FORT HUACHUCA, Arizona - Being a part of the most capable, ready and lethal Federal Reserve force in the history of the United States sometimes means getting an early start, so while most people here were nestled comfortably in their warm beds, hours before their alarm kick-started them into their day, a group of Soldiers were busy stuffing various types of field gear into their ruck sacks and preparing for a 10-kilometer ruck march in 35-degree temperatures.
The early rising warriors have gathered here from across the country to represent their commands in the 335th Signal Command's (Theater) 2017 Best Warrior Competition.
For the past three days the group of eight tough Soldiers has been tested in a variety of challenges including the Army Physical Fitness Test, a timed obstacle course, urban operations, day and night land navigation, rifle marksmanship and a host of others.
The fourth day of the five-day challenge finds the group operating in complete darkness at 4:30 a.m., strapping on a 35-pound pack to their backs and competing with one another to make it through the 6.2-mile course with the fastest time.
"The Soldiers were given a three-hour window to complete the ruck march," said Staff Sgt. Jason Philleo, staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the 2017 Best Warrior Competition for the 335th SC (T). "They were scored on their finishing time. If they completed the challenge in 45 minutes or less they were awarded 10 points. Every 15 minutes after that they would be awarded one point less."
The first challenger to make it across the finish line in just over an hour was Sgt. Anderson Rodriguez, a satellite communications operator/maintainer, assigned to the 4th Joint Communications Squadron, Joint Communications Support Element, 335th SC (T).
"I'm very accustomed to ruck marching," said Rodriguez. "In my unit we ruck at least once a week, and I also ruck by myself on the weekends. For this event I ran the first three miles, then walked for five minutes, then ran some more. I would run halfway up a hill, then walk to the top and run down the other side. I think the key to winning was knowing when to rest during the event."
After all the competitors crossed the finish line and dropped their packs, they then faced a mystery event that required them to evaluate a simulated casualty. Once they completed the medical challenge, they were given time for breakfast and a short period of rest before reporting for their last challenge of the day...a written exam and an essay.
"The written exam covers a multitude of subjects, everything from the Army Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program to various regulations and basic Soldier knowledge," said Philleo. "It also covers some political aspects as well, such as how the government is set up. This just helps us to see who prepared before they got here and who is the most knowledgeable Soldier all around."
Once the Soldiers complete the exam and two-page essay, they will be finished for the day and will have a short time to prepare themselves for the fifth and final day of the competition that will include a uniform inspection and an oral exam board.
Philleo offered some final advice for those going forward. "Confidence is key," he said. "Make sure your uniforms are on point, and answer the board questions like you wrote the book, even if you are wrong. They've completed the physical part of the competition, now they are hitting the mental portion and it's going to really test their knowledge, confidence and personality."