Band of brothers

HANAPEPE — It takes a lot to finish the Perdue Best Section Competition.

There’s speed and strength. There’s knowledge and reaction time. There’s teamwork and unity.

For Specialist Kainalu Gayagas, there was something else that helped him and his unit complete the course Sunday.

“It takes a lot of heart,” he said. “It’s difficult, but you can finish it, if you just have the heart.”

Heart was on full display in the Kauai Hawaii Army National Guard team competition held in memory of SPC Bruce Sinjin Perdue, who died in a vehicle accident on May 21, 2012. He was 23.

Since then, every December, the Soldiers of Troop C, 1st of the 299th Cavalry compete in the Perdue Best Section Competition, which combines infantry scout war-fighting skills with physical and teamwork challenges.

On a blue-skied, sunny morning, seven teams of eight men started with a mile run from the armory in Hanapepe to Salt Pond. There, Guardsmen dove headfirst into the water, then forged their way through shoulder deep currents for 50 yards. Next, in soaked uniforms and waterlogged boots, they ran back to toward the armory. They stopped along the way to don gas masks, then had to complete various tasks such as evacuating casualties, assembling weapons and transporting the zodiac combat rubber raiding craft.

Perdue was a chemical and biological weapons expert with the Guardsmen, and it’s for that reason the competition incorporates use of the protective gas masks.

Guardsman Christian Perdue, Bruce’s younger brother, said he was grateful and honored to be able to participate with the men from his brother’s unit. He found the sense of family and spirit strong within the group.

“They’re his brothers,” he said.

Staff Sgt. Taylor Ellis — whose sniper unit team won the competition for the third year, finishing in about an hour, and will be recognized by name on the Perdue Challenge Trophy — called it a tough challenge. Key is that team members of each unit operate as one.

“All of us finish together. If I fall behind, my men are there to push me along, physically, literally, pushing me to me with the section. We start together, we end together,” he said.

“If your team has heart, you can push it all the way to the end,” Ellis said. “You really dig deep and drive from the inside. It’s what you put in. You get what you put in.”

Staff Sgt. Makaiwa Gunn told the men before the competition they would, at points, be tired, exhausted and in pain.

“Use that pain to drive you forward,” he said.

He was pleased to see they did.

It wasn’t about winning or losing. It was about building a brotherhood that stays together in tough times that happen during real military outings. No one gets left behind.

“It’s about the cheering on of each other, the motivating of each other, the picking each other up,” he said.

Their training, he said, gives them a chance to push themselves and perhaps discover they have more abilities, more strength, more endurance, then they realized.

“It makes them really dig down deep in their gut and push themselves to be better,” he said.

Wren Perdue, Bruce Perdue’s sister, was on hand for the competition. She said it was inspiring to watch the National Guard teams honor her brother and work so hard together.

“He’d be very stoked and happy to see people doing what he liked to do, which was push himself, challenge himself,” she said.

She said her brother was a humble, amazing man with consistent aloha.

“I miss him a lot,” she said.

Christian Perdue said his brother motivated a lot of people through his life.

“I know he touched a lot of people’s hearts,” he said.

Gunn saw the units sharing laughs and smiles once everyone was finished. Despite exhaustion from running with wet clothes and boots, wearing gas masks that restricted oxygen, and carrying the zodiacs that weighed several hundred pounds, they were upbeat, proud — a band of brothers, which is what Bruce Perdue would have wanted.

“That is the biggest honor in itself,” Gunn said.

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