Spur Rides: An Act of Shameful Hazing or Vincentian Honor?

Authored by Jamie Sloane

Pair of brass cavalry spurs minus leather made from brass expended in Afghanistan. Spurs were earned by troopers who performed job-specific tasks that tested their mental and physical capabilities. These particular spurs were earned by the 3-71 Cavalry, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division.

Earning one’s cavalry spurs has always been considered an act of honor and respect since the civil war (Montazzoli 2019, 1). However, for the past few decades, people began to question whether or not spur rides were actually an act of honor or just another form of hazing because of the mental and physical stress they entail (Mattson 2012). However, if the army doesn’t consider it hazing, then what is it?

Gold and brass spurs are earned during combat while silver spurs are earned by completing a “Spur Ride” (“Cav Hat & Spurs,” n.d.). Spur rides are a series of exercises that usually last for a few days and test one’s weapons handling, physicality, mental fortitude, teamwork, etc. If a trooper can prove he is able to pass these tests, he is given his spurs. Some exercises include land navigation, chemical situations, medical and casualty situations, etc.

Spur rides can place a lot of mental and physical stress on the troopers. However, they are conducted in a controlled environment with higher-ranked supervision and medical personnel on stand-by (Kuhn 2018). This is not the case for hazing.

The Army defines hazing as “any conduct whereby a service member or members, regardless of service, rank or position, and without proper authority, recklessly or intentionally causes a service member to suffer or be exposed to any activity that is cruel, abusive, humiliating, oppressive, demeaning or harmful…” (Army Command Policy 600-20 2014, 30).

In short, hazing is made up by soldiers while spur rides are organized exercises that reflect cavalry tradition. Former Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III said, “A spur ride, which is intended to show camaraderie, enhance the profession and recognize the history of the organization — those are not hazing events…The difference is that you aren’t doing cruel, abusive, oppressive or harmful activities” (Mattson 2012).

Unlike hazing, spur rides are meant to motivate and inspire troopers. Staff Sargent Ryan Rice said, “The goal of this isn’t to see who is the toughest, the goal is to indoctrinate them into the rich tradition of the cavalry” (Kuhn 2018).  

The tradition and ethics of spur rides reflect the Vincentian tradition in the sense that it “provides excellent education for all people, especially those lacking economic, physical, or social advantages” (St. John’s University 2015).

Anybody in the cavalry can earn their spurs regardless of where they come from, who they are, and what has disabled them in the past. It teaches each prospect what it takes to become a trooper and does not discriminate anyone.

Everybody has a fair chance in earning their spurs. Everybody went through the same basic training and have the same qualifications (Montazzoli 2019, 3). The act of bringing people from all over the country together, introducing them to this tradition, and then having them teach the next group who comes after them is not hazing; it’s the Vincentian tradition for “compassion and zeal service” (St. John’s University 2015).

References

Army Regulation 600-20. 2014. “Army Command Policy.”

“Cav Hat & Spurs.” n.d. 1st Cavalry Division Association. Accessed March 6, 2021. https://1cda.org/history/cav-hat-spurs/

Kuhn, Scott, 3rd BCT, 1st Cav Div Public. 2018. “Spur Holders Key to Successful Spur Ride.” Fort Hood Sentinel. http://www.forthoodsentinel.com/news/spur-holders-key-to-successful-spur-ride/article_20021c94-0c3c-11e8-a8dd-f340d4498ad4.html

Mattson, Jennifer. 2012. “Senior Leaders Combat Hazing.” www.Army.Mil. September 5, 2012. https://www.army.mil/article/86713/senior_leaders_combat_hazing

Montazzoli, Matt. 2019. “The Black Letter Law Behind the Silver Spurs: A Judge Advocate’s Perspective on Spur Rides.” SSRN Electronic Journal. https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3744332

St. John’s University. 2015. “Our Mission.” https://www.stjohns.edu/about/history-and-facts/our-mission

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