FORT BENNING, Ga. - The Soldiers of Company B, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, are part of a proud lineage. As the company that was once led by Audie Murphy, the Soldiers of Baker Company work hard to meet the expectations that many of their peers place on them.

"The Soldiers of this company love training," said Capt. William Cordell, Company B's commander. "They aren't a group that likes sitting idle. They want to be out in the field shooting weapons."

That drive to train and become better was evident April 15, when four of their noncommissioned officers stood out from their peers and represented their unit at the graduation of two specialty schools and the Army's Best Ranger competition.

After three months of intensive train-up, Sgt. 1st Class Oracio Pena and Sgt. Eric Whitehead both knew that the 28th annual Best Ranger would be a grueling ordeal, but both competitors entered with hopes of winning personal glory and setting good examples to the young infantrymen of Baker Company.

The intensity of the event forced Whitehead to pull out of the competition with a heat injury, but his commander stressed that his NCOs' presence in the event was positive.

"Both of them sacrificed a lot of personal time to get ready for that event," he said. "They were the only team that stepped up to represent not only this brigade, but the 3rd Infantry Division as a whole. Just competing in that competition set them apart. Regardless of where they finished, I'm proud that both of them stepped up and took on the challenge."

Whitehead isn't making excuses for having to drop out.

"There isn't a more humbling experience than trying and failing at something," he said. "Obviously, I hoped I would perform better, but I think it will make me a better leader. Here in this company we expect perfection, but we don't always achieve it. Failing at something just makes me work harder."

Staff Sergeant Raymond Cotrell understands what his fellow NCO means about failing and using that as motivation to get better. When he first attended the Army's Master Gunner course in April 2010, he did not graduate.

"I was crushed when I didn't make it, but I was glad to get the chance to go back," he said. "It is not an easy school, but this time I was more aware of what to expect."

By graduating, Staff Sgt. Cotrell is excited about the knowledge that he will be able to share with the Soldiers of Baker Company.

"I saved everything from the course," he said. "With all of the materials the course provided, I'm so much better prepared to put together classes and get everyone ready for gunnery."

Sergeant John Gardner went to Pathfinder school ready to learn as much as he could.

"I was studying for the course two weeks before I actually went to it," he said. "Our company leadership really made sure I knew what to expect, but it was still a hard course. During the course, all of my free time was spent studying and learning. I had, maybe, an hour of down time a day. The rest of it was spent studying and getting ready for the next day."

Sergeant Gardner and Staff Sgt. Cotrell's company commander couldn't be prouder of his Soldiers.
"Both of them developed themselves as Soldiers in Pathfinder and Master Gunner Schools; which will allow them to mentor and impart their knowledge to the team at Baker Company," said Capt. Cordell. "We are training for any mission that we may be called to do. A well rounded unit must equip itself; not only with weapons, but with tactical and technical knowledge."

Sergeant Gardner, who is preparing to go to Ranger school, said that the schools being offered to himself and the other Soldiers of Baker Company are strong motivators.

"As a company, our leaders are encouraging guys to go to schools from the top all the way down to the platoon level," he said. "They understand, and are helping our Soldiers to understand, that these schools make them better and more well-rounded Soldiers."

Staff Sergeant Cotrell insists that his role as a noncommissioned officer puts him in a unique position to influence his Soldiers.

"Our job, as NCOs, is to make our Soldiers the best they can be at their jobs," he said. "These guys not only gain knowledge when they go to these schools, they gain a greater confidence in their ability to perform their duties. They give our Soldiers a tremendous sense of accomplishment and really develops them as Soldiers and people."