Story and photos by Samantha B. Koss
The 71st Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo kicked off July 13 with the annual Fort Carson Night honoring Mountain Post Soldiers. The
Norris-Penrose Event Center hosted the nation’s top cowboys and cowgirls for the rodeo, which has been a Colorado Springs tradition since 1937 and after World War II proceeds from the event have been donated to local military charities.
“We need to give back to our Soldiers who are in harm’s way defending our freedom,” said rodeo president Mike Jorgensen. “(Colorado Springs) embraces the military; it’s the right thing to do.”
The evening before Fort Carson Night, the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo Parade filled the downtown streets. The 4th Infantry Division and Fort Carson Mounted Color Guard led the procession and Soldiers of 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Inf. Div., marched in formation between cowboys and cowgirls.
The next afternoon, 51 Soldiers were honored during the ninth annual “Salute the Troops” ceremony two hours before the rodeo opened. Brig. Gen. James H. Doty, acting senior commander, 4th Inf. Div. and Fort Carson, and Senior Mission Command Sgt. Maj. John Kurak, 4th Inf. Div. and Fort Carson, presented each Soldier with a medallion for his exemplary service.
The Soldiers were nominated by their chain of command for their outstanding service above self. Two retired veterans were also presented with a medallion.
“I joined the Army in 1942 for $21 a month,” said retired Army Lt. Col. Sherm Connelly, who served during World War II. Connelly retired from the Army at Fort Carson in 1970, around the time retired Army Lt. Col. Richard Ross was joining. Ross, who also received a medallion, served three tours of duty in Vietnam, received four Bronze Stars and two Purple Heart medals. Ross said it was an honor to be recognized with the Soldiers.
Both retirees are members of the Interquest Rotary Club, that hosted the Salute the Troops ceremony.
After the awards were received, Soldiers got the rare opportunity to march onto the arena floor where top cowboys compete.
“It’s not easy to get into that arena … for them to be able to do that is so touching,” said Dayna Jenkins, Girl of the West and ambassador of the rodeo.
Up until four years ago, civilians — meaning someone other than a cowboy — were never allowed on the arena dirt, Jenkins said.
“It is an extra honor we show to our troops for their above and beyond service,” said Joel Azrikan, Salute the Troops chairman.
For Sgt. Jeremy Madrid, cadre member Company C, Warrior Transition Battalion, it was a privilege to be nominated for the award and to receive recognition for his hard work.
“I’m really excited to be here and to get the opportunity to march into the arena,” Madrid said. Earlier this year, Madrid won the western region squad leader of the year in San Antonio.
“I try to do the right thing when no one is looking. I take care of my Soldiers at all cost and (am) always … available to them,” he said as he formed up in front of the event center.
Doty gave an opening speech thanking the rodeo for its military donations.
“We thank the (Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo) foundation for their generous support throughout the years to our Soldiers and their Families,” he said.
After the Soldiers ran off the arena dirt, the cowboys jumped on their horses and began the competitions. More than 4,800 attendees filled the seats on Fort Carson Night to watch traditional rodeo entertainment such as “Mutton Bustin,’” where children hold onto a running sheep for as long as possible, and cow milking, which included a team of Soldiers from Fort Carson. A never-before-seen event with machine guns, insurgents, fireworks and horses was included in the rodeo lineup. The event re-enacted a battle in Afghanistan which had American forces fighting on horses. After winning the re-enactment battle, the American forces circled the arena on horses carrying sparkling flags.
“We try to inject fun things into the rodeo that people can enjoy,” Jorgensen said. “Yes, it’s a rodeo, but really it’s entertainment … we want to make sure the people are entertained.”
The Girls of the West spent their time at the rodeo promoting the western way of life. Jenkins and her aide, Caitlyn Kern, visited Fort Carson multiple times in the past year. The women recalled one particular visit where they joined Soldiers for field training at Camp Red Devil.
“Camping is fun, but it’s totally different out there. We are very grateful to be able to come home, sleep in a bed and take a shower. That was humbling for me,” Jenkins said.
Laughs and excitement filled the stands as cowboys wrestled bulls, children held onto to sheep for dear life and teams chased cows around the arena for milking.
“It can get a little rough out here, but the thing we remember is that this is for the Soldiers, Airmen and their families,” Jorgensen said. “We hold that in our heart.”