Soldiers from 11 commands will compete later this year for the title of Army Best Warrior. There are 11 noncommissioned officers and 11 Soldiers. Among them will be a Soldier and Beavercreek Ohio, native who secured the 2020 title of Best Warrior for Army Materiel Command while stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas.
Staff Sgt. Debra Stokes, a contracting specialist with Mission & Installation Contracting Command at Fort Riley, completed her final event of the competition July 9. That was a Thursday and other participants finished the event the following day. The results weren’t released until the next duty day after the final competitor finished at the shooting range – three days later.
“There were other people who still had to go Friday, so we, of course, had to wait for them to finish,” Stokes said. “Then they waited the whole weekend to announce is so we were on pins and needles all weekend waiting.”
When the wait was over, the winner was Stokes. That win surprised her because of the way the competition was carried out this year.
“Honestly, I didn’t get to see, you know, because it's virtual,” Stokes said. “Normally, you get to go meet everybody in person and you're all competing together so you have some idea of your competition. But in this case, it was completely virtual. I didn't get to see anybody else I was competing against. Even the day of the board we just had a time that we called in, so I couldn't see other people during their board performance.”
Not only did she not get to see how her fellow competitors did, but she also didn’t know how she was measuring up against them as the two-day competition progressed.
“I had no idea who I was even going up against,” Stokes said. “So, you know, I felt, when I did the board, I felt like I did pretty good. I did my best. So, I had to be happy with that you know – whether I won or lost. But no, it definitely wasn't a sure thing.”
Though Stokes might have felt alone due to the virtual way the competition was conducted, she said she was definitely not alone when it came to preparation.
“Army Materiel Command, you know, while it's the major command … we don't have like one big base,” Stokes said. “It's not like the 1st Infantry Division where you have your whole division here. My whole unit here is about 20 people. So, we don't have the resources on our own. We don't have our own armory we don't have our own MOPP (Mission Oriented Protective Posture) gear. You know, it's hard for us to get a range or anything like that. People in my unit just literally went up the hill and cold-called other units … and asked if people would help us train weapons and asked if people would help us, you know, with mock training or help us with a day at a range or whatever. So even though none of those people at 1st Infantry Division are part of Army Materiel Command … they still were more than willing to help They jumped in with both feet just, because we're all Soldiers and we're all one team and they were excited to help … It was just pride of, you know, hey I'm a Soldier and they're Soldiers too. So it's been great. Being here (at Fort Riley) … really felt like a team.”
Stokes has another team and that’s the home team. She’s a wife and a mom of three and understands the balancing act of parenting and Soldiering.
“You know, my family's always been a big support,” Stokes said. “I think any parent, especially a mother in the Army, knows that it's impossible to do the job I do every day if I don't have a good family support network. My family has been instrumental in helping take care of my children and make sure things are easy for them, and that frees me to be able to focus on my job. So, you know, just their support that way – it's helpful. Also, both of my parents are veterans, so they're very supportive and encouraging, you know, just pushing me to do my best.”
Stokes next echelon of competition should be at the Army-wide level. However, a few details will have to be figured out. The first involves the permanent change of station Stokes and her family began July 17.
“I hope so (to compete at Army level),” Stokes said. “That's the plan with the PCS, we are moving to a special missions unit for SOCOM (Southern Command). So, you know, the higher-ups have to figure out how to go about doing that because I won't be here at Fort Riley. But hopefully, I can. If I win that I'll be the first female to ever win NCO of the year, so that would be awesome.”
Her commander, Lt. Col. Robert Bartruff had this to say about how far Stokes has already come.
"Staff Sgt. Debra Stokes is a driven and determined Soldier,” Bartruff said. “She is relentless in the pursuit of excellence and her success at achieving AMC’s Best Warrior Competition in 2020 demonstrated that. We at MICC-Riley and the 923rd Contracting Battalion are extremely proud of her and we expect to see great things from her in our Army in the future."
No matter if she competes at the Army level, Stokes is still a winner and has some advice to pass on to those coming up behind her.
“I think a lot of people eliminate themselves because they're nervous,” Stokes said. “You know, I know it's scary to talk in front of people and put yourself out there. But, there's no one guaranteed way to succeed. There's lots of different ways to succeed. But there's one guaranteed way to fail and that's not to have even tried.”