Every weekend across the country, service men and women in the National Guard fall in for training drills. Troops with the 1-297th Cavalry Squadron did the same in Kenai, but this wasn’t an ordinary drill weekend.
A little short of breath, but no worse for wear after a long weekend of intense training, national guardsmen belt out Fiddler’s Green. The Calvarymen’s poem. They’re singing it, or yelling it, I suppose, because the Kenai National Guard unit is being reorganized into the state’s Cavalry Squadron.
This weekend, troops were on a Spur Ride, part of the tradition and the heraldry of the Calvary. They’re quite literally earning their spurs. Those who successfully complete this training weekend will receive silver spurs. Combat veterans, like Brigadier General Leon “Mike” Bridges, are wearing gold spurs.
General Bridges explained to me, a life-long civilian, what all this means… as troops rush by us, carrying giant packs, .50 calibur machine guns, or, sometimes, each other.
The spurs and the Stetsons and all the heraldry sort of pay homage to the horseback cavalry units of the past.
“Well the mission is the same, although the task has obviously changed (compared to the equine-equipped cavalry). Now they use armored Humvees with special weapons or long range surveillance systems on them. We also have some armored vehicles, the Armored Knight,” Bridges said.
The Kenai unit is a light cavalry unit. Their job is to get in, identify the enemy or target, report it, and get out.
“Heavy cavalry is meant to go find somebody and destroy them. These guys’ job is just to have enough fire power to extract themselves from heavy engagement. These guys are specialists in finding the enemy and reporting on what the enemy is doing. Not be seen, not to be found, not be directly engaged,” Bridges said.
This is serious training, but it becomes a little light hearted when the teams run down field, set up that big .50 calibur machine gun, and start making gun noises. These exercises are taking place a few hundred feet from a city park, so that all makes pretty good sense.
“Down here you’ll see they’re carrying what looks like M-16′s. These are dummy rifles, because what they’ve been doing here is crawling through the dirt and jumping up and down and doing a bunch of hard, harsh things. We don’t want to destroy our real weapons for this particular event, but they’re still having to carry the weapon, manage it like it’s real, deal with the weight, deal with the inconvenience. If they’re having to carry a casualty, make sure no weapons are left behind. So it’s accountability and maintenance and all that sort of stuff. No shortcuts,” Bridges said.
To get some of the special certifications and badges for the training this weekend, the troops were put into teams. If each member of the team doesn’t make through, then the team can’t make it through. There isn’t any one person in charge of each team…It just depends on what the exercise is. So a Private could be making decisions that are carried out by a Lieutenant. It’s all about building leadership skills.
I approach Private Saupa, who is attentively waiting outside a tent where he’s in line demonstrate a mastery of small arms.
“People that have been enlisted longer, it’s easier for them to give tips to us, rather than us who haven’t been that long and don’t know what to do. It’s a good thing that they put at least one guy on our team who knows what he’s doing so he can spread it throughout the team. Whoever is strongest in the event, that’s who takes over,” Saupa said.
Private Saupa and more than 100 other troops participated in the Spur Run over the weekend. It was the first one held
in Kenai, and to mark the event, the VFW and the City gave the troops a big barbeque after the field exercises were finished.