FORT LEE, Va. --Spc. Briana Lumbert thought the question was “silly.”

“Why am I out here doing this on a Saturday morning?” she responded. “My answer to that is why not?

“In this environment,” she further observed, “you have to take every opportunity to learn. This is something our leaders and the whole brigade put together for us to better ourselves and build the skills we’ll need when we go out into the Army. So, why wouldn’t anyone take this opportunity to gain knowledge and give 100 percent? Why seems like a silly question to me.”

The Romeo Company, 262nd Quartermaster Battalion, Soldier and 92-Whiskey water treatment specialist advanced individual training student was among the volunteer participants of the 23rd QM Brigade’s latest Soldier Stakes challenge here Sept. 22.

Six teams – two from each of the Dragon Brigade’s three student battalions – set out on a three-and-a-half-mile course dotted with seven event stations presenting physically and mentally demanding tasks and requiring teamwork and good communication skills for successful completion.

“We’re adding rigor to the AIT environment,” Command Sgt. Maj. Lisa Haney, Dragon Brigade CSM, said of the event. “Our mission is to build that day-one-ready Soldier; the individual who will show up at their first unit of assignment not only ready to successfully perform their (military occupational specialty) but also the basic warrior tasks and battle drills that make them operationally ready.”

Soldier Stakes, Haney pointed out, “amps up” the process. To prepare for competition, teams conduct repetitive rehearsal drills with their platoon sergeants and are fully aware that they’ll be competing against the clock and will incur time penalties if tasks are performed incorrectly or out-of-specified sequence.

“To be successful, they have to develop that muscle memory and the ability to think through problems on the spot,” Haney said. “These are the types of Soldiers who are able to quickly adapt to different environments right out of the gate from their AIT assignments. We’re also giving them that rigor so if they have to go out to combat, they have the basic skills and confidence to survive.”

The midway point of the Soldier Stakes course was where teamwork and tenacity were tested most. Task one: react to a chemical attack by donning protective masks within nine seconds and continuing their patrol for another quarter mile before being given the “all clear.” Task two: carry a battle buddy and all of his or her equipment down the approximate length of a football field. Task three: React to an enemy attack – convincingly initiated with a body-jarring grenade simulator – and commence tactical movement through a heavily wooded area, keeping “heads on a swivel” to seek out enemy activity. Task four: Submit a radio report.

Lumbert reflected on those challenges and others along the course, noting how Soldiers can keep moving forward if they trust their military training and “count on their battles.”

“I love my teammates, and I’m proud of my leadership,” said the 24-year-old who hails from Boston. “I respect our drill sergeants, our company sergeants and all of my instructors. They just want to see us do well and put everything into making sure we achieve the goals we set for ourselves. If that doesn’t motivate you, then I don’t know what will. When you’re in an environment like this with people like this, it just gets you going.”

Pfc. Alex Lagares, a 266th Quartermaster Battalion competitor who hails from San Juan, Puerto Rico, was equally motivated as the event came to a close.

“I’m so proud of my team and the way we worked together,” he said. “Every day after experiences like this, I’m convinced more and more that this is my calling. I’m always happiest during these moments.”

The motivation to be the best Soldier he can be is personal, Lagares added. Part of it is destiny – many members of his father’s family spent time in uniform, and his stepdad is a company commander at Fort Drum, N.Y. He further recognizes the importance of setting himself apart from his peers.

“As a 92-Golf culinary student, I see competition all of the time … the best chef, the best kitchen, the best person at preparing a dish,” Lagares explained. “An event like this is how I can set myself apart from others while helping them at the same time because I’m going to go back to the company and tell them everything I did and what we need to learn and do to be better Soldiers.”

That, he summarized, is part of the meaning behind being a Day One Ready Soldier. “It’s just like it sounds … being ready for everything and anything. Expecting the unexpected. You get there by doing the training and challenging yourself every day.”

The teams fielded by the 262nd QM Battalion won the Soldier Stakes. All but one of those individuals received an Army Achievement Medal in recognition of their participation. Lumbert was awarded an Army Commendation Medal for her demonstrated leadership. Certificates of appreciation were presented to each member of the runner-up battalion teams.