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NEWS | Sept. 25, 2023

St. Lo Soldiers honor heritage during “Chubby Cup” competition

By Staff Reports | Virginia National Guard Public Affairs

Nine teams of Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Winchester-based 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team competed in the battalion’s Carl “Chubby” Proffitt Jr. Squad Competition Sept. 9, 2023, at Fort Walker, Virginia. The teams, representing each of the battalion’s four companies, competed in a series of events meant to test their physical fitness, tactical skills and their ability to work together.

Proffitt, the competition’s namesake, was a Virginia National Guard Soldier who served with 3rd Battalion during World War II, including the D-Day invasion at Normandy. Proffitt was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions in Normandy, and later received a battlefield commission to second lieutenant. He passed away in 2015 at the age of 96. 

To honor his legacy, the St. Lo Battalion has begun what they intend to be an annual squad competition, first holding the event in 2022. According to the battalion’s commander, Lt. Col. Thomas Bortner, the squad-focused competition is in keeping with the unit’s priorities. 

“The squad is building block of the U.S. Army, particularly the infantry,” said Bortner. “The Sergeant Major of the Army launched his initiative of “This is My Squad” back in 2020, and we believe in that priority. Additionally, the 116th IBCT is transitioning into a focus on squad collective training. Developing and training proficient squads is critical for our high-performing organization.”

In addition to the intense training and competition, the event also honors the unit’s long legacy of excellence.

“The Chubby Cup is meant to not only be a competition between the companies, but to also serve as a reminder of the battalion’s lineage which can sometimes be overlooked because of busy training schedules or not even known by newer Soldiers just joining the unit,” said 1st Lt. Matt St. Pierre, the battalion’s plans officer. “In planning this year’s competition, we took what was done last year and tried to build upon that using feedback we’d received from the Soldier’s that participated to make it bigger, better, and hopefully more impactful.”

This year, a team from the Woodstock-based Bravo Company took home the “Chubby Cup.”

“Winning the Chubby Cup is a big deal for anyone in 3rd Battalion, said 2nd Lt. Jacob Menders, a platoon leader with Bravo Company. “It really shows that all the hard work that Bravo Company has put into training has paid off.”

The competition is broken into several stages, beginning with the “Black Mile” event, named in honor of the tough physical training the 29th Ranger Battalion, 29th Infantry Division endured during the unit's brief existence during World War II. It's a physical training race that required the teams to work together to collectively complete 50 deadlifts, a 200 meter sled drag, 100 shoulder presses with 50 pound kettlebells, and 50 burpees. As soon as each team finished, they took off in a sprint to run approximately a quarter of a mile to the next part of the “Black Mile,” where they were required to assemble four different weapons from a mixed pile of parts. Once their weapons were assembled and they conducted a functions check, it was on to the Humvee push. Each five-member team had to push a Humvee 100 meters across a gravel lot. Points were awarded to each team based on the elapsed time it took them to complete the entire event.

Following the “Black Mile”, teams were transported out to the range to conduct the “Swamp Fox” marksmanship challenge, named in honor of Francis Marion, a Revolutionary War militia leader who engaged the British forces using guerrila tactics. The competitors engaged targets with the M-4 carbine, M17 pistol, and M500 shotgun. The event tested not only each individual soldier’s marksmanship skills, but also their ability to work as a part of a team, as they needed to communicate with one another to ensure as many targets were successfully engaged as possible within the allowed time.  

The next event was the “Major of St. Lo,” a two-and-a-half mile ruck march named for Maj. Thomas Howie, a VNG officer and commander of 3rd Battalion, who was killed in action in Normandy, France, in July 1944. Howie was tasked with leading his battalion to liberate the town of St. Lo. He famously told Maj. Gen. Charles Gerhardt, commanding general of the 29th Infantry Division, “See you in St. Lo!” before being mortally wounded by an enemy mortar. At Gerhardt’s direction, Howie’s body was placed on the hood of a truck so he would be the first to enter the town, and a photo of his flag-covered body on the rubble was published world-wide and he was coined “The Major of St. Lo.”

 Along the ruck route, each team was required to react to contact by an enemy force, with the highest-ranking member of the team becoming a simulated-casualty. The team then had to call for a medical evacuation and carry their wounded team-member approximately 200 meters where they were hoisted into a helicopter, with aviation support coming from the Sandston-based 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment, 29th Infantry Division. The remaining team-members then completed the ruck march.

Upon completion of the ruck march and reuniting with their teammate, each team then moved on to the “Stueben’s Study” event, named after Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, the Prussian military officer who helped organize and instill discipline in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. The event consisted of a written exam that tested each Soldier’s knowledge on a variety of topics including weapons and machine gun theory, medical, communications, patrolling, orders and planning and unit history.

The final event of the “Chubby Cup” was the “Thunderdome,” consisting of multiple rounds of pugil stick bouts with the first Soldier to score three successful “hits” on their opponent declared the winner of the bout.

Bortner said all of the squads performed at a high level. 

“The St. Lo Battalion has an incredible formation with individuals who know how to work as a team,” said Bortner. “All of the squads performed exceptionally, and the experience translates to continued success.” 

For the participants, the competition was a chance to show off their fitness, knowledge and teamwork. 

“I’m pretty competitive and like to win,” said Menders. “So, I picked Soldiers who I know stay physically fit and have some experience with everything we’d be doing, but also that I knew would be willing to help others if they saw a teammate falling behind.”

“It was fun being able to compete and for our team to demonstrate their overall readiness, not just physically, but tactically as well,” said Staff Sgt. Jon Valdizan. “I thought it was great being able to represent my unit and compete alongside other, highly motivated Soldiers.”

St. Pierre said the event highlighted the unit’s readiness and camaraderie. 

“You could almost look at this as a championship type competition that really develops and also highlights all of the training we do throughout the year, while also bringing attention to the honor, traditions, and lineage of our units.”

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