NSA personnel compete for Super Squad bragging rights
Groups from all military branches and the NSA Police compete in 5.75-mile course
By Brandon Bieltz
"Mentally, this was almost a road block for me," he said. "After the last lap, it was like, 'Really? I have to do this again?' "
But Paes fought through the fatigue and continued on his route, even though he would soon shoulder a 200-pound log with his five teammates.
The team of Marines was among five groups of service members who competed May 8 in the annual Super Squad as part of the National Security Agency's Armed Forces Week.
Groups of six from all military branches and the NSA Police competed in the 5.75-mile course that consisted of shooting, swimming, an obstacle course, ruck runs and various exercises or drills between runs.
"The Super Squad builds camaraderie and fosters friendly competition between services and the police," said Master Gunnery Sgt. Garry Engle of the Marine Cryptologic Support Battalion, which hosted the event.
Last year, the Marines finished the competition in first place, narrowly beating Navy and the NSA Police, who all finished within a few minutes of each other. This year, Engle was expecting another close race.
"All the teams are coming ready to win this year," he said. "It's anyone's game."
Many of the teams were formed months ago after careful scouting in the units. Looking at physical fitness tests and general athletic abilities, units narrowed selections down to a handful of candidates. From there, six were selected to be team members, while the others served as safety runners or coaches.
While some teams began training together months ago, members from other teams such as the NSA Police had to train individually due to schedule conflicts.
"It took a lot of training to do this effectively," Engle said.
For the Marines, training was more intense than last year and included more time in the pool and at the obstacle course.
"It's just like everything else, whether it's the Super Bowl champions or the World Series champions, you have a target on you. Everybody wants a piece of No. 1," Paes said. "That motivated us. ... We were more determined this year."
The Super Squad began at the NSA range, with competitors shooting five rounds from a 9 mm pistol at targets 25 yards away. Each team member's shots were judged on site, with accuracy affecting time penalties. For hitting the "X," 10 seconds were subtracted from each team's final time.
Competitors then drove to Gaffney Fitness Center to begin the timed portion of the event. The moment the first team member dove into the pool for the two-lap swim, the clock began ticking and wouldn't stop until the entire team crossed the finish line. Ultimately, teams started the timing portion of the event about 15 minutes apart.
From then on, teams ran through the installation with 25-pound ruck sacks on their backs, stopping at several stations to perform more tasks. They included carrying a teammate for a quarter-mile, an obstacle course, memory test and rifle disassembly and assembly.
Competitors said the stopping and starting along the route made the event even more difficult.
"It's not something you want to take lightly," Sgt. Chris Elledge said.
The first stop of the 5.75-mile run was at the Marine obstacle course on Zimborski Avenue, where each member ran through the course twice. A more than 2-mile run to the parade field followed, with exercise stations for burpies and push-ups along the way.
Once at the parade field, teams ran three laps around the perimeter for a total of 3.25 miles. Similar to their run to McGlachlin, tasks were thrown in during the laps such as a bear crawl and map reading.
After the final lap, one task remained for the teams -- carrying a 200-pound log a quarter-mile to the finish line.
At the finish line, teams threw down the log and could finally take a break. Several competitors said they were glad the event was finally over and they could rest.
"We pushed hard today," NSA Police Officer Tim Doub said. "It's a great feeling."
Elledge credited his teammates with urging him to finish the race despite a leg injury.
"My team was great," he said. "They pushed me a lot further than I anticipated."
The Marines were announced the winners during a brief awards ceremony that featured Brig. Gen. Jim Keffer, deputy chief of the Central Security Service and National Security Agency. The Marines finished the competition with a time of 1:49:03.
"It feels real awesome," Paes said of the Marines' second consecutive win. "That's your goal -- to win."
NSA Police finished second, with a final time of 2:04:27.
Third- through fifth-place finishers were only separated by four minutes, with the Army taking third at 2:14:28. The Air Force took fourth at 2:16:48. Navy finished with a time of 2:18:36.
Despite the bruises and exhaustion, most participants said they will continue to compete in future Super Squads.
"Something's wrong with us," Elledge said with a laugh. "I don't know why we do it."
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