By Sgt. Justin A. NaylorJune 17, 2013
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - The word competitive does not do justice to the rivalry between artillery sections in 1st Battalion (155mm Towed), 377th Field Artillery Regiment, 17th Fires Brigade. There is a constant one-upmanship in everything they do.
Their desire to be first is apparent as they race to set up their canons. Those who finish first glare at the lagging competition. For teams from 1-337 FA, a battalion-wide best section competition was an opportunity to see how they compared to their peers.
Sections competed in physical fitness tests, foot marches, disassembling and reassembling weapons, and most importantly, firing their M777A2 howitzers. The nearly 2-week competition concluded May 3.
"The unit's main goal was to develop unit cohesion, but at the same time to distinguish those that excel," said Sgt. Michael Sumala, a San Jose, Calif., native and section chief who joined the artillery's ranks in 1999.
"This is a chance to prove that we're better than them," Sumala said about rival sections. "It's all in good spirit, but underlying that, there is the truth that you have to beat them."
Sections earned points throughout the competition with a heavy emphasis on setting up and firing their howitzers. For Sumala's section, the competition was not just about winning; it was about building camaraderie within his team.
"You perform better when you're put under fire," Sumala said. "Nothing will bring you together like being under pressure. It works out differences and defines people."
Between preparing and firing their canons, the soldiers spent downtime heckling other teams.
"We talk a lot of smack, but when it comes to break time we laugh about it," said Spc. Bernardo Tamondong, a native of the Philippines, now a cannon crew member with 1-377 FA. "When it comes time to shoot, it's all about who is the fastest and safest gun."
The team with the highest aggregate score earned the title "best section" along with a bright red muzzle cover for their howitzer - a unit tradition.
"Back in the day, that red muzzle cover was an object of lust and desire across the battalion," Lt. Col. Charles Roede, the 1-377 FA commander, told his soldiers during an award ceremony May 3.
For the winning section, 1st Section, 1st Platoon, C Battery, 1-377FA, bragging started as soon as they had the cover in their hands.
"I told ya'll we were going to win," said Sgt. Sterling Alphonse, a Stamford, Conn., native and ammo team chief with 1-377 FA. "I said we were the best. They didn't believe me."