The cheers from 3,000 spectators and the tears of joy in the eyes of the JFC Naples crew were also a giveaway that they’d accomplished something special.
The JFC Naples Field Gun Crew, the only multi-national team in the competition, walked away from the Brickwoods Field Gun competition at HMS Collingwood, Fareham, Hampshire, UK, with a first place finish in the plate 3 final.
"The feeling you cannot describe,” said German Army Staff Sgt. Hilke Lütt, whose speed benefitted the team as she served on a crucial pins position.
The Brickwoods competition commemorates the breaking of the siege of Ladysmith in South Africa in 1899, when a Royal Navy infantry unit dragged huge field guns in rough terrain across 100 miles of hostile territory.
The crew’s race, which was completed in one minute and 32 seconds, combined strength, speed and finesse as the team was challenged to build a box, place wheels, run to the start line, attach the gun to the box, fire off three rounds after running with the 10 ½ ton equipment 85 meters and back again. The JFC Naples crew battled from behind to take the lead towards the final stretch.
Crewmembers cite a crucial moment before the race even began that served as a motivating force. When the team ran out of wheelies due to injuries, British Royal Marine Corporal Charles "Baz” Evans, the team’s number two trainer and developer of a customized circuit training program for the crew, jumped into the wheelie position so the team could compete.
The crew was well aware that Evans was battling his own injury.
"We’re not running it if I don’t jump in,” recalled Evans of his thoughts at the time.
McMillan noted that the competition is an extreme sport, and many of the JFC Naples crew were battling injuries in one form or another since their training began.
The 24-person crew from JFC Naples also earned the Endeavour Trophy, an award given to the team that overcame the most adversity.
From injuries to logistics, language barriers, juggling NATO commitments, building a team from scratch, the heat of training in Naples, having less time to train with the actual field gun than other teams, and raising funds to support the team’s trip, it’s perhaps no surprise the JFC crew with a never-say-quit attitude walked away with a trophy acknowledging the team’s resilience.
The team from JFC also had a challenge with teaching the sport’s many moving parts to newcomers, different than the UK teams on their home ground who do it throughout their military careers.
"For us, even watching the videos, we were totally confused,” said Lütt, who was, unbeknownst at the time to her teammates, battling a finger injury.
Lütt and the crew’s confusion didn’t last long once the pieces started to come into place during training, though. Using a motto of "18 as 1”, referencing the number of personnel who run a competition at one time, the team gelled and everyone learned their piece.
"There’s more camaraderie with our team than any other club or sport here,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Casey Sedivy.
Field gun veteran McMillan, one of the few with prior experience on this year’s squad, agreed.
"This was the closest crew I’ve ever been a part of,” McMillan said.
As the team has returned to Italy and refreshed, topics amongst the teammates still revolves around field gun competition, and they hope to inspire more members from JFC Naples to join the crew for next year’s competition.
McMillan said the great thing about field gun competition is that it’s open to all shapes and sizes, citing the need for different builds and skillsets at the various positions during a competition.
As the team reminisces about their experience and friendships made, they are also hoping to find a proper place to display their new hardware.
"We didn’t do this for ourselves, we did this for JFC,” Sedivy said.
Story by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Mark Patton