By Sgt. Brian J Smith Dutton (FORSCOM)February 25, 2014
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- That was the question Soldiers and the command of 3rd Brigade Combat Team 'Rakkasans,' 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), set out to answer during the Brigade's first ever 'Best Rakkasan' competition here, Feb. 19 and 20th.
"This was the first time we as a Brigade have ever put together a challenge like this for our Soldiers," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Gabriel Perez, the Brigade targeting officer and coordinator of the 'Best Rakkasan' competition.
The competition pushed the Soldier-teams through a series of stations where they were challenged physically and mentally during the two-day competition in order to prevail as the Brigade's 'Best Rakkasan.'
"We wanted to get back to what were good at, what were known for, which is the core competencies of deploying, fighting and winning upon contact whenever the nation calls," said Col J.B. Vowell, the Brigade commander. "That means we've got to be good at shooting, moving and communicating at the individual and team level."
Perez highlighted that some of the teams were co-ed or paired Soldiers from different battalions, but that the standards were the same for all of the competitors.
With the teams set and the Soldiers prepared for the challenges ahead, the first day of the competition started before sunrise with an enhanced Army Physical Fitness Test, consisting of the standard push up and sits up events and adding pull ups and a longer run event of five miles.
Following the five-mile run, the competitors faced a series of challenges at The Sabalauski Air Assault School obstacle course.
The teams then proceeded to their next location where they took a test on basic Soldier skills and knowledge of Brigade history followed by a run to the Olive Physical Fitness Facility for a series of weight lifting events to wrap up the first day.
"With all these events, the competition made it that you really had to work well with your partner," said Pvt. Nathan Phillips, a motor transport operator assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Special Troops Battalion, 3rd BCT, 101st Abn. Div. "Throughout the competition you would have to rely on each other to get the team through the events and obstacles."
Contenders of the 'Best Rakkasan' competition were afforded little to no breaks between stations and were strongly encouraged to run from event to event, which were located in different locations throughout Fort Campbell.
"The toughest part of the competition was having to continuously run everywhere, which kept the stress rate and heart rate up the whole time," said Phillips. "Nothing was extremely hard, but we didn't have any breaks, so once you got burned out it made everything much more difficult."
The second day of the event began with an early morning land navigation course, testing the Soldiers' orienteering skills and then a run to the next event, a marksmanship challenge.
At the marksmanship challenge, the Soldiers engaged targets with the added stress of having run long distances and the physical exhaustion of the competition weighing on them.
"Everything combined the running, the rucking, the obstacles and overall pace of the competition was really challenging," said Pfc. Michael Gray, a medic assigned to Troop C, 1st Squadron, 33rd Cavalry Regiment, 3rd BCT, 101st Abn. Div.
Following the marksmanship, the competitors faced a mystery challenge where they were given two minutes to memorize a scene and then answer a series of written questions to test their situational awareness.
"It was absolutely thrilling to watch a lot of the teams come into the mystery event thinking it was going to be a very physically challenging mystery event," said Vowell. "Some people thought they might have to rig some Air Assault loads so they studied up on how to do water trailers and Humvees and then we threw them a curve and we gave them this picture."
After the mystery event, the teams faced the final test consisting of a two-stage relay run. In the first stage, the Soldiers ran the course carrying a five-gallon water container weighing more than 40 pounds and then ran the last leg unencumbered to the finish line.
"Throughout all of day two, my teammate and I were able to hold the lead," said 1st Lt. Alyssa Fellows, the maintenance control officer assigned to Troop D, 1st Sqdn., 33rd Cav. Regt. "It was a great feeling to physically be in the lead, knowing that my team mate and I were making great time and holding a pace that no one caught up to."
After the challenging two-day competition, the Soldiers of 3rd BCT came together in an awards ceremony to recognize the efforts of their fellow Rakkasans.
The winning teams were:
1st Place: 1st Lt. Andre Shinda and Staff Sgt. Robert Herendeen, Iron Team 8, 3rd Bn. 187th Inf. Regt.
2nd Place: 1st Lt. Brian Sutherland and Pfc. Dylan McKenna, Iron Team 6, 3rd Bn. 187th Inf. Regt.
3rd Place: 1st Lt. Scott Oplinger and 1st Lt. Michael White, Iron Team 9, 3rd Bn. 187th Inf. Regt.
With the event completed, planning has already begun for the next "Best Rakkasan' competition.
"Everyone can expect to see this event again next year," said Perez. "This is only our first event and it's only going to get better."
For now, the question of "What makes a Rakkasan Better" has been answered, but the Soldiers and leaders of 3rd BCT will continue to train and challenge themselves for any mission they may face knowing that win or lose, every day is a great day to be a Rakkasan!