The entire competition has been a mystery for the competitors, not knowing what they would encounter at any given time, just an ominous white board, standing in the common area of a building, dictated where and when to be with not much else to go on.
"They keep you on your toes and make you react quickly, and you will make more mistakes than you would if you had time to plan it out over an hour or day," said Shooks. "That's a good way to train because in the real world you're going to have to be able to react on your toes."
The mystery of the upcoming events did not change with day three of the competition, as competitors were broken up into three different groups and arrived at each location with the equipment they felt they might need for the unexpected.
"You never know what's going on or how you or the competitors around you are doing, because they keep the scores for each event a secret, so it always makes you compete as hard as you can," said Spc. Emanuel Moore, a radio and communications security repairer representing 1st Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), U.S. Army Special Operations Command.
The three groups were in store for a round robin whirlwind of events that included Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear scenarios in the "mock city" on the U.S. Army's Asymmetric Warfare Training Center, weapons qualifications at a range utilizing several different weapon systems and a live fire stress shoot lane ending with a casualty evaluation on another range. All events, with surprises thrown into the event, that were a mystery to begin with.
"This is a pretty tough competition to even get into for some," said Shooks. "Some people have to go through three to five competitions just to get here, so I knew it would be challenging."
After one event for a particular group was completed, they were immediately shuttled to the next. For one group the events unfolded with qualification at a range as the sun rose, with not one weapon, but three -- the M4 carbine, the M249 light machine gun and the M9 pistol.
The rest period immediately following that range included a graded media-training event, which was designed to simulate the stress of conducting an on-camera interview with the civilian media.
Rest for the weary you ask? Especially considering the competitors completed a night land navigation course just hours before, the previous evening.
From the range to the range, but this particular round engaged competitors in suppressive live-fire scenarios, in which they responded to pop-up, mobile and robotic targets, while smoke grenades and explosions were detonating around them. In addition to the timed stress shoot course, the competitors had to respond to a life-like simulated casualty requiring immediate medical care.
"They kept us moving, I can tell you that," said Moore.
The final stop on the whirlwind list of events was the scenario in the "mock city", complete with street intersections, a church, a school, a train station, and underground tunnels. Competitors were given a route of execution to follow which led them through the dark circular concert underground tunnels, and eventually prompted them to don their gas masks in a timed period. After reaching their final destination in the mock city, competitors completed a SALUTE (Size, Activity, Location, Unit, Time & Equipment) report.
The competitors looked visibly exhausted by the end, with a written essay to end the day. Task after task were thrown at them, all within a 24-hour period. The competition isn't even over, and they have done more than what many would do to be named the best.
So we ask, what did you do today?