Soldiers from across 52nd Ordnance Group (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) came together July 13-15 for the inaugural Hell Cat Week, a celebration designed to boost esprit de corps.
From a grueling obstacle course to a series of leader professional development programs, or LPDs, Soldiers had plenty of opportunities to grow and interact with EOD professionals from outside the installation.
“Hell Cat Week signifies a moment in time in which we take a deliberate approach to come together as a community and professionally develop ourselves,” said Col. Gregory Hirschey, commander, 52nd EOD.
“The 52nd EOD is geographically separated, which makes it difficult to get an opportunity to place emphasis on leader development,” he said. “Hell Cat Week is a time we look back and understand that in our profession, we need to take a step forward and do some things we normally don’t prioritize.”
Hirschey said EOD high operation tempo further prevents Soldiers from focusing on LPDs, which makes gatherings like Hell Cat Week all the more important.
“This event is about three pillars: Morale, teambuilding and professional development,” said Maj. Michael Gain, executive officer, 52nd EOD. “And that goes into the Army’s People First initiative, because we’re building that team up at the lowest level to make them more competent and inclusive.”
LPDs are an important step in that process, and topics covered during Hell Cat Week included EOD’s role in large-scale combat operations, Army training doctrine, keys to career progression and more. The United Nations Mine Action Service also sent an expert to discuss combatting mines and improvised explosive devices.
But the event’s highlight was the Brass Monkey, an approximately 6-mile run with several challenges and obstacles for teams to navigate along the way. Each group included at least four Soldiers and was tasked with protecting an egg representing fallen service members.
“The Brass Monkey is the pivotal point of Hell Cat Week,” Gain said. “Through multiple shared suffering events, we were able to bring teams together and build them up. And working with different units, organizations and personnel creates more buy-in and cohesiveness across the organization.”
Leadership made it a priority to pair Soldiers with limited experience working together, but by the time each group finished the course they became tightly organized teams.
“The camaraderie was great,” said 1st Sgt. Joshua Peltz, 723rd Ordnance Company, 52nd EOD. “Interaction between different command teams, especially from different installations, is always helpful because we’re such a small career field. We run into each other all the time, everywhere.”
Others were inspired to recreate the exercises within their own formations, including Capt. Mike Fehr, 717th Ordnance Company, 52nd EOD.
“It’s definitely an exhausting course, but it was good to get out there with people and have that teambuilding,” he said. “You’re only as strong as your weakest link, but as long as you can complete your task as a team – that’s the whole purpose.”
Hell Cat Week also saw engagement from Maj. General JP McGee, commanding general, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and Fort Campbell, and Col. Michael Schoonover, commander, 71st Ordnance Group (Explosive Ordnance Disposal).
Hirschey said it was especially significant to have support from the 71st EOD, which is the Army’s only other EOD unit, and appreciated seeing the Soldiers take advantage of opportunities for growth throughout the event.
“This has been a great week, and the group staff has put a tremendous amount of effort into making it a success,” Hirschey said. “To host a brigade-level event and have another brigade commander and key leaders from his organization come ... to me, that’s success, and seeing Soldiers with smiles on their faces is what makes me happy.”