By Sean Kimmons, Army News ServiceOctober 2, 2017
FORT MEADE, Md. -- Perhaps the most certain thing competitors will face in this year's Army Best Warrior Competition is uncertainty.
Held annually since 2002, Best Warrior deals out a mix of grueling tasks that mentally and physically challenge competitors, who represent various commands across the Army. This year's Best Warrior, which crowns the top Soldier and NCO in the Army, is no different. Organizers intentionally leave out specific details on events in the six-day competition, forcing Soldiers to figure them out on the spot.
The 2017 competition started Saturday at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, with 22 competitors who have already excelled at competitions held by the Army's major commands. Those who finish above the rest at A.P. Hill will then be honored next month at the Association of the U.S. Army's annual conference in Washington, D.C.
"I'm hoping to put them in very uncomfortable situations multiple times," said Sgt. 1st Class Jerod Burghardt, lead organizer for the competition. "What I don't want them to do is to worry about what we're grading, rather than do what they think is right."
In the contest, Soldiers are tested for their aptitude through physical fitness assessments, written exams, urban warfare simulations and other warrior tasks and battle drills. Soldiers also face tough questions from selection boards in front of some of the Army's most senior enlisted leaders, including Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey.
"Best Warrior Competition is about readiness," Dailey said. "These Soldiers are faced with dynamic tasks, which they must work through as leaders. It isn't about book answers or board questions, because anyone can memorize those. It's about leadership, knowledge, skills and abilities."
A more holistic approach is being applied to many of the events, unlike competitions for expert badges, where Soldiers typically go from station to station to complete tasks that are known in advance.
"If you look at what we did last year, we added some ambiguity to each event," Burghardt said. "We didn't tell them what they were going to do. We didn't tell them the tasks they were being graded on."
There are plans to ramp up that ambiguity this year, he said, and provide fluid combat scenarios to the competitors.
The goal is to have the best all-around Soldiers stand out from the others.
"You can get a 10,000 on your PT test and hit the extended scale three times over," Burghardt said. "But is that what the Army identifies as the best Soldier and NCO? The guy or gal who can just do a task, or is it a guy or gal who can think through the process, know when to do the task, how to do the task and what to do after the task?"
Last year, Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Moeller captured the NCO award in Best Warrior. He described a long, demanding process to get there. Like other competitors, Moeller had to first compete and win at his company before moving on all the way up to a command-level contest.
"I really enjoy getting out there, getting mud on my face and just testing myself to see where I'm at in terms of my skills and my abilities," he said.
He went on to represent the Army Reserve at Best Warrior, where he tried to not let the extra attention the competition receives become a distraction.
"As the level gets higher, the pressure mounts," he said. "There are more eyeballs on you, but I tried to shut that out as much as possible and just focus on the next task."
One of the most challenging tasks for him was the land navigation course at Fort A.P. Hill. He called the course over hilly terrain "a monster" that started in the daylight, but later had Soldiers navigate over long distances in the dark.
"All of the movements were super long through swamps and up steep hills," he recalled. "Coincidentally, it's called A.P. Hill because it's named after somebody. But 'hill' is definitely the operative word when it comes to the Department of the Army competition."
Since Soldiers get little sleep during the long days, mental games with one's self can also play a huge part. While Moeller trudged through the competition, he said he used humor to combat any negativity.
"It takes somebody who has a great sense of humor, has an honest assessment of themselves and has put in the work," he said. "You have to be able to laugh at the things that seem really daunting [and] find humor in the chaos while being able to stay focused."
After he won, Moeller found himself humbly representing the entire Army at various events. He also accepted an active-duty position to work as a travel coordinator for Dailey, which gives him rare access to the Army's top senior-enlisted leader.
"Working directly for the sergeant major of the Army after winning the competition has been an eye opener," he said. "I can tell you from daily interactions with him that he is a huge believer in the chief of staff of the Army's No. 1 priority -- readiness, and the Best Warrior Competition is one of the pure distillations of that concept."
As in the past, whoever wins this year must exemplify readiness and be a role model other Soldiers can emulate. During the in-processing brief at last year's competition, Moeller recalled Dailey summing this up perfectly for him.
"When we put you up there on a stage and we tell everybody that this is the non-commissioned officer of the year for the United States Army," he said, quoting Dailey, "Soldiers need to be able to believe it."
Dailey also acknowledged readiness is the intent of the competition and offered his advice to this year's competitors and those who will compete in the future.
"In order to succeed," he said, "these Soldiers have to demonstrate a high level of fitness, discipline, and ability to perform under stress and the leadership abilities necessary to lead Soldiers in combat.
"Ultimately," he added, "we are here to fight and win our nation's wars."