FORT MCCOY, Wis. - “Your task here is to search a detainee according to performance steps, locate and confiscate all weapons, contraband and any items of intelligent value. Hooah! Do you understand what you must do?” asked Staff Sgt. Martin Jones, drill sergeant from the 108th Training Command in Charlotte, N.C.
Approximately 200 Army Reserve support personnel served as cadre and subject matter experts during the 2013 Army Reserve Best Warrior competition held here June 23-28, to include drill sergeants like Jones.
“We reached down to all of our major commands and pulled-in our specialized unit personnel to include units like the 377th Theater Sustainment Command, because operations and training is their job,” said Sgt. Maj. Richard Prater, the U.S. Army Reserve Command noncommissioned officer in charge of the competition.
“And who is always rehearsing soldier skills?” he asked. “The drill sergeants. So, we pulled in the 108th Training Command.
“I think that everyone would agree, there is a certain ‘air’ about a drill sergeant. You see the hat, and it commands a certain level of respect,” Prater said. “I wouldn't have anyone else run the skill level one events.”
There were 39 soldiers representing the major Army Reserve commands who were tested against one another on their basic Soldier skills to include warrior tasks and training, written exams, and the more physical events such a 10km ruck march and the Army Physical Fitness Test. However, in Prater's second year overseeing the competition, his goal was to ensure that repeat competitors experience a fresh and challenging competition.
“I added 10 mystery events this year,” Prater said. “On the day the competitors were in-processing, they walked into a suicide awareness scenario, and not one of them knew that it wasn't real.”
Well-rehearsed role-players from the 377th Theater Sustainment Command's chaplain office were staged in office buildings where each competitor was sent to in order to complete their in-processing checklist. However, when they walked into the building, they met role-players who portrayed individuals suffering from post-postpartum depression, a military technician facing the furlough with a wife who is threatening to take their kids and leave him, post-traumatic stress disorder, or infidelity.
“The feedback from that mystery event was fantastic,” Prater said. “They won't forget it because they lived through it, not knowing that any of it wasn't real. Some soldiers were so visibly upset, we had to sit them down and calm them because they were upset with themselves that they missed those signals, and they had potentially walked away from someone that was suicidal.”
Sgt. Maj. James Stewart, role-player and 377th chief chaplain's assistant, said the invisible wounds such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorders are the hardest to identify because they are internal.
“One suicide is one too many, so if we can just make an impact on even one life if one soldier raises his or her hand and says, ‘this training helped me save one of my battle buddy's life, then we were successful,’” said Stewart.
Prater aims to take issues that soldiers are facing now, such as suicide intervention, and implement them into the Best Warrior Competition.
“Only in the Army Reserve can we pull a plethora of skill sets together and create an exercise like this,” Prater said.
When Prater initially welcomed the competitors to the Best Warrior Competition, he remembered the look in their eyes when he asked, “who here is going to be the best warrior?” and everybody in the room raised their hand.
“That's what I was looking for,” Prater said. “Not only do we pull in the best competitors, but the best support personnel, so I can’t say enough how hard the cadre have worked to make this, the best event possible.”