FORT MOORE, Ga. (WRBL) — The strain of the challenge was evident on their faces. On the last of a four-day competition, seven squads of five members rallied themselves for a final test of endurance and teamwork. As soldiers pushed through the end of a six-mile ruck carrying 35 pounds each, they grimaced: their challenges were far from over. Cheers, curses and cries of pain sounded across the area surrounding Fort Moore’s Malvesti obstacle course, used for training Army Rangers, in the otherwise quiet morning.
It was half-past 8 a.m., but the squads had already each completed the Ranger Physical Assessment (RPA) and donned camouflage before their ruck. Once they returned the soldiers still had to complete clearing, assembly, disassembly and functions checks of M249 light machine guns. Then they had to make it through the Rangers’ Malvesti obstacle course backward and repeat the same process with M240 machine guns.
Sgt. 1st Class Edgar Vitola was overseeing the competition and watched the squads as they returned from the ruck. He said, “Once they come in, we’re on them, ‘go, go go,’ so they have no breathing, no nothing. It’s just go, go, go.”
Vitola revealed the original plan was to have 12 challenges, however this was reduced to six due to expectations of high heat and humidity this afternoon. His big goal for the day was to have every team finish successfully and avoid any hospitalizations, although he emphasized the competition was still meant to push soldiers to their mental and physical limits.
According to Vitola, completing Malvesti obstacle course backward would be a special challenge. Soldiers would have to make it through a water obstacle, which usually concludes the course, first and finish with their clothes weighed down by water.
Members of the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade were the first team to go through all the challenges. As Army Public Affairs Office Zachary Harris remarked, the men were all in good physical condition but they were beyond exhausted. Some dry-heaved, while others laid on the ground, too tired to remove their camouflage face paint.
“I think it was a cakewalk, we’re just the best there is and that’s all it is to come out here,” said Pfc. Tyler Lawrence, who told WRBL the squad exuded excellence. He explained his squad-mates were in the same platoon but had never worked together at a squad level and only had a week to get ready for the competition.
Lawrence’s teammate Staff Sgt. Andrew Cuomo hoped their win was already in the bag even though some members could not complete certain obstacles, earning them 5-minute penalties on their time. He said, “I think we adapted quite well and overcame.”
Cuomo and Lawrence’s team was completed by Sgt. Joshua Hansell, Sgt. James Lichon and Spc. Tyre Nalls.
“Our strength’s like communicating together and standing together while we pass the finish line,” said Cory Graf, representing 198th Infantry Brigade with his squad including Sgt. James Fernieola, Cpl. Caleb Roy, Spc. Kirill Potapenko and Spc. Jared Thomas. His teammates wanted to bring home the win for the brigades, battalions, companies and units they each represented. Their favorite event across the week was shooting at the M17 range earlier this week.
“One of the few events where we weren’t moving at 100% speed,” said Fernieola,
The competitors also explained what they thought makes a good squad.
“Keeping it light [in mood] but pushing yourself for sure,” said Roy, who added this is exactly what the team did. Fernieola interjected well-defined roles are also important.
MCoE’s Best Squad competition winner will be announced in a ceremony tomorrow afternoon. Its members will move on to compete in a national competition hosted by the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine at Fort Eustis in Virginia.