FORT DRUM, N.Y. (May 21, 2019) -- Two Soldiers assigned to 91st Military Police Battalion proved their mental and physical toughness and demonstrated superior warrior skills and decision-making ability during a three-day challenge to be named Best Warriors for the 10th Mountain Division (LI) and Fort Drum.

Cpl. Noah Slabaugh and Spc. Joel Boulden were selected as Noncommissioned Officer of the Year and Soldier of the Year, respectively, out of a pool of 11 finalists during an awards presentation May 17.

The competition is an annual event that allows the division command sergeant major to choose who will represent the 10th Mountain Division in pursuit of the Best Warrior title for U.S. Army Forces Command.

On the first day, competitors tackle the new Army Combat Fitness Test, a rope climb, combat water survival test, and M4 and light machine gun qualification ranges.

Soldiers were injected into an austere environment to see how they would adapt and overcome challenges with only the authorized gear in their rucksacks.

"The command sergeant major didn't just want a competition where Soldiers get to go home every night," said Sgt. 1st Class Charles Rumschlag, Light Fighters School operations noncommissioned officer. "He wanted them put in a field environment and use what was on the packing list to survive. Forty-eight hours doesn't seem like a long time, but we kept them moving almost the entire time."

Soldiers endured both day and night land navigation courses; an obstacle course; medical, urban and patrol lanes; a mystery event and a board appearance.

"All competitors are tested on tasks that include applying camouflage, searching a detainee, employing hand grenades, using visual signaling techniques, moving under direct and indirect fire, performing first aid on a casualty, requesting a medical evacuation and tying mountaineering knots," Rumschlag said.

The final challenge was a mystery event created by the Ready and Resilient (R2) Performance Center staff that used cognitive reasoning and motor skill tasks to get Soldiers thinking creatively and critically.

"It was the last event they had to do, and the Soldiers were already smoked," Rumschlag said. "You're starting to see more R2 specialists getting into formations and units. It's more common now than it was 20 years ago when I came in. We do these kinds of exercises now to keep Soldiers mentally fit."

He said they modeled their competition off the previous year's FORSCOM-level event. It is meant to be very challenging but not insurmountable.

"I think it simulates combat in a way where you're tired, you're stressed and you're not always going to shoot your 40 out of 40 or your 30 out of 30," Rumschlag said. "It shows you what your mind and body are capable of doing. We had this one seasoned NCO out here, and he was given a scenario to treat a casualty for shock, and he couldn't remember what shock was. It's such a simple thing, and he knows how to treat shock, but he's patching the arm up - he was that tired. You know it can be very humbling being put in that situation."

Rumschlag said this also forges bonds among the competitors, because it places Soldiers from different units and different military occupational specialties in the same battlespace where they normally wouldn't be.

"What's really cool is that at the end of all this, the Soldiers got to really know each other," he said. "They all got along really well. Also, when we took them out to the field for the night - where they can only survive off what was on their packing list - the orders were for NCOs to teach the younger Soldiers what to do. We put them in a defensive posture, and you could see how the NCOs mentored the Soldiers."

NCO of the Year

When Slabaugh's name was announced as NCO of the Year, a crowd of MPs erupted in cheers.

"That was my whole platoon out there - my platoon sergeant, my squad leader, my Soldiers," he said. "Just seeing your Soldiers there and knowing that you are their team leader and you showed them what can be achieved - there's nothing like it."

Slabaugh, with 1st Platoon, 23rd MP Company, 91st MP Battalion, said that it's the same feeling he gets when he sees his Soldiers graduate from Air Assault School or when he is asked to pin the wings onto someone's uniform after completing Airborne School.

"We celebrate each other's successes," he said. "It's one of the greatest feelings in the world."

Earning NCO of the Year broke a losing streak for Slabaugh.

"I've been losing a lot of competitions lately, but they kept sending me, and it paid off," he said.

