SAVANNAH, Ga. — The 2023 U.S. Army Best Squad Competition brought Soldiers from many different installations and backgrounds to compete for the title of “Best Squad,” but it also brought those who support them through their challenges and achievements. For Spc. Eric Byland, a member of the squad representing U.S. Army Pacific Command, his parents were among those who came to show their support.
Eric, a native of Bentonville, Arkansas, comes from a long legacy of service tracing back to the American Revolution. His father, Tom Byland, joined the Army after graduating college and served on an active-duty status for three years as a tank platoon leader and a military police platoon leader at Fort Hood, Texas, now known as Fort Cavazos. Following his term of active duty, Tom continued his service in the Missouri National Guard for nine years. Additionally, Eric’s grandfather served in WWII and fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and his uncle served multiple deployments as a Marine.
"So you could say it was bred into us," said Tom in regards to his family's history of service.
Eric’s mother, Melissa Byland, also had family members who served. Melissa's father served in the Navy, and her uncle, whose bayonet is on display above their mantle, served in World War I.
Tom and Melissa said they came to Coastal Georgia to watch their son compete, but they weren't sure if they would have the chance to watch. Day five of the competition, however, featured a functional fitness challenge at historic Forsyth Park in the heart of Savannah, Georgia, which gave them the opportunity to see their son and his squad in action during a functional fitness challenge.
"With him being stationed in Alaska, we don't get to see him as often as we'd like, so we thought even if we just see this today [the fitness challenge], it would be worth coming down to cheer him on and support him," said Melissa.
This competition was the first time meeting Eric's squad; however, they had already heard about them from their son. Melissa said he tells them about how they support each other and have their own areas of expertise that they contribute to the team.
"It's been fun to meet them and see the cohesive team they've formed," said Melissa.
Tom said that his son explained how members of his squad evolved from being individuals into a team after training together.
“You can talk about the platoon, the battalion, or brigade…but it all comes down to that squad,” said Tom.
Melissa noticed her son had always been determined and goal-oriented, and she saw that serving in the Army as part of a squad helped Eric understand the importance of being part of a team.
Eric knew his parents would come support him, but they were more engaged with the event than he expected.
“I wasn’t expecting them to come in this capacity, networking with everybody,” he said. “I think it’s really exciting for them to be here. I know my dad is very proud of his service to the country, so I feel like him seeing me is awesome for him.”
Eric went to college first, but he said he joined the Army because he has a “patriotic bone.”
“At first, I wasn’t expecting to join the Army, but then I graduated college and figured I didn’t have a whole lot of years left to push myself physically and mentally like I do here, and I feel like this is just a great opportunity to do that,” he said.
Eric credits the Army for developing him by introducing him to so many unique perspectives, disciplines and other more minute things that can still shape people. As they prepared for the competition, Eric’s squad trained and spent time together, and he feels like a physically and mentally taxing competition like the Best Squad Competition brings people together even more.
“I’m really lucky to be a part of something this big, getting to represent my command, my division and the Army as a whole,” Eric said.
His parents are inspired by all the Soldiers they saw during the competition, serving their country and being a family.
“It’s a great atmosphere right now [at the competition], and seeing what these guys are going through…how brutal is that?” Tom said after watching the physical challenge that his son was about to participate in. “And they're not doing it because they have to; they’re doing it because they want to.”