CAMP HOVEY, South Korea — Spc. Solomon Weaver is a 21-year-old tanker from Patterson, Calif., serving with the Delta Company Desperados of the 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.
He’s not very tall, and not very big, but he’s the fastest soldier in his battalion, possibly even the whole brigade. He can run 2 miles in 10 minutes and 47 seconds.
“For the 2-mile, I’m definitely the fastest,” Weaver said. “I always get set aside for ability group runs and that kind of thing.”
The other members of Weaver’s company like to joke about how fast he is.
“He used to get beat up a lot, so he had to run fast,” said one soldier, to which Weaver doesn’t respond, he only smiles.
For two years, Weaver’s demonic speed was the best-kept secret of the company. That is, until he decided to attend Air Assault School, a grueling course where soldiers learn how to transport equipment with a helicopter via sling load.
“I wanted a challenge,” said Weaver, who had been working as a clerk for the past nine months. “I wanted to go out and prove myself, to myself. Not just physically but mentally as well.”
Weaver laid low for the first two weeks of class, focusing on memorizing information and practicing the different types of sling loads.
Sgt. Joseph Cabriales, a tank gunner in Weaver’s company who also completed Air Assault School was there to motivate him.
“I kind of egged him on the whole class, like, ‘Hey, you’d better win. You’d better beat all these infantry guys. It’s bragging rights,’” said Cabriales.
Weaver was one of the first soldiers who Cabriales met upon reporting to Delta Company.
“Weaver is a soldier that I’ve taken interest in,” said Cabriales. “It was nice having him there too, seeing him push himself in uncomfortable situations where he didn’t think would be.”
Weaver, who had never been to a special school before, was quickly realizing the amount of determination required to succeed.
“It was like drinking from the fire hose,” said Weaver. “It was learning so much, so rapidly.”
It didn’t help that Weaver caught a cold halfway through the course, right before a 6-mile ruck march that would determine who would continue with the course.
“There was a bug going around and I just so happened to catch it that day,” said Weaver. “I was hurting for that.”
Weaver hunkered down and pushed forward. He made it through all the sling loads, the rappelling and the sudden-death elimination style testing. All that remained was the 12-mile ruck march, the culminating test of Air Assault School, meant to challenge the soldier’s will to persevere by draining away whatever endurance remained after two weeks of intense physical exercise.
The ruck march began at 2:45 in the morning. The heat was unbearable.
“We started out in ACUs. We cuffed the sleeves once and rolled the pant legs three times. They had us downgrade our blouses because it was so humid that morning. We ended up in just our fighting load carriers, tan T-shirt, pants, and the ruck,” Weaver said.
He began at a leisurely pace.
“When I started, some people passed me,” said Weaver “I was thinking in my head, I could probably go that fast.”
Weaver began to pick up steam, bounding past the other soldiers on the ruck march.
At one point Weaver thought that another soldier was trying to catch up to him and take the guidon, so he picked up the pace. It turns out that the soldier chasing him was one of the air assault instructors, tasked with keeping track of the formation.
“I kept pushing pretty much as hard as I thought I could,” Weaver said.
Weaver’s final time for the ruck march was 2 hours and 2 minutes. He was presented with an award for his achievement at the air assault graduation ceremony later that day.
Capt. Robert Mathis, Weaver’s company commander, was present to congratulate his soldier, both for completing the course and having the fastest ruck march time.
“Anytime we can do something for our junior enlisted soldiers, we do it,” Mathis said. “It’s definitely great that they get to wear the badge.”
As for Weaver, “He’s Desperado material,” said Mathis. “He can stick around.”