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Keedysville soldier completes Army's Warfighter Challenge

November 25, 2009|By RANDY ROUGHTON, Special to The Herald-Mail

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. - As he staggered across the finish line after a 15-mile endurance march with flak vest, helmet, rifle and a nearly 60-pound backpack, the son of a Keedysville couple had the feeling of sheer relief.

Bone-weary and exhausted, he had just finished the Army's grueling, 96-hour, 12-event Warfighter Challenge - an event designed to test the abilities of the best soldiers from the military police corps, commonly known as MPs.

Army Pfc. Matthew A. Wetzel, son of Marvin and Vicki Wetzel of Chestnut Grove Road, helped make up a three-man team and competed among 34 teams in the 13th annual MP competition at Fort Leonard Wood.

The challenge tests soldiers in the MP, corrections specialist and criminal investigation special agent career fields in a variety of MP skill-specific tasks, along with mental and physical fitness. Wetzel is assigned to the 289th Military Police Co., Fort Myer, Va.

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"I am competing with the best of the best military police in the Army," said Wetzel, a 2007 graduate of Boonsboro High School.

During four days of competition, with little to no sleep, the soldiers stretched their endurance, strength and skills to the limit.

The competitors faced a physical fitness assessment that included push-ups, sit-ups with 25-pound weights, pull-ups and a 6-mile run in uniform. They then were given the added stress of pushing a loaded Humvee vehicle as a team.

"The most challenging event was the rucksack march because we didn't know how far it would be until the end," Wetzel said.

The second day was filled with military-styled obstacles. The competitors climbed rope netting to the top of a 35-foot tower, then rappelled down the face of the "Warrior Tower" wall. They then crawled through water, sand and mud, dragged a 200-pound dummy under concertina wire, then on to a run using a field stretcher. They fired 9 mm pistols, M-4 rifles and performed vehicle inspections, looking for bombs attached to the undercarriage or under the hood. These soldier competitors never knew what to expect next.

On the final day, soldiers negotiated an 11-mile path that snaked through the woods, stopping at various stations, where they placed claymore mines, assembled weapons, performed battlefield first aid, reacted to simulated media reporters, and also entered a mock urbanized city complete with actors in Arab clothes, some of whom posed as enemy insurgents.

They had a written examination on topics such as military police corps history, leadership and map reading skills. Other tests included reacting to a chemical attack as well as unexploded ordnance.

They then topped off the competition with the 15-mile endurance march.

But getting here was often as painful as the competition itself.

"We trained on our physical fitness and all of the basic military police tasks and knowledge," Wetzel said.

The MP challenge is designed to promote esprit de corps within their ranks, while challenging their physical endurance and teamwork. Each team consisted of a sergeant or corporal team leader and two subordinates.

Wetzel's experience and military training prepared him for the challenge.

"I patrol base and respond to emergency calls to ensure the safety and welfare of the military members, families and civilians at Fort Myer," Wetzel said.

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