Combat Provider Ride
Story and Photo by Pvt. Crystal D. Eldridge
13th COSCOM Public Affairs Office
The morning sun rose slowly above the Soldiers' Kevlar helmets. Dust hung in the air, coating the insides of nostrils as the determined warriors prepared themselves for the task at hand. It was barely daylight but the light breeze was warm and stifling, causing battle dress uniforms to stick to moist skin.
Load-bearing equipment was pulled tight against the Soldiers' torsos, full canteens tugging at the belts. Rucksacks bulged from the weight of wet-weather gear, BDUs, entrenching tools and extra water. Weapons added to the load, each Soldier carrying an M-16 rifle at the low-ready.
Trouser-legs were unbloused and rolled for added protection against the Texas heat. Even so, brown undershirts were stained by sweat before the Soldiers could even get underway.
Brows creased as anticipation rose. Knees were slightly bent as the signal was given. The 180th Transportation Battalion Combat Provider Ride 12-mile road march began.
Six Soldiers set out to complete this feat of will and strength. They had already successfully completed an Army Physical Fitness Test with a score of at least 270. They had endured scrutiny as they stood at attention for a Class-A uniform inspection. They answered questions on a written exam and composed a written essay. Yet none of these tests came close to comparing to the dusty road march they were about to endure.
"The march was the hardest by far," said Spc. Steven Valentin of Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment of the 180th.
Valentin, one of only five Soldiers to successfully complete this year's Provider Ride, had already passed the APFT with a score of 281, earning the Army Physical Fitness Badge.
"My ruck broke. [I] ran out of water," Valentin said.
"Toward the end, it's excruciating," said Spc. Julia Carrillo of the 263rd Maintenance Company.
Carrillo finished the march by Valentin's side and went on to become one of the five new Providers. She and Valentin completed the march together.
"I wanted all of us to make it … trying to motivate everybody," Carrillo said.
"If I didn't have anyone to motivate me, I probably would have quit," Valentin said. Instead of quitting, he and Carrillo encouraged each other and finished as a team.
Valentin and Carrillo were not the only ones who offered encouragement during the road march.
"The cadre came out helping … helped out a lot. I saw [Command] Sgt. Maj. [Richard B. Adams Jr.] behind me, and I said 'have to go faster.' I didn't want Sgt. Maj. to catch up with me," said Pfc. Michael A. Ruiz, of the 263rd Maintenance Company, who not only became a Provider but earned the Army Physical Fitness Badge as well.
Valentin agreed. "[Adams is] a lot older. I was like 'he ain't gonna beat me!'"
Despite their motivation, these newest Providers still experienced pain.
"My LBE was rubbing!" said Spc. Inacio F. Vasquez of the 297th Cargo Transfer Company. "[But] anyone can do [the Combat Provider Ride]. You just have to apply yourself … never quit."
"Every time I stopped, my legs cramped up!" Carrillo said, her face contorted as she remembered the pain.
"I felt something fall apart [while I was marching]. It was my foot!" laughed Ruiz.
Yet there was one thing Ruiz loathed more than the pain.
"Once you taste defeat, once you've had that feeling, you don't want to feel that again," Ruiz stated, explaining why he would never quit.
Another thing these Soldiers had to keep in mind is that they may be deploying to Iraq soon.
"Now I know [the skills I worked on for the Provider Ride] like the back of my hand. It's real good training for deployment," said Valentin.
"You see things you're going to need," Ruiz said. "It's good training … builds character."
Carrillo agreed. She said she experienced obstacles and training that she has not had since Basic Combat Training. She said she feels more prepared.
Carrillo also feels more pride.
"Pride - how good it feels," she stated.
"You know you stepped up to the challenge. It may not mean a lot to others, but it means a lot to you. We just did things that every Soldier should know - it should be second nature to us. You just have to stay 'hooah-hooah,'" said Ruiz.
And so these five Soldiers have. Spc. Luis Trevino of the 289th Quartermaster Company, after the 12-mile march, ran across the finish line - ruck and all. It is that same heart and motivation that drove him to earn the Army Physical Fitness Badge as well as Provider status.
"The pain paid off," said Carrillo.
"It was well worth it," stated Valentin.
After "It" - the road march - the Soldiers still had four more obstacles to overcome. They were given the opportunity to rest, conduct personal hygiene and take care of their feet, then they had to go through four stations. They were tested on first aid, NBC, communications and weapons.
Upon successful completion of all obstacles, the five Soldiers earned the honor of being called Combat Providers. These Soldiers will receive a battalion certificate of achievement, a Combat Provider belt buckle and shirt and their names will be added to the Combat Provider plaque in battalion headquarters.
The 180th's new Providers say they would advise all Soldiers to participate in future Provider Rides.
Vasquez summed it up. "They should make it a monthly event. It was too easy. I'm done."
Soldiers of the 180th Transportation Battalion receive a pep-talk as they prepare for the 12-mile road march as part of this year’s Combat Provider Ride.