The Gainey Cup: Earning the title of best scout team in the U.S. military

Story by Sgt. 1st Class Raymond Piper, Soldiers Live

Editor’s note: To see more Gainey Cup videos, visit our YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/thesoldiersmag.

 

A Humvee sat waiting for competitors to finish their five-mile road march on the first day of the Gainey Cup competition. Soldiers dropped their rucks after completing the timed march and took a few minutes to catch their breaths while receiving a briefing from 316th  Cavalry Brigade, U.S. Army Armor School cadre on the final event of the “Disciplus Validus,” a 100-meter test of strength and endurance.

The cadre started the time, and Soldiers rushed to load a simulated casualty onto the hood of the Humvee, then began to push the vehicle uphill, straining to reach the 50-meter mark. The event didn’t end when the Humvee stopped moving, and despite tired, burning limbs, the scouts had to finish what they started with the casualty and pull him the final 50 meters, as well as transport overflowing water cans, all before finishing the test with a 100-meter sprint.

With that, the first event of the inaugural Gainey Cup ended, but there was more to come, and the Soldiers would be repeatedly challenged – mentally and physically – over the next three days. Held March 2-5 at Fort Benning, Ga., the Gainey Cup tested scouts from the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps on physical fitness and the fundamentals of reconnaissance and security integral to their career field.

“We tried to select events that represented what a scout platoon and a scout section would do in the field in support of their commander’s objectives,” said Command Sgt.

Cavalry scouts representing the 1st Infantry Division navigate a wire obstacle during the inaugural Gainey Cup competition, March 5, 2013, at Fort Benning, Ga. (DOD photo by Sgt. 1st Class Raymond Piper)

Cavalry scouts representing the 1st Infantry Division navigate a wire obstacle during the inaugural Gainey Cup competition, March 5, 2013, at Fort Benning, Ga. (DOD photo by Sgt. 1st Class Raymond Piper)

Maj. Michael S. Clemens of the 316th Cav. Bde. “Then, through a series of … test runs, we refined what we would not only be able to physically have teams perform, but (that) we would be able to provide a comprehensive grading system and evaluation for those Soldiers.”

The competition began with Disciplus Validus, a four-hour physical test that incorporated both traditional exercises, such as pull-ups, dips, push-ups and sit-ups, and nontraditional exercises, such as tire-flipping, pulling a wounded person on a casualty sled and pushing a Humvee uphill. The 19, five-man teams started at 10-minute intervals and were awarded points for each station based on their overall performance.

Spc. Samuel Shuler from 1st Squadron, 108th Cavalry Regiment, 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, said the Humvee push was definitely the hardest event of the day.  “We were frowning when we came up there, but you do what you gotta do,” he said.

Next, the scouts’ minds were tested with a written exam that evaluated their abilities to recognize various U.S. and foreign military vehicles, helicopters and weapon systems. The Soldiers then received the weapons and radios they would need for the rest of the competition.

Throughout the next two days, the teams would face day and night live-fire exercises that would test the cavalrymen’s ability to observe areas of interest, acquire targets and engage them with both direct and indirect fires, all while using proper reporting procedures. Then, the teams received a fragmentary order, which instructed them to observe two locations and specified their engagement and displacement criteria.

A section of 81mm mortars provided indirect fire support for the scouts. They were allotted one adjustment and then a fire-for-effect against targets. Additionally, a series of “enemy” trucks, troops and armored fighting vehicles  tested their marksmanship and decision making skills, such as when to engage targets and when to leave a position because they would be unable to destroy a target, such as an enemy tank.

The night live-fire provided a different perspective for Spc. Robert White compared to the training he and his unit, the 1st Squadron, 32nd Cavalry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), conduct at Fort Campbell, Ky. “Whenever we had to come do it here, it gave us good practice, and we got to see what we need to practice when we get back home,” he said.

Next up came the disassembly, assembly and functions tests of weapons common to the scouts’ various missions, including the M-9 automatic pistol, M-4 carbine, M-240B machine gun, M-2 heavy barrel machine gun and MK-19 automatic grenade launcher. Team leaders assigned each team member a different weapon. Each system was given a time limit, three minutes for the M-4 carbine, for example. After those time limits expired, graders began to deduct points.

“For us, it’s not as much about the competition as it is doing the best that we can do,” Shuler said. “You know, if you’re looking at the competition, all that means is someone else is in front of you.”

A reconnaissance lane then evaluated scout and basic Soldier skills, such as a cavalrymen’s ability to plan and execute a dismounted reconnaissance operation. They were required to plan their route, conduct a link-up with a host-nation force, maneuver into an observation post and report any activity within the area, which was 7 kilometers away, all without being detected by enemy forces.

