FORT BRAGG, N.C. - In a glass case in the 82nd Airborne Division headquarters are the names of 85 Division paratroopers etched on gold plates from as long ago as 1955. These are the names of paratroopers, past and present, who have gone above and beyond to prove themselves as the best of the best. This week, five 82nd paratroopers completed the same rigorous competition as those who came before them in hopes of their names being added to that case, as well as the history of the 82nd, as the 2014 82nd Airborne Division Noncommissioned Officer and Trooper of the Year.
Each of the competitors have attended promotion or competition boards in the past, but competing at the division level is a much different experience; it tests not only each soldier’s ability to memorize Army regulations and present themselves in a professional manner, but also their level of physical fitness and their ability to successfully complete multiple soldier skills.
“At the division level, the competition needs to encompass all the skills that make a well-rounded trooper,” said 1st Sgt. Damon Ritz, first sergeant of the 82nd Airborne Division Pre-Ranger Course. “As they continue on they’ll do this and more. This gets them prepared for higher levels of the competition.”
Three NCOs and two paratroopers assigned to various 82nd units came together on March 10 to begin the competition.
Day one’s trials began with a physical fitness test, including two minutes of pushups, two minutes of situps and a two-mile run.
Spc. Robert Wright, an artilleryman assigned to 2nd Brigade Combat Team’s 2nd Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, who claimed he may be “more book-oriented” than the other competitors, completed more than 100 pushups in the allotted time.
On day two, the competitors completed a written exam testing their Army and airborne knowledge, then traveled to the 82nd AD Pre-Ranger Course camp to conduct day and night land navigation. There they were required to find five points on a map, then traverse the land navigation course to find those physical locations in four hours or less, once during the day and again at night.
Day three, the competitors returned to the PRC camp for testing on basic Warrior Training Tasks. Among these tasks was disassembling, reassembling and performing functions checks on multiple weapons, perform first aid on a wounded soldier and call for medical evacuation, and react to contact. These are skills that most soldiers learn early in their Army career, and are expected to be able to complete at any time. However, these skills can diminish without regular practice.
“As infantry you’re expected to know this,” Sgt. 1st Class Alexis Viamonte, an infantryman assigned to 2BCT’s 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, said of the WTTs.
Viamonte said with 14 years in the Army – more than 10 years longer than his competition – he has most recently been serving in leadership roles, which can make it difficult to keep up with these basic tasks.
“When I was a sergeant, I would have been better prepared,” he said.
With changes in doctrine, new tasks and “bad habits” formed more than a decade ago, Viamonte said he didn’t feel like having more service time puts him at an advantage in the competition. However, he’s optimistic that his experience will help. “It’s like riding a bike. I’m going off my experience, hoping that will carry me through.”
Staying up-to-date with these skills can be difficult for most Soldiers, specifically those not serving in a combat role.
“Most of this I never really do in my job,” said Sgt. Danielle Friese, whose day-to-day includes working on UH-60 Black Hawks and CH-47 Chinooks as an avionics mechanic with 2nd Battalion, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade.
“(The others) are a little more skilled,” Friese said. “I just try my best out here.”
The culminating event, the division NCO and Trooper of the Year board, completed the competition on day three.
Spc. Daulton Moore, who was hoping his performance during the WTTs would set him apart from the rest, actually gained a leg up by besting his competition in the board event. Moore, a cavalry scout assigned to 2BCT’s 1st Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, said while it would mean a lot to him to be able to bring the win home to his unit, what matters most to him is the training and the knowledge that he’s taking away from this experience.
Sgt. Christopher Lord, who won the NCO portion of the board, supported Moore’s statement.
“The main thing I’ve taken away from this is the knowledge I’ve gained training for this that I will pass along to my soldiers,” said Lord, an artilleryman assigned to 2-319th AFAR, 2BCT.
Although it was a competition, each soldier was willing to give and ask for help from their fellow competitors.
“We’re all in it together,” said Lord. “We’re just here to train and do our best and it’s not like we’re trying to sabotage each other. We’re all in the same Army. We’re all on the same team here.”
The winners will be announced during All American Week, May 19-22.