Recon Challenge pushes teams to the limit


Recon Marine
Verified SOF
Jan 12, 2009
Motivating Read!

Recon Challenge pushes teams to the limit

By Gidget Fuentes - Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday May 27, 2009 8:42:14 EDT

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — The finish line was less than a football field away.

Exhausted, Sgt. Paul Peters and Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Alex Nielson knew they had to cover the distance carrying three 25-pound water jugs along with nearly 70 pounds of gear required for the inaugural Recon Challenge, a timed 23-mile test of wills held May 9 at Camp Pendleton. It wouldn’t be easy.

“It just kept stretching on and on,” Nielson said of the course. “I just wanted it to be over.”

Hosted by Advanced Infantry Battalion’s Reconnaissance Training Company, Recon Challenge pitted a dozen two-man teams — the foundation of any reconnaissance unit — in a half-dozen events that included running, climbing, swimming and marksmanship. Instructors created the competition, they said, to determine the Corps’ best recon team.

“We want to see who the tough guys are,” said Sgt. Paul Light, a recon instructor.

By the end, Peters, 20, and Nielson, 22, were well in front of their nearest opponents, so they paused to catch their breath before making the final push. Minutes later, they claimed first-place honors.

The men, members of 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion in Japan, completed the race in 12 hours, 33 minutes and 16 seconds — more than 36 minutes ahead of the runners-up. Each earned a Navy-Marine Corps Commendation Medal and a coveted handmade recon paddle.

Peters and Nielson never doubted they would finish the race, although during that final pause, Peters admitted he wasn’t sure where the finish was.

“Toward the end,” he said, “we thought it was a lot closer, but it turned out to be three or four or five miles.”

The contest began at 2:30 a.m. with a mandatory swim safety check in the Area 53 combat pool. With the clock ticking, teams then knocked out a six-mile hike to the San Onofre beach, where they donned wetsuits and fins and hustled into the chilly Pacific for a 2,000-yard swim.

Once out of the water, the competitors jumped into their desert boots and camouflage to attack an obstacle course at Camp Horno. A small crowd gathered to watch as Peters and Nielson emerged from the hills above, removed their packs and went to work.

As instructors evaluated them, the pair dropped to their knees to disassemble two M4 rifles and then took off for a run through the obstacles, only to return moments later and reassemble the weapons. The disassembly/assembly task isn’t difficult — who hasn’t claimed they can do it blindfolded? — but the event is designed to test whether it can be done while the Marines are tired and sore.

Toward the end of the race, competitors tested their accuracy on the rifle, pistol and grenade ranges. Missed targets tacked on minutes to their time. They could get that time back only by correctly recalling observations from earlier scenarios.

Sound diabolical? That’s by design. Organizers created a course to test skills and strengths — both mental and physical.

“No one was going to say, ‘Wow, that ... was easy,’” Light said.

Maj. Ben Pappas, the company commander, put it this way: “A lot of things that we do are difficult, tiring. They are filled with friction and uncertainty. This is a way we can see their skills and assess” them.

Both men in each team had to complete all events and finish together. For Peters and Nielson, that meant constant communication as they dove into the surf or scrambled up steep hills.

“We were always checking on each other. ‘Are you OK? Cramping? You ought to eat something,’” Peters said.

Teams covered 4,000 feet of elevation in Pendleton’s coastal hills, including the notorious “Recon Ridge” — which some call the “trail of tears.” More than 40 corpsmen were scattered along the course, many waiting at aid stations to check competitors for injuries. A few teams voluntarily dropped out, and medical personnel pulled the plug on at least one other. That’s not always the easiest call to make with a group of hard-charging, Type-A personalities.

In the end, eight of the 12 teams that began the race managed to finish it. Next year, officials hope to tweak the course and possibly open it to nonrecon Marines.

Back at the obstacle course, Gunnery Sgt. Christopher May and teammate Sgt. Steven Goodnight, from Pendleton’s 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion, were cheered on by May’s wife and two children. At the final log obstacle, May paused and marveled at how it felt to sit “for the first time in 10 hours.”

“I’m just so proud of him. He looked good,” his wife, Kathy, said after the event. “I knew he’d be the oldest — he’s 35 — but he got really excited” about the race. “I made him spaghetti the other night, told him to eat lots of carbohydrates.”

Apparently, the robust meal made quite a difference. May and Goodnight finished third overall.

“He’s got such a sense of pride for getting it done,” she said.

The finishers
Eight of the 12 two-man teams that began the inaugural “Recon Challenge” at Camp Pendleton, Calif., made it to the finish line. They are:

1st place

Sgt. Paul A. Peters and Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Alex J. Nielson

3rd Recon Battalion, Okinawa, Japan

Time: 12 hours, 33 minutes, 16 seconds

2nd place

Sgt. Caleb M. Medley and Sgt. Mark E. Rawson

1st Recon Battalion, Camp Pendleton

Time: 13:09:40

3rd place

Gunnery Sgt. Christopher L. May and Sgt. Steven E. Goodnight

1st Marine Special Operations Battalion, Camp Pendleton

Time: 13:25:01

4th place

Sgt. Adam J. Haley and Sgt. Michael J. Vargas

3rd Recon Battalion

Time: 13:35:25

5th place

Maj. John J. Miles and Cpl. Brian A. Robinson

4th Recon Battalion, San Antonio, Texas.

Time: 14:11:38

6th place

Gunnery Sgt. Jed M. Owen

1st Marine Special Operations Battalion

Capt. John R. Collins

1st Recon Battalion

Time: 14:23:03

7th place

Sgt. Stephen W. Moreland and Sgt. Brian W. Robertson

4th Recon Battalion

Time: 14:36:00

8th place

Sgt. Adam R. Sorensen and Sgt. Michael L. James

1st Recon Battalion

Time: 14:40:20
Definatly motivating! I remember seein recon ridge at pendleton years ago, at the time they had paused letting people go up it cause a gunny and captain both had heart attacks trying to get up it! Thats good motivation though, congrats to all who participated!