CAMP MACKALL, NC – The soldiers are panting as they circle the first curve. The cold air seems to be no help as the sweat begins to form – and this is only the beginning.
One by one, soldiers of Company C, 4th Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne), make their way through more than a mile of obstacles on a course named Nasty Nick.
Nasty Nick is a rite of passage for any U.S. Army Special Forces soldier, and on Feb. 25, the obstacle course was used to kick off a weeklong training event for the company.
“This obstacle course is a part of the Special Forces heritage,” said Maj. Kent Solheim, Company C commander. “It’s nice to come back and revisit that.”
The Nasty Nick received its name from the late U.S. Army Special Forces Lt. Col. James “Nick” Rowe.
Rowe, a Vietnam War veteran who was held captive for more than five years, was one of only 34 American prisoners of war to escape captivity. He used his knowledge of surviving as a POW to create the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape training program that all SF soldiers must complete.
Nasty Nick, was designed to test fear of heights and confined spaces. It also measures strength and endurance.
“It’s a tough course,” explained Solheim. “It’s physically challenging and the [Special Forces teams] need to be in top shape. The Nasty Nick is a good way to test that.”
Solheim said the course helps the soldiers keep their edge, and it is a great tool for training.
“The best thing about this obstacle course is that it’s long enough [and] it’s hard,” he said.
The course is more than a mile of wooded terrain with more than 20 obstacles spread along the path. One obstacle takes the soldiers underground, where they must crawl in the dark through tunnels that lead them to the exit rope. Many obstacles are high in the air and require climbing rope ladders to complete them. Some of the soldiers have faced the course many times.
The first time a SF soldier experiences the Nasty Nick obstacle course is when he goes through the three week Special Forces Assessment and Selection process as a candidate.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Jeff Miller, Company C operations officer, remembers going through the course 23 years ago.
“My first time seeing Nasty Nick was back in 1990,” said Miller, who was a candidate at that time. “Over time, the obstacles have changed and some have become more difficult. Any time I’ve ever completed this course, it has been a challenge mentally and physically.”
The 30-foot-high rope climbs were the most difficult, he said.
“Believe it or not, I’m afraid of heights,” said Miller. “Even though I jump out of airplanes and repel, heights have always bothered me. There are obstacles here that are really high and require you to maneuver at those heights. It increases my mental confidence when I continue to push through my fears and get it done.”
Soldiers can complete the obstacle course individually or as a team. Miller said both build esprit de corps.
“When you complete the course as an individual it poses a mental and physical challenge that the Soldier has to negotiate by himself,” he said. “If you do it as a team you increase cohesion and team work. Either way, there is always the bragging rights of who was faster or who navigated the course more efficiently.”
Special Forces soldiers deploy often and this course can help prepare them for some of the challenges they may face, he added.
“Obviously, you may not come over this exact obstacle in a combat situation,” said Miller. “It helps them make decisions under pressure, and in the end you just have to push through and get it done.”