FORT McCOY, Wis. - “If you want to take on the challenge of taking care of soldiers and being put in a position to really work as a team, a two man team, (he pauses), this is it,” said Sgt. First Class Karl Schirrmacher, sponsor for Sgt. 1st Class Jason Manella, an Army Reserve Best Warrior competitor representing the 445th Civil Affairs Battalion, U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne) in Mountain View, Calif.
With more than 27 years in the military, there is one leadership characteristic, among others, that he lives by-- selfless leadership.
Schirrmacher has been serving on a civil affairs team since 2007 before he became the company first sergeant. He credits his experience as a civil affairs operator both in the small, four-man teams and the relationship building that takes place with key stakeholders in an area of operations, for his ability to step into the role as sponsor for the 2013 Army Reserve Best Warrior Competition held at Fort McCoy, Wis.
“There are so many leaders driven by their ego and soldiers getting left behind. It pisses me off,” Schirrmacher said.
Schirrmacher remembers when he first met Manella. He laughed and said that he looked like a 12 year-old kid and weighed maybe, 125 pounds, but says that he had a lot of heart, always worked hard, and asked the right questions.
When Manella started coming up through the ranks, Schirrmacher said that Manella has proven to be a “solid leader, task-master, and an extremely capable non-commissioned officer.”
After experiencing several improvised explosive device attacks in 2012, Manella spent time in recovering in the traumatic brain injury clinic. He worked on regaining short-term memory by learning the Army Study Guide.
Because he was in great physical shape, when he realized how quickly he was able to learn the material, he was inspired to come back home and pack up his bags to compete in the competition.
That is when he asked Schirrmacher to be his sponsor.
“There was no way I was going to say no,” Schirrmacher said.
The role of sponsor throughout a BWC is sometimes loosely exchanged with the term, ‘mentor.’ As a mentor, Schirrmacher has shared his experiences and knowledge as a sponsor for ultra-marathoners, and compares the support he gave them to the support he offers Manella.
“As a sponsor, you just do everything you can to support them to their get their goal accomplished,” Shirrmacher said.
“During 50 and 100 mile races and competitions like this Best Warrior Competition, they are in a stress-induced environment and mentally, they sometimes forget what they need.”
During this competition, it's my job to take the weight off of his shoulders and ensure he gets through the physical events so he is balanced enough that he can accomplish the intellectual events.”
Schirrmacher says he washes Manella's clothes while he sleeps so that he can have clean, dry clothes for the next event. “That is where the sponsor needs to be,” he said.
Manella and Schirrmacher have worked together in the civil affairs battalion for more than five years and he said he is glad that Schumacher is here.
“He is definitely helping me to stay on top of what he calls, energy management, by giving me salt tablets with electrolytes and even if I'm not hungry at the time, he will force me to eat,” Manella said. “Throughout the day I never have that low blood sugar feeling or feel fatigued. This morning we did a 10 kilometer ruck march and I feel great.”
Throughout the week-long competition, the rainfall was heavy and Manella explained that after the night land navigation course, Schirrmacher exchanged his boots with a dry pair and went back to the barracks to start drying the wet pair in-front of a fan so they were ready for his next event.
“Take the show Survivor, a Tough Mudder race and a spelling bee, and put it together in one event and you get the best warrior competition, you don’t find it just anywhere.” “This is the marathon and the event to aspire to,” Schirrmacher said. “But it takes a handful of various knowledge to compete best at it, that is why you enlist help to get from point ‘A’ to point ‘B,’ you have to work as a team.”
There are approximately 205,000 Army Reserve soldiers, and about 80 percent of those soldiers are enlisted. At the end of the Best Warrior Competition, only two soldiers will advance to the Department of Army level competition.
“If you care about your soldiers, you are not going to back down from it,” Schirrmacher said. “This is the ultimate leadership-- being self-less. You become a better soldier and person just by taking on the challenge and experiences that will help you to become something bigger.”
Schirrmacher said there may only be two winners this year, but the experiences he and Manella have shared this week will last a lifetime.