'14 Bulls up, 14 Bulls down'

  • Published
  • By Capt. Chris Quinlan
  • Squadron Officer School
Those who have watched the epic miniseries "Band of Brothers" are likely familiar with the phrase "Three miles up, three miles down!"  Army soldiers assigned to the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment shouted these words countless times at Camp Toccoa, Georgia, in the early days of World War II.  This axiom described the round-trip run to the peak of Currahee Mountain and back to the training camp.  Although a daunting and painful activity, the frequent runs up Currahee forged strong bodies and a strong team of elite soldiers that would go on to successfully win the war as U.S. Army paratroopers.

On Oct. 31, 2014, 14 staff members of the 31st Student Squadron "Bulls" from Air University's Squadron Officer School made their way to Camp Toccoa to run this historic route.  With the squadron guidon in lead position, the Bulls began their 3-mile, 800-foot ascent to Currahee's peak in the early pre-dawn hours.  Jogging in formation, the climb was a great challenge for even the best of runners, but the squadron remained together and reached the peak as a team.  At the top, squadron members shared lessons from the 506th PIR's battle history across World War II, recounting the accomplishments of the men whose footsteps they had just retraced.      

Adversity, if endured with the right attitude and frame of mind, can forge stronger individuals and teams.  Scottish author William Barclay observed that "Endurance is not just the ability to bear a hard thing, but to turn it into glory."  The band of brothers who ran Currahee lived out Barclay's insight across the battlefields of Europe.  The 506th PIR participated in some of the European Theater's most notable campaigns, including Operation Overlord (D-Day), Operation Market Garden, and the famous stand at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge.  The foundation for this success began during their training at Camp Toccoa.  "Three miles up, three miles down" was not just a clever turn of phrase; along with "Currahee," these phrases became enduring mottos of the 506th PIR. 

Lt. Col. Jeff Donnithorne, commander of the Bulls, reminded his squadron that the soldiers at Camp Toccoa "did not run Currahee to get good at running Currahee."  The crucible of Currahee was a means and not an end -- it prepared the regiment for the uncertain future that lay ahead.  Looking back after years of grueling battle, the men of the 506th PIR pointed to Currahee as the foundation of their success.  Ernest G. "Pappy" King captured this sentiment in his poem entitled "Currahee":

"They took your name, 'Oh, Currahee,' to fame and glory across the sea...
We look back with pride, oh great hill, your tortures an anvil that tempered steel,
You taught us all to give our best, forged us all to meet each test" 
The Bulls may not be heading off to battle on the scale of World War II anytime soon, but they have the weighty task of educating Air Force captains, civilians and international officers at Squadron Officer School.  For the students who join the Bulls for their five weeks of education, SOS functions much like Currahee.  It's a challenging, yet purposeful, course that serves as a means and not an end. SOS is designed to prepare its students for the uncertain futures that lay ahead of them as leaders in the profession of arms. 

Currahee prepared the band of brothers for D-Day, Market Garden and Bastogne.  SOS seeks to prepare its students for tomorrow's signature campaigns.  By running "three miles up, three miles down" in the footsteps of yesterday's heroes, the Bulls rededicated themselves to their mission of making captains better leaders for the future.