By Sgt. 1st Class Gary J. CooperMay 2, 2017
Fort Knox, Kentucky -- Fourth Cavalry (CAV) Brigade (BDE) hosted First Army, Division East's quarterly Best Warrior competition, from April 9-12, at Fort Knox. 1-306th Infantry Battalion, 188th Infantry Brigade Observer Coach/Trainer Staff Sgt. Chris Taylor, who won the event, will compete in the First Army Best Warrior competition in May, against other quarterly Best Warrior competition winners from First Army Division East and Division West.
The candidates went through a grueling schedule, recounted by Sgt. 1st Class Larry McDowell, an observer coach/trainer with the 3-409th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 4th CAV BDE. "So far it's been very challenging. We came out for a (6:00 a.m. equipment layout), rolled into the obstacle course, air assaulted to the land navigation course, did weapons and medical training, stayed out overnight, and did a 12-mile ruck march and stress shoot. And we still have a physical fitness assessment and combatives coming up. It's fun."
Running the Casualty Medical Evaluation lane was Master Sgt. Craig Burnard, 4-410th Brigade Support Battalion, 4th CAV BDE OC/T. While he has run similar lanes for Expert Field Medical Badge (EFMB) candidates in his 15-year career, he thinks this event has an additional edge to it. "With something like this you're competing against fellow noncommissioned officers. With EFMB, once you meet the standard, you meet the standard; with this, you have to give your best 100% of the time because you don't know what the next guy has. If you're out here to win, this is a very stressful atmosphere."
Despite the stress, the candidates kept high spirits. "I've really liked the competition. It's been a lot of fun, aside from all the pain," said 2-315 Brigade Engineer Battalion, 174th Infantry Brigade OC/T, Sgt. 1st Class Rafael Morales-Rojas, shortly after completing the 12-mile ruck march. "Above all, the thing I enjoy the most is the camaraderie between competitors; it's a friendly competition."
This sentiment was shared by 2-305th Field Artillery Battalion, 177th Armor Brigade OC/T Staff Sgt. Myron Wade, who made the trip to Fort Knox from Camp Shelby, Mississippi. "For me, what I loved about it was everybody worked together, everybody pushed each other, even though it is a competition."
For Wade, the competition left him hungry for more. "I'm setting a future goal to come back and do another competition, as crazy as that sounds. I want do another one because if I'm a leader, I need to lead by example. I need to challenge myself before I have Soldiers challenge themselves."
Morales-Rojas also believes the competition will benefit him as a leader when he returns to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, both as an NCO and as an OC/T. "As OC/Ts, level 10 tasks are the kind of thing we are always grading Soldiers on. This event gives us the opportunity to keep our skills fresh, and in turn, it will help us perform our duties. It helps because it's fresh in our minds and because we know the standards, which translates to the Soldiers in the field."
Master Sgt. Christopher Henning, 4th CAV BDE Operations Sergeant Major, who was responsible for organizing the event, said one of his goals was to drive home the importance of emphasizing 10-level tasks he fears too many Soldiers take for granted. "As OC/Ts we're going to need to be subject matter experts in baseline tasks, as well as higher level tasks. If we can't help our partner NCOs identify areas in their training to improve because we're not familiar with it, then we aren't helping our partners."
As the competition progressed, Henning said he believed the message was getting through. "I heard some of them say how the skill level one tasks are perishable, and the tasks they thought they knew, they weren't very confident when it came time to do them. A lot of the things we do, if you don't do them repetitively, over the years you lose those skills."
"I believe in the competitive spirit of the NCO and of the Army itself," said Burnard. "You know, we joined an organization where the first two words of its mission statement are 'To fight,' and if you're not willing to come out here and keep training your skills and keep relevant, than what's the point? Events like the Best Warrior Competition prove that we're willing to better ourselves and to better those units that we're partnered with."