The 4th Infantry Division staged a massive physical challenge honoring its past and accidentally tear gassed itself

Soldiers at Fort Carson recreated part of the Battle of Dak To from the Vietnam War, charging through obstacles and up a hill.
Nicholas Slayton Avatar
Soldiers in the 4th Infantry Division climb through trenches as part of an obstacle course on Nov. 23, 2022. (Photo by SSG Ondirae H. Abdullah-Robinson/U.S. Army)

Just before Thanksgiving, more than 8,000 soldiers with the 4th Infantry Division swarmed a hill in Fort Carson, Colorado, recreating part of the challenges their predecessors faced in battle 55 years ago in combat. The division-wide physical challenge saw the soldiers climbing obstacles, lifting comrades and running uphill to secure the spot. And they unexpectedly hit themselves with tear gas.

The Nov. 23 event was documented on Defense Visual Information Distribution Service, or DVIDS, with plenty of photos showing the soldiers running through trenches and other obstacles to get to the top of the hill. Soldiers who participated also took video, including some posted to the social media app TikTok. One caught the attention of the Twitter account U.S. Army WTF! Moments, thanks to the video documenting soldiers getting hit with CS gas, also known as tear gas. The account said that the soldiers had not been told they would be facing that ahead of the run.

According to the 4th Infantry Division, that’s not quite what happened. A spokesperson for the division acknowledged that tear gas did get onto the course, but told Task & Purpose that most of the smoke in the video was regular smoke as part of simulating the battlefield. CS gas was used, along with barbed wire, to mark the boundaries of the course and keep soldiers on the field. Additionally soldiers were advised to wear eye protection.

“The limited use of CS was not [intended] to interfere with the formations but to deter participants from leaving the course, however a shift in wind direction did bring portions of CS onto the course,” the spokesperson told Task & Purpose.

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When the wind did pick up, the CS gas was blowing into the soldiers’ faces, as well as their leaders, who were also participating in the exercise, according to the division. Video shows soldiers coughing and covering their eyes after experiencing it. 

The U.S. Army WTF! Moments account pulled the video from a longer one by TikTok user @buffcity_, a soldier in the division. Comments on that video range from amazement to other apparent 4th Infantry Division soldiers laughing about the unexpected CS gas. 

The event was a recreation of part of the Battle of Dak To in the Vietnam War. The 1967 battle lasted 20 days. During that, soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division fought over Hill 875, a fight that lasted 110 hours. In the exercise this week, soldiers had to carry their battalion sergeant majors, as well as weights, heavy tires and other gear, while running through a 2.43-mile terrain filled with anti-tank trenches, dense brush and bits of barbed wire. Along the way, the division simulated artillery attacks and machine gun fire, with smoke released to recreate the haze of the battle. At the end, they summited the hill. 

The Battle of Dak To is the third battle soldiers with the 4th Infantry Division have staged recreations of. Previous exercises since 2021 simulated parts of the Battle of the Huertgen Forest and the Utah Beach landing during D-Day in World War II. 

“These events are meant to have aspects of the unknown central to combat as the event obstacles replicate obstacles experience by our veterans in previous battles,” the division spokesperson said. 

The event was a contest, and at the end of the day, the 1st Battalion 41st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team came out on top. Still, it’s worth always remembering — especially if tear gas is involved — that the wind can change direction at a moment’s notice.

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