There can be only one -- Best Warrior
May 15, 2013
FORT GEORGE G, MEADE, Md. -- Noncommissioned officers representing First Army Division East's eight Brigades competed recently to determine the Division's 2013 NCO of the Year.
The journey to represent the Division began at battalion level. NCOs competed and were selected for their brigade-level contest through competitions held by their respective commands earlier this year.
"This year, the brigades conducted their own NCO and Soldier of the year competition based on First Army's Best Warrior model," said Command Sergeant Major Dennis E. Defreese, Division East's senior enlisted advisor. "The Soldiers then met at one of our Mobilization Force Generation Installations, where they competed against one another to determine who to send to this year's Division level board."
Due to the Division East rank structure, there was no Soldier of the Year selected this year.
"Soldier of the Year competitions are important," said Defreese. "It affords the Brigades, as well as the Division the opportunity to showcase their best NCOs. It really is a way for us to highlight what we have to offer."
With the current fiscal constraints, and Division East's eight brigades spread across the eastern half of the U.S., the Division Command Sergeant Major leaned toward technology to select the Division's top Soldier.
Defreese explained this year the division decided to host a virtual board in lieu of the brigade winners traveling to a central location to compete against each other for the right to represent Division East. The virtual board, thought not the first choice to select the winner, was the only option available due to the high cost of the travel. It came down to the VTC or canceling the competition.
"It was important to not just say we can't do this due to fiscal constraints," he said. "That was one of the biggest reasons we decided to hold the board virtually."
Division East's eight brigades collaborated with each other to host their semifinal Best Warrior competitions at three MFGIs, Camp Atterbury, Ind., Camp Shelby Joint Force Training Center, Miss., and Joint Base McGuire Dix-Lakehurst, N.J. The three winners participated in the final virtual board.
"We put the criteria for the competition out there, and had to rely on our command sergeants major to ensure discipline, and holding the Soldiers to the same standard," said Defreese. "They did just that."
In order for the Soldiers to make the semifinals, they underwent a grueling schedule competing in various events.
The three day challenge began with the Army Physical fitness test, followed by a written exam and subsequently several Army Warrior Tasks and drills designed to challenge them mentally and physically.
"The competition has been non-stop and intense, full of surprises and training that has helped refresh some of my basic skills and helped keep me relevant as a leader," said Staff Sgt. Brandon Soper, a trainer-mentor with the 2-289th Field Artillery Battalion, 157th Infantry Brigade.
Over the next two days the Soldiers endured several events to include urban orienteering, land navigation, hand-to-hand combat, qualifying with various weapons, and an eight-mile road march carrying a 35-pound rucksack.
On the third and final day of the event, the Brigade winners went in front the Division East command sergeant major at the virtual board.
"The biggest takeaway for me is to participate in general Soldiers tasks and activities that you don't always get an opportunity when leading a large number of Soldiers," said Sgt. First Class John Stevens, a trainer-mentor from 4th Cavalry Brigade. "The competition lets me participate in events that I haven't done in a long time. I plan on encouraging my peers to compete next time."
In the end, Soper stood out among his peers, winning the coveted title of First Army Division East's Best Warrior.
"Staff Sergeant Soper was the best candidate," said Defreese. "He really impressed me with his knowledge and keeping his composure under pressure. I trust he will represent the division well."
Soper will now move on to First Army's Best Warrior competition held later this month. The First Army winner goes on to compete at the Forces Command competition later this year. The FORSCOM winner will compete for the Army title in October.
"I'm surprised that I am representing Division East. I am fortunate to be surrounded by such awesome Soldiers, and I've had so much help from my unit in preparation for these events. My sponsor, Sgt. 1st Class Salvatore Valle, came up with a backwards plan to go over the subjects I thought needed more attention. I study one topic a day and do the hands on portion for the topic of the day. We have an idea of what will be on the board, but I wanted to be as prepared as I can," said Soper.
Described as the 'Super Bowl' of Army competitions, the NCO/Soldier of the Year competition celebrates its twelfth anniversary this year.
First Army Division East, mobilizes, trains, validates and deploys Reserve Component units to support overseas military operations. Along with Reserve component units, the division's trainer/mentors prepare and deploy sailors and airmen, along with selected members of the interagency and intergovernmental departments, to provide trained and ready forces across a full-spectrum of operations to regional combatant commanders worldwide.