By Rob McIlvaineOctober 8, 2011
FORT LEE, Va. (Army News Service, Oct. 7, 2011) -- Twenty-six of the Army's elite warriors -- representing 13 commands -- have culminated four days of the Army's Best Warrior Competition here after completing urban warfare simulations, board interviews, physical fitness tests, essays, warrior tasks and battle drills relevant in today's operating environment.
The event, which names the Army's Soldier and Noncommissioned Officer of the Year, is overseen by Sgt. Maj. of the Army Ray Chandler.
Also showing up to oversee some of the week's activities were Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh and Director of Army Staff at the Pentagon Lt. Gen. William J. Troy.
"These are some of our best Soldiers and noncommissioned officers throughout the whole Army," Troy said.
"To get to see them here in this challenging training environment, you get to see how good they are, their skills, motivation, leadership, and their team building ability. It all sort of comes together here, and the setting and the conditions are exactly right because these great noncommissioned officers who put this together, they know what they're doing, they know how to put together a good training event, so the competitors themselves are learning about good training, just by going through this," he said.
Specifically, competitors are assessed by their breadth and depth of knowledge on areas such as military leadership and counseling, current events, U.S. Army history, tactical communications, survival, battle-focused training, weapons, U.S. government and the Constitution, land navigation, the NCO Creed, history, and myriad other focus areas.
Warriors selected to compete for the prestigious titles have mastered a series of achievements throughout the year to qualify for the Best Warrior Competition.
Warriors for Soldier of the Year include the ranks of private through specialist, and warriors for NCO of the Year include the ranks of corporal through sergeant first class. All Army active-duty, National Guard and Army Reserve Soldiers are eligible to compete.
On Thursday, before 5 a.m., the warriors were already in place to be tested during a first aid scenario where they were expected to show expertise in evaluating casualties, treating common combat injuries such as preventing and controlling shock, burns, head injuries, and open wounds; transporting casualties; requesting medical evacuation and coordinating medical activity support.
Smoke, explosions, sirens, and gun fire filled the air, as "victims" screamed for help.
"We took a direct hit from mortar fire and sustained many casualties on the flight line," explained the noncommissioned officer in charge of the event, adding that an evaluator was with each Soldier as he provided medical aid to the casualties.
With the sun still not up, the 26 warriors were transported to the next event where they performed maintenance on four weapons while under fire by insurgents.
"Last year, it was not really a scenario, just a timed event," said 1st Sgt. LaDerek Green, operations sergeant major for the competition.
"This scenario deals with what would happen if they were in a combat outpost, forward operating base, and they were being overrun by an insurgent force. So, they'll be evaluated on their abilities to maneuver their fire teams, direct fire and ultimately (maintain, or) disassemble and assemble their weapons under combat conditions," Green said.
Sgt. 1st Class Pratt, noncommissioned officer in charge, or NCOIC, for the event, briefed them on what was expected, something that happened prior to every event.
"Alright warriors, once everyone is linked up with their evaluator, you will get the evaluator's command to move out to the primary position of phase-line green," Pratt explained. "Once everyone's at phase-line green, you will have five minutes to maintain the M-2."
"When everyone's on line, I'm going to initiate the staff process with one single blast of an air horn. Everyone tracking? When everyone's done, around the perimeter, you'll get two blasts of an air horn. That will be your signal to move back to your secondary position at phase line yellow. There you'll have three minutes to maintain the M-249."
"When everyone's done around the perimeter, move to phase line red. You'll have three minutes to maintain the M-16. When everyone's done around the perimeter (you'll move again) and you'll have three minutes to maintain the M-9," he said.
If they made contact with the enemy in any phase of this operation, he said, it would be the fire team that engaged the enemy with direct fire.
"You'll continue your primary mission of maintaining the weapon. Should the enemy breach the final protective line, it will not be you, it will be your fire team that engages and subdues the enemy with hand-to-hand combat."
"Do I have any questions," he asked.
As the games began, paint balls started flying from insurgent weapons. As the warriors moved back to their final position, insurgents snuck up and grabbed one of the team members and pulled them back.
Sgt. 1st Class Terace Simmons had the job of being one of those insurgents. Dressed in a warm, black, and well-padded outfit, she had the opportunity to grab one of the warriors.
"Once they go to the final stage, we're supposed to come from behind and grab one of the firing team personnel and pull them back until they notice they're missing a partner, until they turn around and notice that they're missing someone. I only got one until one of the others got up and came toward me and they killed me so I fell on the ground," Simmons said, smiling at the fun she had in the training.
One of the jobs of the NCOIC and their evaluators was to ensure the realism of each event.
During the third lane of the day, Staff Sgt. Kevin Bigman, an evaluator, explained that the warriors had gotten a tip that explosives were being made in a warehouse.
"So they'll come in and meet one enemy here at the door and they'll come inside and find another one and they got to fight them off, detain them," he said.
But not everyone got into character and gave real resistance to the warriors.
Bigman showed them how to respond after the first team came through by gathering the well-padded insurgents together.
"Push me, push me," he told one of them. "When I try to get back up, you take me out. But some of you were all like this (he reacted passively to show them how they allowed themselves to be shoved down) Really? Really? You were told to lay down. What did you do? You went and got down. This is part of role play. You got out of character. Don't get out of character."
"Some of them are going to be really aggressive. That's why they're here," he said.
One of the "insurgents" said that he got hit in the face with the butt of a rifle.
"That's a no-go, Bigman said. "They aren't following instructions and we have to watch that, too."
Two role players were enjoying themselves as they sold goods in the street to the Soldiers passing through their town.
"We're acting like Afghans, but we had to learn how to act to create the realism," said Pvt. Brenda Mantano who had completed advance individual training, or AIT, but was now awaiting orders to his first duty station.
Pvt. Crystal Kruz, also awaiting orders, had a smile on her face.
"Today has really been a learning opportunity for us. Brenda and I both feel like we've learned what life is like in Afghanistan and appreciate the opportunity to understand what the roles of the local people and the Soldiers are," she said.
One sergeant major said that the role players, most of whom were from AIT, get a certain amount of confidence.
"When they PCS to their permanent station, they'll have seen something that's the closest to combat as they will probably see from a home-station training perspective," he said.
Of the teams going through the village, he said, they must maintain calmness under fire and under stress.
"So many people are dependent upon a small squad to go in and clear this village and get the bad guy to make this a safer place for the locals in their homes," he said.
But the key thing, he said, from the point of a training perspective is to ensure the highest level of stress is maintained because it's important to teach the warriors to be calm and ensure the team is successful.
"It's great training going on here (and) different goals are being met -- (but the main one is) -- we're finding the best of our best," said Troy.
Spc. Thomas M. Hauser, U.S. Army Forces Command, is a military policeman at Fort Drum, N.Y.
"I feel pretty good. We're all a little tired right now because we didn't get much sleep last night, but that just puts more stress on us today to see how we react to things.
"I feel like I'm doing pretty good, I mean, (they're) all great competitors so competition is going to be very hard. But so far I think I'm doing the best I can, giving 110 percent. That's all I can do," Hauser said.
Staff Sgt. Ilker Irmak, U.S. Army Medical Command, is an optical laboratory specialist at General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital. His long-term goal is to become the first medical sergeant major of the Army.
"I'm originally from Turkey (and) lived most of my life in Kaiserslautern, Germany (until) I immigrated to America in April 2002.
"I've been in the Army for seven years and I've tried to realize my full potential by learning from people and utilizing all the resources available to me," Irmak said.
The awards will be presented by Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli and Chandler during a luncheon on Monday at the Association of the U.S. Army annual meeting and exposition at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C.