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Photo by Michael Tolzmann A team of three MPs rappel down the 35-foot "Warrior Tower," during the 96-hour MP competition named Warfighter Challenge.

Verndale native tests himself in Warfighter Challenge

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As he staggered across the finish line after a 15-mile endurance march with flak vest, helmet, rifle and a nearly 60-pound backpack, a native of Verndale had the feeling of sheer relief.

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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 Spec. Cody L. Bowman, a 2001 graduate of Verndale Public School, helped make up a three-man team and competed among 34 teams in the 13th annual MP competition at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

The Warfighter 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. Bowman is with the U.S. Army Japan Military Police Battalion, Camp Zama, Japan.

"It is a competition that showcases the best military police in the Army as they compete against each other with basic soldier knowledge as well as physical and mental tasks as a team," Bowman said.

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 six-mile run in uniform. They then were given the added stress of pushing a loaded Humvee vehicle as a team.

"There was an obstacle course, shooting events, and a rucksack march, as well as an aquatic event," Bowman 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.

"I trained in many areas dealing with field operations, physical and endurance training, as well as law and order training," Bowman 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.

Bowman's experience and military training prepared him for Warfighter Challenge.

"I have been in the Army for almost eight years and perform law and order operations like all police officers, but more focused towards military personnel," Bowman said.

Although Warfighter Challenge situational tests were not real battlefield events, those who made their way here demonstrated the limits an MP soldier could potentially face. The skills tested here help make them better at what they do and may ultimately help save lives on the battlefield.

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