WASHINGTON — The Army crowned its top Soldiers Monday following a year that saw Best Warrior Competition participants adapt to the challenges of training in pandemic conditions.
Clad in military dress uniforms and facemasks, 24 Soldiers attended an awards ceremony at the Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition that marked the return to in-person competition following a virtual contest last year.
“Striving to reach the very heights of their craft and profession, each competitor sets a fine example for every one of us to follow,” said Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Joseph M. Martin. “By sheer determination, dedication and consistency, they fought through the mental and physical exhaustion and sometimes failure. But we can’t forget that failure is how we all learn ... and grow.”
Spc. Justin Earnhart who represented Army Futures Command, was named the 2021 Soldier of the Year, while Sgt. Adam Krauland of U.S. Army Pacific Command took the Noncommissioned Officer of the Year honors.
Earnhart received a surprise promotion to sergeant during AUSA by the the Army Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville and the Sergeant Major of the Army Michael A. Grinston.
Competitors first tested their mental and physical limits on courses at Fort Knox, Kentucky, including land navigation, marksmanship, and endurance ruck marching. The competition, which lasted from Oct. 3-8, also evaluated Soldiers’ skills in grenade throwing, simulated casualty procedures and the Army Combat Fitness Test before its final phase in the National Capital Region.
Soldiers from each major command took top honors at the command-level Best Warrior contests to qualify, including the National Guard competition held at Camp Navajo, Arizona, and the Army Reserve contest at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin.
“Each competitor is the type of Soldier that strives for excellence in every given task,” Martin said. “Individual excellence leads to team excellence.”
Representing the Army
Martin said the competitors’ achievements reflected the larger efforts of the Army in 2021 for meeting the challenges of aiding vaccination efforts and treating and testing patients for COVID-19. Army researchers also contributed to those efforts to find viable vaccines for mass distribution. Martin asked the competitors to spread their attitude for excellence among fellow Soldiers in their units.
“Your pursuit of excellence inspires discipline, pride and professionalism within your teams and units,” Martin said. “This has a significant impact on the ability of our teams to accomplish the mission and greatly contributes to the success of your units and our units at large.”
Martin also credited Soldiers with supporting law enforcement during times of civil unrest and the National Guard for its evacuation and assistance missions to support victims of the California wildfires and hurricanes on the East and Gulf coasts.
“You've done all of this while battling violent extremist groups abroad, building relationships with our allies and partners, deterring aggression from our adversaries, and responding to global crises with little to no notice,” Martin said.
In the ceremony, the Army also named Denzel Washington this year’s honorary sergeant major of the Army for his work with the Fisher House Foundation, which provides temporary housing for military families with service members recovering from wounds.
The Academy Award-winning actor has donated to the organization and visited with wounded Soldiers.
"That story of you giving to the Fisher House really touched me," Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael A. Grinston told Washington. "I said we have to nominate Denzel Washington ... I couldn't be more proud to say that you are now going to be a part of our team."
Washington also directed the film “A Journal for Jordan,” which tells the story of the late 1st Sgt. Charles Monroe King who died in Baghdad.
The film, based on the bestselling book by King’s fiance Dana Canedy, recalls the journal written by King to his son, Jordan. In his writings, King gave his life advice including how to behave around women and live his life honorably. He also professed his love for Canedy.
Washington accepted the honorary SMA award from Grinston with Canedy by his side at a separate event in New York City that was shown during the ceremony.
“I’ll continue to do the right thing for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines,” Washington said in recorded remarks. “I’m here for you. Call me, when you need me. We all are free because of the sacrifices that you’ve made. God bless you all. God bless America.”
The honorary SMA award was created to recognize individuals with extraordinary dedication to serving Soldiers and their families.