The excursion part of the exit exam was delayed by several hours because of some last-minute changes. Each squad spent the night in the great hall of battalion headquarters. Both laughter and a few minor squabbles filled the room until everyone fell into a silent sleep. At approximately 0200 hours, the squad leaders were awakened and commanded to gear up their squads for departure. Once roll call and weapons checks were complete, the excursion begun. Calvary academy’s 3rd year unit exit exam was fully underway.
A thick fog covered the night sky, and a chill filled the air. Though they were dressed in the mandatory winter battle dress uniform (heavy cotton and polyester material, with chameleon-styled camouflage), the bitter cold seeped through their gloves. Many cadets griped it made holding their laser beam M16 rifles nearly unbearable. For the first 12K miles, the squad leaders took turns calling cadence. Their complaints were met with a harsh rebuke from Master Sergeant Abdullah, who was at least 6 foot 7 and dubbed “the surly giant”.
Roudan’s voice was clear, full of resolve and determination. He knew his team was bent to come out on top by the end of the exam. This would be Alpha squad’s shining moment since the entrance exam. So many slipups had left blemishes on their records and personal lives between then and now. Unfortunately, the road to redemption also paved the way for their demise. He figured they should go out in glory, rather than weasel away with their tails tucked. Squads Bravo through Delta were in for a rude awakening if they believed anyone could best the Alpha squad.
Hours of marching led the unit through a desert, inside a woodland labyrinth, and eventually to a swamp marsh. A recent monsoon caused the water to rise waist-level to the average sized cadet. Slowly, the cadets drudged through the swamp with their weapons overhead. All was going well until Shevchenko became dizzy and nauseous. She retched, then vomited twice before she was asked if she needed to be sent back to the rear detachment for medical treatment. Her team was concerned for her wellbeing, but she played it off by recalling how heavily she drank Roudan’s hooch.
Savoi pulled a tiny vial from her rucksack and offered it for Shevchenko to drink. The women quarreled briefly over the necessity of such a measure. Savoi assured her that there were more than enough medicines in her bag to last the duration of the exam. Shevchenko reluctantly took a small sip, then saw the eagerness in everyone’s eyes. Not wanting to be the weakest link, she downed the rest in a flash. To her satisfaction, the neon blue potion quickly eased all her ailing symptoms. Feeling rejuvenated, Shevchenko to the lead in calling cadence for the rest of their trek.
Once the unit cleared the marsh, they camped for 3 days and two nights to recover. Long before sunrise, another 12K road march ensued. Two female cadets, (Kaleigh from Bravo and Zepeda from Charlie) were treated for dehydration. Cadet Samuels, who had ranked from the Echo squad into Delta, was so exhausted and lethargic from the march that the Chaplin carried his weapon most of the way. His feet were bruised by cysts and he was deemed unfit to continue the exam.
After which, the unit marched upon a tarmac where four Ch-47F Chinook helicopters waited for them to board. Conex boxes containing more equipment were loaded before takeoff. At one point, the pilots spooked the cadets by opening the hydraulic ramp in the back. The sight of height in the air caused a stir among some cadets. Fortunately, no one in the Alpha squad was deterred. Farouk became excited, knowing he could soon fly the helicopter. Shevchenko was relieved to feel well enough to appreciate the moment with him.
Fifteen hours of air travel brought them to a meager landing strip. Choppy winds caused high turbulence as the helicopters landed. The cadets were instructed to remove the Conex boxes and carry them to a designated location. Master Sergeant Abdullah warned everyone to “stay low,” while running from the helicopters. The wind from the propellers alone where enough to blow wind at 200 MPH.
Cadet Drafus, of the Charlie squad, did not take heed of the Master Sergeant’s words. He quickly tired from running in a hunched position while carrying one side of a Conex box. He stood straight and was instantly propelled forward. His hand snatched away from the box as he was forced to run faster. Then Drafus tripped, which sent him tumbling down the strip. After a series of tucked rolls, he came to a stop. The on-site medic declared Drafus suffered a concussion and fractured right tibia from the incident, and was sent back to the rear detachment.
~The Waring Robins~