2014 Best Warriors’ performance – ‘Nothing short of amazing’
Greetings to all of you from the Association of the United States Army (AUSA), our Army’s and our soldiers’ professional organization.
The AUSA Annual Meeting and Exposition in October provided the Army leadership and our attendees with an opportunity to recognize and honor the Army’s 2014 Noncommissioned Officer and Soldier of the Year.
This year the Department of the Army Best Warrior Competition was held at Fort Lee, Va., from Oct. 6 to 9.
Historically, this competition has served to showcase the Army’s best noncommissioned officers and soldiers, and this year was no exception.
I had the honor of watching all the competitors – 14 NCOs and 14 soldiers – arrive at Fort Lee and begin the competition on Oct. 6.
All the NCOs and soldiers represented their commands very well.
As I told the group of NCOs and soldiers: A company, troop or battery commander and their first sergeant would give up body parts to have a handful of professionals of their caliber in their unit.
Their performance throughout all the events was nothing short of amazing.
The 2014 Department of the Army Noncommissioned Officer of the Year is Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Carpenter, an 18C Special Forces engineer with the 10th Special Forces Group at Fort Carson, Colo., representing U.S. Army Special Operations Command.
The 2014 Department of the Army Soldier of the Year is Spc. Thomas Boyd, a 35P cryptologic linguist with Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 500th Military Intelligence Brigade, at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, representing U.S. Army Pacific Command.
Both winners were announced at an awards banquet on Oct. 9 at the completion of the four-day competition.
Carpenter said, "I’ve done three competitions to get to this one, and now that the final one is over, and to realize I’ve won, it’s pretty amazing."
"It’s a great relief to win, but it wasn’t easy," Boyd said. "The competition was difficult and the other competitors were tough."
On the first day, competitors eased into the competition by getting to know each other while setting up their equipment in preparation for the next three days of events.
They also wrote essays expressing their views of the Army addressing a specific question they were asked.
The competitors started in high gear early in the morning on the second day with the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT).
"The weather was perfect for an APFT, not too cold, not too hot, and the soldiers did very well," said Command Sgt. Maj. Terry E. Parham Sr., the command sergeant major of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Support Command and Fort Lee.
The competition continued throughout the day with the competitors covering a 12-mile course to locate and complete eight stations with a variety of Warrior Tasks and Battle Drills.
The course stations, located predominately across Fort Lee’s ranges, included the M-9 pistol and the M-203 grenade launcher marksmanship; close quarters marksmanship; medical evaluation, treatment and evacuation skills; combative hand-to-hand fighting in a real-world scenario; chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) skills; and a 45-question multiple-choice exam.
Placing added emphasis on CBRN skills that have atrophied over the past 13 years, the competitors found these tasks tough, especially when operating in Mission Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP) Level 4, the highest protective level.
"I never like having to put that mask on and that suit," said Staff Sgt. Victor Munoz, the U.S. Army Medical Command NCO of the Year.
"You just start to sweat, and it’s so hot. Then you have to drag the stretcher [with a casualty], and it’s not like you can try to catch your breath, because your breathing is restricted. It was just uncomfortable," Munoz added.
Part of the scenario the competitors faced included evaluating, treating, evacuating and decontaminating a casualty found in a contaminated environment that was made realistic using the "gas chamber" with CS (tear) gas on the range.
"Being in MOPP Level 4 gear and pouring out sweat wasn’t the most fun I’ve had here," said Staff Sgt. Brian Hester, the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command NCO of the Year.
"Part of it was properly decontaminating and testing the air; you had to go by the book. At one point, I had to wait 10 minutes, and they said: ‘Here’s your stopwatch.’ So I sat there for 10 minutes in all that hot gear. There was no cutting corners."
The competition continues to evolve and change to meet the ever-changing environments soldiers and leaders might face in future deployment areas.
The Best Warrior Competition allows the sergeant major of the Army to highlight critical skill weaknesses based on feedback from senior Army leaders, training center rotations and deployment rotations.
In addition to the CBRN tasks, this year featured a close-quarters marksmanship lane.
"The scenario here is they’ve come to help this village after an earthquake has happened," said Staff Sgt. James Shuster, the lane’s NCOIC and evaluator.
An exploding gas line with dozens of local nationals running scared set the stage for competitor teams to quickly move into the village to provide security for an assistance team presently on site.
As part of the scenario, competitors were faced with hostile and non-hostile targets in a chaotic environment.
"They’ll have to determine on their own, based on the rules of engagement, if they’re able to shoot or not shoot," said Sgt. 1st Class Eric Morris, noncommissioned officer in charge (NCOIC) of the Warrior Tasks and Battle Drills phase of the competition.
In another scenario, competitors had to apply their Army combative training in a real-world scenario involving two families in a village.
"We have two families in this village fighting over who is the rightful owner of this farmland," said Staff Sgt. Korento Leverette, NCOIC of the man-to-man contact lane.
"As the competitors come in, they’ll be told that their assistance is required to help calm the situation using non-lethal force. Then, an aggressor will come up with the village elder, and in the course of their conversation, the aggressor, who is actually Army Combatives Level 2-certified, will become more aggressive, at which time the competitors will have to take control of the situation," said Leverette.
