battle with a cavalry unit. Because the 2/6 Cavalry just returned from Iraq, all of its soldiers qualified for their spurs. So did 13 members of the 7th Battalion, 159th Aviation Regiment, an Apache helicopter maintenance unit also based in Illesheim that was attached to the 2/6 Cavalry during the Iraq invasion.
To some, earning spurs without a spur ride seems like the easy way out. Lt. Col. Scott Thompson, the squadron commander, assured the new spur-holders they had won the right to wear them.
“Don’t let those guys give you guys grief,” he said. “What they earned in 24 hours, you had to pay for with 7½ months of pain, anguish, sweat and hard work. You’re joining a fraternity today that you’ll always be proud of.”
The unit gathered in the late afternoon sun outside Illesheim Army Airfield’s Apache Club to put on their spurs. Each soldier sat on a bale of hay (taking the place of saddles, which weren’t available) to put on the spurs, some of them performing push-ups while the spurs were affixed to their boots.
Then they went into the club for the preparation of a ceremonial grog punch. As Capt. Jason Foerter read a unit history, select soldiers poured ingredients such as Kentucky whiskey, rice wine and tequila representing campaigns in which the 6th Cavalry once fought.
“It is a substantial brew of great medicinal value,” Foerter joked. “It will cure all ills — or at least make us so we don’t care about them anymore.”
With the grog mixed, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Rolando Sanchez, one of the unit’s Apache pilots, drank a few deep gulps of the brew from his black cavalry Stetson as the rest of the squadron cheered. Then, others drank from their hats as well before sitting down to a feast of chicken wings, chips and beer.
“We’re just back from the war,” said Pfc. Crystal Powell, 21, of Lumber City, Ga. “This is kind of the culmination of everything we did.
“Spurs are something you don’t earn easily.”
The ceremony marked a special passage for this group of cavalry troops, too. On Thursday, the unit is scheduled to fold its colors and be decommissioned, its members scattering to other Army units around the world.
The 2/6 Cavalry will re-form later this summer at Fort Hood, Texas. After a year of training with upgraded AH-64D Longbow Apaches, it will return to Germany in late 2004 with its new equipment.