The Brian Bill Memorial Challenge

Expect Challenge. Achieve Distinction, is a phrase pasted on any sort of Norwich University informational packet one can think of.

Expecting challenge is exactly what Brian R. Bill did upon arriving to campus as a freshman.

He distinguished himself through his graduation from Norwich University by gaining a degree in electrical engineering. He made that choice of major because he found it to be the most difficult major available to students.

Bill was also involved with the Mountain & Cold Weather Company (MCW) and the varsity swim team during his time at Norwich. He took down any obstacle that was in his path and gave anything he attempted his all.

When Brian R. Bill was killed in action on Aug. 6, 2011, after his CH-47 Chinook helicopter was shot down while on a mission over Afghanistan, the Norwich University Golden Anchor Society began holding an annual memorial challenge in honor of Bill.

“The challenge is something along a Tough Mudder or Spartan Race concepts where participants run through a 3-mile, 5-mile, or 10-mile event that contains different obstacles that they have to get through, around, or over,” said Jake Nichols, a 21-year old senior geology major from Batavia, N.Y.

Nichols is the current president of the Golden Anchor Society on campus and was the person spearheading the organization, planning, and preparation of this year’s Brian R. Bill Memorial Challenge.

“Our event is about a 6-mile obstacle run through the back half of campus and up Paine Mountain,” Nichols said. “We cover the areas starting right outside of Plumley Armory, through to the practice soccer fields, to Disney Field, the USMC O-Course (Obstacle Course), on to the Upper Parade Ground (UP), then there are several stations up the mountain.”

The event contains several different exercises including burpees, pushups, bear crawls, squats, running, and more, according to Nichols.

Since participants may register as teams of four or as individuals, the distribution of exercises is always the same, and each person must complete the same amount of repetitions for each exercise. Some events have a certain required amount of repetition that the team or individual must complete.

These events tie into certain milestones, dates, or significant facts about Bill’s life that help the participants to better understand all that Bill did, Nichols said.

“For example, at some stations, participants have to complete 31 repetitions of burpees because Brian was 31 years old when he was killed,” Nichols said. “It is small things like that which we design to tie in to why each person is doing the challenge, and why it’s significant.”

In addition to the physical course, Nichols noted a new addition to the 2018 Brian R. Bill Memorial Challenge, a knowledge test, which requires participants to pay closer attention to the small biography they read at the beginning of the race as well as the repetitions they performed at each of the stations.

The academic test was added to level the playing field for competitors, as incorrect answers serve to add more time to their overall total for the course.

“In everything he did, he always gave everything he could give. Even after finishing BUD/S, which is the Navy SEAL training pipeline, he was given an award called the first-timer,” Nichols said. “This means that through every phase and every test each member took, some tests have three attempts to pass, Bill passed each one the first time he took it.”

Since Bill received several awards throughout his time in service, which included four US Navy Bronze Stars with Valor, Nichols explained, it made sense for the Golden Anchor Society to also run the challenge as a competition.

Participants are registered as either teams of four, or individuals and can be either allmale, all-female or coed. A coed team can be split evenly or three of one gender and one of another, it does not matter, so long as both genders are represented, Nichols explained.

Awards are distributed based upon the top three teams of both genders and the coed competition, as well as for the top three males and top three females.

“For this competition, we organize the participants to be sent off in heats to stagger their start and end times,” Nichols said. The event is open to the public and boasts a turnout of at least 100 people annually. This open event attracts people from areas both in-state and out-of-state, in addition to the Norwich University student body.

“Since the Golden Anchor Society opens the event up to the public, we have a lot of people come in who don’t have any association with the school and just want to challenge themselves and honor Brian,” Nichols said. “It’s really neat to see everyone who participates, especially since Brian’s parents come up every year to support the event and talk briefly about it and about Brian at the end.”

According to Nichols, Bill’s parents, Dr. and Mrs. Michael Parry, visit Norwich annually in support of the challenge and to come and thank the Golden Anchor Society for doing the challenge and honoring Brian.

Dr. Parry and his wife spoke briefly at the end of the challenge, upon seeing all of the participants return. They spoke about how the event was designed as a challenge and how that was “appropriate because no matter what the type, if there was a challenge, we could bet Brian would be right there to conquer it,” said Dr. Parry.

Both of the Parry’s were photographed with all of the award recipients of the day’s challenge and finished by commending each participant for their effort and willing participation in the event.

According to Nichols, the day finished with a photograph of all members, both past and present, of the Golden Anchor Society who attended the event this year with the Parry’s.

Bill’s father then offered a thank-you to the students running the event and an explanation of the flags that he had hung up for display earlier in the day.

In a poignant moment, Dr. Perry finished with the explanation of the Gold Star Flag, a nationally-recognized flag for those families who have lost a member to the war-efforts of the nation, and how Vermont had just recently passed an effort to have a customized state Gold Star Flag for the state.

“Both Vermont and Norwich care a great deal about their service members and Gold Star Families,” Dr. Parry said. “This step, with our own personalized flag for the state, and the one made specifically for Brian, are both great reminders of where we have come from and the legacy of service that we continue to represent.”

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