The rumbling Army buses lumber down Longstreet Road, a crumbling 10-mile asphalt road two miles south of Fort Bragg. As the buses reach their destination, each bus emits the loud report of air brakes being set. The bus doors swish open and the passengers spill into the May 17 darkness that seems blackest just before dawn.
Two of the Soldiers on the bus are Capt. Lauren S. Nofsinger and Spc. Jerrod J. Guidry. Both are dressed in T-shirts and combat uniforms looking ready to participate in a typical Army physical fitness training program. But today they are part of 12, four-person teams participating in the 528th Sustainment Brigade’s second annual Sentinel Challenge.
The Sentinel Challenge highlights each person’s physical endurance and positive mental skills, drawing on the essential ingredients for successful special operations forces — teamwork and the development of relationships individuals rely on to form cohesive units during deployments.
The challenge consists of four events: the five-mile ruck march, the seven-mile run, a 15-mile bicycle ride and a 1000-meter swim. The run and biking events were staged on Longstreet Road and the swim contest was at Tucker Pool on post.
The teams appointed one Soldier per event and times were graded and scores accumulated for fastest time to decide the winning team.
At a certain point during each event, a mystery event was added. The participant was stopped and instructed to change the way they completed the rest of their event.
With a mile to the finish line Guidry, carrying a 40-pound ruck, was instructed to turn the ruck around and either hold or carry the weight on his chest. “Everything was good up to that point, but having the ruck on my chest made it harder to breathe,” said Guidry, who crossed the finish line ahead of the other competitors.
When the time arrived for Nofsinger to start her 15-mile bike event, she expected some additional challenge would be added. Sure enough, with a mile left, she was stopped by the route judge and instructed to complete the rest of the ride without peddling, either pushing or running alongside her bike.
With the finish line within sight, Nofsinger’s fellow team members caught up with her and ran alongside, cheering her efforts to the finish line. The determined look of competing turned to all smiles once she crossed the finish line. High fives and comments of “well-done” were heard, but several gulps of sports drinks and water were the next course of business for Nofsinger.
“I enjoyed the ride and the competition, but the gravel portion made it difficult pedaling, but now I am ready for a bath and a good dinner, said Nofsinger.”
Although each member had their singular role to play in this competition, the joint effort of the teams added points to the total scores. At the impromptu ceremony, the scores were tallied and the winning team and individual winners were announced.
The winning team from the 112th Signal Battalion was 1st Lt. Braeden M. Williams in the ruck march, Pfc. Cody M. Trahan on the seven-mile run, Pfc. Taylor N. Goodman on the bike and 1st Lt. Anastasia K. Cale in the swim competition.
Guidry completed the ruck march in the shortest time, Staff Sgt. Corey D. Wilson won the run contest, Sgt. James E. Kohler had the best bike time and Pfc. Natalie A. Bellomo finished first in the swim event.
No prizes were awarded nor were there any ornate plaques presented, instead the names of the winning team are to be engraved and attached to a traveling trophy, a slightly damaged and delicately-aged symbol of brigade excellence.
After the ceremony, the Soldiers, whose day had started in the pre-dawn hours, were released for the day. Instead of a mass exodus from the area, laughter mixed with storytelling of running on rough pavement, marching with shifting ruck bags, long bike rides on hilly terrain and swimming lap after lap were the subjects of conversation.
For Command Sgt. Maj. Bobby A. Hagy, it was a great ending to the event that took weeks of planning and coordination to pull off.
“Each person has a vital part to contribute to team building and through this challenge we sublimely build on the Army principles of teamwork,” said Hagy.
For Sgt. Maj. Mark J. Young, the event coordinator and one of the bike competitors, it was time to regroup, because two days later, the brigade started their next training program anew.