NEWS | Nov. 8, 2010

Deployed troops compete in combat skills competition

By Spc. Roland Hale , 1st Infantry Division


Sgt. Derek Czerniak, a soldier serving on Camp Taji, Iraq, with the Enhanced Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, crawls under a barbed wire obstacle, Nov. 7, during Demon Fury, a competition designed to test the full spectrum of soldiers’ combat skills.

CAMP TAJI, Iraq (Nov. 8, 2010) — Sixty U.S. troops deployed to Iraq were up before sunrise Nov. 7 to compete in Demon Fury, a unit competition testing the full spectrum of their combat skills.

The competition was hosted by the Enhanced Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, an aviation unit from Fort Riley, Kan. Members of the brigade from around Iraq travelled to Camp Taji for the competition.

Demon Fury, named after the brigade’s nickname, the “Demon Brigade”, began in the early morning hours with a six-mile road march. The march was followed by several events, including a weapons range, an obstacle course and an event in which participants provided medical care to simulated casualties. Demon Brigade troops also appeared before a board and faced a mystery challenge testing their land navigation skills.

“Today’s competition was put together to select the non-commissioned officer and the soldier of the year for 2010 for the Enhanced Combat Aviation Brigade,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Jim Thomson, the senior NCO for the brigade.

“We’ve got over four thousand soldiers in this brigade, and we wanted to do something that was challenging and fun that would select the best of the best.”

Months of training paid off for Pfc. Johnathon Sprinzl, who finished the road march in under an hour.

“I just want to stand out amongst my peers and excel,” said Sprinzl. “I ran all six miles…running is a whole lot different in all this gear.”

“I had to buckle down and dig deep to find my way through the obstacles,” said Spc. Ryan Bradley, who finished just ahead of Sprinzl on the road march with a time of 54 minutes.

Preparation for Demon Fury took several months, said Sgt. Maj. Gregory Pace, the brigade’s senior operations NCO. Pace, who worked with several other NCOs to organize the competition, said that events like this are critical to troops’ welfare and morale.

“It takes a lot of motivation and training and guts to do this,” said Pace. “Soldiers need competition here and there; this is a great way to do that.”

The competition provided a healthy challenge for Pfc. Mark Bilog, who finished the road march in just over 70 minutes and navigated the obstacle course just seconds before the cutoff.

“I need to find out where the massage parlor here is – I’m beat,” said Bilog, “but I’m glad I did this. It gave me motivation and a goal: to be in the best shape of my life.”

The day culminated at Camp Taji’s dining facility with an awards ceremony rewarding the brigade’s top competitors. The brigade named Bilog the 2010 Soldier of the Year and Staff Sgt. Joseph Riddle the 2010 NCO of the Year.

Riddle and Bilog were awarded Army Commendation Medals, slots in an Air Assault training school, and several small gifts from the brigade’s command. But the prize the winners said they look forward to the most is a four day stay at Freedom Rest, a facility on Camp Victory, Iraq, designed to give soldiers a break from the arduous routine of deployment

“Awesome,” said Riddle, describing his victory with one word. “I worked hard to get here, but I wouldn’t be here without my team, everybody from my company.”