U.S. ARMY GARRISON HUMPHREYS, South Korea - In the shadows of mountains surrounding the town of Dongducheon just south of the Korean demilitarized zone, Soldiers from across South Korea gathered to complete the their final tasks successfully in a bid to earn the title of Eighth Army’s Best Warrior. For five of Eighth Army’s most talented, success over fellow competitors earns the right to represent all of Korea in an upcoming U.S. Army Pacific-level competition in a few weeks.
The Eighth Army 2021 Best Warrior Competition featured 32 Soldiers from eight units who, for one week, tested their physical and mental strength at U.S. Army Garrisons Humphreys and Casey. The competition names a winner in the officer, warrant officer, noncommissioned officer, junior-enlisted, and Korean Augmentation to the United States Army (KATUSA) categories. Included in the number of total participants were four Korean army soldiers who are not KATUSA soldiers, but were invited to participate as guests.
Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Cobb, the Eighth Army senior enlisted advisor, said the competition is important because it brings out the best Soldiers and promotes healthy competition.
“It demonstrates the best of the best that are coming out of our units from across the peninsula,” Cobb said. He further explained the competition as an opportunity for units to have “the best Soldiers they have within their formations come out and represent the Eighth Army and hopefully go forward to (the U.S. Army Pacific) and on to the (Army-level) Best Warrior Competition.”
The Eighth Army competition kicked off at U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys, where the competitors participated in an M-4 Carbine familiarization on a computerized small arms range system called the engagement skills trainer. Competitors also demonstrated their aquatic skills during a water survival test.
“The water course was pretty difficult,” said Pfc. Santiago Collazo, 19th Expeditionary Sustainment Command. “I definitely thought I could swim, but once you put on boots and a uniform, it’s a whole other ball game.”
Competitors later received a briefing and mentorship advice from Cobb. The Soldiers then boarded transportation enroute U.S. Army Garrison Casey near the city of Dongducheon, about 90 miles north of USAG-Humphreys, where they remained for the rest of the competition.
The first morning at Camp Casey began with an equipment layout, training on knot tying and practice applying camouflage face paint. Master Sgt. James Stelly, noncommissioned officer in charge of the knot tying and face painting event, and Sgt. 1st Class Conchetta McCregg, noncommissioned officer in charge of the equipment layout, briefed the competitors on their stations and their expectations.
“I’m looking for high energy from them, not to be defeated by any challenges that may come and to understand that there is no perfect score; they are just out here to do their best,” McCregg said.
Stelly said the competition underscores what he believes is a fundamental truth for those who serve in the Army.
“I think that the Best Warrior Competition is a great tool to keep everyone reminded that we are Soldiers first,” Stelly said. “We (each) have our specialized occupation, (but) the underlying theme is that we are fighters, we are warriors first.”
The competition’s second day started early with most participants waking before 3 a.m. The first event of the day was a timed pre-dawn, 12-mile forced march with a 35-pound rucksack. This event was followed by an array of different events. The events included media training, M-4 Carbine qualification, drill and ceremony and a mystery event. Upon arrival at the mystery event, the competitors learned they were to be evaluated on their ability to organize and request a “9-line” casualty evacuation.
U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Joseph Garlan briefed competitors at Apache Range before the start of the M-4 qualification. Garlan said the range brings an additional challenge not found at other small arms ranges in Korea, due to some targets elevation above firers.
“The 300-meter [target] is half way up the hill,” Garlan explained. “You have to have not only the experience to adjust the point of aim, but you have to adjust your position in order to have a good sight alignment to hit the 300-meter [target].”
In addition demonstrating proficiency with the M-4 Carbine, competitors fired an M-249 squad automatic weapon, an M-240B machine gun and an M-9 pistol. Prior to firing each weapon, competitors were required to disassemble, assemble and perform a functions check to standard on each weapon.
Competitors completed a scenario-based, live-fire range after the qualifications ranges. The scenario-based range required Soldiers to accurately fire their M-4 while rapidly moving between designated points and transporting weights.
“When we actually got out on the range, I got a little tired, but I completed it,” Spc. James Burden, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, Eighth Army, said. “It was fun!”
The competitors’ day was far from over as the sun began to set behind the surrounding mountains. The Soldiers transitioned from firing weapons to a land navigation challenge. Their task was to locate pre-determined and assigned points on hilly and wooded terrain in the “day-to-night” land navigation event, all without the aid of electronic devices, like a GPS.
“Depending on how far the competitors get on their first two points, if they are a little slow, then the last three points could potentially be at night, making it significantly more difficult to navigate the course,” said Staff Sgt. William Vrancken, 2nd Infantry Division. “Especially if they are out in the hills.”
Over the course of the remaining days of the competition, the Soldiers completed six different situational-training exercises, also known as STX lanes, and other events that tested each Soldier’s physical and mental strength and stamina. Each STX lane and event is designed to test an individual’s ability to perform tasks to standards based on time and task proficiency. The final event was a question and answer military knowledge board, chaired by the Eighth Army command sergeant major.
The top five competitors earned the privilege of representing Eighth Army at the U.S. Army Pacific Best Warrior Competition, scheduled June 1-4.
The winners are: 1st Lt. Shaui Dong, 2nd Infantry Division, Warrant Officer 1 Matthew Woltering, 2nd Infantry Division, Spc. Seth Piotti, 2nd Infantry Division, Sgt. Steven Levesque, 1st Tactical Theater Signal Brigade, and Cpl. Hoon Sik-jo, 1st Tactical Theater Signal Brigade.