After weeks of live and virtual challenges, the Army Cyber Command (ARCYBER) Best Warrior Competition (BWC) culminated this month with the selection of ARCYBER's top Soldier and NCO for 2021.
Staff Sgt. Charles Laabs earned the title of ARCYBER Best Warrior NCO of the Year, and Sgt. Martin Clayton (who was promoted to the rank of sergeant during the competition) was named Best Warrior Soldier of the Year.
Laabs is a 27-year-old Fire Support Sergeant from Crofton, Md., who is assigned to the 915th Cyberspace Warfare Battalion at Fort Gordon, Ga. Clayton, 25, of Longmeadow, Mass., is a Signals Intelligence Analyst with the 743rd Military Intelligence (MI) Battalion at Buckley Space Force Base, Colo.
The competition was conducted in strict compliance with all applicable health protection and safety standards for COVID-19. Competitors completed some portions of the event such as weapons qualification, a 12-mile road march with rucksack, land navigation and an Army Combat Fitness Test, live at their home stations. They then completed the remaining competition challenges virtually, including a written essay and examination; tests on equal opportunity and sexual assault/sexual harassment response and prevention; a written operations order; a mystery event; a mock media interview; and appearance before a formal board of senior enlisted leaders.
“The level of competitiveness among the competitors was just as demanding as in previous years,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Jack Nichols, ARCYBER’s senior enlisted leader. “The NCOs and Soldiers that competed in this year’s competition came from number commands across ARCYBER, the Network Enterprise Technology Command, and the Intelligence and Security Command. They had already voluntarily competed in and won rigorous competitions at their unit level before representing their units at the ARCYBER BWC. This demonstrated their initiative, dedication and motivation to prepare and undertake the challenges, mental and physical, at this level of competition,” Nichols said.
“I sincerely appreciate their hard work and I am proud to be on their team. It takes a lot of initiative to get out there and start doing it. You don’t just go out there and start doing a 12-miles road march without training to do a 12-mile road march,” the sergeant major added. “I appreciate and applaud these competitors for getting out there and working so hard, their organizations for giving them this opportunity, and the leaders, teammates and families that stood with them and supported them and helped them to prepare for a tough challenge.”
Both competitors earned top honors at their home units for the right to compete at the ARCYBER level. But they had different takes on what prepared them for ARCYBER's event.
Clayton said it took him a bit less than a month of actual preparation, but added that "the experience from previous competitions that have been going on since December of last year definitely carried over as well." He gave credit to two of his fellow noncommissioned officers -- Sgt. Kenline and Master Sgt. Berriman -- for helping the most, challenging him with questions he might be asked in the competition’s exams or boards, setting up a physical training regimen, and coordinating weapons and land navigation practice and testing.
For Laabs, preparation never begins or ends, because he said you live it. "I talked with a longtime peer and friend about preparation; the same friend who was up at midnight in the barracks years ago helping me for my first Soldier of the Month board. You have to be about it every day," he said. "It becomes a lot easier to read and understand the doctrine when you implement it. Or when you don't understand a process or procedure, you volunteer to help with it and learn firsthand. It has to come from a place where you care. The leaders I've had invested their time and I truly appreciate it." He named a long list of leaders and fellow Soldiers he said helped him: Spc. Ellis, Spc. Mason, Sgt. Saunders, Sgt. 1st Class Rivas, Sgt. 1st Class Serrano, 1st Sgt. Beavers, Sgt. Maj. Farr, and Command Sgt. Maj. Edwards.
One thing the winners agreed on was what they expected to be their best event in the competition: the 12-mile rucksack march.
"I always pride myself on my ruck times," Clayton said, "and I think being able to ruck is one of the most important skills a Soldier can have."
"It's just you, the road, and 12 miles of stepping," was how Laabs looked at it.
While understandably proud of their achievements in being named as top troops, the pair was also quick to express their gratitude for the support that helped them get there.
"I am ecstatic that I was able to take the opportunity and the time that my unit gave me, and be able to win in return," Laabs said.
"Being named Best Warrior for Army Cyber was an unbelievable experience for me," Clayton said. "I believe that I was able to come out on top due to my personal motivation to be the best, as well as the amazing support I was able to get from my leaders and fellow Soldiers."
So what's ahead for the winners?
Laabs, a fourth-generation service member, said he wants to become an Army Ranger, earn his bachelor's degree in History, and teach history after retiring from the Army as a command sergeant major.
Clayton's goals are just as ambitious -- to complete Airborne School and his bachelor's degree in Accounting, earn a master's degree, start a family, be a drill sergeant, and become the Sergeant Major of the Army.
In the meantime, the pair have one more Best Warrior challenge to face -- both will go on to compete in the Army-level Best Warrior Competition in October.
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