Sgt. Grant Matthes
1st Brigade Combat Team Journalist
Soldiers with 1st Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (LI), teamed up with their counterparts in the Canadian army to attempt to earn the coveted cavalry spurs during a “Spur Ride” on May 1-2 at Fort Drum.
During the event, “spur candidates” had to face several rigorous challenges and show their proficiency in 11 events to earn their spurs.
“There were a lot of really challenging lanes, but I really wanted my spurs, so I kept pushing through,” said Pvt. Tristan Zollars, a cavalry scout with A Troop. “It paid off in the end because I got my spurs.”
At the start of the Spur Ride, there were 149 Soldiers spread throughout 19 teams. At the end of the day, 121 Soldiers received their spurs.
The Spur Ride began with candidates conducting a Ranger Physical Fitness Test, followed by a board where they had to respond to a series of questions by the panel of the board.
Immediately after the board, candidates stepped off on the round-robin portion of the Spur Ride, which consisted of nine events, to include a mystery event which the candidates had no knowledge of until they arrived at the station.
To get from one lane to the next, candidates had to conduct a foot march to points that were strategically placed throughout Fort Drum.
“Our first challenge was setting up an (observation post),” said Sgt. Michael Mackenzie, a field troop warrant and gunner with the Royal Canadian Dragoons. “In order to set up that OP, we had to bring a stretcher full of sandbags and an atlas ball, and we had to make it maybe 50 meters down the road.
“Then we had to run up the hill, reacting to artillery fire, and do some low-crawling,” Mackenzie added.
During the event, spur holders – Soldiers who have earned their spurs in previous Spur Rides – closely watched the candidates to ensure they were properly conducting each task.
When Soldiers arrived at station nine, one of the spur holders chose a squad leader to brief the rest of the team about a notional enemy threat in the area. After the briefing, the team had to strategically move equipment, simulated to be a water supply and a mortar tube with components, up a sizable hill while receiving enemy contact.
“Basically you’re multi-tasking your mind,” Mackenzie said. “You’re trying to stay coordinated with everybody else and try to stay listening to the instructions given.”
“It was definitely a challenge being a 40-year-old Soldier,” he added. “I have 19 years in the Army, and I feel like I wanted and needed a gut check to make sure I stay up with the younger generation of troops joining today.”
Mackenzie, who is no stranger to working with the U.S. Army, said they had a couple of weeks to train up before the Spur Ride.
“Coming from Canada, I see guys that have the spurs and who have earned their spurs from the Spur Ride, and you have much more respect for those individuals,” he said.
The last time Canadian soldiers came down to Fort Drum for a Spur Ride was 2003.
“Everyone motivated me,” Mackenzie said. “Going through it, when your lane-walker looks at you and says ‘I’m sorry for what you are about to go through,’ it puts you in a different mindset than what you were in. … But afterwards, it’s an amazing feeling knowing that you did accomplish it and you worked together as a team to accomplish that goal,” he said.
First Sgt. Aaron Huber, first sergeant for C Troop, said the Spur Ride is steeped in tradition, including the use of the term “shave tail” to refer to candidates.
“The inexperienced cavalrymen horses had a shaved tail, which represented he was an inexperienced scout,” Huber said. “They represented that by a shaved tail on his horse so they could keep an eye on him and take care of them, and once he earned his right in combat, then he could grow his horse’s tail back.”
Before the Spur Ride, Zollars said he did a lot of studying and training for the events to come.
“At first I was very nervous, but as it went on, I started getting into it,” he said. “It was challenging, but I stuck with it and finished it out. It feels great to finally have my spurs.”