Slabaugh went through a series of battalion- and brigade-level events, where he placed second against 16th MP Brigade Soldiers. When his leadership informed him that he was eligible to enter the 10th Mountain Division competition, Slabaugh spent a couple of weeks preparing himself for it.

"This competition was a lot more physically demanding and there were a lot more soldiering skills than what I had previously seen in competition," he said.

Slabaugh expected the standard fare for competition - physical fitness test, obstacle course, a rest day, six-mile ruck march and a board. Instead, the opening event was the still-unfamiliar ACFT, which was a sobering revelation that this challenge was going beyond his expectations.

"It was non-stop," he said. "We were running up and down Tigris (River Valley Boulevard) with 90-pound rucks and the pre-Ranger instructors are smoking us," he said. "After our legs are smoked, we're in the pool swimming, then we get out, ruck right back to Range 2 - out of breath and sweating - shoot machine guns, sleep in the dirt at night, wake up for fire guard, stay awake until 2, then wake up at 3 for night land navigation ...."

And it would continue, event after event, with no breaks, Slabaugh added.

"It got a little mentally challenging, waking up after maybe an hour - if that - of sleep," he said. "It's freezing cold, we got rained on all night, and none of us had cold weather gear, because it wasn't on the packing list."

That was a moment when he thought to himself, "I wish I wasn't here," but Slabaugh managed to tough it out with the other competitors.

"I'm not someone who quits," Slabaugh said. "If I do something, I go 100 percent to the end. I'm not going to lie; there was a point where I was feeling tiny-hearted, but I thought about what my first sergeant would say if I went back without finishing. There was no way I would quit."

Slabaugh said that it was an honor to represent the 91st MP Battalion in the competition and to win alongside a fellow military police.

"I feel that a lot of people might underestimate what MPs can do when it comes to the combat side," he said. "We do almost everything that any combat MOS does, but people don't see that."

Soldier of the Year

Bouldon was among five Soldiers to finish the Best Warrior competition, and he said it was a complete surprise when his name was announced as Soldier of the Year.

"We were all totally in the dark as to who would win," he said. "It felt really great to be able to represent the 91st MP Battalion, because they are the best."

Boulden, with 2nd Platoon, 511th MP Police Company, 91st MP Battalion, has worked at Fort Drum since last March, and he has competed twice at the battalion level. Like many of the competitors, Boulden entered with a 300 PT score and felt physically prepared. But it was the volume of tasks that proved the most challenging.

"The hardest part of the competition was just the amount of events they threw at you, and it didn't stop," he said. "Most of the time you didn't know what was coming next."

Boulden said that two events he struggled with the most were the night land navigation course and the board appearance. He will have a couple of weeks to train up before heading to the XVIII Airborne Corps competition.

"I think I will definitely study up for the board and work with people who are really proficient at it," he said. "Pretty much, I just want to study anything and everything they could possibly ask us, which is a wide variety of subjects. The more you know, the more confident you are, so I want to get more confident in answering those questions."

Boulden, who is active in functional fitness workouts, said he will spend more time in the gym to ensure he can withstand any physical requirements.

"There's definitely going to be a hard competition ahead, but no matter what, we are still going to give it our all and represent the division and our units well," Boulden said.

Command Sgt. Maj. Samuel Roark, 10th Mountain Division (LI) and Fort Drum senior enlisted adviser, said he was proud of all of the Soldiers who completed the challenge.

"These Soldiers came out and laid it all on the line, and I was really impressed," he said. "It was cold and rainy the first part of the week, and they were out there the whole time. They didn't complain."

Spc. Jordan Reichert, assigned to 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, and Staff Sgt. Makerdi Charlery, with 3rd General Support Aviation Battalion, 10th Aviation Regiment, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, were named runners-up.

Rumschlag said that each Soldier came into the competition with a winning attitude, and even those who were removed due to injury demonstrated that will to persevere.

"I think what was awesome about this competition is that whether you won or lost, you're a lot more knowledgeable now and ready if you want to compete again," he said. "We challenged them in a lot of skills, and they know what it takes to win."