The Best of the 'TF Lightning' Warriors
July 31, 2009
The Aca,!A"Joint Best Warrior Competition,Aca,!A? a five-day contest pitting service members currently deployed to northern Iraq in support of Multi-National Division Aca,!" North and Operation Iraqi Freedom against one another in a series of physical challenges and technical and tactical knowledge, was held at Contingency Operating Base Speicher, near Tikrit, Iraq, July 26-30.
The competition invited two representatives, one noncommissioned officer and one junior enlisted Soldier from several of the brigades, battalions and other units currently serving Task Force Lightning in MND-N. In total, 18 Soldiers and one Sailor from Combined Task Force Troy Aca,!" North, the naval explosive ordnance disposal unit serving TFL, went head-to-head for the top spot in his respective classification, junior-enlisted or NCO warrior. Participants in the event were the winners at their own unit-level contests, entitling them to compete at the division level.
Sgt. Michael Hauser, 25th Special Troops Bn. security detachment, 25th Inf. Div., was the winner of the NCO competition, and Spc. Daniel M. Vickers, Forward Support Company, 65th Engineer Battalion, 130th Engineer Brigade took the top spot on the junior-enlisted side.
Day one of the competition began with a written essay on the subject of battlefield ethics. Participants were encouraged to write their views on ethical and moral dilemmas and scenarios to the best of their abilities.
Aca,!A"The essay was worth 60 points, but points would be deducted for each mistake,Aca,!A? said Sgt. Maj. Julian Padilla, Operations Sergeant Major, 25th Inf. Div. and one of the primary event coordinators for the JBWC.
The next portion of the challenge began during the pre-dawn hours of the next day with the physical challenge, a six-station timed gauntlet of tasks which tested each participantAca,!a,,cs physical fitness and Aca,!A"drive.Aca,!A?
Aca,!A"We prepared an overall physical fitness event, not a standard Army Physical Fitness Test, with six different events timed at one minute a piece,Aca,!A? said Padilla.
Events of the unorthodox physical fitness test ranged from tried-and-true tasks like push-ups to more creative body-straining events such as flipping a big tire end-over-end or the long rope drag.
Aca,!A"The rope was the most challenging,Aca,!A? said Sgt. Erik Iwai, one of the competitionAca,!a,,cs competitors representing FSC, 65th Eng. Bn., 130th Eng. Bde. Aca,!A"It felt like 400 pounds. I donAca,!a,,ct know how heavy it was, but thatAca,!a,,cs what it felt like when I got to the second one.Aca,!A?
The competitionAca,!a,,cs events were designed by MND Aca,!" N Command Sergeant Major Frank M. Leota, through past years of experience with competitive battalion and brigade-level Soldiering contests.
According to Padilla, the events were LeotaAca,!a,,cs surprise for competitors who may have entered the contest expecting a standard Army Physical Fitness Test.
Aca,!A"He chose the events he did to make each event work a different part of the body,Aca,!A? explained Padilla. Aca,!A"The tire flip was both upper body and lower body, for example.Aca,!A?
The grading system, according to Padilla, placed much importance and potential for excellence on physical performance than any other section of the contest.
Aca,!A"Each station, from the essay on day one all the way to the board, was based on points. If they passed a task, they get a point,Aca,!A? Padilla said. Aca,!A"Each repetition counts. One push up is one point; one pull up is one point.Aca,!A?
Because of the lack of a point cap, the physical contest point yield was only limited to the Soldier or SailorAca,!a,,cs own physical limits. This portion of the contest was the opportunity to pull ahead of the pack, according to Padilla.
Aca,!A"Some Soldiers who didnAca,!a,,ct do so well in that event did better on the shooting portion because they werenAca,!a,,ct so tired, and they were fresh,Aca,!A? Padilla explained. Aca,!A"But the range was only worth 20 points, and there was no point limit on the physical challenges.Aca,!A?
The competition didnAca,!a,,ct ease up, as immediately following the last of the six physical challenges, the competitors were instructed to rush to their waiting protective gear, and began walking the considerable distance between the physical training field and the shooting range.