"It has a combatives element to it, but it’s separate from combatives," Morris said. "There’s a warrior task and battle drill; react to man-to-man contact."
"The sergeant major of the Army wanted a real-world scenario, something you might encounter, where you would use the skills you’d learn in Army combatives," said Leverette.
On the next day, the NCO competitors appeared before a board chaired by the sergeant major of the Army and a panel of senior command sergeants major while the soldier competitors were tested on a variety of mystery tasks.
"We train soldiers on tasks. We train leaders to work through and solve problems. I think there’s a significant difference between the two," Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond Chandler said.
Splitting the board over two days gave board members some extra time to question the NCO competitors about their actions and knowledge when faced with complex soldier situations.
"So we spent some time on the Army ethic and the Army Profession, and we asked some general knowledge questions that were posed as vignettes; we asked them to decide how they were going to do things based on a situation they were presented with. That focuses on the leader development we expect from our NCOs and their agility, their adaptability," said Chandler.
Meanwhile, out in the training area, the mystery events included a Leadership Reaction Course with four stations: land navigation, inspecting and correcting soldier uniforms and assembling weapons.
On the next day, the NCO and soldier competitors switched roles to complete their unfinished portion of the competition.
"We’ve relied on GPS technology; whether that’s a mobile phone, Blue Force Tracker, or some of the other stuff we have and we’ve probably relied on it a little bit too much," Morris said.
Adding, "It’s been a while since we’ve sat down with a map, protractor and compass, and done ‘land nav’ old-school style. Batteries fail, satellites go down and if you don’t keep yourself up-to-date on the basics, you’re setting yourself up for failure."
"It was very intense physically and a little bit emotionally. It required a lot of mental strength to get through it. I’m used to working in an office, so having to run around doing ruck marches in between events, then completing tasks was intense. We did a lot of physical exercise, then we had to do complex tasks that required thinking clearly, though you’re completely exhausted," said Boyd.
The NCOs on the last day finished the competition by assembling and performing a function check on the M-9 pistol, M-4 carbine, M-249 squad automatic weapon and the M-240B machine gun.
Having the parts of all four weapons mixed together made this task more challenging for many of the competitors.
All the competitors reflected positively on the opportunity to meet and network with the other competitors.
"I liked being able to talk to the other competitors," said Carpenter.
Carpenter added, "That interaction makes you even more knowledgeable. There are things I learned from other competitors in this competition that I really had no idea about."
"What I like the best, out of all the competitions leading up to here and including this one, is meeting all these other NCOs," said Sgt. 1st Class David Smith, the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command NCO of the Year.
"Meeting all these NCOs and these soldiers has made me realize how strong the Army NCO Corps and the Army’s soldiers actually are," Smith noted.
The 1st Runner-up NCO of the Year was Staff Sgt. Adam White, an 11B infantryman with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, representing U.S. Army Pacific.
The 1st Runner-up Soldier of the Year was Spc. Ryan Montgomery, an 11B infantryman with D Company, 2nd Battalion, 153rd Infantry Regiment, 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Arkansas National Guard, at Newport, Ark., representing the U.S. Army National Guard.
The 2nd Runner-up NCO of the Year was Sgt. 1st. Class David Smith, a 19K armor crewman with 1st Brigade, U.S. Army Cadet Command, who teaches ROTC classes at the University of North Georgia in Dahlonega, Ga., representing U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command.
The 2nd Runner-up Soldier of the Year was Spc. Chase Teats, a 25S satellite systems operator/maintainer with B Company, 53rd Signal Battalion, 1st Space Brigade, at Fort Meade, Md., representing U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command.
All of the competing NCOs and soldiers have great stories to tell and their personal example throughout their current Army careers serve as examples for others who want to excel and set themselves apart from their peers.
While all of the competing NCOs and soldiers are winners and all have received a wide variety of recognition throughout this quest, their greatest reward is the knowledge, experience and expertise they gained across dozens and dozens of subject areas.
In his address to the competitors, sponsors and attendees at the awards banquet, Chandler said this competition is one of the things he will miss the most after retirement on Jan. 30, 2015.
"That’s because it has to do with what we do as noncommissioned officers and leaders every day, being with soldiers, training soldiers, recognizing excellence, and helping those who may not be achieving the standard," said Chandler.
Gen. Daniel B. Allyn, Army vice chief of staff, and Chandler recognized the NCO and Soldier of the Year at the awards luncheon with the presentation of the Tilley Award, named in honor of Sgt. Maj. of the Army Jack Tilley, during the AUSA Annual Meeting and Exposition.
In his remarks to the audience, Allyn talked about Carpenter and Boyd as role models who demonstrate the qualities of soldiers needed in the years ahead, especially as the Army becomes smaller and more expeditionary in a time of great unpredictability.
"Force 2025 will require small-unit leaders, decentralized from forward organizations, to thrive in uncertainty, to adapt to their environment, to make critical decisions consistent with our new operating concept," said Allyn.
From all of us at AUSA, we say congratulations to these great soldiers and noncommissioned officers, and we thank them for serving as role models for those aspiring young leaders who want to emulate and follow in their footsteps.
Now more than ever America’s Army needs AUSA and AUSA needs your membership support.
Still Serving, Still Saluting!