Four Sustainment Soldiers are among the 22 individuals competing for the titles of U.S. Army Noncommissioned Officer or Soldier of the Year at Fort A.P. Hill and the Pentagon this week.
The Transportation Corps is represented by Sgt. Grant Reimers, an Army National Guard motor transport operator with the 1859th Transportation Light-Medium Truck Company, Reno, Nev.; and Spc. Kenny Ochoa, an Army Reserve watercraft operator with the 481st Transportation Company (Heavy Boat), Guatemala City, Guatemala.
The Quartermaster Corps is represented by Spc. Charles Record, a parachute rigger with the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment, Fort Benning, Ga.; and Pfc. Robert Nelson, a petroleum supply specialist with the 688th Rapid Port Opening Element, Fort Eustis.
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel Dailey is overseeing the 16th annual Best Warrior Competition that started Saturday with the arrival of candidate Soldiers from 11 commands around the world. These individuals are considered “the best of the best,” according to the BWC website. In addition to winning qualifying competitions at the unit, post and command level, the nominees have “demonstrated their commitment to Army values, embody the Warrior Ethos and represent the Force of the Future.”
BWC is notorious for mentally and physically exhausting tasks fraught with surprise elements that competitors must react to without prior preparation.
“(I will be) putting them in very uncomfortable situations multiple times,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jerod Burghardt, lead organizer for the competition, before the event got underway. “What I don't want them to do is to worry about what we're grading, rather than do what they think is right.”
Throughout the contest, candidates are challenged with physical fitness assessments, written exams, urban warfare simulations and other warrior tasks and battle drills. They also face tough questions from some of the Army’s most-senior enlisted leaders, including Dailey, during an evaluation board appearance at the Pentagon.
“(BWC) is about readiness,” Dailey observed. “These Soldiers are faced with dynamic tasks, which they must work through as leaders. It isn’t about book answers or board questions, because anyone can memorize those. It’s about leadership, knowledge, skills and abilities.”
Burghardt noted how the ambiguity of this year’s competition was “intentionally ramped up” with fluid combat-related scenarios to ensure the quick-thinking, forward-leaning Soldiers were singled out and recognized.
“You can get a 10,000 on your PT test and hit the extended scale three times over,” Burghardt expounded. “But is that what the Army identifies as the best Soldier and NCO? Is it the guy or gal who can just do a task, or a guy or gal who can think through the process, know when to do the task, how to do the task and what to do after the task?”
Last year, Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Moeller, then an Army Reservist representing the 108th Training Command (Initial Entry Training), captured the NCO award in Best Warrior. He described the feelings and emotions he went through during his climb to the top.
“Throughout the process, I really enjoyed getting out there, getting mud on my face and just testing myself to see where I was at in terms of my skills and abilities,” he said.
As a BWC candidate, he worked hard at not letting the extra attention the competition receives become a distraction.
“As the level gets higher, the pressure mounts,” he said. “There are more eyeballs on you, but I was able to shut that out for the most part and just focus on the next task."
One of the most challenging events for him was the land navigation course at Fort A.P. Hill. He called the journey over steep terrain “a monster” that started in the daylight, but later had Soldiers navigating over long distances in the dark.
“All of the movements were super long through swamps and up steep slopes,” he recalled. “I know it’s called A.P. Hill because it’s named after somebody, but ‘hill’ is definitely the operative word when it comes to that place and Best Warrior.”
Moeller recalled the lack of sleep he and his challengers endured during those long days of the competition, and said a combination of confidence, internal pep talks and “understanding the big picture” became key to sanity and survival.
“I tended to use humor to combat any negativity,” he said. “I think not taking one’s self too seriously can be a benefit in these situations. What good is it to lose your cool every time the going gets tough? You have to be able to laugh at the things that seem really daunting (and) find humor in the chaos while being able to stay focused. It’s all part of resiliency.”
After he won, Moeller found himself humbly representing the entire Army at various events. He also accepted an active-duty position to work as a travel coordinator for Dailey, which gives him rare access to the Army's top senior-enlisted leader.
“Working directly for the Sergeant Major of the Army after winning the competition has been an eye-opener,” he said. “I can tell you from daily interactions with him that he is a huge believer in the Chief of Staff of the Army’s No. 1 priority – readiness, and the Best Warrior Competition is one of the pure distillations of that concept.”
As in the past, whoever wins this year must exemplify readiness and be a role model other Soldiers can emulate. During the in-processing brief at last year’s competition, Moeller recalled Dailey summing this up perfectly for him.
“When we put you up there on a stage and tell everybody this is the Non-commissioned Officer of the Year for the United States Army,” he said, quoting Dailey, “Soldiers need to be able to believe it.”
Dailey also acknowledged readiness is the intent of the competition and offered his advice to this year’s competitors and those who will compete in the future.
“In order to succeed,” he said, “these Soldiers have to demonstrate a high level of fitness, discipline and ability to perform under stress, and the leadership abilities necessary to take charge of Soldiers in combat.
“Ultimately,” he added, “we are here to fight and win our nation’s wars.”
The winners of the 2017 Best Warrior Competition will be announced during the SMA luncheon Monday at the Association of the U.S. Army's annual conference in Washington, D.C. A live broadcast of the event can be viewed at http://www.dvidshub.net/.
Additional stories, photos and updates from the competition can be viewed at https://www.army.mil/bestwarrior/index.html.