Aca,!A"Once they arrived at the stress shoot range they were attached to a weighted sked and they had to drag it about 50 meters,Aca,!A? said Master Sgt. Brett L. Ellington, Fusion Sergeant Major for the 25th Inf. Div. and one of the primary event coordinators. Aca,!A"After that, he would draw his rounds and negotiate each obstacle.Aca,!A?
The obstacles came in the form of obstructions and limitations to the firing position, as well as specific direction from lane managers to complicate the userAca,!a,,cs ability to fire.
Aca,!A"The object was to stress the Soldier out,Aca,!A? said Ellington. Aca,!A"We wanted to see if the Soldier could properly identify a target under all of that stress. To be able to apply the basic rifle fundamentals in any circumstance was the goal and their success was the end result.Aca,!A?
An additional stressor was the presence of sergeants major applying their own unique brand of Aca,!A"motivationAca,!A? to each shooter.
Aca,!A"It was a bit difficult out here but fun,Aca,!A? said Sgt. Tramaine Bass, B Troop, 2nd Squadon, 38th Cavalry Regiment, 504th Battlefield Surveillance Bde. Aca,!A"It was interesting having the sergeants major out here yelling at us.Aca,!A?
Aca,!A"It was physically and mentally challenging,Aca,!A? said Vickers, a Kileen, Texas native. Aca,!A"It was hard at times to keep driving on, even when tired.Aca,!A?
Aca,!A"Our goal was to make them tired. If they wanted to stop they could stop, but nobody did,Aca,!A? said Padilla. Aca,!A"No matter how hot it was or how bad the sandstorm was they did the best they could.Aca,!A?
Walking long distances with a full set of protective gear can be considered a staple of military physical challenges; however, for this competition the road marches were not a graded portion of the event. Rather, the marches were a necessity as participants had no other alternative but to walk the distance between each event under high temperatures. Some participants, like Navy EOD1 James Metzger, even opted to sprint the distance between each event.
Aca,!A"The whole of Task Force Troy Aca,!" North is rooting for him,Aca,!A? said Cmdr. Jeff McCauley, Commander of CJTFT Aca,!" N. Aca,!A"He exemplifies spirit de corps and has been performing at an outstanding level. They all are.Aca,!A?
Day three began early in the morning and presented the competitors with hands-on testing and practical application tests of warrior skills necessary in a combat environment. These events included first-aid and lifesaving; react to contact, and weapon malfunction troubleshooting and assembly.
For Staff Sgt. Kevin Smith, the NCO representing Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 24th Inf. Reg., 1st Stryker Bde. Combat Team, 25th Inf. Div., some of the hands-on tests challenged him with subjects he finds himself unaccustomed to performing.
Aca,!A"You need to overcome and adapt for this contest,Aca,!A? said Smith at a testing station for proper inspection of a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle. Aca,!A"IAca,!a,,cm with a Stryker brigade and I have never even touched an MRAP vehicle, but here I am about to fully inspect one. ItAca,!a,,cs challenging to have to step out of your comfort zone.Aca,!A?
To add further difficulty to the two-day hands-on challenges, the second dayAca,!a,,cs weather conditions took a turn for the worse with a considerable dust storm.
Aca,!A"We tested your technical and tactical proficiency and capabilities through over 22 tasks,Aca,!A? said Leota. Aca,!A"Competing in a harsh environment of over 123 degrees and through a dust storm--that was an added bonus! Something that I could not have planned better myself.Aca,!A?
The dust storm may not have subsided, but the fourth day did end with the last of the physical challenges and hands-on tests. All that remained for participants was an appearance before the board of the senior-enlisted leaders of TFL.
Among the members of the judging board were Leota, who served as the board president; Command Sgt. Maj. Anthony Morrero, 3rd Inf. Bde. Combat Team, 25th Inf. Div.; Command Sgt. Maj. James Pippin, 3rd Heavy Bde. Combat Team, 1st Cav. Div.; Command Sgt. Maj. Kenneth Patton, 10th Combat Aviation Bde.; Master Chief Petty Officer John Seigel, Command Master Chief, Mobile Unit 6, CTFT - N, and Command Sgt. Maj. Valerie Greene, 25th Special Troops Bn., 25th Inf. Div.
