Op STEELE SPURS: Strathconas in Texas
By: Lt Murrary McTavish
Just after 03h00hrs on 2 Dec 2012, the Strathcona’s Spur Ride team met inside the main doors of the Harvey Building. After nearly a month of training, we were ready to depart for our one week trip to Fort Hood, Texas, to participate on a SPUR RIDE with Longknife Squadron, of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment.
The SPUR RIDE dates back to the very beginnings of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment (nicknamed the “Brave Rifles”), which was established during the mid 1840s. In those days, a new Trooper was considered dangerous to the other Cavalrymen due to his lack of experience on horseback and wielding a sabre. To minimize this danger, he would not be allowed to wear spurs, and would shave the tail of his horse so the other riders would know to give him extra space to operate. These inexperienced Troopers became known as “Shave Tails” by the experienced Cavalrymen, a nickname that remains to this day. Only once a Trooper had proven his ability to perform on horseback would he be given his spurs.
Today, the only way to earn one’s spurs is to complete a SPUR RIDE. This is a multi-day event, during which the Spur Candidates must perform several physical and mental Cavalry tasks. These tests varied from physically demanding military skills, to leadership challenges, team building events, demonstrations of technical abilities, and of course, all while performing under fatigue.
On our first of many busy days, we were up early to complete the US Army swim test. Then we were off to meet the Regiment’s CO, and finally linked up with our individual sponsors. We then toured their impressive motor pool and learned about their different Stryker variants. That night, we were treated to our first of many incredible Texan meals at a local barbeque joint. However, it would be an early night, as the SPUR RIDE was to start very early the next morning.
We gathered with all the other Spur Candidates at about 04h00 on the morning of Dec 4th to conduct kit checks and meet our 4-5 man teams. After a little early-morning yelling, a written test on the Regiment’s history, and a chance for Cpl Nicholas Norman’s American team to figure out his Newfoundland accent, we were off. The first day consisted of several stands to evaluate technical abilities while under physical stress. These stands included a challenging Air Assault obstacle course, an All Arms Call for Fire simulator, blindfolded weapons assembly, a radio operation test, and a very difficult map and compass test, which Cpl Richard Ford topped. However, two stands stood out. The Leadership Reaction Course (LRC) consisted of several small scenarios which presented a puzzle that the team had to solve together, many times concluding with someone falling helplessly into the water below the course. Lastly, the Medical Simulation Training Center (MSTC) offered several realistic combat first aid scenarios which challenged us physically and mentally, and was unlike anything many of us had experienced before. Near sundown, we caught a ride out to the training area on a CH-47 Chinook. We spent the night in a very cold and windy patrol base, preparing for the next day’s activities.
The next day consisted of traditional dismounted reconnaissance missions. Each Troop conducted a zone, area, or route ‘recon’, which lasted most of the day. This was a great opportunity for the Canadians to learn dismounted tactics from the experienced Americans. That night, we moved into a new patrol base, and with the entire group under the command of Capt. Alex Nitu, we conducted observation posts at the Section level. After another nearly sleepless night, we were on the move again towards a pickup point to take us to our final task of the SPUR RIDE. We were to carry a 10-man Zodiac raft one kilometre to the water, then paddle upstream for two miles. We came ashore to cheering from many of the Spur Holders, and then climbed quickly onto trucks to take us back to the Regiment.
Before we even arrived, we could smell the second Texas barbeque meal cooking, and hear the country music playing. We dropped our kit, and proceeded to gorge ourselves on some of the best food we had ever eaten. After the meal was the moment we had all been looking forward to. We all gathered up, and after a few words on the history and importance of the Spurs, we all, with a shot of Jack Daniels (or in the case of Cpl Joseph Schijns, after about three or four shots) and a toast, received our spurs. All of us exhausted, most of that night was spent resting; however, a few of us managed to shake off our fatigue long enough to celebrate like only Canadians know how to do.
The next day, we conducted a tour of the training area and firing ranges in the Stryker vehicles. We were able to take a look inside some Bradley Fighting Vehicles and M1A2 Abrams Tanks. We then returned to our rooms to prepare for the Squadron’s Christmas party that night. At the party, the Canadians stole the show by singing Bob and Doug McKenzie’s Canadian version of the 12 Days of Christmas. We then took the opportunity to teach the Americans some Canadian culture by serving a large tub of Moose Milk brewed by WO Laki Christopoulos and Cpl Thomas Underwood. It was, of course, a big hit.
The morning of Dec 8th, we headed for the airport to return home. It had been a tiring, but very rewarding opportunity that none of us will forget. A special thanks to Major Croucher for helping spearhead the entire exchange and to all of our new American friends from Longknife Squadron for welcoming us. We hope the relationship that we have formed between our two Regiments may grow and become stronger in the future, so that we may further learn from one another, and share in the unique experiences we can only enjoy through opportunities like this.