Soldiers from the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command brought home the awards for Best Noncommissioned Officer and Best Squad during the Army Futures Command’s Best Squad Competition, held from June 6-10. Staff Sgt. Joshua Lorber, Spc. Jackie Payne, Spc. Marcus McCann, Spc. Jose Gutierrez and Sgt. Cody Sanford won the Best Squad award, while Sanford alone was named Best NCO.
The Best Squad award honors a loyal group of professionals who treat each other with dignity and respect, as well as those who are trained and proficient in their warrior tasks and battle drills. The competition tests both Soldiers and noncommissioned officers to determine winners of the Best Squad, Best Soldier and Best NCO awards.
“It brings this command a great deal of pride to see our Soldiers and NCOs compete and achieve at the highest level,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Victor Laragione, Command Sgt. Maj. of USAMRDC and Fort Detrick. “Their hard work and effort – not to mention their talent and grit – sums up USAMRDC perfectly, and further serves a great reminder of the effort the entire command team delivers on a daily basis.”
Overall, the competition is designed to test both the physical and mental endurance of the Soldiers, and includes such events as the standard Army Combat Fitness Test, an obstacle course, a pair of two-mile combats runs, an eight-mile ruck march, pistol and rifle qualifications, a combat stress shoot and, lastly, both daytime and nighttime land navigations.
“I chose to be a part of this competition to show my Soldiers that they can do the competition just as easily as I did with the proper mindset and training,” said Sanford. “I hope that by winning this competition it will motivate all of my Soldiers, past and present, that they can do anything they set their minds to.”
Sanford volunteered for the competition after another USAMRDC NCO was injured. Having recently arrived at USAMRDC, he was unaware of the upcoming competition and had just days to prepare.
Notably, Soldiers also participated an intensive combat lanes event, during which they reacted to improvised explosive devices, both indirect and direct fire and a multitude of other combat-specific scenarios.
“I enjoyed every single event in the competition,” said Gutierrez. “The best part was being able to do all the events with my squad. It’s one of the highlights of my Army career so far.”
The team did not make it to the AFC Best Squad Competition on willpower alone. Many hours of training helped the squad prepare for the competition. Much of their preparation was spent on weapons and combative training. Advancing to the AFC competition also required the Soldiers to compete for Best NCO and Best Squad at the command and unit level before they were eligible for the competition at AFC.
“I had to compete in the USAMRIID NCO of the Month board, USAMRIID NCO of the Quarter competition, USAMRIID NCO of the Year Competition, USAMRDC NCO of the Year competition, USAMRIID Best Squad Competition and the USAMRDC Selection Board,” said Lorber. “Winning this competition validates all the hard work and sacrifice I put into my career, and I hope to serve as a role model for my peers and Soldiers.”
To that end, Payne, a member of the winning team who is assigned to AFC, drew on the loss of his brother, who passed barely three years ago after a battle with depression, for inspiration.
“Winning this competition means everything to me, said Payne. “Every time I compete in competitions like this the memory of my little brother pushes me to keep going even when my body wants to give out. He was the one that pushed me to join the Army, so I honor him by giving my all every day. I am extremely proud of my squad and during this competition I gained four new brothers.”
Competitions like these allow Soldiers to go beyond their normal duties and push themselves to be the best representation of the Army. It showcases not only the capabilities of one Soldier but also the entire squad.
The USAMRDC team will now go on to compete in the Headquarters, Department of the Army Best Squad Competition, where the top dozen Best Squads will compete for the title of Best Squad of the Army at Fort Campbell, Kentucky from Sept. 27 to Oct. 13. Events during the competition will be similar to previous Best Squad Competition events but all HQDA Best Squad Competition events are kept secret as a part of the challenge.