Gainey Cup 2013 Competition Reignites Cavalry Traditions and Honor

by Nicole Randall

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Almost 70 years ago, Italian forces on horseback charged a field in the former Soviet Union. Armed with only rifles and 1,000 pounds of horseflesh beneath them, these cavalrymen galloped against an army that was using machineguns and mortars. Thus ended an era where cavalrymen were exemplified by horses, spurs and sabers.

“If entirely discarded now, in days to come, [the cavalry] will reappear,” COL John F. Wall prophesied in 1951. “It is indeed shameful that this day may be at such distance away that there won’t be anyone available to pack a saddle or to throw a diamond hitch.” This famous quote portrayed the desperate hope that the tradition and honor of the historic cavalry would someday reignite. The 95 cavalrymen who came to Fort Benning, GA, in early March 2013 dedicated themselves to exemplifying cavalry tradition and honor as they competed for the privilege to call themselves and their teammates the best cavalry team in the U.S. Army.

While the days of stallions and sabers are over, they are still used as symbols of the integrity and commitment instilled in all modern cavalrymen. Humvees have replaced the horses, and M4 carbines the sabers. However, to these 21st Century cavalry scouts, competing in the inaugural Gainey Cup was an honor, as the Gainey Cup competition tests the fundamental skills of cavalry scouts.

Disciplus validus

While tested to the max in reconnaissance and weapons training, Soldiers began this competition with a physical-training type of competition. Disciplus validus events tested both critical thinking and physical endurance. Every team member completed push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, dips, bench presses, tire flips and the rope climb as fast as possible, but the most strenuous and thought-provoking task was the “100 yards of hell.”

The teams started this arduous task directly following their five-mile ruck march. Teams pushed a humvee 50 yards, loaded with a Soldier and six full water jugs. After reaching the 50-yard line, the Soldiers opened the back of the vehicle, removed the water jugs and ran them the rest of the way to the 100-yard point for time. But it wasn’t over. At the starting point, the Soldiers also had a 140-pound dummy to transport to the end.

The teams received no specific guidance about how to get all of the items to their proper places. So, for the teams who thought of it, another option was available. While it made the humvee more difficult to push, some of the teams decreased their total time by placing the 140-pound dummy on the hood of the vehicle, removing an entire trip back to get it in the end. Disciplus validus ended when every team made it through the events.

“We just wanted to, if nothing else, set the tone right up front of what this competition was going to be about and what some of the physical and mental stress was going to be like, because you have to think to get through disciplus validus,” said CSM Michael Clemens of 316th Cavalry Brigade, organizers of the event.

Live fire and recon lanes

After target zeroing and an equipment issue, teams received the rest of the afternoon to plan for the next two days of events. Half the teams went to the direct and indirect live fire at Fort Benning’s Digital Multi-Purpose Range Complex, while the other half went to the recon lanes. The next day the teams switched. This made it difficult to determine along the way which team was ahead because none of them had officially completed all the same tasks.

Each team was issued an operations order and weapons as part of the live-fire tactical scenario. To make the scenario as realistic as possible, a Bradley Fighting Vehicle took the teams downrange, where they came into contact with the enemy. This tested the competitors as if they were in a firefight.

“Being a small element as 19D Cavalry scouts, we operate as three- to five-man teams, and that’s exactly what we’re doing out there in the call-for-fire range,” said SSG Carlos Rodarte, 504th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade. Calling for fire is a crucial part of any cavalry scout’s job, as it communicates information and intelligence along with the request for fires. Collecting and communicating accurate intelligence to and for the commander is a vital task for cavalry scouts, so this exercise was a test of their communications skills as well.

“You as a leader have to be competent in where your lane is, or you’re engaging indirect fires. And if you’re out there in the front of a main element calling for fire and you really don’t know what you’re doing, that’s very dangerous,” Rodarte said.

During the live-fire tactical scenario, scouts were able to test their shooting skills. Knowing which weapons to use for which target, and the engagement and disengagement criteria, were also part of this event.

After the live-fire mission was complete, the scouts were tested on their ability to disassemble, assemble and perform functions checks on the five weapons systems they used. Each team had a team leader who was responsible for assigning who performed these checks and on what weapons they performed them. These weapons systems included the M9, M4, M240B, M2, MK19 and Command Launch Unit. The live-fire tactical scenario and weapons-systems check events tested critical skills every cavalry scout should have.

“We wanted to create a situation a reconnaissance Soldier would find himself in,” said Clemens. “The Soldiers were established at an observation post. They were able to identify targets and use those assets on hand, not just direct-fire weapons but the ability to communicate with a radio [to call] direct and indirect fires. They coordinated all those assets to meet a commander’s intent or to shape the battlefield to provide information to a commander.”

While some of the teams performed the indirect and direct live-fire scenario, the rest of them worked the area reconnaissance lanes. The area recon lane, a massive event including tasks that used fundamental reconnaissance skills, took each team up to six hours to complete.

