FORT DEVENS, Mass. – It’s that time of year again. That time when brackets begin to fill and competitors begin their journey in the search of glory. For some of those competitors, that journey starts here, at Fort Devens, Mass., at the 302nd Maneuver Enhancement Brigade’s Best Warrior Competition March 23–28, 2014.
The soldiers in the 302nd MEB’s competition either were selected by their individual unit to represent it or won a lower echelon of the competition to earn a spot for this weeklong event. And after a physically and mentally demanding week and an outstanding performance by all the competitors, only one noncommissioned officer and one junior enlisted soldier was named the best warriors of the 302nd MEB. During an award ceremony on the day following the Sergeants Major board, Spc. Jonathon Gendron of the 533rd Brigade Support Battalion and Army Sgt. Brian Thibault of the 356th Engineer Detachment will advance to the 412th Theater Engineer Command Best Warrior Competition April 25–May 2, 2014.
“This is the Best Warrior Competition, not the best cupcake maker,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Cedric Green, brigade command sergeant major of the 302nd MEB. “We’re enhancing soldier skills … some of these soldiers don’t get to do this very often, some soldiers never got to do it, so they are taking some of these skills back to their unit, taking them back to their peers and say, ‘hey you know what we did? No, not in any video game. I did it for real.’”
“Most of all, we’re letting our soldiers have some fun,” added Green, a New York native. “That’s what they joined the Army for. They joined the Army to defend our country and have some fun doing it. That’s what the Best Warrior Competition is all about.”
Every day, the soldiers were tasked to complete a series of events designed to test the individual on the basic warrior tasks every soldier should be familiar with. These events included a fifty question written exam, day and night land navigation, a 10-kilometer ruck march, warrior task stations, a 150-word written essay, qualification ranges, and a Sergeant Major board.
For the most part, each event was made known to the participants prior to their arrival to the competition. However, on the very first day after all the contestants arrived and were settled in, the first of two mystery events were held. These events were designed to keep the soldiers on their toes by challenging them to something they would not know to practice before the start of the event.
“The first mystery event with the obstacle course hit you like a ton of bricks,” said Spc. Mark Pares, a Chemical, Biological, Radiation, Nuclear Specialist with the 479th Chemical Battalion. “It wasn’t expected but it still incorporated the basic tasks we should still know or at least have done in our career.”
The first mystery event was an obstacle course in which the solders were required to flip two large tires three times, carry two jerry cans full of water the length and width of the garrison parade field, carry three full ammunition cans the length of the field, pick up three dummy grenades and low crawl to a makeshift barrier where they would toss the grenades toward a cordoned off target area before finally sprinting back to the starting line. Points were calculated based on how fast the soldier was able to complete the course.
Day two began bright and early with a standard Army Physical Fitness Test. The APFT consists of three standardized tests: pushups, situps, and a two-mile run. Following the test, the soldiers moved out to the land navigation range where each participant had two and a half hours to locate four predetermined navigation points using nothing but a map, compass, and protractor.
After the time limit expired, or every soldier returned after finding their points, the contestants moved on to a nearby Military Operations in Urban Terrain, or MOUT, course. The MOUT course consisted of several buildings arranged in a way to simulate an overseas tactical environment. Each soldier was given the same mission: enter one of the buildings, locate a stolen item, and once the item was found, call it in to a higher authority and receive further instructions – to search the building for enemy intelligence and a missing friendly soldier. The participants received a score based on how quickly they achieved their mission and how many pieces of intelligence they found. Day two finished with the contestants returning to the land navigation course to find an additional four navigation points but under the blanket of darkness.
On the third day, the contestants participated in a ten-kilometer ruck march during which the soldiers wore body armor, an advanced combat helmet, and a thirty-five pound rucksack on their back while carrying an M-16 rifle.
“I like distance runs,” said Pares, a Maywood, N.J. native. “I run four, five, six, sometimes as far as ten or twelve miles a day just for fun. It’s just cross-country with a pack on your back. That’s really all a ruck march is, a fun run with weight on your back.”
After the completion of the ruck march, the participants were tested on some basic warrior tasks such as clearing a jammed weapon, calling in a nine-line MEDEVAC, and basic field medical care. These stations were administered in the form of a round robin event in which one soldier would have a limited time to execute the necessary task for a grade before moving on to the next station.
The final event of the third day was written opinion essay. The contestants had one hour to write at least 150 words about what they believed constituted as good leadership.
Day four not only marked the second to last day of competition but also signaled the end of the most physically demanding portion of the week. The whole day was dedicated to qualifying on the M-16 rifle, M9 pistol, and M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW), in addition to a reflexive fire range that tested the soldiers’ ability to shoot at targets while moving from one point to another – a skill commonly used in a combat zone but not regularly practiced at the range.
“The reflexive fire range is really the culmination both of the M-16 qualification and M9 qualification,” said Green. “What I’m looking to do is put soldier skills together in a combat stress driven event.”
The final day of competition had only one event: the Sergeants Major board. During the board, the contestants were required to sit in front of a panel of five sergeants major and respond to a variety of questions that tested the soldier’s knowledge of Army regulations, current events, and situational events. The sergeants major would deliver these questions, and follow up questions, in a manner designed to frazzle the competitor and put them on edge. The participants were scored based on their appearance in their Army Service Uniform, their knowledge of the questions, and overall professionalism.
Whether they were crowned the winner or not, every soldiers who participated in the 302nd MEB Best Warrior Competition can walk away proud of their accomplishments and encourage every soldier who may be thinking about trying their luck at next year’s event to just go for it.
“Do it, just do it,” said Sgt. Brian Thibault, a Beverly, Mass. native. “Even if you do poorly, which I don’t think any soldier that has the drive to do this is going to do poorly, but if you do, it’s still a training environment and you’re still having fun and you still get to be with other soldiers.”