CAMP ZAMA, Japan (June 11, 2020) – When a group of patriots formally banded together to form the U.S. Army on June 14, 1775, they dedicated themselves to overcoming challenges in the name of equality, freedom and justice.
In honor of the Army’s 245th birthday, U.S. Army Japan Soldiers followed in their footsteps here June 8 and 9 with challenging competitions that included a modified Army Combat Fitness Test and a grueling four-mile functional fitness route.
“There was a lot of competition,” said Lt. Col. Roberto Herrera, lead planner of the USARJ Army Week Warrior Games. “Units want to be the No. 1, so they put their best Soldiers forward to beat the competition.”
To prevent COVID-19 throughout the events, Soldiers practiced social distancing, graders wore face masks and gloves, and personnel sanitized every piece of equipment before and after each use, Herrera said.
Soldiers, meanwhile, said they enjoyed getting to know those from other units, and that the event helped strengthen cooperation through teamwork and friendly competition.
“It’s Army Week and it’s fun,” said Staff Sgt. Karim Acosta, a member of the Medical Activity – Japan team. “It’s good esprit de corps for us. Since we don’t get to do this a lot, it’s good for us to be able to get out there and showcase what the medical community has to offer.”
Staff Sgt. Sharonica White, assigned to U.S. Army Garrison Japan, said the competition helped get Soldiers’ minds off COVID-19 and improve morale.
“It was a great thing to do for Army Week because it helped the Soldiers to get out of the barracks and get more camaraderie within the units here at Camp Zama,” White said.
The competition gave Soldiers a chance to show off their physical abilities and create resiliency while having fun and being competitive, White said.
First Lt. Daniel Mauldin, assigned to the 78th Signal Battalion, said he and the four other members of his team wanted to compete to challenge themselves.
“The Army is all about pushing yourself, bettering yourself and competition, and that’s what this is—competing against all our sister units here in U.S. Army Japan,” Mauldin said. “Regardless of how we do at the end, it’s how we challenged ourselves. That’s the key.”
Pfc. Savon Simmons, assigned to the 35th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, said he appreciated the opportunity to challenge himself alongside other Soldiers during the ACFT competition.
“It gets us to work together, which is good for morale,” Simmons said. “You’ve got a lot of teamwork, and you’ve got a lot of people behind you. It gets different people together to see what everyone’s strengths and weaknesses are.”
Simmons added: “This will make you sweat.”
Day one featured a modified ACFT with a three-repetition maximum deadlift; a standing power throw; hand-release pushups; a sprint, drag, carry event; leg tucks; and a 2-mile run.
Staff Sgt. Leroy Mendez, assigned to the 78th Signal Battalion and an organizer of the ACFT competition, said 32 Soldiers competed the first day.
“Especially with everything going on right now [with COVID-19], it’s a perfect opportunity for all of us to come together to compete against each other,” Mendez said. “It’s the nature of the Army. That’s what we like to do: We like to compete.”
Capt. Patrick Sorensen, assigned to USARJ and the ACFT competition's first-place finisher, said the best part was seeing the Soldiers working together in the same space, and competitive nature of the ACFT motivated him to perform at a higher level.
"I think I can speak for the rest of USARJ when I say that we have all missed the sense of camaraderie and esprit de corps that we normally feel as a part of our daily duties," Sorensen said.
Those who planned and ran the event did a great job, Sorensen said.
"This Army week competition was executed phenomenally," Sorensen said. "The planners had to create well thought out protection measures and risk-mitigation strategies in order to allow the spirit of the Army Week we all know and love."
On day two, the Functional Fitness Team Competition included eight stations around Camp Zama. The challenges featured an obstacle course with 19 obstacles, a litter carry, and various physical challenges such as a deadlift, pushups and leg tucks.
Staff Sgt. Bianca Pollard, assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, USARJ, and an organizer of the functional fitness competition, said 21 teams competed and each team had to have at least four participants.
“This has a lot to do with readiness,” Pollard said. “We push people to pass the limits they normally don’t reach with the obstacle course event. This is really good for that. It pushes you past your strengths.”
First Sgt. Alonte Washington, assigned to the 35th CSSB and a member of the team that won the functional fitness competition, said the functional fitness test challenged him mentally and physically, and he enjoyed it.
“The best part was being able to compete with all the other organizations and push the Soldiers while challenging myself,” Washington said.
Maj. Gen. Viet X. Luong, commander of USARJ; USARJ Command Sgt. Maj. Scott A. Beeson; Col. Thomas Matelski, commander of USAG-J; and USAG-J Command Sgt. Maj. Billy Norman attended the awards ceremony at USARJ headquarters June 10.
Luong congratulated the winners and said he is proud to be a member of the Army, which has stepped up to the nation’s calling since it formed nearly 245 years ago.
The Army remains an organization dedicated to equality, justice and defense of the constitution, Luong said.
In the ACFT competition, Sorensen came in first with 594 out of 600 points; Sgt. Zachariah Storm, assigned to MEDDAC-J, came in second with 592 points; and Chief Warrant Officer 2 River Mitchell, assigned to the 38th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, came in third with 582 points.
In the functional fitness competition, the 35th CSSB came in first with a team that included Washington, 2nd Lt. David J. Drury, 1st Sgt. Christopher D. Lett, Spc. Michael L. Eubanks, Pfc. Christian E. Hicks and Sgt. Michael Howard. The 38th ADA Bde. came in second with a team that included Mitchell, Master Sgt. Kevin Rainey, 1st Lt. Connor Camp, Sgt. Alexander Figueroa and Spc. H. W. Londagin. MEDDAC-J came in third and included Acosta, Storm, Staff Sgt. Michael Ware and Spc. Miguel Lucio.
Luong also presented Army Week impact awards to Mendez, Sgt. Trenton Chambers and Capt. James Huff for their roles in organizing the events.
Leaders also announced the Commander’s Cup winners. The 78th Signal Battalion placed first with 182 points; U.S. Army Garrison Japan placed second with 163 points; and HHC USARJ, comprised of Soldiers from USAG-J, the 35th CSSB and I Corps Forward, finished third with 162 points.