“We wanted to create a situation that both demonstrated and evaluated reconnaissance Soldiers on their ability to conduct tasks that have been common the past 10 or 11 years in the war on terror,” said Clemens. “We wanted [to test] their ability to perform as reconnaissance professionals, and be able to take a mission, and the commander’s critical information requirements and priority information requirements, and plan a mission that met those requirements.”

Teams started out at the recon-lane event base of operations, Checkpoint 38, where they planned their mission. Two recon lanes were set up with elements that added realism and ambiguity to each situation the scouts found themselves in. Army Reconnaissance Course experts developed the timed tasks, which were possible real-life situations these Soldiers were required to do. The recon scouts were dropped off with their “lane walker,” an instructor from the ARC, who kept their time and scored them, and walked to the start of their lane.

One of the first tasks required of the scouts was to perform the ABCs of first aid to an “injured person” or dummy. This test of evaluating a casualty included checking for responsiveness and an open airway, as well as applying a tourniquet and assessing the overall situation. During these scenarios, the teams linked up with “host nation forces” and were given bits of information to go from (but nothing that would help them complete their tasks).

After assessing the casualty, the scouts moved on to the next task: setting up an omnidirectional antenna. All the components to do this were set up and ready for them, but there were no tools. The scouts had to use adaptive skills and resourcefulness to set up the antenna using any means necessary. A common practice of the teams was tying the end of the antenna to a canteen or stick and throwing it into a tree to receive better signal. After ensuring it was fully functional, they were on their way to the next task.

These tasks were graded individually, not collectively. There was a maximum amount of time given for each task, and if the teams were unable to solve their problem and move on in that amount of time, they were given no points and the walker moved them to the next task.

Another task required of the teams was the Hasty Crater Charge. As they traveled the lane, they came upon more “host-nation forces” who requested their help setting up a trap for a small tank or vehicle. This was to be done using C4, which was mimicked using gray blocks, as well as a line charge and a detonator. The team leader, or a Soldier designated by him, had to look back into his memory to find a formula that would determine how far down each explosive needed to be, how far apart the holes needed to be dug and how much explosive would be required given the width of the road. This task was particularly important to practice because of how rarely it is seen in our current conflicts.

“It’s definitely something that’s a lost art that we haven’t been doing due to the fight we’re in right now,” said SSG Michael Potter, 101st Airborne Division. “But it’s definitely something we need to know before we go back to fighting conventional forces instead of an asymmetric fight.”

After completing the first three tasks, the teams started area reconnaissance. After they received a fragmentary order, they started their task with the goals and standards to maneuver to their named areas of interest, establish hasty OPs without being detected, collect CCIR and reach their destination. While doing this, they were presented with obstacles like avoiding or questioning (depending on their orders) a “host nation” mortar team they encounter and deal with the situation without getting off track of their original mission.

Once the team reached their destination, they were tasked to create a helicopter landing zone and calling in its coordinates. After measuring out the landing zone (without anything to measure with) and marking the center point for the helicopter to land on, the scouts called in its coordinates. Around the time the team leader called it in, white smoke was spotted close by and the team started their chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear protocols.

After performing an array of steps, including moving away from the smoke and putting on their protective masks, the students had completed the daylight portion of the recon lanes and returned to Checkpoint 38, where they were debriefed.

“The hardest task for all the teams was area reconnaissance, and the reason it’s been the hardest is because of all the land-navigation skills the teams don’t get to practice on all the time. So land navigation was definitely one of the hardest tasks to complete,” said CPT Kyle Hoisington, the officer in charge of the recon lanes.

“Over the past 10 years, combat has been really focused on full-spectrum operations,” Hoisington said. “Here we’re really focusing on the basic scout individual-task level at the area-reconnaissance lanes. I think it’s very important to get back to the basics of what we’re trying to do here.”

Obstacle course

An event unlike any other, the inaugural Gainey Cup kept the competitors on their toes with its critical but taxing events. One additional, although unplanned, obstacle was the cold weather. The temperature dipped into the low 20s during the night while the teams were tasked to perform another reconnaissance task.

After sunset, teams were taken to a side road and released with an order and coordinates to set up an OP outside a particular site on Fort Benning. Each team was given a particular position to covertly occupy around the site. Failure to find the site at all cost them dearly. If any of the teams were identified, heard or seen, they immediately lost points.

All these tasks, from the land navigation of the area reconnaissance to the crater charge – and even setting up the antenna and HLZ – were fundamental skills for a cavalry scout.

After the teams completed their OP establishment, they were given a few hours off and then congregated about 6 a.m. on a landing zone near Bush Hill, Fort Benning. The scout teams started their day off with a cozy ride in a CH-47 Chinook. Several teams at a time boarded the aircraft and were transported to Todd Field, where they dismounted and started their five-mile ruck march to the obstacle course. After three days of intense, nonstop competition, you would think that the last thing these scouts would want to do was an obstacle course – but you would be mistaken.

