FORT SILL, Oklahoma (Aug. 1, 2019) -- Back from winning the Training and Doctrine Command Best Warrior Soldier competition, Spc. Thomas Massengill attributed his success to his family, his friends, and the Lord.

"I prayed all throughout the competition," said Massengill, a religious affairs specialist with A Battery, 1st Battalion, 30th Field Artillery. "I would just pray and go (to the next event)."

Now Massengill and his sponsor Staff Sgt. Tyler Osborn, will soon start his training for the DA-level Best Warrior competition, where he'll compete against Soldiers from other major commands this fall.

In his office July 26, at Abrams-Snyder Hall, Massengill spoke about his background, and the grueling TRADOC competition.

Massengill, age 25, has been at Fort Sill since November 2018. Before that he was at Army Garrison Daegu, South Korea. While in Korea, he represented the Pacific Command at the Installation Management Command's Best Warrior competition in 2018. Although he didn't win there, he said he learned from the experience.

"I was ready physically, but not for the warrior tasks and the lanes," said Massengill.
He won the Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill Best Warrior Soldier competition in June, after winning his battalion, and 428th FA Brigade competitions.

JOINING ARMY
After graduating from Sweetwater (Tenn.) High School in 2012, Massengill attended Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro. He was majoring in agricultural business, but left after two years to join the military.

"I tried to join the Navy, but the two jobs I wanted -- my eyesight wasn't good enough," he said. Those jobs were SEAL, and Special Warfare Combatant Craft Crewman.

Enlisting in the Army, Massengill was considering going into the infantry branch, but prayed about it and decided to become a religious affairs specialist instead, which is Military Occupational Specialty 56M.

Although infantrymen and religious affairs specialists may seem like opposites as far as Army jobs, Massengill said that during a deployment his role is to provide personal security for chaplains.

Completing basic combat training at Fort Jackson, S.C., he stayed there for his seven weeks of advanced individual training graduating in July 2017.

TRADOC COMPETITION
At the Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker, Ala., Massengill went up against nine elite Soldiers who had won their respective TRADOC installation's Best Warrior Soldier title.

Massengill said he enters every competition with the same mindset: Compete hard and have fun. He said his strategy was to pace himself, which took discipline over the five days of events, where competitors averaged only three to four hours of sleep each night.

He noted that a competitor could perform very well in an endurance event, but could completely burn him or herself out physically, or be injured with that effort, and then do poorly for the rest of the competition.

"It's hard finding that happy medium (of exertion) while trying to win it," he said.

The TRADOC Best Warrior competition was the best-run competition by far that Massengill had ever participated in, he said. It was so well planned, organized, and executed. Some of its events were at Fort Benning, Ga., where competitors were ferried by Chinook helicopters.

The competition had unique twists, he said.

The formal board appearance before command sergeants major tends to be on the last day of competition, but at TRADOC it was on the first day after a 100-question written test on Army knowledge.

And, the 12-mile ruck march usually is held on the last day of competition toward the end of a day. Instead it began on day 3 at 2:30 a.m., and there were other events scheduled after it.

Massengill said he always finds the ruck march to be his toughest event. The march requires wearing full battle-rattle, including a 40-pound pack, and carrying an M4 rifle.

"Twelve miles is 12 miles," he said. "I was experiencing some shoulder pain from the ruck march, but my feet were fine, so I ended up doing fine for the rest of the day."

The event he enjoyed the most was Break Contact.

He had to maneuver to a casualty, treat a victim, then drag the victim to safety about 80 yards while encountering the enemy (pop-up targets), and return fire. It was with live ammunition.

Other unique events included starting a fire and building a shelter after being shown once how to do those. He said those things are neither taught in BCT nor AIT. They had to spend one night in their shelter, too.

There was a tomahawk throw, yes, tomahawk. Competitors threw a tomahawk at a 2-foot wooden target, which was between 15 and 20 feet away. No techniques were provided.

If the tomahawk stuck in the bull's eye, then three minutes would be subtracted from the Soldier's cumulative time. One minute was given if the tomahawk stuck outside the bull's eye. Competitors were allowed three throws, so if they did well they could significantly change their place in the overall standings by taking up to 9 minutes off their times, Massengill said.

The competitors were tested in the new Army Combat Fitness Test, not the current Army Physical Fitness Test.

Massengill said he had tested under the ACFT about four times including the Fort Sill competitions, and consequently excelled in it at TRADOC.

The competition featured two Ranger obstacle courses, which included swimming a total of 400 meters in a lake while wearing the Operational Camouflage Uniform with a life jacket.

"I thought I was a good swimmer, but that was the first time I ever swam in a uniform," Massengill said. He said for a couple competitors it was their first time ever in a water event.

What did he gain from the TRADOC competition?

"Knowledge and confidence," Massengill said. Competitors have to brush up on all their warrior skills, like CBRNE (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive) attacks, and things they might not have done since BCT, like the hand grenade throw, said Massengill.

With plans to make the Army a career, he set a goal to complete Ranger School soon. After that, he may go into Special Forces or continue in his current MOS; and eventually become an officer.