News: 79th Best Warrior brings out best in soldiers; competition a mental, physical test of toughness
JOINT FORCES TRAINING BASE, LOS ALAMITOS, Calif. - Sgt. Gustavo Negrete found himself wandering across a massive swath of land – up and down hills, crossing spurs and draws, desperately searching for his points during the land navigation event of Headquarters, Headquarters Detachment, 79th Sustainment Support Command’s 2012 Best Warrior Competition at Camp Pendleton, Calif., March 23-25.
Negrete had begun the day on a much more positive note at Joint Forces Training Base Los Alamitos, Calif., where the 79th SSC is headquartered, scoring 297 on the Army Physical Fitness Test in the pre-dawn darkness that morning, only now to be traversing the tumultuous terrain of Camp Pendleton. He had meticulously plotted his points on a map before stepping off confidently with his lone competitor, Staff Sgt. Karen Ardon, approximately 30 minutes earlier.
However, now that confidence had begun to erode as he searched for the points he was so sure he had correctly identified.
According to Negrete, who advanced to the U.S. Army Reserve Command Best Warrior finals at Fort McCoy, Wisc., last year, negotiating the course wasn’t something he could accurately simulate during his training for the competition.
“In order to properly train for land navigation, you need someone who is willing to go out and plot points for you to find,” said Negrete. “Also, you need the space to do it.”
Ardon was experiencing difficulties of her own on the expansive course.
“Plotting the points was the easy part,” said Ardon, who had scored 271 on her APFT. “I just wish I had been a bit more prepared.”
A steady rain continued to fall when both Warriors emerged from the still-damp brush and vegetation, returning to the start point at the conclusion of the event.
Their work at Camp Pendleton done, the competitors embarked on the return journey to Joint Forces Training Base Los Alamitos, Calif., where the remainder of the competition was held.
The previous day had consisted of written and verbal tests for the Warriors, with an essay, as well as a board appearance, presided over by Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Roberson, 79th SSC, command sergeant major. The soldiers shined in their dress uniforms as they demonstrated their tactical and technical prowess while being bombarded with questions.
Entering the competition, Negrete felt he held an advantage because of his prior experience and success during the 2011 event, he said.
“It was easier because I had an idea what to expect,” said Negrete.
However, despite the edge in experience, he felt added stress to do well again this year, he said.
“Last year, at the company level, there were three NCOs competing,” said Negrete. “This year, it was more difficult mentally going against only one other person. I definitely felt more pressure to win, especially competing against someone from the same unit.”
For Ardon, she got exactly what she bargained for and then some in this, her first crack at the competition, she said.
“I expected it to be challenging and that’s what I got,” said Ardon. “I was nervous because it was a completely new experience for me, but I learned a lot.”
Just competing in the event was an epiphany for Ardon, she said.
“I was very proud my leaders had the confidence in me to participate in this event,” said Ardon. “Also, I wanted to see how I stand, as far as my Warriors skills.”
Next up for the Warriors was Basic Rifle Marksmanship, which was conducted in an Engagement Skills Trainer 2000. They encountered a different twist, though. Instead of just simulating targets on a training range, the soldiers were put through the paces reacting to a variety of scenarios that played out before them on the large electronic screens. Missions ranged from urban combat to desert and woodland environments, in which the shooters had to first identify moving and stationary targets, then engage and kill them. As opposed to the standard 40 rounds provided during an outing at the range, the Warriors were given unlimited “ammo,” as long as they re-loaded their magazine when required.
Ardon was impressed with the reality of the training, she said.
“It was a completely different dynamic and very realistic,” said Ardon.
Following a battery of Warrior Tasks that including performing functions checks on weapons, evaluating casualties and detecting possible improvised explosive devices on vehicles, Day 2 was done, roughly 12 hours after it had began.
The day’s rigorous schedule, including its successes and failures, had taken its toll, said Ardon.
“Fatigue was definitely a factor in performance as the day wore on,” she said. “Everything from earlier in the day had built up.”
Approximately 12 hours of rest and recovery, then it was time for the final event of the competition – the six-mile road march.
Once again, day began in darkness as the Warriors of the 79th loaded up with 35 pounds of gear in their rucks, but it was more than equipment they were carrying. Also included in their combat load was the mental, physical and emotional toll of three days of intense competition. Now, they would have to reach down one last time to test their mettle on the march.
The soldiers stood at the start point, weapons at the ready, until they were given the green light. Upon getting the go-ahead, Negrete burst out of the blocks into a jog, while Ardon preferred a steady, solitary pace. Nearly two hours later, it was over, with both soldiers exhausted and soaked with sweat at the finish line.
Now, it was all over but the shouting.
At an awards ceremony in the 79th SSC command conference room, Negrete was crowned the winner, securing his place in the regional competition scheduled for April 22-27 at Fort Hunter Liggett, Calif.
However, it was about far more than just winning and losing, said Master Sgt. Sophia Mendoza, 79th SSC, training management NCO, who was charged with spearheading the effort to make the event happen.
“All around, it was a very valuable event,” said Mendoza. “It not only provided a training ground in a competitive environment for the soldiers, but also served to illuminate the strengths and weaknesses of HHD. Our command is still young, so an event like this shows us where we need to improve. I expect this to grow into a very vibrant event for the command.”
Mendoza continued with the dual benefit the competition produced at the soldier and command levels.
“Best Warrior lets the soldiers know they can always finesse their game, take their skills to the next level and remain fresh and relevant,” she said. “The great by-product is it directly impacts how the unit should be training and where we need to focus effort.”
For Negrete, he viewed it as not only an opportunity for himself, but for others, as well, he said.
“I saw this competition as an opportunity to improve because I wondered after last year if I could do better,” he said. “It also enhances my soldier skills and will make me a better leader in the future.”
Date Posted:03.27.2012 21:18
Location:LOS ALAMITOS, CA, US
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