Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Competing for t-shirts, cement trophies and bragging rights

I was asked to write for this BLOG the day after I participated in an event. I think that instead of writing about my political thoughts on the war, or what I miss at home, the Combat Relay would probably be easy for readers back home to relate to. Since I may be embellishing the truth a little bit, I changed the names to protect the names of the participants.

This past Sunday, one of the units here in BIAP hosted a unique race. The Combat Relay was a relay race in which five team members would run or walk two miles with a 30 pound rucksack and rifle. The runners had to wear their combat uniforms and combat boots, the rucksack and rifle were the relay batons. For some reason this sounded like a good idea, when we started talking about it two weeks ago. One of the teams was picked early. We immediately started calling it the “Varsity Team” because they picked people who were fit and should have done well. Majors Z, Y and I started picking other members for a second team. Our search criteria were based on rank because we were going to call our team “Major Issues.” We were unable to find two other majors willing to run the race so we convinced two captains that it may help their careers if they participated.

With two teams competing, we felt like we were doing something fun. But something was missing, and that was the participation of the unit’s enlisted soldiers. About a week before the event, we started smack talking and challenged the junior sergeants, and “Team Sergeants’ Time” was born.

With three teams competing internally, we had people spying to figure out what the other teams’ race strategy was and how their rucksack would be packed, and trying to figure out who should race against whom. We heard rumors of teams of ringers being flown in from outlying bases, and of the course obstacles. The smack talk continued, and we were having a great time with it. The trash talk continued about our advanced age, someone stopping for a cigarette on the course, and who would require CPR after the race.

On race day, we met at 4:15am for the ride across Baghdad International Airport for the 5:00am registration. Like many races in the States, it was dark when we registered. The race would begin at 6:15am, so we sat around, drank coffee, made nervous jokes, and listened to the 10th Mountain Division Band, which began playing in the dark. There were more than 70 teams competing for t-shirts, cement trophies and bragging rights. Some of the teams included Marines, Sailors, Airmen, and others had Brits, Australians, and even Ugandans. We received our race instructions, listened to the invocation, had our team photos taken, and all three of our runners stood next to each other in the starting box.

And then it started, the runners took off in what I would describe as a sprint. We sat and stood in the transition area waiting to see who would be first in. Fourteen minutes after the start, a soldier sprinted in and passed his rucksack and weapon. That is moving very fast, world class fast. We were outclassed and we knew it.
Somewhere in each of us is a competitive instinct. It comes out when needed; we may ignore it for years, but it is still there. This instinct came out that day for 15 members of my unit. All three of the teams knew that they would not win, but we would not let our team members down, and we could always talk smack to the other two teams if we beat them. Every member of our teams put forth his or her best, and I am immensely proud of that. These are the kind of people that you want to go to war with.

The run was difficult, much harder than most of us imagined. It was on a dirt path around one of the lakes, but the only thing that I saw was my boots hitting the ground and the occasional glance forward. Sergeant X, one of my sergeants, came out to watch the event. It turned out that instead of just cheering us on, he escorted Captain W along the path, and when she passed me the ruck, he ran the two miles with me. He could have slept in like most Soldiers that day, but he chose to run 4 miles to support his team. SGT X didn’t have to say a word of encouragement, his being there was more than enough for me to keep plodding forward.

The winning team completed the course in 1 hour and 20 minutes, barely beating team “Major Issues” with a time of two hours and 7 minutes. We didn’t finish dead last, just dead tired. We managed to cheer on the last runners and escorted our unit members as they crossed the finish line. As we watched the awards ceremony, I realized that we hadn’t been talking smack to each other after the race. It seemed that we had a new found respect for the 14 others who participated, and the two members of our “support staff.” Although I didn’t know all of those people very well before the race, I know a lot more about them now.

In the Army we have a short creed that states among other things that “A warrior never quits, and never accepts defeat.” The Combat Relay reminded me there are men and women among my small group, and many others here who continue to live as warriors. We may not be a part of America’s World War II “Greatest Generation,” but their spirit lives on in their grandchildren and great grandchildren. You can all be proud of that.

Maj. Michael Bruschi is a logistics officer and serves as the Aviation Brigade’s S4. He has been in the N.C. Army National Guard for 22 years and is on his second deployment in Iraq. Bruschi is a resident of Fayetteville, N.C. and married to Lori and has one son, Chris.

Maj. Michael Bruschi, a logistics officer for Task Force 449,participates in a 10 mile combat relay, where he runs two miles, with a 30 pound pack and carries a rifle.

Soldiers with Task Force 449 participated in a 10 mile Combat relay, while deployed to Iraq. Pictured are the three Aviation Brigade teams, which completed the challenge, running two miles with a 30 pound pack and hand carrying a rifle.


  1. Wow a 10 mile run,I bet you are still sore from that,Well my best reguards in all that you do to serve this country,Keep up the good work! Sincerly,Tyler.K.Fender