ARLINGTON, Va. – Under the oppressive Georgia heat and humidity, 12 squads from throughout the Army — including a squad representing the Army National Guard — battled it out at Fort Stewart Sept. 29-Oct. 6 in the 2023 U.S. Army Best Squad Competition to earn the titles of Best Squad, Soldier of the Year, and Noncommissioned Officer of the Year.
Winners were announced Oct. 10 at the annual Association of the United States Army convention in Washington. All three titles went to a squad with the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, representing U.S. Army Special Operations Command. Though the Army Guard squad didn’t take home the top honors, participating in the competition brought its own rewards.
“We are in an amazing organization here,” said Spc. Luke Harrison of the Army Guard squad. “And it’s cool to see people from all over the organization, all over the world come together. We have a common goal, a common language, and we can compete, but also, you know, share that camaraderie.”
Squads participated in ruck marches and battle drills and demonstrated land navigation, and tactical and technical skills — all while operating together as a squad day and night across more than 200,000 acres of land, with limited sleep and food.
“I think the amount of physicality, and that compiled with a lack of sleep and possibly a lack of proper nutrition, can create a compounding effect of fatigue,” said Sgt. Quentin Holden, with C Company, 1st Battalion, 106th Aviation Regiment, Georgia Army National Guard, and part of the Army Guard squad. “So, that scared me a little bit.”
But Holden and the rest of the squad persevered.
“If I had to pick a word to describe my team, I think I would choose unrelenting,” he said.
This year’s competition also included testing on special skill certifications. Participants could earn either the Expert Infantry Badge, awarded to infantry and Special Forces Soldiers; the Expert Soldier Badge, earned by non-infantry or Special Forces Soldiers; or the Expert Field Medical Badge, awarded to Soldiers in medical career fields.
Harrison, a radar operator with the 115th Field Artillery Brigade, Wyoming Army National Guard, was a little nervous about the badge testing’s physical fitness assessment, which included a mile run, a 100-meter sprint, sandbag toss, jerry can carry, individual movement lanes, and another one-mile run. Participants were scored on completing the assessment in a specified time.
“I was trying to break my personal record,” he said. And he did.
“I was excited about that,” he said. “Beat it [his old record] by about 40 seconds. So that’s a big deal for me.”
Many of the competition’s physical and mental challenges weren’t new to the squad members. The path to Best Squad began with testing at the unit level and again at the higher headquarters level. State and regional competitions followed before the 2023 Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition, hosted by the Alaska Army National Guard at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in July.
Each earned their place on the Best Squad team based on their performance at the Best Warrior Competition.
For Harrison, getting through all that meant focusing on one task at a time.
“You know, really, what’s on my mind is just keep things simple,” he said. “[Focus on] one event at a time.”
Harrison and his squad weren’t the only Army Guard members to compete in this year’s Best Squad Competition. A squad with C Company, 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 116th Cavalry Regiment, Idaho Army National Guard, represented U.S. Army Forces Command. That squad was selected after winning the U.S. Army Central Best Squad Competition and the FORSCOM competition while deployed to the Middle East.
That deployment experience helped prepare the squad for the all-Army competition.
“We just came off of deployment together, and because of that, we just know each other well and we work well together,” said Staff Sgt. Joshua Hutchins, squad leader of the FORSCOM squad.
It’s not the first time an Army Guard unit has represented FORSCOM in the competition. A squad with the 1st Squadron, 153rd Cavalry Regiment, Florida Army National Guard, represented the command last year.
For many, the competitors themselves helped increase motivation.
“Just being around these Soldiers motivates me and gets me fired up,” said Command Sgt. Maj. John Raines, command sergeant major of the Army Guard. “That’s why I tell everybody it’s the best part of the year and the best Soldiers to hang out with just because of what they bring into the competitive space.”
Motivation aside, the competition strengthens readiness. Competitors often pass on the expertise they develop to others in their units.
“They’re building that cohesiveness that is essential to winning, and winning matters to the Army,” said Raines. “You must be a cohesive team to win and be proficient in all your battle drills and individual Soldier tasks. All those things feed into the collective tasks, and our mission-essential tasks enable us to destroy the enemy, which is our piece of the joint fight.”
For Hutchins, it all comes down to the challenge.
“What motivates me to be here is challenging myself,” he said. “I love to see what it is I truly am capable of, and doing this competition, getting your group of five guys together and tackling complex challenges together is a perfect way to do so.”