CAMP PENDLETON, California ― April 30 was a long day full of misery, hills and hot California sun, but with an impressive time of nine hours and 27 minutes, Master Gunnery Sgt. Cory Paskvan and Maj. Morgan Jordan came away as victors of the 12th annual Recon Challenge.
In almost 25 miles, the Recon Challenge pushes teams of two through some of the most grueling events in the world of Marine reconnaissance.
This was the master gunnery sergeant’s sixth time running the course. Though he has racked up three second place finishes, he had never won the race.
The thought of finally getting Paskvan the win kept Jordan going through the final challenge.
“That drove me at points on the mountain, once we took the lead I didn’t want to let him down,” he said.
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‘A marathon with a 50-pound ruck’
The race started before dawn with 22 current and former members of a Marine Reconnaissance Battalion lined up on the beach of Camp Pendleton, California, as the waves came rolling in.
After a brief countdown the teams were off jumping into the cold surf to start their day off with a 1,000-meter ocean swim.
The teams hiked through Camp Pendleton, California, stopping at a total of 10 stations to complete a variety of events, including a pistol and rifle shoot, knot ties in the pool, two circuits of the obstacle course and a simulated casualty evacuation.
“It’s a marathon with a 50-pound ruck on your back, then we throw in a lot of aquatic events,” said Gunnery Sgt. Franklin Simmons, a recon instructor at the Reconnaissance Training Company and the designer of this year’s challenge.
The teams traversed the course carrying the name of a fallen recon Marine on their backs along with the Marine’s dog tags.
“It is a huge event that honors our Gold Star families and our fallen reconnaissance men who have died,” Simmons added.
That day the weather provided another unexpected challenge.
The normally pleasant California weather went south around mid-morning, and the sun started to blaze while the teams started their first truly daunting climb, several hundred yards up one of Camp Pendleton’s famed hills.
Once at the top of the hill the Marines were required to set up a radio before heading to the next station.
For most of the day Recon Training Company Executive Officer Capt. Benjamin Lowring and Basic Reconnaissance Course Instructor Staff Sgt. Andy Meltz held the lead, but when they blew by an unmarked turn heading to the range, they lost a crucial 10 minutes.
They were still in the lead when they made their way to the pool for what might have been the hardest event of the day.
The second to last event saw teams drag a 7-ton tire underwater from the deep end of the Horno pool to the shallow end.
To complete the event the teams had to lift the tire over a 12-foot underwater ledge that separates the shallow and deep end of the pool.
Meltz and Lowring jumped into the pool with a roughly 10 minute lead, but they struggled to lift the 7-ton tire over the ledge.
After what felt like an infinite number of attempts, using ropes and pure muscle to lift the tire while fighting through cramps and exhaustion, the team finally was able to get it over and complete the course.
But before they even got out of the pool, Paskvan and Jordan were on their heels, blazing through the event ― finishing in just about two minutes.
Paskvan credited his brother, a former NCAA Division 1 athlete, for his water skills.
“He kicked my ass in the pool,” Paskvan said, as he rushed to get dressed to continue on with the hike.
Despite getting out of the pools second, Paskvan and Jordan were the first team to continue their hike.
“For me it was cardiac hill, the climb we did right after we left the pool,” Jordan told reporters after the race. “It was late in the race and it was very hot at the time and I was just exhausted.”
Though they had a safe lead, Paskvan said there were a “few moments where he was a little worried.”
‘We do it for them’
After crossing the finish line, the Marines kneel down and place the dog tags of the fallen on a battlefield cross.
“It really puts it in perspective, it really gives you the why we’re doing thig, the remembrance of those who have fallen before us,” Lt. Col. Carin Calvin, the commanding officer of the Advanced Infantry Training Battalion, said after the event.
The first-place finishers were running for Lt. Col. Kevin M. Shea, who was killed Sept. 14, 2004 in Fallujah, Iraq, when he was hit by in rocket attack only a few months before returning home.
Shea’s widow was at the finish line cheering on the winning team as they knelt before the battlefield cross.
“This year Lt. Col. Shea’s wife, she came out, it made it a little bit more special to actually be able to know them,” Jordan said. “We do it for them, so when you get to that finish line and you have a chance to hang the dog tag it is a very powerful moment.”
After finishing the two Marines give the marker carrying Shea’s name to the widow as an added remembrance.
Paskvan said he had served with most of the men whose names were carried in the Recon Challenge, making the annual event particularly important to him.
“It means a tremendous amount to me to be represented for them to be represented and for myself to carry several of those Marines through the challenge being that I’ve served with a fair amount of them.