Old Guard Soldiers, Sgt. 1st Class Courtland Divine, Staff Sgt. Andrew Luksa and Spc. Paul Welte, competed against eight other Soldiers in this year's Military District of Washington Best Warrior competition, July 24-27, at Fort A.P. Hill, Va.
Like previous competitions, Soldiers were tested on their performance of the Army Physical Fitness Test [APFT], basic Army skills training lanes, weapons qualification, day and night land navigation, multiple choice and written exams and a military appearance board. However, this year's events were slightly altered to measure competitors' abilities to adapt and overcome as well as their mental and physical fortitude.
Kicking off the competition, Soldiers were administered an APFT which normally consists of timed push-ups, sit-ups and a two-mile run. However, for this PT test, a 60-yard progressive shuttle run and a standing long jump had been added. After finishing the test, Devine said he was surprised at the additional events.
"It definitely changes the dynamics and adds a little more in between the run. There is definitely a lot less down time," said Devine, Fife and Drum Corps section leader, referring to the lack of the ten-minute rest period Soldiers normally get prior to starting the two-mile run.
Devine wasn't the only Soldier taken aback by the unexpected. Welte said he wasn't anticipating the life-like mannequins at the training lane's medical station. The dummies, imitating what a real human casualty would feel like, weighed approximately 100 pounds more than the ones used in Combat Lifesaver training [CLS], the Army's basic first aid course.
"I was expecting the light dummies we use during CLS training," said Welte, food service specialist, 529th Regimental Support Company. "I actually had to work hard just to move [the dummy] around. It definitely felt like a real human being."
The Soldiers finished their first day of competition by preparing their weapons for the next round of events.
Competitors began the next day with marksmanship and reflexive fire ranges while also assessing their decision-making skills during a virtual range exercise. During the exercise, Soldiers were given a variety of scenarios and forced to choose whether the situation warranted lethal force.
"The training puts you out of your comfort zone," said Welte. "You have to make decisions on whether or not to use deadly force and you're alone so there is no one else to back you or assist you in the decision. It also teaches you just how important it is to control your emotions."
At 11:30 p.m., after completing the shooting portion of the competition and the day and night land navigation courses, the exhausted competitors tackled a 50-question test and a 600-word essay.
"It's stressful," said Luksa. "I absolutely wanted to go to bed but you can't relax until you get the job done."
On the last day, and after only four hours of sleep, competitors completed a 6-mile road march, a board appearance, a test on correctly inspecting a uniform and a mock scenario on how to interact with the media.
"It was a lot of physical activity followed by a lot of brain power, and by that time you are really tired and you are trying to compensate and over think everything," said Divine. "You have to cope and react to all the stress and the demands that are being placed on you."
Russell Blevins, Operations Specialist, Joint Force Headquarters - National Capital Region/ MDW, said the plan was for the Soldiers to be caught off guard and fatigued. Implementing these factors showed Soldiers the stressors they may encounter in combat.
Luksa and Devine admitted the theory worked.
"Even though we were tired, we didn't get to stop whenever we wanted," said Luksa.
"It's like a deployment, there is no rest until the mission is complete. These Soldiers who haven't deployed get a feel of what it's like to be in constant working mode."
"We had to be prepared for anything which is what we always should be able to do," Divine added.
Welte and Staff Sgt. Tyler Turner, human intelligence collector, 513th Military Intelligence Brigade, won the junior enlisted and noncommissioned officer categories. They will advance to compete in the Army-wide Best Warrior Competition, Oct. 15-18, at Fort Lee, Va.
"I'm pretty happy with myself," said Welte. "I'm glad I'm moving forward. I look forward to the next challenge and I'm prepared to start training even harder."