The U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence honored its top squad, warrior and drill sergeant, as well as the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command best warrior, during a ceremony at Howze Field Aug. 5, 2022.
Twenty-two staff sergeants, sergeants and specialists from across the USAACE, including from Fort Huachuca, Ariz., Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., and Fort Rucker, participated in a grueling four-day competition testing their mental and physical fitness.
The USAACE winners are:
• The USAACE Drill Sergeant of the Year is Staff Sgt. Christopher Kramer, 128th Aviation Brigade, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va.
• The USAACE NCO of the Year is Staff Sgt. Matthew Vecchione, 1st Aviation Brigade.
• The USAACE Soldier of the Year is Spc. Joseph Shaffer, 1st Aviation Brigade.
• The USAACE Best Squad is 1st Aviation Brigade: Staff Sgt. Matthew Vecchione, Sgt. Paul Gonzalez, Spc. Giovanni Quiles, Spc. Joseph Shaffer and Spc. Gunnar Wright.
The AMCOM Best Warrior is:
• The AMCOM NCO of the Year is Sgt. Chance Cane, Letterkenny Army Depot, Chambersburg, PA.
Command Sgt. Maj. James D. Wilson, Aviation branch command sergeant major, thanked the Soldiers who worked hard to facilitate the competition.
He commended the competitors for their efforts across four days of events held in early mornings, across long days and also events held at night during the heat of Alabama summertime.
“The Soldiers you’re going to see here today have completed a tough series of events,” Wilson said. “Without a doubt every one of them represented themselves, their unit, their branch and our Army with professionalism and pride. And that’s all we can ask of our Soldiers.”
“I want to thank all of you for giving us all you’ve got, working very, very hard,” Wilson said. “Everybody did well. Be proud, but there can only be one winner, because winning matters.”
This year’s competition focused on the squad. Each brigade offered up their top staff sergeant, sergeant and specialists to compete together as a team, according to Staff Sgt. Howard Epps-Levicy, USAACE G-3 operations noncommissioned officer in charge.
“Last year if they were to do the rigor (event), it would just be them, going around to each and every point, now it’s a whole squad working together through each battle drill and helping each other out to actually conduct the task to standard,” said Epps-Levicy. “We are really getting after the cohesion of our squads at the platoon level, and seeing them work together.”
He was proud to see the Soldiers, whose time in service ranged from one to 14 years, helping each other to shore up weaknesses.
“We’ve gotten to see all the competitors push themselves and each other, help them through the Army Combat Fitness Test, chant them along, and give them various tidbits for the other events,” said Epps.
The competition started with battalion level boards and competitions, then moved on to brigade level, which meant the competitors were vetted by brigade sergeants majors, Epps-Levicy explained.
The events kicked off on Aug. 1 with the Army Combat Fitness Test, followed by a weapons refresher at the Engagement Skills Trainer 2000. The day included a six-lane rigor event where teams were tested on warrior tasks and battle drills, and also an event to test of their night land navigation skills.
Day 2 agenda included a daytime land navigation event, and moved on to the grenade range, medical lane and urban operations, and a chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) event. The competitors also headed to the M40, qualification and M17 weapons system range.
After an overnight campout, Day 3 started early with a 12-mile forced march, and later on injected some Army aviation to the mix as competitors were flown down to Eglin Air Force Base for a “mystery event” obstacle course put together in conjunction with 7th Special Forces Group. The competitors also completed a written test at the NCO Academy.
On Day 4 the competitors headed into a more formal setting, going before a board of sergeants major for inspection and to answer questions as a squad.
To close out the week, the competitors were treated another “mystery event” -- a barbecue at Lake Tholocco as a reward for their hard work.
To help mitigate the impact of the hot weather during the competition, event facilitators emphasized hydration throughout, providing kits to help Soldiers cool down at each station.
“After events they conduct their arm immersion. We had ice coolers, ice sheets, and EMS on standby at each and every event, and a combat medic as well,” said Epps.
“It’s been a lot of hard work going into coordinating and planning the events and I’m happy to see it all come together,” especially throwing these competitors through a great physically and mentally challenging week,” Epps-Levicy said.
Winners received the Army Commendation Medal, medallions and coins. The NCO, Soldier and Drill Sergeant of the Year each also received a trophy.
The USAACE winners will now move on to the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command level competition.