Five days of grueling competition culminated in the announcement of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command’s 2016 Best Warrior Competition winners Sept. 1 at Gammon Field on Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.
Staff. Sgt. Nicholas Bogert, representing the U.S. Army Fires Center of Excellence, Fort Sill, Oklahoma, was named the 2016 TRADOC Noncommissioned Officer of the Year, while Spc. Kenneth Vice, representing the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence, Fort Benning, Georgia, was named the TRADOC Soldier of the Year.
“I was surprised, to be honest. I wasn’t expecting to win,” said Bogert, a Brown City, Michigan, native. “It was one of those things … you try to keep a good placement. Maybe (you don’t place) first all the time, but (if you take) second and third, you end up beating out (the competition) on points.”
Vice, a Lagoda, Indiana, native, also didn’t expect to win. He noted that the TRADOC competition helped him identify areas he needs to improve upon as he and Bogert now prepare to advance to the 15th annual Army Best Warrior Competition scheduled Sept. 26 to Oct. 3 at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia.
“I need to work on some things; hit the books a little bit, but I will be ready,” Vice said.
The runners up for the 2016 TRADOC Solider of the Year and NCO of the Year, respectively, were Spc. Robert Cobb, representing the U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence, Fort Huachuca, Arizona, and Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Frost, a North Carolina-based recruiter with U.S. Army Recruiting Command. They will compete at the Army Best Warrior Competition in the event Bogert or Vice are unable to attend.
The conclusion of the TRADOC competition seemed a world away from the time competitors arrived on Fort Leonard Wood Aug. 27. Almost immediately, they began a series of mental and physical tests under the scrutiny of NCOs judging their performance.
“From the time they hit the ground, to the time they just finished here a few minutes ago, they never stopped,” said Sgt. Maj. Richard Prater, Maneuver Support Center of Excellence G3/5/7 sergeant major. “We were also pressing on them; they had very little sleep; it was very physically and emotionally demanding. You could have not asked for a better group of competitors or a better place to do it than right here at Fort Leonard Wood.”
For Command Sgt. Maj. David Davenport Sr., TRADOC command sergeant major, the week was an opportunity to clearly demonstrate the professionalism and rigor expected of TRADOC Soldiers.
“It means that we recognize talent; we’re going to build on that, and return you back to the (operational) Army,” Davenport said. “The motto that we’re using is ‘Fit, Disciplined and Well Trained.’ Our TRADOC Soldiers are physically fit, disciplined, and we’ve seen by the great lanes that they’ve set up — the conditions — they’re well trained.”
Each day began with an equipment check, and each day ended with a medical screening and hydration test.
After arriving, going through in-processing and completing a written test on Aug. 27, competitors underwent height, weight and medical screenings, equipment inspections and completed written essays on Aug. 28.
The physical portion of the competition began in earnest Aug. 29, with competitors starting their day completing the Army Physical Fitness Test, followed by junior-enlisted and NCO oral boards and Army combatives competitions, followed by preliminary marksmanship instruction.
Competitors had to successfully zero the M4 rifle and, on Aug. 30, begin their day completing M4 qualification on the firing range. That was followed by an evacuation live-fire exercise and a land navigation event that afternoon that continued amid bouts of heavy rain late into the night.
Davenport was particularly impressed by the professionalism displayed on the land-navigation course.
“They all are eager to do well. They’re giving it their all,” he said. “(A) surprising outcome that I wasn’t expecting was teamwork — teamwork amongst the Soldiers competing and teamwork between the cadre to the Soldiers to help them be successful. No one wants them to fail anything. They want to make sure there is a clear understanding of the tasks, conditions, and standards and answer any questions that they may have, so that they can go out there and perform.”
On Aug. 31, competitors completed the Physical Endurance Course, then conducted a situational training exercise.
Only a few hours before the awards ceremony, competitors completed the final event of the competition: a 12-mile march across the often hilly and challenging terrain common to the Missouri Ozarks.
“Things went very well,” Prater said. “This was the first time in TRADOC’s history to host the Best Warrior Competition outside TRADOC’s own footprint. We had the opportunity to be able to showcase Fort Leonard Wood’s capabilities, its Soldiers, (and) the professionalism of Soldiers that supported it. I think we achieved that. We were given clear guidance about how to conduct the exercise from TRADOC, and we took it from there. We stepped up the ramp, and we didn’t let go.”
Fort Leonard Wood was the first installation to host the TRADOC Best Warrior Competition outside of the Virginia area for the past 13 years.
Davenport said the Maneuver Support Center of Excellence and Fort Leonard Wood team of more than 150 Soldiers and civilians, who created and ran various aspects of the competition, exceeded all expectations. He said that the installation fulfilled an early goal of competition planners: to take the event from a traditionally headquarters-centered activity to one that was, “out where the Soldiers are at.”
“The first place I thought of was here at Fort Leonard Wood, and you’re seeing the results of it: great training area, great support from the Soldiers running the lanes, community involvement — the community has actually reached out and held a reception for the Soldiers,” Davenport said. “It’s a win, win.”
Davenport also ensured that Fort Leonard Wood’s best practices would serve as a model for similar events at other installations.
“I had all of the command sergeants major in TRADOC and the centers of excellence to join us here this week to show how they can compare to what’s going at their installations to what is going on here,” Davenport said. “Many of them have come up to me and said, ‘Hey, I have an idea for what we can do at our installation,’ based on what’s going on here. Not only have the Soldiers benefitted, but the sergeants major have benefitted from all the great work that’s going on here.”
Davenport said he expects this year’s TRADOC winners to excel at the Army Best Warrior Competition. Described as the “Super Bowl” of Army competitions, 20 of the Army’s finest warriors, representing 10 commands from across the Army, will compete to become the Department of the Army’s Soldier and Noncommissioned Officer of the Year.
“My expectation is not that they win the Department of the Army competition,” he said. “Of course, that is an outcome that I would desire, but really it is for them to go forth and be that representation of the great Soldiers we have in TRADOC.”
(Editor’s note: GUIDON assistant editors Derek Gean, Matt Decker and Fort Leonard Wood Public Affairs Public Information chief Shatara Seymour contributed to this article.)