The Deung San Challenge: "To climb a mountain with pack"

by 2LT Susan Castorina

Recently 41st Signal Battalion conducted a unique training event to end the Foal Eagle 2000 exercise with a challenge. Volunteers from 41st Signal Battalion participated in the inaugural Deung San Challenge, hosted by 552d Signal Company.

The 552d Signal Company’s commander, CPT Kurt Page, had several goals: he wanted to emphasize the role of physical fitness in training; show soldiers what the mission during war might be like; and bring history alive through stories of action and engagements on each mountain during the Korean War. Thus a road march, the Deung San Challenge, was devised.

The operations order’s situation paragraph summed up what participating soldiers had in store for them. "The purpose of the Deung San Challenge is to test your mental and physical toughness in a grueling 12-mile uphill road march. Every hill you march is decisive terrain. Some are still mined, and all were fought over in the Korean War. Most military historians and strategists feel the next Korean War may be fought in the same manner as the first. The hills fought over 50 years ago will again be stained with the blood of America’s youth."

The Deung San Challenge consisted of a timed 12-mile road march through some key terrain in Area I, Republic of Korea. The road march consisted of four hilltops, each containing transmission equipment maintained by 552d and vital to 41st Signal Battalion’s mission. The four hilltops varied in elevation and grade, but all shared some common traits: each hilltop was key terrain during the Korean War; will play a vital role in the event of another war; and each had at least two 20-percent grades to conquer.

Also, each soldier was required to carry a minimum of 35 pounds in his or her rucksack and was warned not to step off the paths, as landmines are still located on every mountain. The rewards for meeting each mountain’s time limit also varied from a company coin and company certificate to the coveted Deung San Challenge belt buckle.

The march started at 5 a.m. Nov. 2, 2000, for its participants. The support element and select marchers from Camp Red Cloud, Korea, moved out at 4:30 a.m. to finalize preparations at each site.

The first mountain, Papayongsan – in addition to being a transmission relay point – is a vital element in the Republic of Korea’s air-defense plans. This mountain is four miles from top to bottom, has several loopbacks and four areas with grades of 20 percent or more.

The time limit for Papayongsan was a scant hour and 45 minutes. Every soldier completed this mountain. Along the route, there were several rest points with water, combat lifesavers and motivators from 552d Signal Company.

Once at the top, more snacks were provided as marchers dropped their rucks, posed for pictures and received a tour of the transmission facilities from Page. From the Papayongsan vantage point, one can look into North Korea; Page took advantage of that fact to talk about the Korean War and the fighting that occurred in the area. When the final marcher was in and the last time was recorded, the marchers loaded into tactical vehicles for their journey to the next mountain near Camp Giant, Pajuri.

Pajuri, though shorter than Papayongsan and of a lower elevation, nevertheless presented its own unique challenge to the marchers. With an hour time limit, it was a challenge. Its elevation is almost a continuous grade and never drops below 10 percent. As before, once at the top, marchers had time to take pictures and tour the facilities.

The third mountain was Camp Casey’s TV Hill, with a 45-minute time limit. Located at Camp Casey in Tongduchon, and much shorter than either of the first two mountains, it’s the steepest. The entire hill is a 20-percent grade or steeper from top to bottom. Everyone made this march, but most agreed it was the most challenging.

The final march, Concord, is another long and steep ascent. Located just outside of Camp Red Cloud, it was the final test of endurance during a long, difficult day. Already dark by the time the marchers reached this site, they couldn’t see the summit when they began. As with Papayongsan, the loopbacks and steep grades – as well as gravel or loosely packed dirt paths – made this final march extremely difficult. The time limit was 1 hours, so this kept people moving quickly.

Papayongsan mountain The view from Papayongsan mountain.
1st sergeant with heavy rucksack A first sergeant with 552d Signal Company shows the pack 41st Signal Battalion soldiers carried up Korean mountains with 10 percent to 20 percent grade.
PFC Garcia with 552d Signal Company guidon PFC Garcia with 552d Signal Company's guidon on a Korean mountaintop.

Participants considered the Deung San Challenge a success. LTC Thomas Donnelly, battalion commander and participant, called the march one of the most successful training events he’s seen in his 19 years in the Army.

SPC Rodney Shelton of Northern Platoon, 552d Signal Company, said, "The event was one of the best I’ve done since coming to Korea in March (2000)."

"The march emphasized what it means to me to be a soldier," said SGT Ronald Evans, also of 552d Signal Company.

Other participants from the rest of 41st Signal Battalion also said the march was a great team-builder and morale-booster.

Fifty-two marchers started at Papayongsan; 47 marchers finished all mountains within time limits, earning the Deung San Challenge belt buckle.

2LT Castorina is assigned to 41st Signal Battalion.

dividing rule

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04/04/12

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