FORT BRAGG, N.C. – Soldiers from the 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) pushed their bodies to the limits during the Group Support Battalion’s first Nomad Challenge Adventure Race, Oct. 23-24 at Uwharrie National Forest, N.C.
About 40 racers participated in the challenge, which consisted of several endurance-related events spread out of more than 50 miles.
“It was an endurance event that was designed to incorporate several things,” said Lt. Col. Kenneth D. Watson, 3rd SFG(A) Group Support Battalion commander. “There were different events, different disciplines that we used to test their physical and mental stamina in order to challenge them not only as individuals but as teams.”
The race began as the challengers, divided into teams of two and three, were given a passport sheet with various grid coordinates and a map. Teams were given one hour to plot their course before starting the first event, paddling canoes about five miles across a lake.
After hitting several checkpoints, the teams landed and carried their canoes nearly a mile, mostly uphill. The next event was the first of two trekking phases. Here, participants used their land navigation skills to cross about 10 miles of rough terrain.
Once finished with the trekking phase, the racers began the first of two 15-mile mountain bike courses.
“The whole purpose of the canoe and bike phases was to change the disciplines, so we could continue to push them physically without breaking down one muscle group or body part, this way they could go farther and longer, which in turn would push them mentally,” Watson said.
The last two phases were a six-mile trek and another 15-mile mountain bike course. Once finished with the racing portion, participants had to conduct three mystery Warrior tasks.
“We decided for simplicity sake that the Military skills events would be weapons tasks, i.e. load, unload, reduce stoppage and perform a functions check on the 240B, SAW and 50-cal. machine guns," Watson said. "Additionally, we decided to run this skills event at the end of the race, during hours of darkness, when racers would be tired and most stressed. This would add the desired degree of difficulty to the tasks. Overall the racers did extremely well and scored high across the board. We were very pleased!"
The events were chosen because they tested the racers limits and allowed each one to see what they are individually capable of.
“It’s the athleticism, the mental and physical challenge,” Watson said. “They’re going to be challenged in a combat zone and required to do very strenuous things that are going to tax them. They’re going to be stressed. The reason for doing something that goes beyond three or four hours was to challenge Soldiers, but also to let them know if they prepared properly, they could get through this whole event.”
Even the racers agreed the event helped them examine what they are made of.
“I would sum it up as a test of testosterone,” said Sgt. 1st Class Tyrell Williams, 3rd SFG(A) GSB. “You can believe that you’re something, but when you get out there, you can truly assess yourself to see where you’re strong and where your weaknesses are.”
Not only was the race designed to push the Soldiers to their limits physically and mentally, but it was also meant to help bond them with each other.
“This event was really trying to capture the ability to build the espirit de corps of the unit, to have that team-building, and integrate some military skills,” said Capt. Matthew Kelly, 3rd SFG(A) GSB operations officer.
This bonding was key to helping many of the racers finish, even when their bodies wanted to quit.
“I know when I felt weak after I rolled my ankle, I was about ready to call it in,” Williams said. “But for each member to communicate to each other and let them know, ‘This is bigger than you, it’s a team,’ I think that’s what did it. I realized if I quit, the team suffers.”
With all but one team completing the total race, the event proved to be very successful. This was in large part to the racers working together and communicating with each other.
“I think what they did was listen to people around them,” Watson said. “It’s about pace, it’s not about going out the gate right away. The nice thing about it was the camaraderie, so there were Soldiers working together and unit bonding by participating in something that was difficult to do. The end result was they were very successful. There was a lot of personal pride tied to this.”
For next year’s event, which they have hopes of making group-wide, there are a few additions they had in mind.
“Overall the event was extremely successful,” Kelly said. “I think we can probably make the race a little bit longer. Originally we had wanted to integrate a few more skills into the event, like adding a swimming phase. Also, we want to add military skills events after each leg, as opposed to the end, to have them conduct the skills while under stress.”
Although it may have a civilian face to it, there were many military benefits to the event, Watson said.
“In the end, they’re doing PT, they’re doing land navigation, and something incredibly challenging mentally,” Watson said. “And we’re building the team within our organization.”