After four days of competition that tested the mettle of seven Fort Rucker Soldiers and noncommissioned officers, the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence selected and recognized its best warriors for 2019 during a ceremony at the U.S. Army Aviation Museum here May 10.

Participants from 1st Aviation brigade, 110th Aviation Brigade, the Noncommissioned Officer Academy, and the 164th Theater Airfield Operations Group competed in a series of events focused on Soldier skills May 6-9 to see who would rise to the top and be named this year's USAACE NCO and Soldier Best Warriors of the Year.

The 2019 USAACE and Fort Rucker NCO Best Warrior of the Year for 2019 is Staff Sgt. Justin M. Davis, a medic for the Army Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape level C (SERE-C) training here.

The 2019 USAACE and Fort Rucker Soldier Best Warrior of the Year is Spc. Joel A. Bellevue, an air traffic controller with 110th Aviation Brigade.

Event host Command Sgt. Maj. Brian N. Hauke, command sergeant major of the Aviation branch, thanked the participants for having the courage to set themselves apart from their peers and compete.

"These NCOs and Soldiers before you today had the courage this week to confront agony, pain, danger and especially uncertainty in our best warrior competition," Hauke said. "I'm sure that every competitor at some point had to dig deep to come up with the courage necessary to get through at least one of these events if not multiple events," Hauke said.

"Competitors, thank you for your courage not only this week but every day--the courage to get out of bed every day and defend our country and the freedoms we all enjoy," he added.

Hauke also thanked attendees for their support and recognized the leaders and unit personnel for overseeing the event.

Events kicked off May 6 with the Army Combat Fitness Test, followed by an obstacle course at the Air Assault track. Participants moved on to the board, which was comprised of the branch command sergeant major and a panel of brigade sergeants major.

The first day also included an urban operations event with some "added nuances" this year, in which participants generated a spot report, conducted a building-to-building search, gathered intelligence, and secured a high value target, according to Sgt. Maj. Shawn C. McKay, USAACE G3 sergeant major. Soldiers accumulated points based on how well they handled all the tasks.

A new aspect this year on the first day was the grenade range, a timed event where competitors completed a series of engagements in which the objective was to toss the grenades as close to various targets as possible.

The second day included day and night land navigation, weapons qualification, stress shoot, and weapons proficiency.

Day 3 included a 12 mile foot march, break contact range event, which is a casualty evacuation exercise during which competitors must provide triage and drag the wounded to safety while also engaging enemy targets, as well as a mystery event at the Engagement Skills Trainer 2000.

The competition concluded on the fourth day with a combatives tournament where participants demonstrated their proficiency in Army hand-to-hand combat training and techniques.

For Bellevue, being named USAACE Soldier of the Year brought feelings of excitement mixed with some nervousness as he thinks about the next level of the competition.

"I'm happy to be part of this, and can't wait to be part of something bigger," Bellevue said.
Reflecting on the week's events, the activity Bellevue liked the most was also the most challenging for him.

"What tested me a little bit was the break contact range, just because being here we don't get that training as much, so to go out there and just give it your best shot though, just taking all the instructions from the safetys.

"Getting to the end of the range, doing the medical things like calling in the nine line, doing the tactical field care, all of that had to have been the most challenging part especially because it was just so late in the day and it was really hot and everybody was kinda weary from the day. That was the hardest part, but still a fun event," Bellevue said.

To prepare for the TRADOC level meet, he plans to continue to work out at the gym, and review warrior tasks and battle drills.

"I will probably try to include my unit, get them involved in the training just so everybody gets the same type of training so the next person who goes in to the competition, they can be ready for it too, they're not sitting there second guessing themselves, they can be confident in what they're doing," he said.

For Davis, the break contact range was motivating. Even though land navigation was not his strong suit, he said the true test was the length of the competition.

"The overall endurance of it--just the going, going, going for three days straight. We all kind of kept each other afloat, joking around and keeping it light when we had some down time, to get through it," Davis said.

"This week was tough. Luckily it was a good group of competitors. We all embraced the hardships together. And it was a great group of people. It was just fun to relate to them," Davis added.

Davis said he plans to continue to train physically and mentally to prepare for the next level contest.

Winners received the Army Commendation Medal, a USAACE coin, trophy, and a backpack filled with gifts from Post Retention, as well as a cooler filled with goodies from Fort Rucker Morale Welfare and Recreation and other gifts presented by sponsoring organizations.

The winners advance to the Training and Doctrine Command level competition on Fort Rucker in July.