Warfighters compete in Labor Day raft race

Story by Sgt. Keith S. VanKlompenberg
13th SC(E) public affairs

JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq — Service members gathered to show off their creativity, ingenuity and athleticism at the Labor Day raft race Sept. 7 at Joint Base Balad, Iraq.

“It was a good excuse to get out of the office for a bit on Labor Day,” said Capt. Sarah Bobell, commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 402nd Army Field Support Brigade, who sponsored the event.

Competitors could use water bottles, duct tape, 550 parachute cord and one broom stick to build rafts for the day’s events.

The race challenged teams of four in a 100-meter race from one end of the pool to the other and back. Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines made up the 17 teams that competed in the race.

The race consisted of three qualification heats with the fastest teams moving on.

Teams with elaborate raft creations were not able to get the same speed from their vessels as teams with more simple, aerodynamic boats.

“We got last, but it was still fun,” said Senior Airman Jason Venable, an aircraft egress technician with the 332nd Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron and a Denver native, whose team built a large raft resembling a manta ray spearing a goat.

The top six teams from the initial heats moved on to the finals where the action grew in intensity.

After multiple disqualifications for teams who used more than the authorized supplies and whose team members outside the pool touched their raft, a winner was chosen.

“You don’t follow the rules, you don’t win,” said Spc. John Ferguson, a Technical Engineer with the 37th and Jasper, Ala. native, whose team of engineers were declared the raft race champions. “I don’t feel bad about taking the win because of a disqualification. We played by the rules and ended up on top.”

After the race, the votes for best theme, best design and the raft that could hold the most passengers were tallied and the winners were given T-shirts.

Another group of engineers from the 332nd ECES won for best theme with their pirate ship.

A team of Sailors, all chief petty officer selectees, won for best raft design. 

The prize for the raft that held the most passengers was given to the “Dixie Storm Docs” of the 1-155th infantry battalion aid station here.


news photo
Air Force Staff Sgt. Noah McKenzie, an emergency management craftsman with the Expeditionary Civil Engineering Squadron, 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, pulls his raft through the pool at the Labor Day Raft Race Sept. 7 at Joint Base Balad.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Keith S. VanKlompenberg)

news photo
Air Force 1st Lt. Ryan Miller and 2nd Lt. Tiffany VanDenBroeke of the 332nd AEW Expeditionary Civil Engineers Squadron speed to the finish Sept. 7at the JBB Labor Day Raft Race. The team of engineers took first place in the race, but was later disqualified for illegal play during flag handoff procedures.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Naveed Ali Shah)