FORT A.P. Hill, Va. (Army News Service) — Soldiers competing at the Best Warrior competition for NCO of the Year and Soldier of the Year have already excelled, winning in previous months at competitions from the company and battalion level all the way to the brigade and command levels.
But at this final Department of the Army level, they are not only competing against the best of the Army’s best, they’re also competing at events they have never prepared for, said a cadre member of the U.S. Army Asymmetrical Warfare Group, or AWG, here.
Sgt. 1st Class Jerry Burghardt, leadership development NCO for Best Warrior, said this type of training requires thinking out of the box. When he was a young Soldier, he said, very little training was available because he was constantly deployed. “Training is much more important now,” he said.
All of the Best Warrior competitors said they trained physically as well as mentally, but some of the events they never anticipated.
One such event, which had no name and took place Sept. 27, involved climbing a very narrow cable ladder up a tower to a fourth-story window, which the Soldiers had to climb through and then cross to the other side and fire their carbines at a number of targets about 300 meters away on the ground.
SSG NICK BOGERT
Staff Sgt. Nick Bogert, one of the competitors, said the tower event was challenging because he had never done anything like it before.
The ladder was so narrow, he and others could barely get a boot in each rung, so it was a struggle for everyone. “It took you out of your comfort zone,” he said. “Once you got to the top you are huffing and puffing pretty good.”
Since Bogert is a drill sergeant out of Fort Sill, Oklahoma, he shoots all the time. But climbing that ladder caused him to breathe heavily, since the event was timed and called for great speed.
Breathing affects trigger control, he explained, so “you have to try to control your breathing. You can actually tell how hard you’re breathing because your sights are going up and down.”
Bogert and the other competitors, as of Sept. 27, were in day two of their five-day competition.
Thus far, the Soldiers have been tested at day and night land navigation, taken an Army Physical Fitness Test, written an essay, run an obstacle course and completed a two-and-one-half mile buddy run.
The Best Warrior competition organizers will not reveal who is ahead in points and what events the next two days will bring.
The physical aspect thus far for Bogert has been pretty smooth, because he said as a drill sergeant, he marches his platoons about 20 miles per day to the chow hall, ranges, training classrooms and elsewhere.
Staff Sgt. Joseph Gonzales, Operations Group, National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California, said that, unlike Bogert, he doesn’t get the physical training he needs on his job, so he must supplement it with his own PT program off duty. On a day-to-day basis, he grades rotating units coming through NTC on their tactical proficiency. There’s not a lot of physical activity involved.
In previous assignments, he said, he has served in mechanized, air assault and Stryker units, which means he has had to adapt to new training and missions about once every three years. However, the AWG has provided unique training events at the competition that he has never experienced before.
The experience, he added, has been phenomenal. He hopes to share what he has learned with his Soldiers when he returns to NTC.
Spc. Alejandero Contreras, 66th Military Intelligence Brigade, Weisbaden, Germany, said almost none of the events, except for the APFT, are ever done by Military Intelligence Soldiers. Like Gonzales, he too hopes to take away lessons learned and share them with his Soldiers.
Staff Sgt. Dirk Omerzo said that for him, winning at the lower unit levels of Best Warrior competitions has been a humbling experience, “because you know you’re representing other Soldiers and your unit.”
He added that, “although we’re competing against other Soldiers, there’s a lot of camaraderie. A lot of the NCOs and Soldiers are helping each other out. It’s almost like they’re competing against the competition and not against each other. I’ve seen that at every level.”
Omerzo is an instructor at the NCO Academy at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania. He is a member of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard’s 166th Infantry Regiment.
Spc. Trey Castor is an infantryman with 1st Training Battalion, Army Special Operations Command. He spoke while preparing to do day and night land navigation Tuesday, Sept. 27, from 5 to 10 p.m., with the objective of locating as many markers in the dense woods as possible.
His advice for youngsters who are thinking about a career in the Army and other young Soldiers is to work as a team, play team sports, “and try to live your life by Army Values.”
Staff Sgt. Clint Bahme, representing Special Operations Command, also spoke just prior to the land navigation course.
Asked what it takes to win this or any other competitions, he replied, “It takes a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck. You can do anything you like as long as you put in the time and effort.”
Asked who his mentor was who coached him on that philosophy, he replied, “My dad, who is a cattle rancher in California. He’s the hardest working person I’ve ever known.”