FORT LEE Va., -- With simulated gunfire and mortar rounds blowing up all around them, the best soldiers from the Reserve, Guard and active duty take off on their week-long journey to become this year's Best Warrior.
Representing the United States Army Reserve Command is Spc. Mitch Fromm of Stevens Point, Wis., a combat engineer with the 428th Engineer Company out of Wausau, Wis. Fromm has spent this past week getting up before the sun and going to bed long after it has fallen below the horizon.
During these long days, Fromm and his fellow competitors have endured grueling tasks that pushed their mental and physical skills and abilities to their limits. These tasks range from written exams and essays, obstacle courses, team-leading exercises and of course the assembling and firing of various weapons systems.
"Constantly running missions all day and using your brain on some and your body for others and mixing and matching back and forth that was awesome, said Fromm. It is something that I want to do again in the future and its something that I am going to challenge my troops to do."
Despite these obstacles, the pressures of competition, and a severe lack of sleep, Fromm has been putting one foot in front of the other and kept doing the best that he can for each event.
"Im not even thinking about who's first or last," said Fromm, whose company belongs to the 416th Theater Engineer Command. "Im taking it like a marathon, just one mile at a time. That way I don't get too stressed out or burned out and I'm just enjoying myself here."
Despite the fact that this is a competition, the soldiers participating look at this as a chance to learn from each other and be able to take these lessons home in order to better prepare the Soldiers in their units.
Everyone here is very professional, said Fromm. They represent that military bearing Soldiers are known to have, and has a wide base of knowledge.
When Fromm started out the first day of the competition he was outside and ready by four in the morning. The first event was the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT), but this was different from any APFT Fromm had ever taken before. soldiers competing had to quick change from their boots to their running shoes, but had to leave their Army Combat Uniform's on in leu of their regular PT uniform.
"I've never done an ACU APFT, so that was different. I still pushed as hard as I could, said Fromm. But it felt good to do something new and with limited recovery. If it doesn't kill you it can only make you stronger."
With only two minutes between the events in the APFT and only a few moments to change back into all of his battle rattle, he moved to the next portion of the competition where he took a written exam and then, under heavy (simulated) fire, he did qualification tables with the M-9 pistol, M-4 carbine, and M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon, with a variety of obstacles in between each station.
With that out of the way, Fromm moved to a Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) event and finished off his day navigating over twelve miles which were scattered with a react to fire lane, land navigation, evaluate a casualty event, improvised explosive device lane, and finally a written test to finish the day off.
It's not like any other competition. Everyone is supporting each other and there is a lot of pride and there is just so much respect among everybody, said Fromm.
In the end all of Fromm's hard work over the past year paid off when he walked away with the second place Soldier of the Year trophy.
"One of the greatest things I was ever told was go out and get beaten, and that pushed me to new levels, said Fromm. I'm definitely happy I did it, i'm going to recommend it to other people and in the future I will probably compete again."