News: NATO Ultimate Warrior
Story by Spc. Angela Parady
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany – Soldiers from all over Europe, come here to win and to improve their leadership skills. Nine U.S. Army soldiers from Allied Forces Battalions North, South and Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe are competing for the U.S. Army NATO Brigade level Ultimate Warrior of the Year.
The competition allows the soldiers to learn soldier skills and gives them the opportunity to compete at the Department of the Army level. Having already won at the battalion level, the soldiers must overcome their weaknesses and showcase their strengths in order to make it to the next stage.
The day begins with a briefing, and four missions. The first is an air assault, then a military operation on urban terrain exercise, followed by land navigation and a foot march. New squad leaders are assigned for the day, and it’s their responsibility to finish.
“Getting this far is really a significant point in this competition,” said Staff Sgt. Hector Ceja, a native of Imperial Beach, Calif., who is currently stationed in Lisbon, Portugal, with AFSO.
“It is a real challenge for a specialist/corporal to step up and be the squad leader for the day, especially in light of the four staff sergeants and two sergeants they are leading,” said Ceja. “We try to help, offer help, and support to that squad leader, but we also control our own urges to lead and allow that squad leader to do his or her job.”
Ceja, a human resource specialist, said this competition focuses more on learning and improving soldiers, than winning.
During the MOUT, the squad leader moves the team through houses set up to look like an enemy base camp. As the squad moves into position the trainer yells “Why did you hesitate to shoot when you saw the enemy in the window? He just shot your soldier!”
“We are expected to do our best, but we also make mistakes, and when we do it is important to humble yourself and to learn from it,” said Ceja. “This overall experience is something I can take back to my unit for the betterment of all Soldiers.”
“Competing and participating in this event not only helps me, but also the other soldiers I work with,” said Ceja. “If there is something I can add, not only in my capacity as a team leader, but also in my profession as an non-commissioned officer, I do so, but it’s about having the experience. If you make mistakes, you are learning from them, and there is a lot of value in that.”
Staff Sgt. Ernesto C. Gaddess of AFSO-Madrid sees value in the training he is receiving here. The Virginia Beach, Va., native spends his days working as an information systems analyst and says that the training here is superior because it is taught by subject matter experts, those who have direct experience with the tasks.
“A lot of weapons systems I have never touched before, and a lot of things I haven’t seen in awhile, and this is one of the first times I’ve been taught by infantry specialists,” said Gaddess. “Usually we have other signal guys teaching us, and they don’t know it firsthand.”
The soldiers showcase their strengths at their battalion, but here they must face many challenges.
“We all know our strengths but we very rarely recognize our weaknesses,” said Gaddess. “Very rarely do we have them thrust in our face all at once. Weaknesses, and learning from them is a part of being here.”
Ceja said this training is among the best experienced during his career. “This is my first time on Grafenwoehr, and I have to say that I have been thoroughly impressed with the level of support here. I get a sense that this is a major hub for training. I am grateful to be a part of this.”
As the soldiers take a break for lunch, Ceja takes a second to reflect. “That’s what it is all about. It’s all about learning and the best way to learn, is to be hands on, to have the training aids available and have the experience of senior NCO’s.”
“It gives me a sense of pride, being selected as Battalion NCO of the Year,” said Gaddess. “You know you just want to win. No matter how bad it might get, or how hard it is, you get sleepy, but you just keep pushing yourself along, pushing yourself to be your best. If you’re not here to win, then why are you here?”
At the conclusion of the two week competition, the winners are chosen. Gaddess and Cpl. Haisam Younes, from AFSHAPE will continue on to compete against other winners in the U.S. Army, European Command.