Four days of battling sand, red clay, ants and the hot Georgia sun tested Soldiers physically, as the 2022 Cyber Protection Brigade Best Squad Competition challenged them mentally, June 7-10 on Fort Gordon, Georgia.
Eleven Soldiers battled for Noncommissioned Officer of the Year, Soldier of the Year, and the Best Squad to represent CPB at the U.S. Army Cyber Command Best Squad Competition in August.
Staff Sgt. Olivia Benford, Headquarters and Company A, 1st Cyber Battalion, emerged as top NCO, while Spc. Jason Hernandez, assigned to the same unit, earned billing as the best Soldier.
“I was excited; I didn’t expect it necessarily,” Benford said. “I didn’t come into this thinking I was going to win, because I’ve never done anything like this before. It made me feel like all of my hard work and the preparation I did the past few weeks were worth it.”
Hernandez, too, was shocked to be selected as Soldier of the Year.
“I was a little surprised,” Hernandez said. “I thought Spc. (Mikel) Copeland was going to come in first.”
Hernandez said his performance on the ruck march concerned him.
“When Spc. Copeland beat me on the ruck (march), I noticed how hard he was trying, and I realized there was someone trying to win as hard as (me),” Hernandez said.
Throughout the contest the Soldiers competed in tasks ranging from the Army Combat Fitness Test, a senior NCO evaluation board, nine-line medical evacuation report, six-mile ruck march to land navigation and weapons qualification.
Prior to the competition, the Soldiers readied themselves in individual ways.
“Twice a week, I would go rucking for time and distance,” Hernandez said. “I recently finished the Soldier of the Quarter board, so that eased some of the nervousness.”
While Hernandez focused on the physical aspect of the competition, Benford prepared mentally.
“I (went) over potential board questions and reviewed the Warrior Tasks and Battle Drills,” Benford said.
Now with the brigade competition behind them, the Soldiers must refocus, come together and get ready for the Best Squad Competition at ARCYBER in August.
Representing CPB in August will be Benford, Hernandez, Copeland, Spc. Isaiah Barragan, Company A, 60th OCO (SB), and Sgt. Josalynn Weaver, Company C, 2nd Cyber Battalion.
One squad member said the opportunity to compete alongside other winners on the team is motivating.
“I’m very excited about it. This will be the first time I’ve been in a competition (like this) – that high up,” Copeland said. “It’s going to be a good challenge, and I can’t wait to push myself some more and work with my fellow Soldiers who also won.”