After winning the three-day 'Best Warrior' competition here in May, two Fort Rucker Soldiers now set their sights on the next round of competition at the Training and Doctrine Command level at Fort Gordon, Georgia, in July.The two Soldiers who will represent the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence are USAACE Non-commissioned Officer of the Year Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan E. Bunch, senior small group leader for the maintenance branch at the Non-Commissioned Officers Academy; and Soldier of the Year Private 1st Class Tierra K. "Lani" Cabana, air traffic controller with A Company, 1-11th Aviation Regiment, 110th Aviation Brigade.Command Sgt. Maj. Shawn C. McKay, USAACE operations sergeant major, said the purpose of the added rigor to this year's competition at Fort Rucker was to help prepare the Soldiers to face competitors from other centers of excellence."It's really to identify the most well rounded Soldier and NCO that can go up to the next level and compete. At TRADOC, they're going to be going up against infantry guys and armor guys, people that do this for a living. The tactical skills those guys do on a day to day basis, our Soldiers don't do quite so much. We want to pick the right team to go up, and also to prepare them for what they'll see," McKay said.The USAACE competition included six competitors who represented the NCO Academy and 128th Aviation Brigade at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va.; and the NCO Academy, 110th Aviation Brigade and 1st Aviation Brigade at Fort Rucker. It was a contest of mental strength, physical stamina, tactical ability, and "emotional will power," according to McKay.The lineup of events included a physical fitness test, obstacle course, land navigation (day and night), 12-mile foot march, stress shoot, urban operations course, and a combatives tournament. The Soldiers also appeared before a board that tested their knowledge of Army regulations on a variety of topics."We tried to balance so they got a big view of everything they might see at TRADOC, whether they were asked at the board or whether they demonstrated it during the week," McKay said.
The ruck march event raised the bar this year, according to McKay."We literally marched them from one event to the next through the 12-mile road march. The problem with that is that route is super hilly…so that made it difficult, and on top of that we had them wearing their body armor vest so you've got that thing hugging you in the heat," McKay said.McKay said he was proud of the effort and positive attitudes throughout the event."We put them through the ringer," McKay said. "I'm way proud of them. I was very impressed they did as well as they did and were as upbeat as they were."For Cabana and Bunch, who represent 18 months and 18 years in the Army respectively, victory is sweet."For Pvt. Cabana, at that level, you're looking to build experience by going to a company level board, never mind winning it…, and then winning at the brigade, and then winning the installation level. That's pretty impressive," McKay said."I was very fortunate," Cabana said.For Bunch, the victory was a highlight of his career, and it proved to him that he never lost the skills he learned through years of Army training."I was surprised at how the military training through the years … came back to really assist me. Every (event), I just reached back and brought tools out of my toolbox that I've collected over the years," Bunch said."We are Soldiers--that's what it comes down to. We are reaching back through our training and it's coming as second nature because that's who we are as a person at this point. When you're straining, you're fatigued, and you're stressed, your brain brings these tools back to the forefront so you can put them into practice," he said.According to the Soldiers, competing provides an opportunity to represent their family, leadership, and organizations."I am competitive by nature. It builds up team cohesiveness, and you build relationships with people. It kind-of tests each other's capabilities. It's super fun, it keeps things light, and it's a great environment to be in," said Cabana.Cabana would recommend to her peers to participate in the competition in the future."It is a great experience to try at least once…to see how far you can go. You never know how much you are capable of. I never knew I would get this far. If this is possible, just about anything can be possible--and you'll be open to trying new things, no matter how difficult they seem," she said.According to Bunch, a scheduled training regimen between now and the TRADOC competition will help set up the Soldiers for success."Pretty much every day of the week throughout the next six weeks there is some sort of training event for the first half of the day--be it land navigation, combatives, ranges… If we apply ourselves, there's no reason we can't come out on top," he said.