“We’re looking forward to it; most people wouldn’t,” said SSG James Todd, 3rd Cavalry Regiment. “I don’t even know why I am, but we are. We’re really going to enjoy it.”

Most of the obstacle course required teamwork, which was perfect for the Gainey Cup. From wall climbs requiring a leg up or low crawls under barbed wire, the teams finished the obstacle course strong.

“I’m feeling strong. [We] helped each other get through it, pushed through, and we were fine. It’s all about teamwork,” said SSG Justin Schmidt, 509th Infantry Regiment.

Final ruck march

With only a two-mile ruck march left that ended up being a run for most of the teams, who were anxious to finish, Soldiers headed for the finish line – but not before some last-minute words of encouragement to their teams. SSG Justin Miller from 25th Infantry Division was heard supporting his teammates.

“I think we’re going to finish strong today,” Miller said. “Everybody’s going to give it 100 percent. I think we’re pretty strong ruckers, and we’ll be able to get through, no problem. I think our knowledge base is pretty well spread out throughout the group, so we’ll finish out today with almost max points.”

The teams were ranked when they were released after they dismounted the Chinook and started the ruck march. The teams with the least amount of points started first, and the teams with the most points started last. This created an intense excitement at the finish line as the “suspected” first-place team crossed the finish line last to cheering crowds and officers out at the competition to show support.

One special visitor present throughout the entire competition was the cup’s namesake, retired CSM Joe Gainey. Gainey spent most of the competition talking to competitors and yelling his support. As a legendary cavalry scout and the first senior enlisted adviser to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gainey knows exactly what it takes to be a true-blue cavalry scout. With his Stetson, spurs and Texas boots, he visited the recon lanes, the live-fire and the obstacle course. Gainey also attended the initial PT competition, disciplus validus, where he cheered the teams and congratulated Soldiers who got sick but kept going for their team’s sake.

“I have been here since Day 1, and it has truly amazed me,” Gainey said. “The dedication, motivation and drive of every single Soldier and Marine, I might add, is unbelievable.”

25th Infantry Division wins

After five days of running, rucking, reconnoitering, shooting and freezing, the 19 cavalry-scout teams that started the event waited to see where they ranked among their peers. CSM Miles Wilson, command sergeant major of the U.S. Army Armor School, acted as master of ceremonies. His wit and wisecracks incited excitement and anticipation among tired and hungry competitors.

Finally, Wilson announced the winner of the inaugural Gainey Cup. The team from Fort Richardson, Alaska – 25th Infantry Division – was named the best scout team in the Army.

“I feel ecstatic. I had a good team,” Miller said. “I never felt like I couldn’t do something because I had [them] behind me, and they always helped push me through anything.”

This accomplishment brought with it not only bragging rights; the winners received pieces of cavalry memorabilia along with coins and other prizes, including the Gainey Cup itself. The cup will travel to Fort Richardson and reside there until next year’s competition.

That wasn’t the greatest honor these scouts received. BG Paul Laughlin, former Armor School commandant, pulled out a saber and knighted each winner from 25th Infantry Division into the Order of St. George, a distinguished group inducting only the top tankers and troopers.

Great training experience

“[The Gainey Cup competition] re-established all the fundamentals of my job with me, and it was a great training experience,” Miller said. “I’ll take it back to my unit and teach it to my guys and make them a better scout team.”

As the last moments of the inaugural Gainey Cup wrapped up, the scouts talked with the people who made the competition possible, a team Clemens is proud of. “My team here – the Soldiers in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd squadrons – did just a phenomenal job,” Clemens said. “It is really the Soldiers, specialists, sergeants [and] staff sergeants who are out there on the lanes [and] who brought everything together that provided a challenging real-world event for Soldiers throughout the Army and the Marines to come here and participate in. I think they did great, and I am looking forward to doing it again.”

The inaugural Gainey Cup included scout teams from military installations all over the world. This competition, hosted by the Armor School, tested the abilities and fundamental skills of the scouts who competed. The real-world training the troopers received, and the added pressure to win the competition, will help them in the future as they continue the fight.

“In combat, cav scouts have very unique missions. And we know that we know our jobs; it’s called confidence,” Gainey said. “I feel very good about what I’m seeing here because they’re doing a task that’s going to save them in combat.”

While no horses or sabers were involved in this competition, all 19 scout teams proved themselves as carriers of the U.S. Army cavalry’s historic traditions.


Nicole Randall is news director at Fort Benning Television in the Maneuver Center of Excellence Public Affairs Office. Ms. Randall holds a bachelor’s of science degree in communications-journalism and a bachelor’s of science degree in English from Plattsburg State University.

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