ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - Eight Soldiers from the 48th Chemical Brigade, 52nd Ordnance Group (Explosive Ordnance Disposal), 71st Ordnance Group (EOD), and the 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives (CBRNE) Headquarters and Headquarters Company completed the 20th CBRNE Command Best Warrior Competition with an award ceremony at Dickson Hall in Aberdeen Proving Ground on June 7.
The Soldiers and non-commissioned officers, who were from throughout the command, competed against each other from June 2-7 in both physical and mental challenges and stresses at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst (JBMDL) in New Jersey.
The winners, Sgt. Lafe Altier, 52nd EOD, and Spc. Matthew Lofink, 71st EOD, received an Army commendation medal, a few gifts from local sponsors, including a large framed photograph of a bald eagle, and some 20th CBRNE gear from the retention section, but most importantly, the opportunity to represent the command at the U.S. Army Forces Command's BWC at Fort Bragg, North Carolina in August.
The rest of the competitors were Sgt. Ian Turner and Spc. Natalie David, representing HHC, 20th CBRNE Command; Sgt. Mohamed Jalloh and Spc. Mateo Soto from the 48th Chem Bde; Spc. Kyle Sisco from the 52nd EOD, and Sgt. Artur Vanchynskyy, representing the 71st EOD.
All competitors received a 20th CBRNE Command coin of excellence and a certificate of achievement for their participation in this rigorous competition, which read "for demonstrating outstanding performance and Warrior Ethos in representing their organization during the week-long competition."
From June 3-6 at JBMDL, these competitors tested their knowledge, skills and abilities by conquering urban warfare simulations, demonstrating critical thinking, physical fitness challenges, written exams, warrior tasks and battle drills relevant to modern-day combat environments. They had no idea of the scenarios they would face each day, they barely even knew wake-up time.
"These tasks were kept in secret," said Staff Sgt. Keith Venekamp, part of the cadre for the BWC. "This way we could further test the fortitude and the always-ready mentality of our fearless warriors."
The first event they encountered was the Army Combat Fitness Test, which is the U.S. Army's new physical fitness test. After breakfast, they ran an obstacle course, which included all-time favorites like the rope ladder and the monkey bars. In the evening, they went through urban orienteering.
"Urban orienteering was one of my favorite events," said Altier, a SeaTac, Washington native. "It was like a scavenger hunt. I had fun using my land navigation skills looking for clues across the Fort Dix garrison."
Day two started with a 12-mile ruck march en route to the shooting ranges where they qualified on their individual weapons and later performed stress shooting drills.
During the stress shoot, competitors had to complete several tasks such as dragging a 135-pound mannequin and a 30-meter tire flip among others before reaching the shooting area.
"The ruck march and stress shoot were the most physically demanding for me," said Altier. "I enjoy the challenge of doing events like this. They test who you really are, both mentally and physically."
It was land navigation for day three, and during the morning block, it was good-old land nav with protractors, plotting, azimuths and finding their points. But in the afternoon, the cadre decided to up the ante by adding tasks to each of the points such as treating a casualty, call for a medevac, react to indirect fire and send a situation report.
The fourth and final day at JBMDL concluded with water survival drills. For some of the tasks, the contestants had to swim from end to end employing three types of strokes without losing their equipment and then successfully create a floating device using only their uniform and stay afloat for at least 20 minutes.
"It was the best event," said David, a Philadelphia native. "Sure, it was demanding as much as the other events, but it felt real nice to take a dive in that pool."
Throughout the event, the competition was fierce, but even though each Soldier wanted to beat their peers, the professionalism and sense of comradery of the competitors was always apparent.
"You meet a lot of cool people at these events," said Altier. "There was never any animosity of who was better. We just showed up to do our thing."
"Going through this type of physical and mental beating with others who feel the exact same way forms a bond that is unbreakable," said Soto, an Odessa, Texas native. "It is a tough challenge to encounter and to go through, but in the end you feel a sense of accomplishment because you have proven to yourself what you can do."