JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. – Moving to make the most out of the few seconds left of the sit-up portion of the Army Physical Fitness Test, Pfc. David Bradt lay down quickly at the command of “stop!” blinked once and stood up satisfied.
At 19 years of age, Bradt was the youngest competitor for I Corp Soldier of the Year, going up against nine of his peers from various brigades across Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The Multiple Launch Rocket System Crew member was a long way from his hometown of Oxford, Conn.
Bradt’s demeanor is one of hopeful earnestness; he has the motivation of a young man who sees nothing but opportunities his service to the U.S. Army has laid out before him.
June 7-9 he got his chance to represent his unit, 5th Battalion, 3rd Field Artillery Regiment, 17th Fires Brigade.
“I joined the Army right out of high school because I wanted to serve my country,” Bradt said. “The recruiter sold me on what looked to be a cool job – shooting rockets from a truck.”
It hasn’t been long since Bradt left his Advanced Individual Training at Fort Sill, Okla., where he finished near the top of his class.
“I’ve been in the Army 10 months,” he said. “I wanted to advance myself in the Army as far as I could – set myself apart from my peers. I still haven’t decided yet if this is a career for me; I do want to earn a degree. We’ll see what happens.”
During the first day’s Army Physical Fitness Test, Bradt outscored every other male competing, to include the non-commissioned officers competing for NCO of the year, finishing with 338 points on the extended scale and far surpassing the test’s 300-point total.
“I work out every other day running six days a week,” Bradt said. “I guess my unit thought I had the best chance at winning.”
“He’s one of my go-to guys,” said Staff Sgt. Rich Bolger, Bradt’s platoon sergeant. “Hands down, his work ethic and knowledge matches that of more seasoned soldiers – I’d go so far as to say as some NCOs.”
“Average soldiers were not in this competition,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel Verbeke, I Corps’ current acting command sergeant major, who presided over the boards held on day three of the competition. “Most of them were tested twice before getting to this level, usually a battalion and then brigade selection board. It’s quite impressive when you think that there are about 30,000 soldiers at JBLM, and these 20 competitors represent the top soldiers at their level.”
“We’ve got hands-on skills testing with ten-level tasks; we’re doing things like reacting to indirect fire,” said Cpl. Jesse Garrett, a 24-year-old combat medic from Apalachin, N.Y. “This kind of competition calls for a unit to identify a person in its ranks who excels in physical training, weapons marksmanship, and the basic soldier skills. A competition like this builds esprit de corps. We take on tasks that some of us haven’t done since basic training.”
“Especially when you [fail] a task, it’s an opportunity to take that experience back to the unit,” Garrett added. “You go back with a desire to be better prepared. We’ve been doing counterinsurgency for the last ten years, and maybe have forgotten some of the force-on-force training, some of the areas like day and night land navigation. A lot of good comes out of this competition.”
“On day land navigation, I only got three of the four points but still qualified, and somehow did better at night – I got all four points,” Bradt said. “I had to look for some help outside of my military occupational speciality but training at my unit, I had some help. They really set me up for success.”
Day two had both soldiers and NCOs taking a written exam with questions regarding isolation, leadership, NCO evaluation reports and counseling – the subject matters currently taught at the Army’s Warrior Leader Course.
The competition moved to a weapons qualification range to score competitors on their marksmanship capabilities.
“I didn’t know my final score, but I zeroed the weapon fairly quickly,” Bradt said. “My assigned weapon is an M-16, so I’m lucky to have had a little experience at the unit with an M4, because that’s what I was given for this competition.”
Of the nine other junior-enlisted soldiers, Bradt finished the second day as a fierce competitor, just behind Spc. Anthony Wooley, a quiet and reserved human resources specialist from Homestead, Fla.
Wooley, 26, is assigned to the 42nd Military Police Brigade – his first duty assignment.
“The PT test wasn’t one of the events I worried too much about,” said Wooley, who finished right behind Bradt with the second-highest APFT score – 329 points on the extended scale. “On my own, I run about 20 miles a week, go to the gym and train with weights four times a week. The area I did have concern over was the range.”
His father was in the Army 20 years, retiring as a master sergeant. “I grew up around the Army and on Army bases; it’s where I’m comfortable,” said Wooley.
“The third day was the final day of the competition,” said Wooley, who got through the board with the second-highest score. “I think I did well at the board. I started studying a month out.”
The most stressful part of the competition, for Wooley, came afterwards.
“I got ‘no-goes’ on identifying visual hand and arm signals, and had difficulty with the Mission Oriented Protective Posture suit and moving under direct fire,” Wooley said.
Combined with the stress of fierce competition, the more-than-six-kilometer ruck march between testing stations added physical exhaustion.
“I try to push myself,” said Wooley, who has 22 months in service and is awaiting a first deployment. “I try to become better at what I do. I enjoy competing, and in something like this you learn a lot. Before this competition I didn’t know anything about the .50 cal or the M249 weapons – never touched a Mark-19 grenade launcher. In my day-to-day job I don’t mess with a lot of the [Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear] gear.”
“For me, the way I combat the stress level – a lot of it is in the preparation work,” Wooley added. “Simply, the more prepared I am, the less I need to stress. At the end of the day, to unwind, I just talk to friends, play games, nothing physical – I punish myself enough on my own in that area.”
Wooley won the I Corps competition for Soldier of the Year with consistent high scores.
Sgt. Haidang Le, an infantryman assigned to 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment had the highest APFT score among the male NCOs at 337 and received perfect scores on the written exam, land navigation tasks. He also had the highest marksmanship score and an unmatched knowledge of the Army Warrior Tasks. All of this contributed to his win over the other NCOs in the competition.
Wooley and Le were announced as the winners of the competition at a luncheon at the Arrowhead Dining Facility. The winners will be invited to the Association of the United States Army conference later this year for some professional development. The winners were awarded Army Commendation Medals and funding toward a set of Army Service Uniforms. They will compete next at the U.S. Army Forces Command level in July, travelling to Fort Hood, Texas, to represent I Corps.