Our friend Mark Piggott from the public affairs office at the Naval Weapons Station in Yorktown, Va., not only helped organize one heck of an adventure race for a couple hundred soldiers, he followed it up by writing a doozy of a guest blog post for us. Here’s Mark’s report:Cold, rainy and muddy conditions would not deter the 54 teams competing in the Mid-Atlantic Region, Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) Department’s 9th annual all-military Wilderness Challenge, Oct. 8-10.
More than 250 military personnel representing commands from all across the armed forces competed in five grueling extreme outdoor events in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains on the New and the Gauley Rivers in West Virginia.
The “Dale Milton Racing” team from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Camp Lejune, N.C., was 1st place winner for the Marine Corps and the 2009 Wilderness Challenge champions. According to Maj. Keith Parrella, the team captain, the challenge plays on the real-life teamwork that Marines and other military service members rely on.
“What we do day-to-day is a lot about teamwork and this (Wilderness Challenge) is all about teamwork,” Parrella explained. “That’s what we do everyday in real life. You’ve got to work as a team. You’re only as fast as your slowest person.”
“It plays to the strengths that the military builds on in each of the individual services,” Lt. Cmdr. Joshua Lafferty, Naval Expeditionary Combat Command, Norfolk, Va., added. Lafferty is team captain for “Trample the Weak, Hurdle the Dead” team, which took 1st place for the U.S. Navy and 3rd place overall in the Wilderness Challenge. “That helps bond us together as a military force, bringing what they got to do the best.”
The challenge contains a series of five outdoor adventure races in a team format designed to bring camaraderie, competition and team spirit between all five branches of the Armed Services. Teams participating in this year’s challenge competed in an 8K mountain run, a 10-mile mountain bike race, a 15-mile forced hike through the mountains, a 13-mile whitewater raft race on the Gauley River and a 7-mile kayak race on the New River … a total of 50 miles covered during two days of competition.
“The MWR Wilderness Challenge continues to bring together the best athletes in the armed forces and puts them to the test,” said Michael Bond, MWR Director, Naval Weapons Station Yorktown and event coordinator. “The competition gets tougher and tougher every year.”
For some competitors, the Wilderness Challenge was a homecoming of sorts. U.S. Army PFC’s Joseph Perry and Matthew Browning of “Team Cobra” from the 109th Quartermaster Company, Fort Lee, Va., competed in the challenge for a chance to come home. Perry is from Grafton, W.Va., and Browning from Pineville, W.Va.
“It’s great being back in the mountains,” Perry said. “I want to do well, represent the Army and the state of West Virginia.”
The Wilderness Challenge seems to bring out the best in all of its competitors. They train hard for more than a year in preparation for these events and nothing will stop them from finishing the challenge, including a broken arm. Such was the case for U.S. Air Force Capt. George Van Osterom of Team “Terrible Tigers” from the 7th Intelligence Squadron, Fort Meade, Md., who broke his arm at the start of Day 2 during the 8-mile mountain bike run.
“At some point, I hit a rock on the trail and the next thing I knew I was on the ground, probably still pedaling my bike,” Van Osterom said, holding up his splinted arm. “My arm came down on the corner of a rock, so I knew it was gonna be a doozy.”
“I had gone this far and, you know, that’s kind of the spirit of the whole thing,” he continued. “You push yourself further than you would normally push yourself, I just had to keep going and finish up strong.”
In an ironic twist of fate, Van Osterom was only participating in the challenge as an alternate because one of the original team members broke his arm while training for the mountain bike race. That’s what makes the Wilderness Challenge unique among military competitions-it’s ability to take something fun and turn it into a challenge.
“All of the teams that are here are pretty tough,” said U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Dan Deptula. Deptula is the Commanding Officer, Maritime Safety and Security Team Boston, Mass., and team leader for “Ducky Fuzz and the Masters of Rubber,” 1st place for the U.S. Coast Guard and 2nd place overall in the 2009 Wilderness Challenge. “From the moment you get here, it’s ‘game on’ so you keep going and hope you’ve got enough in the tank to make it all the way to the end.”
For some teams, the Wilderness Challenge is not just about the spirit of the competition and camaraderie between the armed forces. It’s being able to say “I finished the Wilderness Challenge” by proudly displaying the challenge coin given only to service members who finish all five events.