News: Best Warrior soldiers compete for honors amidst rainforest
Story by Staff Sgt. Amanda Smolinski
CAMP RILEA, Ore. - With competitive enthusiasm, the 351st Civil Affairs Command soldiers drove to the northern coast of Oregon to Camp Rilea, where more than 18 junior enlisted and non-commissioned officer competitors met to earn the title of best warrior and a chance to progress to the next level of competition in May.
After reading about the past two years of competitions at the highest Army level, 351st CACOM Command Sgt. Maj Mark Martello told the competitors, "It is about time we win." Martello told each of the competitors to maintain a mind-set that they are the best in the Army while demonstrating their warrior abilities.
The BWC is an opportunity for soldiers to demonstrate the training and physical conditioning exercised throughout the year, in front their peers, leadership and the entire command.
The coastal valley camp, nestled in a temperate rainforest, provided all but an easy challenge for the competitors. Despite the herd of elk parading through the training site, copious rainfalls that flooded the area on occasion, or the mystic-like marine air that greeted these soldiers each morning, the climate and training sites forced the competitors to transcend their basic soldiers skills and unleash the warriors within themselves.
Despite the range of experiences and types of badges worn on competitors' uniforms, Staff Sgt. Jose Soto, of the 426th Civil Affairs Battalion in Upland, Calif., looked forward to the competition and admitted that his weakness might be the written tests, but that his greatest strength was that he wanted to be there.
"Whether I win or lose, my major motivation is to go back to my S-1 office and raise the standard by setting the example," said Soto. "I want to show them that you don't have to win, just try; because in the effort of trying is how you develop all of the skills, trades and Army values."
Martello says that the competition is his best way as a CACOM CSM to evaluate how the command’s units are performing, their skill levels, and espirit de corps as a whole, competitors, NCO sponsors and teams alike.
He believes that through this evaluation, it is one of the major advantages to having his command sergeant majors from each of the CACOM’s brigade and battalions attend the competition.
“They can see for themselves, and the lessons learned are circulated much faster; it is clear whether we are hitting the standard or not,” said Martello.
Over the course of four days and with the help of their NCO sponsors, competitors raced for time and accuracy during an APFT, written test, a mystery event in which competitors were given the task to find four points and perform a skill along an unknown distance, day and night land navigation, an obstacle course, and a 10k ruck march. Soldiers were also tested on their marksmanship skills and Army knowledge at an oral board where they stood in front of senior enlisted leaders and went to a range to fire the M-16 rifle and M-9 pistol.
Not all soldiers had the same amount of time to prepare for the competition, but Spc. Shawn Brooks out of the 448th CA BN in Ft. Lewis, Washington, had four weeks to prepare after winning the best warrior competition held at his battalion.
"Because the battalion held a best warrior competition, it made me better prepared and put me in a good mind-set to be here," said Brooks.
After winning the junior enlisted best warrior competition title, Brooks said he used the time to refine his map reading skills before moving onto the 351st CACOM BWC. "I am carrying the weight of the battalion here with me, I have to represent."
At the end of the grueling week, a junior enlisted and NCO soldier, both from the same command, the 425th Civil Affairs Battalion out of Encino, Calif., earned the title “Best Warrior,” Pfc. Lester Ambergey and Staff Sgt. John Astorga. They will represent the 351st as they advance to the next level of competition at the U.S. Army Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations Command (Airborne)’s best warrior competition in May.
“There is no doubt in my mind that these two soldiers live and practice soldiering, not just in anticipation of a competition, but they practice and live the Army values 24/7,” said Martello.