Ancient Warrior Challenge

Ancient Warrior Challenge

Mangudai event tests endurance, teamwork of Republic of Korea, U.S. forces


For most Soldiers, the Mangudai Warrior Challenge is a recipe for exhaustion — steep mountains, deep ravines and heavy gear mixed with a few parts food deprivation.

It’s also the measure of an elite warrior.

Patterned after the selection process for Genghis Khan’s Mongol warriors, the challenge measures the stamina, teamwork and problem-solving skills of senior enlisted military leaders from the Republic of Korea (ROK) and the U.S.

Their mettle was fully tested from May 11 to May 13, 2016, at Camp Casey in South Korea.

Senior enlisted members of the two militaries teamed up in a series of challenges. One of the toughest was a resupply mission that required Soldiers to transport heavy equipment and weaponry — about 31 kilograms per Soldier — over a mountain with team members who did not share a common language.

“Even as the first scheduled event of this exercise, it nevertheless proved to be the most challenging as the language barrier overwhelmed the participants, and they were not yet equipped with directions and a sense of unity among themselves,’’ said Sgt. Maj. Shin Hee Kyu of the ROK’s Special Warfare Command.

The training, which is designed to strengthen the military partnership between the ROK and the U.S., put participants in uncomfortable settings to hone their problem-solving skills. “Because most individuals could not effectively communicate with each other using spoken words, they would mostly utilize body language words in order to carry out the mission,’’ Shin said.

Eventually, Soldiers shared mission details through simple drawings in their notebooks, he added.

While the mountain trek proved the most grueling, a team-based mud wrestling match was the most exhilarating, said U.S. Air Force Command Chief Master Sgt. Eduardo Mireles, former Special Operations Command, Korea Command Master Chief. “This was my third Mangudai exercise, and I still get re-energized mentally and physically when the platoons compete in the mud pit,’’ Mireles said. “At this point, everyone is extremely tired and hungry, but they dig deep to wrestle as a team and throw other individuals out of the mud pit.”

One of the goals is to strengthen a partnership that overcomes language barriers and cultural differences.

“It is amazing to see both U.S. and ROK Soldiers competing as a unit, working together to outmaneuver the other competitors,” Mireles said. “The atmosphere is electric, and everyone in the exercise gets highly involved in cheering and rooting for their favorite team. In the end, all of the competitors are extremely motivated and have realized the importance of teamwork.”

The exercises are conducted biannually in the Korean Peninsula. The roots of the challenge date back to the elite horsemen of the Mongol Empire in the 13th century.  These warriors were put through a gauntlet of tests to prove they were ready for the toughest missions.

While the challenge examines the physical and mental fitness of military leaders from both countries, Shin said one of the most important byproducts is the camaraderie that develops among Soldiers who have struggled together. “Oftentimes, camaraderie brings out leadership even from individuals with absolutely no identifiable leadership traits,” Shin said. “I strongly believe that camaraderie is indispensably incorporated in leadership and that only when a team is complete with camaraderie and leadership can it claim victory in the battlefield.’’