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    69th ADA BDE Soldier competes in 32nd AAMDC’s Black Jack Warrior Competition

    69th ADA BDE Soldier competes in 32nd AAMDC’s Black Jack Warrior Competition

    Photo By Sgt. Brandon Banzhaf | Spc. Ryan Gaetz, an air defense battle management system operator with the...... read more read more



    Story by Sgt. Brandon Banzhaf 

    69th Air Defense Artillery Brigade

    McGregor Range, N.M. – As the sun rises over the desert, it shines more light onto the silhouette of a Soldier as he walks down the trail.
    Hunched over to offset the weight of his ruck, he continues to walk.
    A rhythmic crunch from the gravel gets louder and then dispels as he makes his way out of sight.
    His pace is hurried just like the other competitors.
    Spc. Ryan Gaetz, an air defense battle management system operator with Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 69th Air Defense Artillery Brigade competed among other junior Soldier group for the 32nd Air and Army Missile Defense Command’s Annual Black Jack Warrior Week competition, July 24-28.
    “I liked the 12-mile ruck event,” said Gaetz. “I got to see the scenery and I beat the sun. You’re always racing the sun when you’re on a ruck. You don’t want to be out there on the road in the heat and the weight on your back.”
    The week long competition brought in Soldiers, noncommissioned officers, career counselors and commissioned officers to compete against their peers from the across four brigades within the 32nd AAMDC.
    Gaetz placed first in the 69th ADA BDE’s Lightning Warrior Week competition months earlier, earning him the spot to compete in the higher echelon event at Fort Bliss. Gaetz and two other competitors from the brigade, 2nd Lt. Vanessa Rojas and Sgt. Kelton Sphaler were competing against their peers, too.
    “I came out here to compete in the Black Jack Warrior competition,” Gaetz said. “I wasn’t expecting it to be as long or as difficult as it was.”
    Right off the bat, the trio used each other for motivation.
    “Day one: we were cheering each other on and soon we became a close knit group” Gaetz said. “I definitely respect my fellow 69th Soldiers a lot more and I think it was a good team. I’ll definitely go anywhere in the world with them.”
    The first event was the situational training exercise where the contestants had to clear a mock village and address any obstacles appropriately.
    As Gaetz approached the village, he started taking enemy fire. He returned fire and moved to flank the enemy’s position. Approaching a building of interest, he prepared to breach.
    The door flung open exposing a civilian who instantly put his hands in the air, but less than a second later, drew his pistol.
    “I liked how the STX lanes were all one fluid event,” Gaetz said. “It was put together really well.”
    Gaetz met his competition for his peer group and instead of showing animosity, they were welcoming to each other.
    “We would talk about how we would get each other in the next event,” said Spc. Daniel Donahue, a Syracuse, New York native and a Patriot launcher missile station operator maintainer with Battery Delta, 4t fh Battalion, 3rd Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 31st Air Defense Artillery Brigade from Fort Sill, Oklahoma. “… or who would be best in which event. Like the ruck march; he thought I would beat him and I thought he had me in combatives.”
    Gaetz and Donahue became good friends. They passed encouragement and tips while cheering each other on causing them to perform their best in each event.
    “He [Gaetz] was confident and always encouraged others,” said Donahue. “He never got down on someone, he always gave people the benefit of the doubt. He may have been the favorite going into the event but he never took anyone lightly.”
    Upon completing the 12-mile ruck march, Gaetz and Sphaler dropped their ruck sacks and sat down. Shortly after they saw their fellow 69th Soldier, Rojas, approaching the finish line. They got up and ran to her.
    “We didn’t want to get up,” Gaetz said. “We were sore but nothing was said. We just got up and helped her cross the finish line and hopefully that motivated her.”
    Donahue beat Gaetz in the ruck march. Later the same day, Gaetz won the combatives event. Since the beginning, the fight for first place was a consistent battle.
    “Before, my first sergeant got with me and showed me some basics and I used what I knew,” said Gaetz. “I very much expected to win [the combatives tournament]. I went in there picture them as a wall and I just had to destroy the wall.”
    The knowledge test, essay and board were on the third day. Tired and sore, the competitors had to focus. A wrong answer could cost them the lead. After the test and the essay, the results were tallied and the new standings were published. Gaetz and Donahue hunched over to see if they were leading and by how much.
    One point separated the two… again.
    On the last day, with one event left, one point would determine the winner. The Air Assault obstacle course would be the deciding factor. The course, a test of personal confidence and physical endurance, consisted of obstacles that Soldiers aren’t used to doing on a normal basis.
    Donahue was the first to maneuver the course. He started strong and fast then ended up winded. When he hit their limit, they had to dig deep to overcome the fatigue; to finish the various obstacles; to stop their time.
    While low crawling under barbed wire, Gaetz’s pants hit the last wire as he got up, causing him to have to redo the obstacle and costing him a point.
    At the conclusion of the event, the scores were tallied, but not posted. No one knew where they stood until the closing ceremony.
    Lined up before the 32nd AAMDC’s command team and staff, the names of the winners were read off.
    “I was just waiting,” Gaetz said. “I gave it all I had.”
    Spc. Donahue’s name was called as the winner for the Soldiers. Donahue would move on to compete in the U.S. Army Forces Command’s competition later in the year.
    “I was surprised and kind of relieved,” said Donahue. “I’d describe Gaetz as a driven individual, a great leader, and a very confident individual. I honestly thought that he was going to win up until the end there.”
    Gaetz, though disappointed, has the resilience he needs to stay positive and find the good out of the situation.
    “For me, I’m always competing, not just against everybody else, but also myself.” Said Gaetz. “So, I think if you are going to do something you need to give it your best. If you’re not, you’re not; and there is no reason for you to be there.”
    Gaetz also had some words of advice for Donahue:
    “You better show up, not get hurt and you better win the next level,” he said. “Because I would have.”



    Date Taken: 07.28.2017
    Date Posted: 08.15.2017 14:23
    Story ID: 244938
    Location: FORT BLISS, TX, US 
    Hometown: MADISON, WI, US
    Hometown: SYRACUSE, NY, US

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