By Colleen Flaherty
Fort Hood Herald
Maintaining perishable skills and keeping a sense of combat identity, even as deployment cycles begin to slow, was the idea behind the 589th Brigade Support Battalion, 41st Fires Brigade's "Best by Test" week.
About 24 logisticians from the 589th and 1st Battalion, 21st Field Artillery Regiment's 575th Forward Support Company cleared, disassembled, reassembled and performed a functions check on either a .50-caliber machine gun or a 40 mm grenade launcher under the assessing eyes of senior officers and noncommissioned officers during the competitive training week's final task Friday.
Soldiers took about 30 minutes to complete the task, at the 589th's motorpool, and were judged on thoroughness rather than speed.
Spc. Robert Wheeler, Alpha Company, 589th, said it had been about two years since he'd put his hands on a .50-caliber gun before this week's challenge. It was kind of like riding a bike, he said, until the end.
"My mind kind of went blank," Wheeler said.
Spc. Zamunda Davis, Alpha company, agreed.
"I forgot a few things," she said.
Staff Sgt. Paul Naccarato, Alpha Company, said he was impressed by the competitive nature his soldiers exhibited all week, motioning to Davis, 21, as she completed her gunner skills test.
Davis was the first female soldier to cross the finish line during the ruck march, he said, far ahead of many of her male counterparts.
The ruck march was Davis' favorite event of the week, she said.
"It kind of helps morale to get to compete," she said. "It's more motivating to get to do that."
Wheeler said his favorite part of the challenge was Wednesday's enhanced physical training test, despite the 105-degree weather.
"We were cheering each other on and motivating each other."
Each of the tests, starting with a mechanic's challenge on Monday and concluding with Friday's six-mile ruck march and gunner challenge, were selected to reactivate skills sets and increase soldier confidence, 589th commander Lt. Col. Patrick Curran said.
"These are combat-preferred weapons, both in Iraq and Afghanistan," he continued, motioning toward the artillery pieces. Operating them is more complex than people see in the movies, and soldiers can lose the skills they don't use, he said.
The battalion returned from its second deployment to Iraq in August 2009.
About 280 Rail Gunner logisticians participated in the week's activities, which also included a land navigation challenge and a surprise, early morning hasty defense.
Winners of the challenge will be announced Friday.
Contact Colleen Flaherty at email@example.com or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter at KDHfeatures.