News: Civil affairs soldiers distinguish themselves at Beach Warrior 2013
Story by Jacob Boyer
FORT STORY, Va. - Army Reserve soldiers from Northern Virginia and Flint, Mich., earned the right to call themselves the 352nd Civil Affairs Command’s best noncommissioned officer and junior enlisted soldier, April 11, during Beach Warrior 2013 at Fort Story, Va.
Army Reserve Sgt. Mark Richards, a civil affairs team sergeant with the Company D, 450th Civil Affairs Command (Airborne), and Spc. Zachary Sharpe, a civil affairs specialist with Company A, 414th Civil Affairs Battalion, proved themselves against the top soldiers from each of the command’s two brigades and eight battalions. The event, hosted by the 437th Civil Affairs Battalion, was a collaborative effort between the 352nd CACOM and the 2nd Psychological Operations Group.
“The 2013 iteration of the 352nd CACOM/2nd POG best warrior was an absolute success,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Earl Rocca, the senior enlisted soldier in the 352nd CACOM. “The drive and determination of the soldiers was absolutely amazing. It reinforces and confirms that any bit of sacrifice that I thought I might have given in my 29-year career was worth it. That’s exactly what it is with these soldiers.”
Competitors and staff were drawn from each unit’s ranks, and both units’ winners will compete in the U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operation Command (Airborne) Best Warrior Competition in May at Fort Bragg, N.C. Sgt. Maj. Wylie Jones, operations sergeant major for the 352nd CACOM and Beach Warrior 2013 noncommissioned officer-in-charge, said that while the impetus of the CACOM and 2nd POG working together on the event was to conserve resources, working together will reap other rewards.
“We connected the PSYOPs guys with the CA guys, shared the workload, and it turned out to be a better event that it would have been otherwise,” Jones said. “We fall under the same major command, yet we never work or talk with each other. We’re already talking about working together not only on 2014’s best warrior competition, but we’re also talking about our units that are located near each other working together on ranges, land navigation and air operations training. That’s huge.”
Richards, the command’s Noncommissioned Officer of the Year, is relatively new to the U.S. Army, but he served more than a decade as a paratrooper in his native United Kingdom. The 39-year-old Northern Virginia resident joined the Army Reserve in 2011 as a combat medic and quickly transitioned to civil affairs after he earned U.S. citizenship. He said the toughest and most rewarding part of the competition was the Modern Army Combatives tournament, which came at the end of more than 36 hours of continuous events for the contestants.
“It’s going to be one of those good memories for me. It was one of those days where I went through and I won all my fights,” said Richards, who works as a crisis management consultant in his civilian career. “It was really hard, because they came thick and fast. It was one fight after another. At one point my forearm locked up. It took a long time to recover. It was fun but it was also the most challenging.”
Sharpe, the command’s Soldier of the Year was competing for the second consecutive year. He said that the bond soldiers competing in best warrior events build was a big part of why he came back.
“I really like to challenge myself. I entered this event previously and I had a ton of fun,” said the 21-year-old native of Davidson, Mich. “Even though it’s a competition, it’s great for camaraderie, and I really feel that camaraderie with people who have been under the same stress as me. It’s a great experience and I’ve had a lot of fun here.”
Sharpe, who works in his civilian career as an emergency medical technician in Flint, Mich., said the ruck march, a 12-kilometer trek that started at 7 a.m. after a sleepless first night of the competition and crossed nearly a full kilometer of Fort Story’s beach, was the event he enjoyed most.
“You had to pace yourself for about seven miles and you know there’s going to be rough terrain ahead,” he said. “When we got to the beach, I thought it was going to be terrible, but I actually got a second wind just seeing the waves lapping up on the shore and walking right past the water. That’s where I made a lot of my gains in that event.”
Tenacity is what carried the events 24 competitors through three tough days, and that tenacity is what Richards said he will take to USACAPOC(A)’s competition.
“I’m no longer the best guy at combatives. I’m no longer the fastest guy running around the nav lane, but I never give up. I just keep pushing,” he said. “I know that it’s going to be very challenging because it’s going to be other people who are just like me. It’s just going to depend on who pulls it out of the bag the most.”
Rocca said he expects the command’s best soldiers to represent themselves and their units well at the USACAPOC(A) Best Warrior Competition, which is scheduled to start April 28 at Fort Bragg, N.C.
“If they offer the same amount of drive and determination that they did here, they’re going to place very well,” he said. “It’s going to be a tough field, but I think they’ll do well.”