CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, TIKRIT, Iraq - Most competitors thrive off of encouragement and cheers from a crowd, but when there isn't a huge crowd to spur a competitor on, that individual has to dig deep and find the determination to press on toward the goal.
Four Soldiers did just this with a minimal crowd as they competed in 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division's four-day Noncommissioned Officer and Soldier of the Year competition, which tested their technical and tactical proficiency in Soldier tasks and drills, July 9-12.
Each Soldier won at battalion-level NCO or Soldier of Quarter competitions, which allowed them to compete for the brigade NCO and Soldier of the Year.
"We decided to put together a brigade level competition so the Soldiers would for that level," said Sgt. Maj. David Armour, the brigade operations sergeant major. "These events take away from the norm of day-to-day operations for Soldiers and allow them to see and participate in other aspects of their deployed experience."
Each day the Soldiers faced different tactical and technical challenges, with a series of grueling physical and mental examinations designed to push the participants to their limits.
"This was a chance not only to improve myself, but also to come out and compete and see how I will stack up against other noncommissioned officers at the battalion, brigade, and hopefully soon, all of northern Iraq," said Sgt. Matthew Girard, team leader, C Co., 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment.
The competitors completed an Army Physical Fitness Test which was then immediately followed by a six-mile foot march carrying a 35-lb load. The Soldiers had to ruck their way to the final phase for that day and ended in a shooter's stance, firing their assault rifle for marksmanship qualifications.
"This event was an opportunity to showcase all participants' abilities and how hard we have trained," said Pfc. Stephen Herman, supply specialist, Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 3rd Battalion, 7th Field Artillery Regiment. "Not being a field artillery Soldier by trade, but being a supply specialist in my unit, I feel a lot of pride participating here. Also, I have been receiving a lot of respect from the people in my unit, so this is truly rewarding."
Another participant set aside his competitive spirit during the march to show his leadership style to his Soldier, who was lagging behind.
"The most enjoyable and painful experience in this competition was the ruck march," said Staff Sgt. Bruce Siegal, squadron battle NCO, Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 3rd Squadron, 4th U.S. Cavalry Regiment. "When we set off toward the range, I watched as the NCO (Sgt. Girard) took off ahead of me; I realized that he would beat me. I came to accept that and decided to find my Soldier to ensure that we made it to our destination together safe and sound...that was the best part."
As the competition continued, leaders provided the Soldiers well-rounded hands-on and mental tactical scenarios that ranged from quick maintenance on military vehicles, to rules for escalation of force, to proper radio use.
The first of the tactical scenarios in the competition gave Soldiers the task of examining a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle from the inside and out. Soldiers were then tested on proper EOF procedures, showing how to respectfully treat a driver while performing a search on his vehicle. Soldiers then demonstrated their communication proficiency by setting up a radio and portable antenna.
Brigade leaders explained the process, intent and impact that having the competition in a deployed setting has done for the participating Soldiers.
"This is a first-class show for our Soldiers. The personnel who put this competition together understood that in order for these Soldiers to go up to division and represent, they would have to be trained and tested on the tasks they would be executing," said Command Sgt. Maj. Anthony Marrero, brigade command sergeant major.
The competition came to an end as senior leadership from throughout the brigade tested the mettle of the Soldiers in a formal board.
The winners of the competition were Girard, 27, of Cambridge, Minn. and Herman, 21, of Escanaba, Mich.
The runners-up in the competition were Siegal, 27, of Tucson, Ariz. and Spc. Ryan Blunk, 24, of Layton, Utah, also of 3rd Squadron, 4th U.S. Cav. Regt.
The winners will go on to compete at the division level to match up with other elite Soldiers who have made the same advancements around northern Iraq.