ARLINGTON, Va. -- After being pushed to their physical and mental limits, a Special Forces Soldier and a combat medic were named winners of this year’s Best Warrior Competition during a virtual event Tuesday hosted by the force’s top enlisted leader.
Following a gauntlet of tests leading to the announcement, Sgt. 1st Class Alexander Berger, assigned to 2nd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Fort Carson, Colorado, and Sgt. James Akinola, who represented U.S. Army Medical Command and is stationed at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, secured the top honors.
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael A. Grinston revealed the names of the awardees during a live presentation at the Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition.
Normally, event organizers would have brought the finalists together so they can be evaluated in-person on their technical skills, physical fitness, and ability to adapt and overcome challenging and battle-focused scenarios. Due to COVID-19 health restrictions, however, the 19th annual BWC was held virtually for the first time.
Even though the online format was new, the rigorous standards were not compromised, said Sgt. Maj. Jose G. Melendez, the Army’s Strategic Operations Directorate sergeant major. “We were going to overcome and execute this competition and highlight our great Soldiers” no matter what.
“In these challenging times, the Army continues to push forward in all facets of its mission to defend the nation, from fitness and leadership training to recruiting and career counseling,” said Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. James C. McConville in a release.
“These are critical areas in which our best and brightest leaders have an opportunity to influence and help mold young men and women joining the Army family. It’s an exceptional achievement and we are proud of all of these Soldiers,” McConville added.
In all, 22 Soldiers from 11 Army commands were tested on a national stage to see who would stand tallest among their peers as the Army’s best.
The competition’s goal was more than identifying the most physically fit Soldier, or who was best in front of a board. BWC is intended to identify the overall best Soldier in the Army, and to do that, competitors are tested on everything from wisdom, tenacity, technical and tactical skills, and overall combat readiness.
From Sept. 17 through Oct. 9, Soldiers completed the new Army Combat Fitness Test, a weapons range qualification, a 12-mile ruck march, warrior tasks and drills, an essay, and capped the competition off with an interview board with senior enlisted leaders.
“Congratulations to the best Soldier and NCO in our Army,” Grinston said during his presentation. “Even under this year’s extraordinary circumstances, you’ve proven you have what it takes to compete and win. Thank you also to the hundreds of leaders who made this decentralized, virtual competition a reality.”
In addition to announcing awards and fielding questions from a live audience, Grinston also discussed current and future initiatives for the enlisted force. For instance, a marketplace-style system for enlisted assignments from staff sergeant through master sergeant that will rack and stack qualified applicants is scheduled to be released next month.
A smartphone app for “This is My Squad” is also scheduled, Grinston said, based on his signature initiative. Although there is no release date yet, the app will eventually help leaders manage their Soldiers on everyday tasks.
Grinston is slated to discuss more about "This is My Squad" during a panel discussion with company-level leaders Thursday from 1-1:45 p.m. Eastern Time as part of the weeklong AUSA meeting.