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82nd Airborne Does Team-Building with a Twist

Spc. Benjamin Watson, Special to American Forces Press Service

Capt. Ben Salt, a captain in the British Army attached to the operations team 82nd Airborne Division Headquarters, along with his teammate, U.S. Army Capt. Jose J. Hernandez, a battle captain with

FORT BRAGG, N.C., April 28, 2009 –

How does this sound for your morning physical training session?

Begin by carrying a canoe over muddy slopes in the dark, race in two-man teams through the forest to a river bank; then paddle your canoe nearly six miles down a cold and muddy river; next, put on your body armor, full rucksack and advanced combat helmet and push a tire up and down three-and-a-half miles of hills as the sun rises above the trees and out of the morning fog.

You could call it adventurous. Lt. Col. Robert J. Neitzel, chief of operations for the 82nd Airborne Division, does. He described the workout as “adventure PT,” or a series of team-oriented challenges meant to work the upper body and test the overall physical fitness of his paratroopers.

On April 23, soldiers assigned to the Division’s operations team found out exactly how exhausting and beneficial Neitzel’s “adventure PT” could be.

“First and foremost, most people don’t have a lot of experience canoeing,” Neitzel, a native of Horicon, Wisc., said, “so just the simple fact of going straight down a river that’s got a current and has a lot of twists to it, these guys have to talk to each other.”

“Canoeing isn’t something that we do on a regular basis,” said Capt. Evan Hessel, battle captain with “The Team” and Portland, Ore. native, “so really for the first 30 minutes, you’re really getting to know your teammate and basically getting in sync. It was not easy right off the bat.”

Hessel’s teammate was Staff Sgt. Kenneth J. Ciszek, a communications sergeant with “The Team.”

“He’s a good guy,” Hessel said, “and he’s from New York so he’s got a little bit of experience outdoors – New York upstate, not the city.”

Hessel said he hadn’t been in a canoe since he was 12 years old.

“The river’s a different animal, especially before the sun comes up,” he said. “We ran into the bank a couple times, into a few branches, even a few trees that had fallen down. Luckily, I was not in one of the canoes that had, you might say, taken a swim. But I know a couple of the guys did just that.”

One challenge few had planned for was a short, but intimidating waterfall. Teams could either try their hand at going through it, or disembark on the bank and walk their canoe around it before returning to the river.

Almost all of the teams chose to go around, taking the lost time in stride.

However, 1st Lt. Yonel Charles, a Miami native and battle captain with “The Team,” and teammate, Maj. Charles D. Bovey, native of Everett, Wash., and shift director for the headquarter’s Joint Operations Cell, elected to proceed right on through the falls.

To their surprise, they kept their canoe afloat. They were so surprised, in fact, they started cheering and high-fiving each other. Then their canoe flipped and they were suddenly shoulder-deep in the cold water of Fort Bragg’s Little River.

But despite their spill at the waterfall, Bovey and Charles finished in second place. Capt. Ben Salt, a native of Crantock, Cornwall, England, a captain in the British Army attached to “The Team,” and his teammate, Capt. Jose. J. Hernandez, battle captain with “The Team” and native of Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, finished the day’s events in third place, but not before having to rally from an early last place position.

“We were second in the water,” Salt said, “then we went to last and had to learn how to steer. At one point, we were about 300 meters behind everyone.”

Once the teams exited the river, their positions were established. Teams did not pass each other on the long, tiresome push to the finish line.

After letting the tire fall at the end, Salt announced, “It feels like I just did one-thousand push-ups.”

The team of Hessel and Ciszek came in fourth place, appearing more than happy to be done taking turns pushing their heavy, awkward tire up and down hills.

“This was definitely a team-building, cohesion event,” Hessel said, referring to the persistence and communication “adventure PT” requires, “because everybody’s done a ruck-run, but not everybody’s done a ruck-run while pushing a tire.”

Neitzel and his teammate, Capt. James G. Repshire, a battle captain on “The Team,” finished first, crossing the line at almost exactly 8 a.m.

“Both of them are kind of woodsmenesque, so they’ve got it going on,” Bovey said of Neitzel and Repshire.

As a trophy, Neitzel and Repshire – or “Team Awesome” – were given a customized ping-pong paddle with the words “The Team” written across its face with a marker. “In everything we do, we always focus on team work,” Neitzel said, wrapping up the morning with a few words for his paratroopers – nearly all of whom are deploying together very soon to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

“We’re more than one person or just an entity,” he said as everyone stood in a huddle, sore but pleased with what they’d accomplished as a team. “If you look at what we are, we are ‘The Team.’ It’s everybody and what they contribute.”

(U.S. Army Spc. Benjamin Watson serves with 49th Public Affairs Detachment (Airborne)

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