Coming off the bus to a crowd of camouflage-laden soldiers, Cory Jefferson’s smile said: “It’s good to be back.”
Growing up just outside the Fort Hood gates, Baylor’s 6-foot-9 junior forward often fell asleep to explosions on post and used to attend physical training sessions with his mother, Fancy Pace, before she dropped him off at elementary school.
“I just remember it being early in the morning and I’d be up here with my mom and sometimes she’d let me go out there and run with her,” said Jefferson, who still works out at the Abrams Physical Fitness Center when he’s in town. “And we’d just be running, that’s all I can remember, running around the course.”
That experience proved more than helpful Saturday when the Baylor men’s basketball team took part in a surprise leadership challenge courtesy of soldiers from the 4th Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command, at Fort Hood.
“It was like being at home, really,” Jefferson said.
Dressed in camouflage pants, black boots and a T-shirt that read “Baylor: 1 mission,” the Bears players were put through a rigorous regimen during the team-building weekend visit organized by Baylor head coach Scott Drew and Col. Mark Simerly, the brigade’s commander.
“We’re going to put them through physical challenges, but also some things that should cause them to develop leadership skills, interact as a team and promote discipline in those events,” Simerly said before the players arrived Saturday.
Fresh off a school-record 30-win campaign last season, Baylor players, coaches and support personnel were given a crash course in the life of a 4th Sustainment Brigade soldier, including being berated drill-sergeant style, working through challenges at the Leadership Reaction Course and simulated weapons training Saturday.
“What I hope they get out of this is to come together more as a team,” said Sgt. 1st Class Armando Luna, who led one of the four groups. “I know they already work together, but with the different obstacles that they have will help them learn even more as a unit.”
Jefferson said he really enjoyed the weapons training, in which the players used assault rifles and machine guns that were retrofitted with light sensors for simulated video game-like situations.
“I’m a pretty experienced ‘Call of Duty’ player, so yeah, it was pretty fun,” Jefferson said. “It was a good learning experience.”
Although Jefferson was smiling coming off the bus, his expression reverted to a stone-faced stare when he realized what he and his fellow Bears teammates were walking into.
“I took it pretty serious. I know how everything goes in the military,” Jefferson said.
Of course, he’d get his smile back, especially when his team — which included Bears starting guards Pierre Jackson and Brady Heslip — accomplished a challenge at the course that required the players to transport all seven team members, a large barrel and four wooden poles over two six-foot walls.
“Whenever you do stuff like this, you don’t see it as a team-bonding thing, but everybody over there is just getting closer with every activity we do,” Heslip said. “So it’s definitely cool to do stuff like this.”
Added Jefferson: “I see it building chemistry and leadership, and whenever somebody needs to step up they’ll be able to step up.”
But Sgt. 1st Class Elsira Preston, 62nd Quartermaster Company, 553rd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, and the noncomissioned officer in charge at the Leadership Reaction Course, said there were positive and negative aspects to the players’ showing Saturday.
“I was impressed with the teamwork and the communication was good, but (there were) minor things that soldiers are used to like a splinter — they stopped the whole mission for a splinter — so that was pretty funny to us,” Preston said.
Showing off skills
Also Saturday, the players put on their coaching hats and worked with four teams of soldiers during a mini basketball tournament before participating in a three-point shooting and dunk competition.
“It’ll be interesting not to see the Baylor men’s basketball players on the court, which we get a chance to see throughout the season, but to see them as coaches and give them the chance to develop as leaders in that fashion,” Simerly said.
On Sunday, the players got a more hands-on feel for the dirty side of soldiers’ lives when they participated in six obstacles on the Air Assault Obstacle Course that test a soldier’s physical strength and endurance as well as their confidence and ability to withstand fear.
Players experienced the belly crawl under barbed wire, the reversed climb and the Slide for Life rope challenge. There was also a demonstration and instruction into how soldiers use combatives to defend themselves in hand-to-hand confrontations.