WASHINGTON — With the Georgia heat bearing down on them, Sgt. Jake Phillips and members of 3rd Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, struggled to finish the final leg of the 2023 Army Best Squad Competition’s first phase in September.
Still, the Soldiers had confidence in one another as they carried 35-pound rucks for 15 miles in the woods of Fort Stewart, Georgia. The Soldiers operated on only two hours of sleep and endured food deprivation. Fortunately, the squad boasted some of the most physically-fit Soldiers in the Army including Spc. Chancellor McGuire, who had the highest physical training test scores among all 60 competitors.
They had also competed and trained together for at least three years and some members even deployed together. Knowing his team’s robust fitness levels, Phillips wanted to push his squad to its limits.
The fire team leader learned that slowing their speed during the march actually helped his squad find the endurance needed to secure victory.
“I was always wanting to push the pace past what I think we’re capable of as a squad,” said Phillips, 25. “I was wanting to put more gas when it should have been more brakes. That was personally more challenging.”
Phillips’ guidance helped his 75th Ranger Regiment, U.S. Army Special Operations Command squad win the 2023 U.S. Army Best Squad of the Year award. Phillips, a native of West Chester, Pennsylvania, took Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year honors. McGuire, who hails from Austin, Texas, won Soldier of the Year.
“I think the key for us to win was we’ve all been working together for years,” Philips said. “We all know each other pretty well.”
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael R. Weimer presented the awards in a ceremony at the 2023 Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington, D.C. today. Soldiers from Army Medical Command finished in second place while the Army Pacific Command squad took third.
McGuire said keeping the goal in sight helped his squad weather through the endurance march.
“It was the last day of the competition. You can do anything for however long you tell yourself you can,” he said.
The 24-year-old McGuire credited his squad leaders and company commanders with helping mold him into a more capable special operations Soldier.
“It means I’m doing something right,” McGuire said of winning Soldier of the Year. “I took a lot from my team leaders coming up, my squad leaders. I took in everything that they have taught me … I’ve kind of become a sponge, so really I’m an image of them.”
The Army revamped its former Best Warrior contest two years ago into the Best Squad Competition to encourage a greater focus on team building and unit cohesion.
This year’s contest, executed by 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, featured another incentive. While competing, the participants could simultaneously earn their special skills certifications: the Expert Infantry Badge, awarded to Soldiers in infantry and Special Forces units; the Expert Soldier Badge, given to Soldiers who are not in infantry, Special Forces and medical branches; or the Expert Field Medical Badges, earned by outstanding medical technicians.
Twelve, five-person squads competed in the first phase of the competition during 10 grueling days at Fort Stewart.
The Soldiers went on ruck marches, completed exercises and did battle drills across more than 200,000 acres of land. The Soldiers engaged in land navigation, operated in urban areas and rucked from each destination. They learned to operate while sleep-deprived, while also taking part in night exercises.
During the competition’s final phase, the competitors travelled to Washington D.C. to be interviewed and evaluated by senior leaders.
McGuire said that his squad, which also includes Staff Sgt. Andrew Ewing, Spc. George Mascharka, and Spc. Shane Moon, finished first because of the bonds that the Soldiers share during and outside of duty. The Soldiers know each other’s families. They work out together and spend time studying in coffee shops.
The USASOC Soldiers faced stiff competition, particularly from the MEDCOM squad of Sgt. Jaime Padilla, Spc. Axxel Pasos, Sgt. 1st Class Kaleb Richardson, Spc. Robert Rupers and Christopher Trejo.
“My squad is the best squad,” said McGuire, a fire team leader. “We achieved something that we set our hearts and minds to, but at the end of the day we came out on top.”