A Soldier with a wounded ankle is carried along by his peers through the woods as sweat soaks through each of their uniforms. Still they drive forward, much as they would in combat, determined to earn their place next to their predecessors in a military lineage as old as warfare itself.
The injured Soldier was Spc. Joseph Kelley, a cavalry scout with Troop B, 1st Squadron, 73rd Airborne Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. In his quest to earn the coveted silver spurs, the sign of a truly expert Soldier of a cavalry regiment, Kelley tore his Achilles tendon. But he was not deterred, and with the assistance of his comrades, he drove onward.
“Everybody heard about Specialist Kelley,” said Lt. Col. Eric Baus, the squadron commander. “Kelly demonstrated what it means to be loyal to your unit, never quit, and trust the Soldiers by your side,” said Baus.
The Spur Ride derives its tradition from the ancient practice of awarding spurs to proven cavalry warriors. The oldest known spurs were discovered at an Etruscan archeological site from around 200 B.C. in modern-day western Italy.
Today, the U.S. Army Cavalry still recognizes the tradition of awarding the Silver Spurs to Soldiers who have proven their skills and commitment with a series of tests ranging from team-based fitness, to maneuvers, call for fire, to a final board, said Baus.
The requirements to participate are having spent more than six months in the regiment, be the rank of specialist or higher, participated in a joint operational access exercise or the Joint Readiness Training Center, and must be recommended and sponsored by a current spur holder.
Although the Spur Ride is occasionally compared to the Expert Infantryman Badge by some, it does have some significant differences. Instead of being strictly a test of an individual’s ability to complete combat-related tasks, the Spur Ride emphasizes the importance of teamwork.
“We started together, we finish together,” Baus said. For anybody to earn the Silver Spurs, they are required to complete each exercise as a team.
Even the fitness test was a team effort. The push-up event required participants to form a single, unbroken chain of Soldiers doing push-ups as a single unit, Baus explained.
Another unique characteristic of the Spur Ride is the light-hearted nature of the event. This gives paratroopers from different units, an opportunity to build bonds.
“You want to know that you can trust the guy to your left and your right, even if you don’t know him,” Baus said.
One aspect of the fun and team building is the concept of a “spur buddy,” one or more objects that are given to a candidate by a sponsor that is to be carried throughout the entire event. These objects can range from symbolic objects like rubber swords, to eggs. If an object is broken, a memorial ceremony, complete with burial and eulogy, is provided for the spur buddy.
“The sergeant major was given a bag of toy soldiers that he had to put in formation at every station with the platoon sergeant at the front,” Baus said with a laugh. “When he got there, he had to report their status.”
Maintaining the status of troops is exactly how Kelley, the determined cavalry scout, was able to complete the Spur Ride on his injured ankle.
“It was raining and we were going down a hill when I stepped on a log,” Kelley said. “I rolled my ankle pretty good.”
He said his teammates repeatedly asked him if he wanted to quit due to the severity of his injury.
“I want my spurs,” he said as he insisted on completing the remaining events. “If I quit now, then I’m always going to quit.”
Keeping with the tradition of the cavalry warrior, Kelley and the other paratroopers of the 1st Squadron, 73rd Airborne Cavalry Regiment who completed the Spur Ride, demonstrated what it means to be loyal to the unit and comrades, and to finish what you start as a team; regardless of the hardships or challenges they might face.