Deployed Airmen earn cavalry gold spurs

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Vernon Cunningham
  • 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Three Airmen from the 455th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron displayed the true spirit of joint service partnership when they completed an Army tradition called a Spur Ride and successfully joined the Order of the Spur at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, February 21, 2012.

The Order of the Spur is an Army tradition that dates back to the beginning of the cavalry. New Soldiers serving with cavalry units would first train and ride without a spur on their boots, to indicate an amateur rider. Once they were able to prove their ability to perform with their horse and saber, they were awarded spurs and gained membership into the Order of the Spur. In the present day, soldiers have to earn their spurs by submitting a nomination for the chance to complete a Spur Ride or serve during combat in a cavalry unit.

Staff Sgt. Esteban Longoria, 455th ESFS Charlie Sector lead trainer; Staff Sgt. Curtis Harper, 455th ESFS Charlie Sector controller; and Senior Airman Matthew Miller, 455th ESFS Fly Away Security Team leader, were all accepted into the most recent Spur Ride and each earned their gold spurs.

A Spur Ride is a series of mental and physical tests that evaluate leadership, technical and tactical proficiency, and the ability to operate as part of a team under high levels of stress and fatigue, under both day and night conditions. The award of silver spurs indicate an experienced cavalry trooper. Gold spurs indicate an experienced cavalry trooper who has deployed and experience combat with a cavalry unit.

"The Spur Ride was an extremely tough event," said Harper. "From the moment we stepped into the facility it was 'hurry up, drop your gear and get into formation!' Go, go, go the whole time."

The participants formed up outside the Bagram Morale, Welfare and Recreation Clam Shell and performed a 12-mile ruck march throughout the base. Upon returning to the Clam Shell, they dropped their gear and began the various stations that were set up to test their skills. The stations were moderated by Army instructors, referred to only as "Spur Holders."

"The stations consisted of M4, M9 and M249 proficiency, M2 headspace and timing, Self Aid and Buddy Care, 9-line Med Evac, Unexploded Ordnance identification, 9-line UXO, gas mask procedures, land navigation and convoy signaling," said Longoria. "Before, during and after each station we would be quizzed by the Spur Holders. Then we were PT'ed until we were physically exhausted. After we completed every station and everything was over, we received our spurs and drank from the grog."

The grog was a drink concocted by current Spur Holders that is consumed to symbolize the cavalry trooper's transformation to Spur Holders.

The significance of being allowed the opportunity to challenge for membership into the Order of the Spur was fully realized by these Airmen.

"As an Airman, it means a lot to be accepted into the Spur Ride," said Longoria. "It shows that the Army and Air Force are continuing to show more joint esprit de corps, which we are working very hard to get."

Chief Master Sergeant Marcus Snoddy, 455th Air Expeditionary Wing command chief, agreed that these Airmen's successes were a major step in recognizing the capabilities of our joint forces.

"The bonds of that joint relationship between Soldiers and Airmen were started here," said Snoddy. "We look at the relationships that survive the test of time; we see that they are built in challenging situations under adversity or competition. The Spur Ride is a competition. To have three Airmen complete the event is a big accomplishment. It showed the determination, fortitude, focus and commitment that our Airmen have and exhibit in their jobs on a daily basis."

Snoddy said opening these types of events to Airmen turns what is traditionally a hurdle to team cohesion, such as different training and lineage, into a doorway. He said in the future when these Airmen are stationed with their Army counterparts; they will be able to speak on shared experiences and similar pedigrees. Team members will be able to bond faster and have more respect and knowledge for each other's heritage.

"We became a part of an elite group," said Longoria. "If we ever got the opportunity, we would wear them proudly at any Army event."

Not only did the Airmen open doorways for joint service cohesion, they also solidified the Air Force's Wingman concept while participating in the Spur Ride.

Harper said all three participants made sure to be mindful of each other and help their fellow Defender make it through. He said if one of them wanted to quit, they would just keep pushing each other until they were successful.

"The Spur Ride was an extremely tough event," said Harper. "The ruck march was by far the most physically demanding thing any of us have ever done. It was really helpful having my fellow defenders there. Not just anyone can complete this event."

Typically Airmen do not participate in these events. The recent Spur Ride is only the second one in theater which Airmen participated in during Operation Enduring Freedom.

Army 1st Sgt. Charles Vitaliano, Spur Ride noncommissioned officer in charge, said this Spur Ride was the more challenging of the two. The tasks were more stringent, and the environment created was much more stressful.

"I was quite impressed with their ability to complete all the tasks without the need for initial or refresher training from my personnel," said Vitaliano. "We threw every challenge we knew at them. The Airmen underwent severe psychological pressure and several highly stressful exercises. We questioned their courage and integrity. We treated them like privates, but the Airmen took everything with a positive attitude and the heart to win. In their minds, quitting was not an option."

Not all of the challengers made it through the Spur Ride. Three Soldiers quit. All of the Airmen made it through and completed all tasks. An Air Force officer was even the first to complete the 12-mile ruck march.

"Their motivation and willingness to take on the challenge was in keeping with the highest standards of the cavalry trooper, and it was a pleasure to watch them," said Vitaliano.

The ability of these Airmen to complete the Spur Ride and be recognized as Cavalry Spur Holders was about more than individual recognition.

"It's about having Airmen out on the field of competition arm in arm with their brother and sister soldiers," said Snoddy. "By doing this, we further deepen the bonds of friendship and concern that exist between comrades in arms. The result is a more cohesive joint coalition force... and that's what it's all about."

Bagram Airmen will continue to honor joint partnership as three two-man teams will be competing in the Combined Joint Task Force-1 Best Warrior Challenge March 11-12.