As a member of Maritime Safety and Security Team Seattle, Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Ball has seen his fare share of challenging missions. But one recent exercise had Ball far outside of his comfort zone during Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s Mangudai Warrior Challenge.
Drawing its history from special forces units of the Mongol Empire, Mangudai warriors were put through a series of grueling scenarios in the most extreme of conditions, with minimal food and sleep, to prove they were ready for the most demanding of missions.
Today, the 13th-century tradition continues on with the Mangudai Warrior Challenge. The joint military exercise is designed to test physical, mental and emotional limits of senior noncommissioned officers to further their leadership abilities.
Ball didn’t know much about the training going into it, but neither did his fellow students. This is by design as the details of the training are not revealed so future classes and students have no idea what to expect when they attend the course.
In what he calls an “amazing” experience, he and fellow senior enlisted leaders tackled close to 60 consecutive hours of trials and tribulations. What impressed him the most through the challenge, wasn’t the physical demands – such as marching for miles through thick forest in the middle of the night using only night vision goggles – but the ability for everyone to come together to achieve success.
“Seeing how smoothly such a large amount of people operate together was impressive to me,” said Ball.
“To see how fearless those men are and how much a vital operational role they still have to their units at such a high rank was great to see as well,” he added.
The leadership exercise is designed to test the individual’s ability to not only survive but also thrive under extremely harsh and ambiguous conditions; ideal training for Ball’s role within his unit.
As a machinery technician for Maritime Safety and Security Team Seattle, Ball maintains engines, boats and vehicles for the unit. It’s not all work with the engineering department, however, as he also maintains critical qualifications such as tactical boat crewman.
In his role as crewman, he is at the forefront of the unit’s broad spectrum of port safety and security operations. The maritime safety and security team offers operational commanders a quick response capability that meets a changing threat environment in the nation’s harbors, ports and waterways.
In the end, Ball was designated a Mangudai Warrior and earned an Army Achievement Medal. But it wasn’t the title or accolades that were important to him. The experience was a fervent reminder on the importance of having his shipmate’s back no matter what. While it is a principal he has always held, the training brought it to life and made it real.
“As I kept marching with them in physical pain, I could only think how honorable all these soldiers were to each other and to our country,” said Ball. “Since then, I’ve made sure I bring that mentality into my life and job. I would do the same for anyone in the Coast Guard, because that’s who we are too. We should respect each other the same.”