Sweat poured, and competitors fought nerves. The enduring pain of physical preparation and the hours of studying were now about to pay off or be for nothing.
After all they had been through, it was time to put up or shut up, and many soldiers had to stare down their greatest fear: It was time to face the sergeants major.
Members of the 518th Sustainment Brigade, 143rd Sustainment Command, gathered here Jan. 9-12 to vie for the title of Best Warrior. While each soldier came to compete, many never lost sight of what it means to be part of a team.
“I think we are going to rise to the nature of competition but still push each other to be better,” said Sgt. Chris Farris, a weapons repairman with the 175th Maintenance Support Co., 812th Transportation Battalion. “I’m going to be competitive, but I want to help others as well, regardless of the cost to me.”
In the competition among noncommissioned officers, the winning Best Warrior was quick to credit her fellow competitors. “Everybody that showed up gave it their all; they did their best,” said Staff Sgt. Janev Heng, an automated-logistics specialist with the 1006 Quartermaster Co.
The competition got harder each day, with the most challenging series of tasks coming on day three.
This day brought the highest number of events and drove the pace of the competition up a bit. The day started before dawn, with soldiers drawing weapons at 4:30 a.m.
All eight competitors stepped off on a 10-kilometer ruck march before the sun was up. Each soldier had to carry a 40-pound sandbag in his or her ruck. With rain falling for the second straight day, this was even harder than when conditions are ideal.
“It feels much heavier than that,” said Sgt. William C. Blankenship, a transportation-management coordinator with Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 812th Transportation Battalion. “Once this stuff gets wet, it turns to mud and really weighs you down.”
“The ruck for me was the hardest,” Heng said. “It’s grueling on your body.”
The winner of the Best Warrior junior enlisted title was Pfc. Nathan B. Jackson, a petroleum-supply specialist for the 941st Transportation Co. in Charleston, S.C. He also found the ruck march to be exceptionally arduous.
“The ruck march was extremely challenging,” Jackson said. “That was one of the areas where I really had to stay motivated and persevere to finish. That was probably my worst event, but I did finish it.”
After the march, the warriors took a short break before preparing for the land-navigation portion of the competition.
Pfc. Adolphus Bryant, a wheeled-vehicle mechanic with the 1006 Quartermaster Co., said this is where the competition really changed a bit. Referring to the land-navigation course, the Smithfield resident said, “This is where the challenge began.”
Not all soldiers were able to find all four points on the near four-square-kilometer course.
The final hurdle
The competition came to a close with a command sergeants’ major board Saturday night. The soldiers had to demonstrate their knowledge of Army regulations and warrior tasks and drills in front of a panel of three sergeants major.
“You don’t know what they are going to ask you, and that Army study guide is so thick,” Heng said.
“The board can be intimidating,” Farris said. “It is a little harder to train for. Like the other events, you can prepare for it, but it is hard to duplicate the atmosphere.”
In contrast to some of his fellow soldiers, Jackson, a native of Topsham, Maine, found the board to be one of his strongest areas of performance.
When asked what advice he would give to others going before the board, Jackson said practicing in front of unit first sergeants and commanders could be beneficial. “Addressing them can help get the jitters out,” he said.
Once before the board, Jackson recommended keeping one thing in mind. “Relax, you’re already there; there’s no need to be nervous,” he said.
Heng said the leadership made the board a little easier to handle. “The sergeants major were all really good,” she said. “I think they gave everyone a fair chance.”
Heng, who is also a platoon sergeant for the 1006th, said winning wasn’t the most important thing for her. “The reason I was out here was to motivate other soldiers within our company,” she said. “I feel like NCOs always lead from the front.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Ciearro M. Faulk, 518th Sustainment Brigade, agreed there was more to the competition than winning or losing. “It shows we’re smart, we’re strong and we know how to have good clean competition that builds character and confidence,” he said.
Faulk said he thinks soldiers got a lot out of the competition. “It helps them perform under pressure,” he said. “They learn a lot more about themselves, and they learn how to adapt and overcome.”
The competition was tight, with only six points separating the winner and the runner-up in the junior enlisted bracket. The NCO group was nearly as tight.