CAMP ZAMA, Japan (May 17, 2021) – Two members of the U.S. Army Japan Band won the 2021 U.S. Army Japan Best Warrior Competition here May 14 after proving their mental and physical strength during four days of grueling events.
Sgt. Jamal Walker, a drummer, won the competition’s noncommissioned officer title, while Spc. Brooke Hendricks, a saxophonist, won the title of best Soldier. Both received the Army Commendation Medal and will go on to compete in the U.S. Army Pacific Best Warrior Competition in South Korea the first week of June.
The pair beat out 14 other competitors from mainland Japan and Okinawa during a series of more than 20 challenges that included a combat run, obstacle course, 12-mile ruck march and Army Combat Fitness Test, as well as tests on weapons proficiency, radio operations, medical skills and call-for-fire expertise.
The competition had another highlight as well: Staff Sgt. Hatali Broderick, a cable system installer-maintainer assigned to the 78th Signal Battalion, scored a perfect 600 on the ACFT on May 12 and became the first in the USARJ competition’s history to do so.
Maj. Gen. Viet X. Luong, USARJ commander, said during the awards ceremony that it is important for Soldiers in all military occupational specialties to remain proficient in combat-related skills, and Walker said he not only appreciated Luong’s speech, but took a lot away from it.
“It showed me that even though I’m a bandsman, I can go to combat and anything can happen at any time, and you always need to be prepared for any situation that may arise,” Walker said. “Knowing those basic soldiering skills, how to fight, how to defend yourself, all that comes into play. So always train, always be ready, and stay ready, to fight.”
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Rick Chapman, commander of the USARJ Band, said two musicians winning the competition shows how deep the talent goes in the U.S. Army.
“Regardless of your job specialty, you may find yourself in the position where you will have to engage the enemy in combat—and the enemy doesn’t care if you’re a saxophonist or a drummer,” Chapman said. “We know that the U.S. Army is the best military in the world because even our band is lethal.”
Walker and Hendricks also came in first in their respective categories during the ruck march May 13. Walker came in first overall with a time of 2 hours, 30 minutes, and Hendricks came in fourth overall with a time of 2 hours, 55 minutes.
Walker said he prepared for the ruck march by practicing on the weekends, and his wife Ashley held him accountable when he wanted to take a break.
“I would wake up and think, ‘I’m just going to stay inside today,’ and she’s like, ‘You need to go outside and do your ruck march,’” Walker said. “So that really helped me, and then when I went on the actual ruck march, I heard her saying, ‘Make it to the end.’”
Hendricks said the hardest part of the competition for her was not letting the fact that she is a woman get in her way of doing her best.
“A lot of the times, being a woman in a male-dominated field, you kind of get psyched out, or you’re mentally kind of preparing yourself to lose against someone who is physically stronger than you, so [I was] kind of jumping that hurdle in physical events,” Hendricks said.
Hendricks thanked her sponsors, Sgts. Colin Murray and Jacob Davis, who is also her husband, and Sgt. Victor DeJesus, all members of the band, for their encouragement.
Thanks to Murray’s encouragement during the ruck march, she came in 20 minutes earlier than her goal time, Hendricks said.
USARJ Command Sgt. Maj. Jerry Dodson kicked off the competition by speaking with competitors at 5:30 a.m. May 11 and proceeded to offer encouragement at events throughout the competition.
In an interview, Dodson said it is important to note that Best Warrior Competitions are not only about how well Soldiers can compete physically and on the board, but much more.
“This competition is about resiliency, tenacity and just being an all-around good Soldier,” Dodson said. “It’s not just about being good at [physical training] and labeled the best warrior. You have to be good at a multitude of tasks.”
The competitors surpassed his expectations, Dodson said.
“I am absolutely thrilled and super proud of every Soldier that’s participated,” Dodson said. “I can tell that the units and the leaders have spent some time training these Soldiers and preparing them for this competition.”
Chapman said that was definitely the case with the band.
“In the end, it was Sgt. Walker and Spc. Hendricks who put in the work and were out there every day training for this competition, but we made sure that we built a coaching network to help assess any weak areas and to provide feedback throughout their training,” Chapman said.
For example, the team spent hours at the Engagement Skills Trainer working on their shooting skills, refining their ACFT scores, and drilling their Warrior Tasks and Battle Drills, Chapman said.
Walker and Hendricks are exceptional Soldiers who are constantly striving to improve themselves and their skills, Chapman said. They are also two of the finest musicians in the unit.
Sgt. Nicholas Scelsi and Spc. Kyle Hunsaker, both assigned to the 247th Military Police Detachment in Okinawa, received Army Achievement Medals for taking second place honors in the NCO and Soldier categories.
Meanwhile, Staff Sgt. Domonic Pennington, assigned to U.S. Army Medical Department Activity-Japan, and Spc. Izak Ramirez, assigned to the 38th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, received USARJ commander’s coins of excellence for taking third place.