Tough competition brings out the best
July 30, 2010
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD (July 30, 2010) Aca,!" Early Monday morning, July 26, as the sun shone down on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, 16 Soldiers marched confidently into a room with seven sergeants major.
Their heads held high, each one thinking, "I am going to be the U.S. Forces Command Soldier or Noncommissioned Officer of the Year."
By the end of the week, one Soldier and one NCO would stand head and shoulders above his peers.
"It's something special," said Sgt. Brandon Bogle, an explosive ordnance disposal specialist who is representing U.S. Army North. "If I go away with a win, that's going to be awesome. If I go away with a loss, I was one of eight that made it to the (U.S. Army Forces Command) level."
As the days progressed, these select Soldiers competed in several events to determine who would rise to the top. By the end of the third day, two Soldiers had separated themselves from their peers: Pfc. Cody Dodson and Staff Sgt. Loren Gernandt, representing III Corps and XVIII Airborne Corps, respectively.
"You have to live it. You can't just read it in a book," Gernandt said about the competition. "It has to be in your heart that you aspire to move forward."
With the FORSCOM competition completed, Gernandt and Dodson are headed for a tougher contest: the Department of the Army Soldier and NCO of the Year competition.
"We're going to go up to the Department of the Army and knock it out of the park," Gernandt said. "We're going to win and bring it back to (U.S. Forces Command)."
To get to this point, these Soldiers had to sacrifice a lot in their lives.
"I was getting up at 4:30 a.m. to study and exercise so I could get my kids off to school by 7 a.m.," said Sgt. 1st Class Julie Hampton, who is representing First Army.
"Between work and having to study for the board, you lose a lot of your personal time," added Spc. Kevin Jarvis, who is representing First Army East. "It was well worth it in the end."
Sergeants major from FORSCOM's major subordinate commands located around the United States grilled the Soldiers with rapid fire questions, testing their knowledge and ability to think under pressure.
"The (knowledge) boards are the most complicated thing for me," said Gernandt, a geospatial analyst. "It's hard to know everything, there's always a couple that you miss. You just have to put that aside, focus on the things at hand and not worry about it."
With the knowledge boards complete, the competitors arrived to a dreary Washington morning ready for the next event: the Army Physical Fitness Test.
As the clouds parted letting sunlight filter down, the Soldiers wrapped up the first two events, the push-ups and sit-ups.
The last event of the APFT, the 2-mile run, pushed Staff Sgt. James Becker to be better, stronger and faster.
"I'm not (normally) a very fast runner so I really had to work on getting my run-time down," said Becker, a microwave systems operator and maintainer, who is representing Network Enterprise Technology Command, finished the run at 14:08.
After the APFT, the competitors were given an hour to clean-up and then moved on to their next events.
The Soldiers were shuttled to an urban orienting course laid out across the northern part of the installation. They had three-and-a-half hours to find five points while wearing their Interceptor Ballistics Armor, Army Combat Helmet and a water source.
Meanwhile, further down the road the NCOs began their Warrior Training Tasks.
Atop a shipping container in a simulated observation point, the NCOs called in artillery on targets out in the distance. A model table sitting next to them confirmed their success at hitting their objective.
"You never know what is going to be thrown at you and when it's going to be thrown at you," Becker said. "No matter which way they try and combine them, I know I can roll right from one (WTT) to the next."
After a short break for lunch, the Soldiers and NCOs switched locations and events.
Cpl. Jason Ratliff's smoke grenade billowed green concealment as he lay in the prone position.
"Sgt. Smith, are you alright' Can you shoot back'" Ratliff, a team leader from 1st Battalion 23rd Infantry Regiment, called out.
Ratliff moved quickly, first dragging the wounded "Sgt. Smith" out of danger and then bandaging the wounds.
As the Soldiers completed the tasks, the sun slowly slipped into late afternoon signaling the end of the WTT events.
After a quick dinner, the 16 competitors were back out in the field. With the sun beneath the horizon, the Soldiers and NCOs received a Global Positioning System and three-and-a-half hours to find four points.
With little rest, the competitors headed out Wednesday morning to qualify on the M-4 carbine. Low clouds blocked out the sun as the Soldiers stepped off the buses onto Range 1.
Taking up their positions, the competitors put rounds on target while simulated mortar and machine gun fire sought to break their concentration.
After the smoke settled, the competitors hopped on a bus and moved to their next challenge: reassemble and perform a functions check on an M9 9mm pistol, an M4 carbine, a M249 Squad Automatic Weapon and an M240B machine gun. All of the four weapons' parts lay intermingled in a box.
The competition was over. There was only one thing left to do-wait for the winners to be declared.
On Thursday, July 29, the participants were honored with a dinner held at the JBLM American Lake Community Center.
"It's a tough competition leading all the way up to U.S. Forces Command," Bogle said. "It's something special. You have the eight best Soldiers and eight best NCOs in all of U.S. Army Forces Command."
The air in the dining room hung with a thick tension as the competitors and their sponsors waited for the phrase of the evening.
"The 2010 United States Army Forces Command NCO of the Year is Staff Sgt. Loren Gernandt," said Sgt. Maj. Karen Kelly, I Corps G1 sergeant major. "The 2010 United States Army Forces Command Soldier of the year is Pfc. Cody Dodson."
Both Gernandt and Dodson expressed disbelief about winning the competition due to the high level of skill all the competitors brought to the table during the multi-day competition.
"It's an unbelievable feeling," Gernandt said.
"It feels good (to have won)," Dodson said. "It felt like I earned it. It was a tough competition. I learned a lot on the way up here."
As the two winners collected their prizes, Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis Carey, the former FORSCOM Command Sergeant Major, had a few words for them and the other Soldiers and NCOs present.
"Now you have to pay it back," Carey said.. "Now you have to go back and train the next group of Soldiers."
The winners of this year's U.S. Army Forces Command Soldier and NCO of the Year competition will move onto the Department of the Army's competition at Fort Lee, Va., in October.