Fort Wainwright Soldiers go the distance
Staff Sgt. Eddie Barba is the U.S. Army Alaska and U.S. Army Pacific NCO of the Year

FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska - Staff Sgt. Eddie Barba, A Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, won the U.S. Army Pacific Warrior Challenge Non-commissioned Officer of the Year competition earlier this month in Hawaii. Barba, who has two competition wins under his belt, will compete in the Department of the Army Warrior Challenge competition later this year as representative of USARPAC in the NCO category.

Both Barba and Spc. Okkar Pe, C Company, 123rd Aviation Intermediate Maintenance, 16th
Combat Aviation Brigade, USARAK Soldier of the Year, represented USARAK in the USARPAC competition.

In May, 23 Soldiers from various U.S. Army Alaska units underwent a battery of grueling tests, assessing their physical fitness, military bearing, leadership aptitude and skills proficiency, during a weeklong selection process called the USARAK Warrior Challenge at Fort Richardson. Nineteen of the competitors were from Fort Wainwright. This competition determined who would represent USARAK at the USARPAC level.

Command Sgt. Maj. David O. Turnbull, USARAK command sergeant major, speaking to the audience of last month's USARAK NCO and Soldier of the Year Breakfast at Fort Wainwright, said, "Every Soldier (who) came down did an outstanding job and we should be proud of every one of them."

Speaking of the week-long competition, he pointed out some of the extra testing scenarios that were added in the competition and why.

"We had to raise the caliber of competition to match the caliber of the candidates," he said. The Warrior Challenge competition tested each Soldier against their peers in the areas of accountability, physical fitness, day and night land navigation, weapons familiarization, weapons qualification, reflexive fire qualification and a grueling obstacle course testing their physical agility. Each candidate also took a written communication test and met a military board.

Barba elaborated on some of those "extra testing" scenarios when asked about the competition. Some of the highlights that stuck out in his mind were the obstacle course and weapons qualification. "The obstacle course was the most challenging," he said, not only because of its physical demands, but mentally when performing the warrior task assessments." Demanding and unexpected tasks were a common theme in the competition and Barba recalled some of the unexpected events which took many by surprise during the weapons qualification portion.

"They dropped us off a mile down the road, we had to run back to the firing point and then shoot," he said. "You run up there, you're tired, you're breathing hard and your heart's racing and you're like ah, I've got to put my weapon back together too."

Adding another level of difficulty, the competitors found that their weapons had been dismantled as they reached their place on the firing line

Before they could even begin their qualification shoot they had to correctly reassemble the weapons. "That was another twist that they threw at us; made it really challenging and made it really fun actually," said Barba.

Spc. Okkar Pe won the Soldier of the Year for USARAK and went to Hawaii with Barba to compete at USARPAC. When asked of his experiences at the USARPAC level he said, "The most rewarding part of the competition was hanging out with other competitors - they all were very fit physically and mentally, with great in-depth knowledge of the Army, skills and abilities." Pe did not win the USARPAC competition, but said just with the experience of competing he has returned with a higher understanding of what it means to be a Soldier. "I learned a lot just by preparing for this competition," he said. "I am hoping to make a difference when I return to normal duty." Pe found the competition a great learning experience. "Being in the Army you have to be willing to try everything; all the Army has to offer, go out there and try," he said.

Pe said none of this would be possible without support from his unit, particularly Staff Sgt. Neftali Bonilla, C/123rd, who mentored him throughout the competition, and the entire C/123rd for "showing me how to be a good Soldier."

Barba also thanked a few of the many people who have contributed to his success throughout the competition. "My wife Lacy is the most amazing and strongest person I know. She's been right there with me through the good and the bad and I definitely would not be the man I am today without her love and support," he said. "Sgt, 1st Class Demetrius Smith ...taught me so much about being a standard bearer, striving for excellence and taking care of Soldiers... my squad, platoon and company. In particular Sgt. Dustin Orr, A/1-5th has picked up so much of the slack in the time that I've been gone," he said.

Both Barba and Pe said the contributions of the Soldiers' units, families and mentors made their individual achievements possible. Barba said he will spend the next few months preparing to compete for Department of the Army's NCO of the Year in the Warrior Challenge in Washington, D.C. this fall.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16