By James BrabenecMay 17, 2012
FORT SILL, Okla.-- Eight 31st Air Defense Artillery Brigade Soldiers won all eight individual areas of expertise at Blackjack Warrior Week April 30 through May 4 at Fort Bliss, Texas.
The competition pitted Soldiers from the four brigades under the 32nd Army Air and Missile Defense Command. They faced off in a full spectrum of tasks a warrior would be expected to do, said Capt. Tarik Jones, 31st ADA.
Competing categories were officer, NCO, Soldier, Equal Opportunity liaison, career counselor, and culinary arts senior and junior chefs.
Staff Sgt. Matthew Seelig, Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 31st ADA, said the clean sweep by a single brigade was a first in the annual competition.
Though only eight competed, Jones said a contingent of sponsors and key leaders accompanied the team to Fort Bliss and helped keep morale high throughout the competition.
"Having brigade members with us, helping us between events and giving their moral and physical support throughout made a big difference," he said.
The brigade's sweep is perhaps even more amazing considering no ongoing results were posted from day to day. Seelig said they found out how well they placed when everyone else did at the awards ceremony May 4.
Each day's competition consisted of both mental and physical challenges. An example of the mental challenge was a Soldier's board, such as one might see at a quarterly awards competition or promotion. Board members fired off questions about the full range of Army topics.
To test the body, Soldiers faced obstacle courses, physical training tests or weapons firing drills.
Despite the challenges, Jones said the competition wasn't too difficult, because the team prepared well prior to heading to Fort Bliss.
"We had a very rigorous training regimen that the brigade put together to prepare for the competition," he said.
Spc. Chad Puterbaugh, D Battery, 3rd Battalion, 2nd ADA, said the team trained as a group putting in extra hours of physical training and studying with their peers.
"We would quiz each other throughout the day, and it became fun event to say, "Hey [Spc. Ladasha] Simmons, do you know what the FM is in land navigation?'" he said. "Sometimes we would combine a physical training requirement with questions to help jog everyone's memory."
Team chemistry also factored in as Jones said members developed a camaraderie and desire to push themselves further then they might face in the competition.
"Once we arrived at Fort Bliss, everyone was prepared," he said. "It was just a matter of execution."
Each Soldier completed an urban orienteering course across post in "full battle rattle," including ballistic plates. The course required an individual Soldier, with no outside assistance, to move from point to point as they would in a land navigation exercise within a required time.
The difficulty only escalated as the mercury climbed up thermometers into the 90s.
Puterbaugh said the dryer air and nearly 4,000-foot elevation took their toll on him.
"It was good we prepared for that, because navigating that terrain over roads and around buildings was extremely difficult and taxing on the body," said Puterbaugh.
Full gear in this instance included body armor that weighed about 20-30 pounds, a Kevlar helmet, and, of course, a Camelbak.
"I drank the whole thing in the 90 minutes it took me to complete the course and then drained a few sports drinks that were offered at the finish line," said Puterbaugh.
The extra time and effort the team members put in preparing for the competition factored in again as he relied on that endurance and resilience to move throughout the course at a steady rhythm.
"I jogged one to two minutes then walked a minute and alternated that," he said. "A pace like that I could go all day, well below the three-hour time limit."
Instead, Puterbaugh's fleet finish earned him bonus points. Afterward, he felt dehydrated and exhausted, but competition planners gave him four hours down time before the night time navigation event. For any Soldiers who relies on his or her feet to get from Point A to B, he used those hours constructively.
"I took a nap," he said, with a laugh.
Sgt. Derek Miller, 31st ADA senior chef, probably wasn't laughing after beginning the senior chef competition.
"I had an idea of what I intended to prepare, but when I saw my basket of ingredients I realized I'd have to do something else- that was nerve wracking," he said.
Compounding this uncertainty, Miller didn't supervise other Soldiers cooking, as he would in his duties at the Staff Sgt. Juan Garcia dining facility on Fort Sill. It was all on him to slice, dice and cook his meal.
"For me it was like going back to my roots as a military chef," he said.
Training kicked in as he prepared his vegetables and meats for cooking. While chopping and dicing, ideas popped into his head first to create a Caribbean salsa to accompany broiled trout for an appetizer, then a rissotto with shiitake mushrooms followed by bread pudding for dessert.
Cooking isn't just something Miller does for a paycheck, he said he is passionate about what he creates and confirmation of his ideas began to circulate throughout the kitchen.
"As my dishes neared completion the aromas convinced me I did good," he said.
Though he didn't present the meal to the judges, the feedback he received suggested he served three happy diners, too.
"The team far exceeded any of our expectations, and it was more rewarding watching the Soldiers compete and win than it was winning myself," said Jones. "The growth I witnessed was very rewarding considering the adversity and challenges each one overcame."
The NCO and Soldier of the year winners will continue on to Fort Bragg, N.C., for the Forces Command annual competition.
On behalf of his team members, Seelig gave his thanks to everyone throughout the brigade for their support and encouragement.
"The amount of resources and time we were given to prepare for this made a huge difference," he said.
For Jones, who treads a different path than his enlisted teammates, the competition is something he said will stay with him for the rest of his life.
"It's very rare to go through a competition like this as an officer," he said. "To have this experience, learn the things I did and train with these Soldiers will help me better understand and lead Soldiers in the future."
Other team members not mentioned above were Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Johnston, Staff Sgt. Kevin Davis and Pfc. Vaidehe Shah.