By Mrs. Shatara Seymour (Leonard Wood)September 7, 2017
Since 1969, Fort Leonard Wood has claimed the Army's Drill Sergeant of the Year title 15 times, and on occasion three and five years consecutively.
Last year, the post also claimed the Army's Advanced Individual Training Platoon Sergeant of the Year title. This year it will serve as the installation of choice to host the 2017 Army competition.
Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Gragg, Center for Initial Military Training command sergeant major at Fort Eustis, Virginia, said Fort Leonard Wood is the perfect place for a competition of this magnitude.
"The training facilities are some of the best in the Army. It was really a no-brainer to hold the competition there this year," Gragg said. "From the ranges to the training lanes, and the cadre to support them, it doesn't get much better than the Maneuver Support Center of Excellence and Fort Leonard Wood."
And, it seems that the Army post has found the formula for success.
"Let's be honest; Fort Leonard Wood is on a hot streak," said Sgt. 1st Class Brandon Laspe, 2016 Army PSoY, who represented Fort Leonard Wood. "With the past three drill sergeants of the year and (last year's sweep DSoY and PSoY) all coming from Fort Leonard Wood, they are clearly doing something right in their lead-up competitions. With the performance record in mind, I really cannot think of a better location to host this year's competition."
The location and terrain play a major part in challenging the Soldiers and separating the good from the best.
"Hills, many hills, big hills, small hills, easy hills, but mainly tough hills," said 2nd Lt. Martin Delaney III, 2016 Army DSoY -- then Sgt. 1st Class Delaney, who later completed Officer Candidate School. "Fort Leonard Wood has the necessary resources to host such a high-level competition. It's home to the best drill sergeants in the Army and makes getting high-quality evaluators a breeze."
Fort Leonard Wood's unique location is nestled in the challenging ranges of the Ozark Mountains and back-to-back with one of America's premier national forests, Mark Twain.
Location is one key element to the appeal of the installation, said Sgt. 1st Class Steven Payne II, MSCoE G33 (Operations) noncommissioned officer in charge.
"The natural terrain features of the installation provide a physical and mental challenge for the competitors as they negotiate through the training areas," Payne said.
It's anybody's contest, but this competition favors the prepared.
"The competitors represent the absolute best trainers in our formations. I expect to see each drill sergeant and platoon sergeant bring their A-game and leave it all on the field by the end of the competition," Gragg said. "It took a great deal of effort and study just to reach the Army-wide competition, so I'm excited to see what more they have to give to bring home the win for their Soldiers and their installations.
"I'm looking forward to a tough and realistic competition that demonstrates the technical and tactical proficiency of these NCOs -- and I can't wait to meet the winner," Gragg said.
Laspe adds to Gragg's expectations that he is anticipating leveraging the unforgiving terrain the post has to offer along with the variety of units and capabilities one won't find in other locations.
"It is going to allow us to test the DSoY and PSoY candidates in ways that have not been possible in the past, which in turn will ensure those who prevail are truly the most capable and versatile AIT platoon sergeants and drills sergeants the Army has to offer," Laspe said.
Winners pay the price, and at Fort Leonard Wood the price is high.
"They can expect a level of physicality and exhaustion that will make normal simple tasks difficult, while at the same time being encouraged and impressed by the level of talent and skill of their opponents," Laspe said. "The end result will be every competitor leaving better than they were when they arrived, with a healthy level of respect for all aspects of the Army."