For many contestants, the pressure of on-the-spot scrutiny by many of the most senior noncommissioned officers in northern Iraq added a whole new level of nervousness to the competition.
Aca,!A"If there was one subject I wasnAca,!a,,ct as confident in, it would have to be the board appearance,Aca,!A? said Hauser, an Eagle River, Alaska native. Aca,!A"It was pretty intimidating at times to be on the spot in front of so many Sergeants Major and a Command Master Chief.Aca,!A?
According to Padilla, the board was a standard Army board in which each participant was judged on his military bearing and tactical and technical knowledge of a variety of military subjects. These questions included subjects from military branches not exclusive to the U.S. Army.
One particular question which caught many Soldiers off guard was one posed by Leota: Aca,!A"What is a saluting station'Aca,!A?
Aca,!A"I donAca,!a,,ct think there is such a thing,Aca,!A? said Hauser. Aca,!A"If he asked me again I would probably say it was a station in an Expert Infantryman Badge course.Aca,!A?
Aca,!A"Yeah, youAca,!a,,cre going to have to Google that one,Aca,!A? said Leota, who assured Soldiers saluting stations are real.
As the contest came to a tense close, many of the participants were so closely matched in terms of overall skill and performance that no single contestant led the way for the entirety of the contest.
Aca,!A"I was told there were four first place winners at different points of today alone, but in the end, these two great men emerged as the leaders. Congratulations,Aca,!A? said Maj. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr., Commanding General, MND-N, as he announced Hauser and Vickers the winners of the competition.
Aca,!A"ThereAca,!a,,cs a real sense of accomplishment to be able to tell my Soldiers that I was going to go out there and win it for them and actually come through,Aca,!A? said Hauser. Aca,!A"I owe it all to my [junior enlisted] Soldiers for motivating me everyday to be a leader and step up to these kinds of challenges.Aca,!A?
For Vickers, the victory helps to grant a new outlook on his future career as an NCO and motivates him to improve.
Aca,!A"This helps provide a basis for becoming a noncommissioned officer and better prepare me for engaging and motivating my Soldiers,Aca,!A? said Vickers.
Both winners were awarded Army Commendation Medals and also took home Polynesian shark-tooth warrior clubs with a TFL commemorative coin embedded within its wooden body, as well as gift certificates from sponsors Army and Air Force Exchange Service and Harley Davidson.
Aca,!A"It was very close,Aca,!A? said Padilla. Aca,!A"I take my hat off to each of those individual Soldiers - theyAca,!a,,cre all winners and I am impressed with the new generation of Soldiers coming up and the future leaders of the Army.Aca,!A?
All participants were presented with backpacks containing clothing and gifts, as well as TFL commanderAca,!a,,cs coins.
With the close of the ceremony, each participant exchanged their farewells and set out back to their respective units and organizations across northern Iraq.
For the leadership behind the contest and those who participated in the contest itself, the event brought much more to the competitors than five days of challenges.
Aca,!A"Competitions like these bring out the best in Soldiers,Aca,!A? said Padilla. Aca,!A"You need to give all you have to compete among your peers and it will show the type of leader you are.Aca,!A?
The event, according to Ellington, paid proper tribute to the U.S. military corps of NCOs, making the event a more meaningful experience this year.
Aca,!A"We had perfect timing for this event, being the Aca,!EoeYear of the NCOAca,!a,,c, and it all paid off, seeing the Soldiers give their best and remark how challenged they were,Aca,!A? said Ellington. Aca,!A"Our jobs as NCOs are for supporting Soldiers like these.Aca,!A?
One such Soldier was Hauser, who proved his abilities and competence as an NCO with the win, but credits his Soldiers for serving NCOs as much as NCOs serve their Soldiers.
Aca,!A"It was a good assessment for myself,Aca,!A? said Hauser. Aca,!A"I was out here to challenge myself and to learn from them.Aca,!A?