By Kari Hawkins, AMCOMSeptember 26, 2016
Although he's an expert at working on CH-47 Chinook engines, it was Staff Sgt. Adam Johnson's ability at aiming the semi-automatic M9 pistol that made him a standout during the Army Materiel Command's Best Warrior Competition.
Johnson, a quality assurance and contract oversight specialist at the Aviation and Missile Command's Aviation Center Logistics Command at Fort Rucker, won the M9 Qualification during the three-day competition among 12 AMC Soldiers at Camp Atterbury, Ind.
"I grew up hunting in southeast Texas," said the Nederland, Texas, native. "I've always been around guns, so I'm real comfortable with them."
Even so, Johnson and fellow ACLC Soldier Sgt. Mike Murphy were at a bit of a disadvantage when preparing for the competition's marksmanship challenge. At Fort Rucker, they only have a digital gun range where they can practice.
"There is no physical gun range here and there are no weapons," Johnson said. "We have an Engagement Skills Trainer. But the trainer does allow us to train on all the different weapons. The transition from the EST to normal weapons was easy. They have the same weight, the same kick."
At the Camp Atterbury range, Johnson got a perfect score with the M9.
"I was shocked. I thought I didn't do that great," he said.
The M9 Qualification required the Soldiers to ruck-march between seven different ranges set about a mile apart. At each range, they went through a series of pop-up targets at different distances ranging from five meters to 25 meters. Each Soldier only had three 15-round magazines of ammunition for the competition.
The challenge wasn't so much the ranges themselves, but the environmental conditions the Soldiers faced.
"We experienced a full spectrum of weather from torrential downpours to hot and sunny with high humidity," Johnson said.
"At the first range, it was overcast and cloudy. At the second range, it rained really hard for about 40 minutes. By the time we got to the last ranges, the sky was cloudless, and it was sunny, hot, humid and miserable."
The entire competition July 7-9 was a real test of Soldiering skills, Johnson said.
"It was amazing. They wouldn't tell you what was coming up. They would just tell us to get our stuff and then we were going here or there. We just didn't know. We did our physical training test right after dinner, and that was really tough," Johnson said.
"I am motivated by competitions that test my strengths as a Solider and competing against the best always drives me as a competitor. The one thing I learned: I did not train hard enough."
Johnson and Murphy were chosen for the AMC Best Warrior competition by their command leadership. For a month prior to the competition, the two Soldiers spent several hours a week preparing for 28 tasks, including the Army Physical Fitness Test, Confidence Course, Day and Night Land Navigation, and 10K ruck-march.
"We trained together and motivated each other," Johnson said. "We trained as much as we could at what we knew."
Besides marksmanship, the two felt they were also at a disadvantage when training for the ruck-march because of the relatively flat topography of Fort Rucker. They tried to make up for that disadvantage by ruck-marching three times a week outside their normal physical training routine.
"We rucked on the biggest hills we could find here around the lake, but they are nothing like the hilly conditions at Camp Atterbury," Johnson said.
"The ruck-marching was the hardest challenge. We trained with 50 pounds in our rucksack plus I would throw in a bit of extra weight. That's more than the Army requirement of 35 pounds. But it wasn't enough because the competition had us in excess of 100 pounds of weight by the time we were wearing all the gear, including body armor with plates and combat helmet."
The two trained by ruck-marching Fort Rucker's "smooth" roads -- mostly paved and some dirt -- whereas Camp Atterbury had rough and rocky gravel roads.
"We really didn't know what to expect. But, that's just part of the competition," Johnson said.
The two Soldiers also spent hours going over the Army study guide in preparation for facing a board of command sergeants major.
"We needed to make sure we had a general knowledge of the Army and Army procedures," Johnson said. "We had to be prepared for event-oriented, leadership type questions. Questions like: 'If a Soldier did this, what would you do to correct it?' Or: 'Here's a situation. How would you approach this situation?'
"The competition condensed 16 years of everything I've learned as a Soldier into three days."
The competitors marched nearly 30 miles in full combat gear, fired six different weapons, wrote an essay on female integration into combat arms, tackled 39 scenario-based warrior tasks and took a 50-question test on everything Army. They participated in a stress-shooting training exercise where they paired up to reach their objective under indirect fire while also encountering casualties and having to pull a victim to safety. They completed a 12-mile ruck march that ended with an improvised explosive device scenario requiring them to don their gas masks during a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives event.
"My favorite event was the obstacle course because it challenged us to use our whole body, and it promoted teamwork to complete obstacles. I have competed in many obstacle course races, including Tough Mudder, Spartan Race Trifecta and the Warrior Dash," Johnson said.
Johnson, 35, said his wife and five-year-old son, and his leadership at Knox Army Airfield at Fort Rucker supported his training efforts. Sgt. First Class Sean Allen aided with coordinating training for Johnson and Murphy.
"You have to have a lot of determination. The competition really gets tough in some parts. I might not have been the best, but I completed all the events," he said.
Johnson joined the Army 16 years ago as a Chinook mechanic/maintainer.
"I've always enjoyed taking apart anything mechanical," he said. "When I was a teenager, I would take apart lawnmower engines. I made a go kart out of a lawn mower engine. As I got older, I enjoyed working on car engines and building all sorts of stuff."
His career has included deployments to Bosnia, Kosovo, South America, Afghanistan and Iraq, a tour in Korea and an assignment at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Ga.
As part of the Best Warrior Competition, Johnson attended the Aug. 3 awards luncheon at Redstone Arsenal with his co-competitors. The visit gave Johnson insight into what kind of career he can pursue after he retires from the Army in a few years. He has a bachelor's degree in Aeronautics and has only five more classes to complete toward his master's degree Aeronautical Science with a dual in Safety and Management from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
"I've always been interested in research and development," he said.
He would recommend the Best Warrior Competition to any Soldier who wants to be their best both physically and mentally as well as in the area of Soldier leadership and development.
"This competition identified what areas you are weak in, whether it be land navigation or weapon qualifying or Army knowledge. Then, you can focus on those areas and get better for your future assignments," Johnson said.
"If I could do this competition, anyone can do it. Test yourself. You never know what's going to happen. And, if you think you are training hard, train harder."