Seven Soldiers from throughout the 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosives (CBRNE) Command competed June 17-22 in the 2018 Best Warrior Competition at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.
Staff Sgt. Brandon Hatch, assigned to 754th Ordnance Company (EOD), 192nd Ord. Battalion (EOD), 52nd Ord. Group (EOD), earned top honors as the noncommissioned officer of the year, and Spc. Michael McClean with the Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 71st Ord. Group (EOD) was selected as the Soldier of the year. They will represent the 20th CBRNE Command at the U.S. Forces Command competition in August.
"We plan this competition months in advance, and I have a strong NCO cadre from around the command to help run these warrior skill events," said Master Sgt. David Rio, noncommissioned officer in charge of the competition. "We want to make this accurate and realistic in testing a wide range of Soldier skills. The Fort Dix training sites are exactly what we needed."
The command competition has been held since 2007. Competitors are evaluated on their physical fitness, knowledge and practical execution of warrior tasks and battle drills, and general Army knowledge.
Pvt. Naod Alemayehu, a signal support specialist from New York City who was competing for the 52nd EOD was not deterred by the physical exertion of the competition, "I played a lot of soccer in clubs before joining the Army so I was prepared for the physical part of the training."
Utilizing the various training opportunities at Fort Dix, the competition challenged each Soldier with multiple warrior tasks including a physical fitness test, tactical combat casualty care, an obstacle course, weapons maintenance, visual signal techniques, helicopter landing zone operations, a written exam, day and night land navigation, and an 8 mile march with a 45-pound ruck.
"I am having fun with all of this," said Spc. Andre Van Lange, a CBRN specialist representing the 48th Chemical Bde., who was from nearby Elizabeth, N.J. "This is an accelerated learning process considering the physical nature of the training. But staying in shape is a hobby of mine."
The competition concluded with each Soldier answering questions on Army knowledge and Soldier skills from a board of command sergeants major. The performance at every event for each Soldier was scored against an established standard.
"This is a realistic experience," said Sgt. Ji Lu, the CBRN NCO who was also representing the 48th Chemical Brigade. "I would like more of my peers to have this opportunity. I think it would bring us together more."
The stress shoot activity on day two involved significant physical activity followed immediately by running to a firing line to shoot an M4 rifle with all actions done on sand.
"The stress shoot was the most challenging [event] for me," shared Spc. John Frazho, who is a road vehicle mechanic from Gatesville, Texas, and the lone competitor from HHC, 20th CBRNE Command.
The physical actions, designed to simulate the stress of combat, included dragging a 180-pound mannequin on a Skedco stretcher, followed by flipping a 120-pound tire over and over on a course, then carrying two 40-pound water jugs, followed by running to the firing line.
"The stress shoot was more challenging than I expected," said McClean, a native of Westminster, Colo. who serves as an intelligence analyst. "It was an experience that was great training for me."
Once they reached the firing line, each Soldier would fire five rounds at a target, then crawl to fire from a prone position, then crawl again and fire from an unsupported position.
"It's good to be in this competition," said Hatch, who is an EOD technician from Plattsburgh, N.Y. "I take pride in what it takes to be here and how I stack up. The stress shoot was unique and realistic."
At the urban orienteering training scenario, the test requires that a Soldier depart an assembly area to go to a starting point. In addition to a compass and grid map of the area, each Soldier had a helmet, a rifle, a hydration source under an assault pack and over a protective tactical vest, a gas mask strapped to his leg, and a tactical radio for communication.
Their mission was to follow the prescribed route through buildings and terrain to complete multiple tasks and drills. The trainers constantly encouraged the Soldiers to "complete the mission" even if they got stuck or confused on one phase. They had three hours to reach the selected grid reference points and complete the mission.
"I really like the learning and that this is a hands-on experience," said Sgt. Kalen Bolton, a Utica, N.Y. native, and EOD technician representing the 71st EOD.
The competitors were all impressed by the range of events and shared their thoughts on the competition.
At the June 22 awards ceremony, Hatch and McClean were presented the Army Commendation Medal by the command team of Brig. Gen. James Bonner and Command Sgt. Maj. Kenneth Graham. Also, each Soldier received a 20th CBRNE Certificate of Achievement "for outstanding performance and warrior ethos," a backpack filled with supplies, a command coin, a photo of our national bird from the AUSA Maj. Gen. Harold Greene, Aberdeen Chapter, and a challenge coin from the Veterans Corps of America.
"There is a lot of value in conducting events such as these," said Graham. "For the competitors, it allows for them to demonstrate their knowledge, skills and abilities as well as physical stamina and mental capability. For the NCO cadre, it is an opportunity for them to learn and grow as a leader and trainer. Finally for me, I value this training for what it allows me to see from a holistic stand point of Soldier readiness.
"This is a hard event to pull off, and we did it extremely well this year."