XBrad here. This post generated some interest in the Cavalry and its traditions. We’ve got another guest post by Esli addressing that topic. Esli is an active duty career Armor officer with tours as an enlisted infantryman and a commissioned Armor and Cavalry officer.
Stetson and spurs are the hallmarks of the Cavalry, the army’s scouts and reconnaissance units. So how exactly does a young cavalryman get them? Stetsons are purchased: spurs are earned. This is a long-standing tradition in the Cavalry and no Trooper’s uniform is complete without them. True cavalrymen still recount the stories of their “Spur Rides.”
There are two ways to earn your spurs. Spurs come in gold for combat and silver for demonstrated excellence in the skills of the cavalryman. Gold spurs can be awarded by the squadron commander to any Trooper (assigned or attached) who “rode with” his squadron during a wartime deployment.
Earning the silver spurs is generally harder. This includes prerequisites, satisfactorily completing the spur ride, and then surviving the ceremony. This sequence of events, once complete, will become one of the most memorable events in an army career, though strangely the brain wants to forget many of the details!
My spur ride began as the executive officer of a reconnaissance squadron. This is a guy with a lot of time on his hands (sarc off) so I was worried about pulling out of my duties long enough to do it. I spent a couple of days training up for the event. I had already completed the PT test and weapons qualifications to the appropriate standards, and was ready to perform as a “spur candidate” or “maggot” in spur-holder parlance. (Spur holders control your destiny. If they say do it, do it. If they don’t say anything, then you don’t do anything. They mete out punishment, guidance or rewards equally. Well, no rewards, just punishment.)
Due to an incredibly busy schedule, our spur ride was a relatively short 30-hour event. Nonetheless, it was the most physically demanding thing I have ever done in 22 years in the army. We started about 0400 and spent some time getting smoked before moving to a field for a PT test in ACUs. After the PT test (which no one passed…), we returned to the squadron area for an inspection of our equipment and a written test on reconnaissance tasks. Then it was back on the LMTVs for a ride out to the field.
The spur ride consisted of day and night land navigation courses. Without getting lost, my legs totaled 18 miles. Moving as a team of five, we went from point to point, testing on scout tasks at each. While we waited at each station, we were physically and mentally smoked in various unmentionable ways. Some of the tasks included map reading and land navigation, calling for and adjusting indirect fire, estimating range, patrolling techniques, reacting to contact, combatives (hand-to-hand combat tasks), weapons disassembly/reassembly, NBC, 1st Aid, carrying simulated casualties, call for MEDEVAC, prepare a Helicopter Landing Zone, constructing a machine-gun range card, conducting negotiations, employing hand grenades, camouflage, and other tasks. Not only did we walk everywhere, but many of these tasks were physically demanding efforts for 1-2 hours each under simulated combat conditions.
Depending on speed, some teams got an hour for dinner and to prep feet for the night land navigation lane, which continued through the above tasks, but in the dark using Night Vision Goggles.
By the end of the night lane, my 5-man team had dwindled to 3. We finished with about an hour break, but I stayed awake since I was unsure of whether the spur-holders would wake us up or not. I stretched, ate, rubbed my feet, and put on Vaseline and fresh socks.
Finally it was time for the last event; a foot march (18 miles down, only 12 more). So far, we had been carrying 30-40 lbs (including team gear of radio, litter, aid bag, and a signal panel). For the foot march, we put on our rucks. My load was about 92 pounds. This foot march took me just about 4 hours, and I managed to finish ahead of the bulk of the pack. At the end, for the first time in my life, I really wanted to get an IV, but no-go; the medics checked me and determined that I didn’t need one, even though plenty of guys were getting stuck.
At last, we climbed into the back of the LMTVs, went to the squadron area, and I worked a regular duty day (as best I could) until I was released to go home and get in dress blues for a formal spur ceremony and dinner. (Walk 30 miles and stuff your feet into low-quarters. Ouch!) Most of this will go undescribed, though it did involve a horse made of 2x4s and yelling “You ain’t CAV” to which the audience replied appropriately with “You ain’t ***!!”
Because our real spurs hadn’t arrived for the first ceremony (good job, S4), we were privileged to have a second one in which we were stood on our hands in front of the squadron while our sponsors put our spurs on our upside-down heels. I was honored to be both the oldest guy to get them and the recipient of the first spurs ever awarded by that squadron.
1. For those familiar with EIB, the spurs are much more focused on teamwork, CAV esprit, and both mental and physical determination, as opposed to the exactitude required to complete a series of individual tasks as in the EIB. My EIB was harder, technically, and earned at about the old-school rate of 10%, while the spurs were incredibly difficult, physically, but earned at about a 75% pass rate.
2. CAV is a state of mind, not a job. Any Trooper can compete, regardless of MOS.
3. CAV is gender-neutral, and our female Forward Support Troop commander earned hers. (XBrad- The testing is gender neutral. The actual MOS for Cavalry is a combat arms MOS and excludes women by law. Some units allow females to participate in EIB testing, and they and any non infantry personnel who successfully complete the testing are awarded a certificate of completion. Only Infantry personnel may actually be awarded the EIB)
XBrad again. While Cav spurs aren’t an officially recognized award like the Expert Infantryman’s Badge, they are highly cherished (I actually had a Cav trooper as a 1SG once, and you can bet his spurs were prominently displayed in his office). And while the testing may not be battle focused, all the tasks do have a real world application.