Herald/TJ MAXWELL - Pfc. Jonathan Gandy, Alpha Company, 589th Brigade Support Battalion, 41st Fires Brigade, attempts to reassemble a M2 .50-caliber machine gun as grader Staff Sgt. Ernesto Ferrer, Bravo Company, 5589th Brigade Support Battalion, 41st Fires Brigade, looks on Friday during a “Best by Test” competition at Fort Hood. -

By Colleen Flaherty

Killeen Daily Herald

Junior 41st Fires Brigade leaders capped off a week of friendly competition with a gunner challenge Friday at the 589th Brigade Support Battalion's motorpool.

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 and noncommissioned officers.

Soldiers took about 30 minutes to complete the task 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. 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.

Maintaining perishable skills and keeping a sense of combat identity, even as deployment cycles begin to slow, is the idea behind the 589th's quarterly "Best by Test" week, battalion commander Lt. Col. Patrick Curran said.

Each of the week's 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, 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 Railgunner logisticians participated in the week's activities, which also included a land navigation challenge and a surprise, early morning hasty defense.

Staff Sgt. Paul Naccarato, Alpha Company, said he was impressed by the competitive nature his soldiers exhibited, motioning to Davis, 21, as she completed her gunner skills test.

Davis was the first female soldier to cross the finish line in the morning's ruck march, he said, far ahead of many of her male counterparts and despite the heat.

The ruck march was Davis' favorite event.

"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 temperature. "We were cheering each other on and motivating each other."

Winners of the "Best by Test" challenge will be announced Friday.

Contact Colleen Flaherty at colleenf@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter at KDHfeatures.

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