By Sgt. Maj. Michael Pintagro, 21st TSC Public AffairsSeptember 18, 2015
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany -- Competition officials unveiled Europe's ultimate warriors before a rapt audience of Soldiers, leaders and distinguished visitors during a dynamic culminating ceremony held the afternoon of Sept. 18 at the Grafenwoehr Physical Fitness Center.
The 173rd Airborne Brigade's 1st Lt. Jacob Wijnberg, fellow "Sky Soldier" Sgt. 1st Class Elijah Howlett, and Spc. Jared Tansley of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment captured top honors in the officer, noncommissioned officer and junior Soldier categories during the 2015 European Best Warrior Competition.
The grueling weeklong event determined not only continental bragging rights but the final roster of candidates for the Department of the Army "Best Warrior" Competition, slated for Oct. 5-9 at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia. Howlett, who serves with Troop B of the 173rd's 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment; and Tansley, an infantryman with Headquarters Troop, 3rd Squadron, will compete against fellow Soldiers across the Army for the service's most prestigious individual competitive title.
The junior officer competition culminates at command level.
"I was happy to compete and I'm incredibly proud to represent my unit at this level -- and represent the U.S. Army in Europe," said Wijnberg, who currently serves in Latvia with Company D, 1st Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment. "It's been an honor and a privilege to compete with (the other candidates) and I look forward to staying in touch with them and continue watching them grow in their careers."
"I'm here to represent my unit and my Soldiers," Howlett added. "So I want to make sure I'm setting the best example for them so hopefully it inspires them to compete and do things above and beyond instead of just meeting the standard. That's why I got in this competition and why I feel great about it."
Europe's top NCO of the year said he looks forward to competing at DA level.
"I'm up for the challenge," he said. "I embrace it. Whatever comes our way, we're going to be prepared for it -- and we're going to win all-Army."
Tansley said he reached the "highest level of happiness" upon learning of his victory. "I felt like I brought a ton of pride back to my unit and my platoon, to family and friends," he said. "I have so many people to thank and not enough time to cover them all."
Tansley also expressed confidence in his prospects at Fort A.P. Hill.
"Three weeks is more than enough time," he said. "We're going to bring it home -- we're going to win." The infantryman plans to continue the rigorous training that carried him to triumph at unit and command levels. The near future, he noted, includes "nothing but rucking, running and a lot of weight lifting. No breaks until you win it all."
The concluding ceremony capped a week of frenzied activity for candidates, organizers and cadre alike, not to mention months of painstaking planning, preparation and rehearsals.
Command Sgt. Maj. Sheryl Lyon, the USAREUR senior enlisted leader and guest speaker for the awards ceremony, praised candidates' performance, character and commitment.
"I saw a whole lot of heart and dedication," she said just prior to the final event. "These candidates take enormous pride in what they do -- and it shows. This event tested everything they had -- physically and mentally. I couldn't be more proud of them."
Competitors enjoyed their first significant rest of the week during the ceremony. The relentless pace of events stretched candidates' stamina, endurance, dedication and perhaps their sanity to the breaking point. Days ended late -- sometimes after midnight -- and not infrequently started at absurdly early hours. The earliest competitive day began at one in the morning -- barely three hours after weary candidates collapsed in exhaustion for the little rest allotted after the previous days' activities.
Candidates engaged a daunting array of competitive tasks, including a an obstacle course, day and night land navigation, weapons assembly and marksmanship, urban "orienteering," tactical communications, a medical scenario, a "situational training exercise" during which candidates engaged a terrorist threat and a culminating 12-mile foot march as well as a demanding modified version of the Army Physical Fitness Test allowing for no rest between events. Competitors donned protective gear and retrieved notional casualties from a gas-filled chamber, reacted to direct and indirect fire, conducted interviews with a hard-hitting "TV reporter," penned essays, demonstrated familiarity with Army programs, appeared before a military board and battled one another during a sometimes fierce "combatives" tournament. In all, candidates walked, ran and occasionally crawled over 32 cumulative miles in completing more 30 events and activities.
An equally dynamic team of event cadre and support staff spearheaded by enlisted leaders and Soldiers from the 21st Theater Sustainment Command organized, managed and conducted the competition. The event staff itself endured a relentless daily "battle rhythm," planning each activity in excruciating detail, minutely supervising conduct of every task, thoroughly and fairly evaluating each candidate's performance in each activity, and providing comprehensive mission and life support to well over 300 personnel.
"It takes a small army to put something of this scale together," Lyon noted. "This is no easy feat. I'm very proud of how they conducted themselves throughout the competition -- they were consummate professionals. They also put a lot of heart and soul into this to make it a great event for the competitors and USAREUR."
"This is exactly what a great logistics unit does -- it's our bread and butter," added 1st Sgt. Ryan Sattelberg, the Headquarters Company, 21st Special Troops Battalion's top NCO. "We plan, coordinate and execute missions of this magnitude very effectively, whether it's for training or an operational deployment -- we're at the tip of the spear. This was all transparent to the competitors because it was done so well -- the effort was seamless from Kaiserslautern to Camp Aachen."
USAREUR's ultimate warriors have their work cut out for them. They'll confront a dozen other champions from an equal number of commands across the Army at Fort A.P. Hill. DA organizers choose from among 27 potential evaluated events without prior notice -- so candidates must prepare for all of them.
"This event definitely put them to the test," Lyon said. "But they'll face even greater challenges at DA level. We're sending our best; but the whole Army is sending its best. This will test their bodies, their minds and their hearts to the limit. I know they'll represent us very well, and I'll be very proud as long as they show the heart and determination they showed this week."
Command Sgt. Maj. Rodney Rhoades, the 21st TSC's senior enlisted leader and key event organizer, described the event -- and the competitors -- as "inspirational."
"I was touched by what I saw during this competition," Rhoades said. "What these candidates gave of themselves -- their commitment and their endurance -- wasn't just impressive -- it was inspirational. I know I could trust any of these candidates with the lives of my Soldiers.
"This tells me a lot about the leaders and organizations who produced these Soldiers," he added. "It means we're doing the right thing from Grafenwoehr to Kaiserslautern to Wiesbaden to Vicenza. It also means our region and our Army are in good hands. With Soldiers and leaders of this caliber our future looks pretty bright."