FORT LEE, Va. (July 30, 2009) – In the seven years that the U.S. Army “Best Warrior” Competition has been held at Fort Lee, the host installation has never had a representative competing in the event.
That’s about to change.
Sgt. Lauren Aldaco, a military policewoman assigned to the 217th Military Police Detachment, was the best of three other contestants in the Training and Doctrine Command-level of the competition held July 20-22 at Forts Monroe and Eustis.
The victory allows her to compete in the 2009 U.S. Army Soldier/Noncommissioned Officer of the Year “Best Warrior” Competition scheduled for Sept. 28 – Oct. 2 at Fort Lee.
Aldaco, a native of California, said she approached the competition with the intent to just do her best.
“I felt I would do well,” said the TRADOC Soldier of Year winner. “I had confidence in myself. I just didn’t know how they (her competitors) would do.”
The three other Soldiers who vied for the title were: Sgt. Jovan Luna, a chaplain assistant representing Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and the Combined Arms Center; Spc. Bailey Lee, a medical lab specialist representing Fort Sill, Okla., and the CAC; and Spc. Daniel Parker, an Army bandsman representing Fort Jackson, S.C., and U.S. Army Accessions Command.
All of the candidates agreed that one of the biggest challenges of the competition was the element of surprise. Only the Army Physical Fitness Test Monday morning was a foregone conclusion. Every other event was intentionally kept secret right up until the time each competitor was expected to complete the task.
“It not only increases the rigor of the competition, but also makes it more realistic,” said Command Sgt. Maj. David Bruner, TRADOC command sergeant major. “From day one in basic training, Soldiers are taught to think on their feet because you usually can’t predict what’s around that corner, especially in a combat environment. That’s the strength of a warrior … their ability to react quickly and do the right thing. That’s also what we look for in choosing the top Soldiers in TRADOC.”
The opening day of the TRADOC meet also included two written tasks – a 50-question, multiple-choice exam about general soldiering subjects and a pair of essays addressing specified topics like the handling of an ethics dilemma in the candidates’ lives and how it affected them personally, and what it means to be a leader of Soldiers or to join the Army during this time of war.
On day two of the competition, the nominees were on the road to Fort Eustis where a full day of field events lay ahead. It started with an “urban orienteering” exercise that not only tested the competitors’ knowledge of basic skills (setting up a radio and terrain association, for example) but also how quickly they could think on their feet when encountering dilemmas like suspicious activity by unknown individuals or the discovery of an improvised explosive device.
The day continued with a weapons qualification range, followed by warrior task testing. A small platoon of specially trained NCOs from Fort Eustis created scenarios that closely resembled the challenges any Soldier might face in today’s combat environment. At one station, the competitors had to search MOUT-site buildings for captured U.S. pilots. At another, they walked into a tent where multiple training dummies and role-playing Soldiers were sprawled across the floor with simulated injuries like sucking chest wounds and missing limbs.
The competitors were told to render immediate first aid and save as many lives as they could. There was also a security checkpoint where they conducted a vehicle and personnel search, and had to react to the discovery of an explosive device.
On day three of the TRADOC meet, each of the competing Soldiers appeared before a board comprised of first sergeants from Forts Monroe and Eustis and the TRADOC command sergeant major. Tested subjects included current events, the wear and appearance of the Army uniform, military leadership and counseling, the code of conduct, military justice, U.S. Army history, and a whole lot more.
“An eye-opening experience,” is how Aldaco summed up the overall competition. “It’s a reminder that all of the skills and experiences you gain in the Army are important, and you have to challenge yourself to take that next step toward being a better Soldier every day. Just go for it … don’t shy away because of that mistaken belief that you should never volunteer for anything.”
Aldaco described the moments leading up to the final announcement as “nerve-racking.” All morning long, she said she was second-guessing herself … “did I do as well as I could have here, did I mess up there?”
Gen. Martin Dempsey, TRADOC commanding general, and Bruner presented Aldaco and noncommissioned officer winner Sgt. 1st Class Corey King with trophies during an awards luncheon on the final day.
As the winner of the TRADOC competition, Aldaco has to focus on the Army wide event, where she’s sure to be the home team favorite.
“I need to work more on the battle drills,” she said. “I’ll have about two months to train so I hope I do well.”