Military officer training includes march around Talladega Superspeedway track

A trek around the Talladega Superspeedway complete with a rifle, a helmet, a and military backpack.More than 100 soldiers are in officer candidate school this month at the Fort McClellan National Guard Training Center.Their physical training Thursday required the soldiers to march seven miles with their gear.{} The final three miles of the march were around the NASCAR track.Many of them have prior military experience as enlisted soldiers.{} Sean Potter is in his twelfth year in the Army, and came to the Anniston training center from the Huntsville area.He achieved the rank of staff sergeant as a non-commissioned officer, but will become a commissioned officer at the end of the 57 days of training."It's always been a goal of mine, since I was growing up, to achieve the best, to be the best I can," Potter said."So I enlisted in the military and then from there, finished my degree, and of course become an officer."As part of their officer certification, the soldiers have to marches of five, seven, and ten miles while carrying their equipment.The battalion's training officer, CPT Robert Mangum, said the training center made an arrangement with the Talladega Superspeedway to provide a unique experience for the officer candidates."This is a physical challenge anyway," Mangum said."So anything you can do to make it fun or kind of get your mind engaged, it just helps out."Officer candidate Mikheal Slone said he does not follow NASCAR.{} As a native of San Antonio, Texas, he had never seen Talladega, but he knew the checkered finish line would help provide a visualization of the end of the trek."It will actually help us to achieve it, so we're not just marching seven miles into nothingness," Slone said."We actually get to do seven miles, do a track, be a team, and actually attain a goal."The gear weighs a total of about 75 pounds, but training officers said the success rate is usually 100 percent.The soldiers have two and a half hours to complete the seven mile march, and Mangum said he has not seen anyone fail to finish during his time as an instructor.He served as a pace car, leading the troops from the beginning of the course at Salem Baptist Church in Eastaboga.{} Mangum was the first across the finish line, where he remained to offer salutes to the candidates, in place of a checkered flag.It is technically an individual event, but officer candidate Potter said there is a motivating factor of getting through the course as a unit."It's about the person next to you and leading from the front.{} Having other teammates watch you finish strong," he said."You go up there for them."There were no trophies of medals as the soldiers crossed the finish line, but they earn a gold award at the completion this course in four more weeks.The officer candidates will receive a gold bar for their uniform, the rank insignia for a second lieutenant, at the graduation ceremony on March 21st.

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