“This is a good competition to showcase … our basic skills like reconnaissance, and I think that it’s good to see how we are Army-wide as scouts,” said Spc. Ramuel Figueroa, representing 4th Sqdn., 7th Cav. Regt., 2nd Infantry Division. “It’s good to see all these units mesh together and, hopefully, each one can take something from the other one in the competition. But overall, it’s just good to see scouts do what they do best.”

After reporting enemy activity in their areas, they were instructed to displace to a specified location and establish a landing zone. The scouts were sent into the area to identify enemy forces strength. If they were discovered, the team would be penalized and lose points. As they maneuvered through various checkpoints, participants evaluated a mock casualty, set up a field-expedient antenna, reacted to a chemical attack and demonstrated their use of explosives to create a “hasty crater.”

The one event from the lane that stuck out in Spc. Matthew Rodriguez’s mind was the set up for the hasty crater. The scouts had to determine where to place simulated explosives, and how much to use at several points in the road to create a ditch that would disrupt enemy movement.

“As scouts, we deal with a lot of demolition, and that’s something we don’t really train up too often,” Rodriquez, of the 2nd Sqdn., 38th Cav. Regt., 504th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, said.

Clemens pointed out that it’s important to bring scouts from across the Army together to demonstrate their skills and abilities to complete individual and team tasks: “First, I think it will serve to focus them. It’s a great opportunity to see, as a representation of their units, where their unit is in their training path. It gives us an opportunity to focus on the fundamentals of reconnaissance and security tasks that we may not have been able to do necessarily over the past decade of conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Spc. Ryan Keller observes the impact area as Staff Sgt. Justin Smith calls for fire from the mortar team during the inaugural Gainey Cup, March 4, 2013. The scouts from 1st Battalion (Airborne), 509th Infantry Regiment, Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, La., also had to engage simulated vehicle and troop targets with their assigned weapons. (DOD photo by Sgt. 1st Class Raymond Piper)

Spc. Ryan Keller observes the impact area as Staff Sgt. Justin Smith calls for fire from the mortar team during the inaugural Gainey Cup, March 4, 2013. The scouts from 1st Battalion (Airborne), 509th Infantry Regiment, Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, La., also had to engage simulated vehicle and troop targets with their assigned weapons. (DOD photo by Sgt. 1st Class Raymond Piper)

The Gainey Cup competition was built on existing fundamentals, said its namesake, retired Command Sgt. Maj. William Gainey. “It’s taking them back to the basics and that’s it. If you’ve got your basics, you can do well here.

“What’s the Super Bowl winner?” he asked. “They keep it to the basics. If you get out there, and you play a Super Bowl and try to be high speed and out of your norm, you lose. So just like I told a young man yesterday, remember your basics and do not second guess yourself.”

The scouts took to the air on the final day, as Chinook helicopters flew them from the training area to the last event: an obstacle course. Before they hit the obstacles they faced a two-and-half-mile road march. The entire event was timed, and points were awarded based on the best completion time for both the road march and the obstacles.

“The obstacle course was fun. It was definitely a big team builder, because in our team, we have some who are stronger then others … so we had to work together,” White said. A series of five walls, each taller than the last, was especially tough.

Shuler agreed that the obstacle course tested their mettle: “We were all out breath and you just had to go, go, go, because we had that time hack. It was definitely a team effort.”

After getting through the last obstacle, the teams took of in an all-out sprint to the next event, a written exam that tested their knowledge of the fundamentals of reconnaissance. With their tests finished, they completed the final two and half miles that took them to the finish line at Brave Rifles Field and the awards ceremony.

In the end, after all the scouts’ individual points had been added to their team totals, the scouts from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, came out on top and took home the Gainey Cup.

“I never felt like I couldn’t do anything because I had a great team behind me and they always helped to push me through anything,” said the Elmendorf-Richardson team leader, Staff Sgt. Justin Miller of the 1st Sqdn. (Airborne), 40th Cav. Regt., 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division.

“We are really competitive. We like to compete against each other and you’ll hear us rucking, just yelling at each other like, you know, ‘Come on, move faster,’” Figueroa said. “It’s kind of like we are a little family. It definitely helps in pushing each other and motivating each other.”

White said that before they came to the competition, his team members told themselves, “If we stayed happy the entire time, had fun and learned from it, we knew that we would do pretty well.

“It definitely pushes you to new limits,” he continued, “so it’s definitely something they need every year, and if they (are here), I’ll be here, every year.” It expanded his understanding of his role on the battlefield, he added, saying that future competitions will open Soldiers’ eyes to the things they need to work on and the importance of building a stronger team.

Shuler said that although it didn’t really hit him until the competition began, it was an honor to be among the first Gainey Cup competitors: “Hopefully, this will go forward in the future, and 30 years down the road I can tell my grandkids about this.”