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An uphill endurance test for Army bragging rights

Paratroopers from the 1-501st, 25th Infantry Division arrive for a 6:00am arctic skills competition on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER). The competition pits 16-man platoons against each other in a timed course, transporting gear with snowshoes and sleds. Jan 31, 2013
Loren Holmes photo
Paratroopers from the 1-501st, 25th Infantry Division are briefed before an early morning arctic skills competition on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER). The competition pits 16-man platoons against each other in a timed course, transporting gear with snowshoes and sleds. Jan 31, 2013
Loren Holmes photo
Paratroopers from the 1-501st, 25th Infantry Division are briefed before a 6:00am arctic skills competition on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER). The competition pits 16-man platoons against each other in a timed course, transporting gear with snowshoes and sleds. Jan 31, 2013
Loren Holmes photo
Paratroopers from the 1-501st, 25th Infantry Division start a 5-mile race, pitting 16-man platoons against each other in a timed course, transporting gear with snowshoes and sleds. Jan 31, 2013
Loren Holmes photo
Paratroopers from the 1-501st, 25th Infantry Division run up Arctic Valley Road during a 5-mile race that pits 16-man platoons against each other in a timed course, transporting gear with snowshoes and sleds. Jan 31, 2013
Loren Holmes photo
Paratroopers from the 1-501st, 25th Infantry Division run up Arctic Valley Road during a 5-mile race that pits 16-man platoons against each other in a timed course, transporting gear with snowshoes and sleds. Jan 31, 2013
Loren Holmes photo
Paratroopers from the 1-501st, 25th Infantry Division run up Arctic Valley Road during a training exercise, carrying a 200lb ahkio sled. Jan 31, 2013
Loren Holmes photo
Paratroopers from the 1-501st, 25th Infantry Division run up Arctic Valley Road carrying a 200lb ahkio sled during a 5-mile race that pits 16-man platoons against each other in a timed course. Jan 31, 2013
Loren Holmes photo
Paratroopers from the 1-501st, 25th Infantry Division catch their breath at a turn-around point halfway up Arctic Valley Road during a 5-mile race that pits 16-man platoons against each other in a timed course, transporting gear with snowshoes and sleds. Jan 31, 2013
Loren Holmes photo
Paratroopers from the 1-501st, 25th Infantry Division transition to snowshoes at a turn-around point halfway up Arctic Valley Road during a 5-mile training race. Jan 31, 2013
Loren Holmes photo
Paratroopers from the 1-501st, 25th Infantry Division transition to snowshoes at a turn-around point halfway up Arctic Valley Road during a 5-mile training race. Jan 31, 2013
Loren Holmes photo
Paratroopers from the 1-501st, 25th Infantry Division give a roll call before beginning the snowshoe part of their training competition in the woods off of Arctic Valley Road during a 5-mile training race. Jan 31, 2013
Loren Holmes photo
Paratroopers from the 1-501st, 25th Infantry Division running through the woods during the snowshoe part of their training competition. Jan 31, 2013
Loren Holmes photo
Paratroopers from the 1-501st, 25th Infantry Division during the snowshoe part of their training competition in the woods off of Arctic Valley Road. Jan 31, 2013
Loren Holmes photo
Paratroopers from the 1-501st, 25th Infantry Division collapse from exhaustion after completing a 5-mile race up and down Arctic Valley Road. Jan 31, 2013
Loren Holmes photo
Paratroopers from the 1-501st, 25th Infantry Division collapse from exhaustion after completing a 5-mile race up and down Arctic Valley Road. Jan 31, 2013
Loren Holmes photo
A driver naps in a transport vehicle during an early morning training competition put on by the paratroopers from the 1-501st, 25th Infantry Division. Jan 31, 2013
Loren Holmes photo
Loren Holmes

It's 0600 hours. Twelve 18-man platoons from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson's 501st (Airborne) parachute infantry regiment offload from buses at the foot of Arctic Valley Road on the outskirts of Alaska's largest city and prepare for a friendly Arctic survival skills competition. It's the first battalion-level games since the paratroopers redeployed to JBER from Afghanistan last October.

Some are bleary-eyed as they organize their gear, each soldier carrying a 35-pound pack and each platoon hauling a 150-pound Ahkio sled. Their packs are stuffed with everything they would normally carry in an Arctic environment: parkas, sleeping bags, canteens, etc.

After a short rules explanation, the first team sets off on a 5-mile course, running up the mountain and dragging the sled -- at times having to carry it. At the 2.5-mile mark, the teams switched to snowshoes, ran a 0.6-mile course through the snowy woods, switched back to boots, and then raced down the mountain to the finish.

The 2nd Platoon, Comanche Company was declared the winner.

To civilians, it might sound like punishment. To the 501st, it was a highly-anticipated event the soldiers look forward to.

"They join the paratroopers to do this kind of stuff, not paperwork," says Lt. Col. Tobin Magsig, the battalion commander.

The competition is held quarterly, and the winning team gets to set the parameters for the next competition. But overall, says Magsig, the goals are to reinforce teamwork and improve physical and mental toughness.

Contact Loren Holmes at loren(at)alaskadispatch.com