FORT JACKSON, S.C. — Drill sergeants, non-commissioned officers (NCOs), and junior enlisted Soldiers from battalions all across the U.S. Army Reserve’s 108th Training Command (IET) rallied to compete for the titles of Drill Sergeant of the Year, Soldier of the Year, and NCO of the Year at the 2016 Best Warrior competition held at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, March 20-25th.
This combined event is held each year to determine the highest-caliber drill sergeants and warriors within each of the command’s three divisions, the 95th and 98th Training Division (IET), and 104th Training Division (LT).
The top two contestants for Drill Sergeant of the Year and the top two for Best Warrior will then be selected to compete later this year in the TRADOC Drill Sgt. of the Year and Best Warrior competitions at Fort Jackson and Fort Bragg, respectively. Those two events will then determine the overall winner from each competition.
“There are only 35 of us here,” said Sgt. 1st Class Ethan B. Feldner, 3d Bn., 339th Inf., Reg., 95th Training Division (IET). “We’re supposedly the best of the best. So, it’s quite an honor to try to compete against the best of the rest of the 108th.”
Competitors test their mettle against each other and themselves in up to 18 critical events – including three mystery events – ranging from physical fitness and drill sergeant modules to Army Warrior Tasks (AWT) and night land navigation, to name just a few.
They must function at high capacity on very little sleep, operating for up to 18 hours per day. Written exams are thrown into the mix to test not only their knowledge, but also their mental aptitude while under extreme physical stress.
Contestants were gathered at the PT field by 4:30 Monday morning to kick off the first event, the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT), in 30-something degree weather.
With fresh steam still rising from their heads following the APFT two-mile run, the Soldiers were given instructions regarding their first mystery event – get back on the track immediately for a timed three-mile run.
“The concept behind the mystery event is ‘how can the Soldier adapt,’” said Command Sgt. Maj. Robert T. Priest, 98th Training Division (IET) Command Sgt. Maj. “Adaptive leaders means you’re able to continue with the mission without any degrade in mission capability. This tests that ability for Soldiers to adapt to a changing environment and then execute the mission to the best of their ability.”
“That’s the reality on the battlefield,” he added. “You’re going to deal with the unknown when you’re out there engaging the nation’s enemies.”
Sgt. 1st Class Blake Skola, 1st Bn., 354th Inf. Reg., 95th Training Division (IET), reiterated the parallels between the competition’s mystery events and combat.
“Most of the time there’s nothing going on and all of a sudden something happens and you have to react instantly to whatever it is,” he said. “It’s the same concept, no preparation – you just have to react.”
Eighty-five percent of the competitors finished the run total of five miles in less than 40 minutes, which is within Army Ranger standard, according to Priest.
Skola was at the front of the pack.
Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Moeller, 95th Training Division (Initial Entry Training), maneuvers through an obstacle course at Fort Jackson, S.C., on March 23, as part of the Best Warrior competition for the 108th Training Command (IET). This year’s Best Warrior competition will determine the top noncommissioned officer and junior enlisted Soldier who will represent the 108th Training Command (IET) in the Army Reserve Best Warrior competition later this year at Fort Bragg, N.C. U.S. Army photo by Maj. Michelle Lunato/released
“I run a lot,” he said. “Two miles is not very far. So I had no problem running three more. Four or five miles is an easy run.”
It’s all in a day’s work, according to Skola. He said his civilian job as a firefighter played a big role in his physical preparedness for the competition.
“As firefighters, we get a lot of time to train while we’re at work,” he said. “It definitely lends itself to helping PT scores.”
Another mystery event the Soldiers faced during the competition was the tomahawk (or hatchet) throw.
Hatchet throwing was an activity used by the warriors of the Iroquois nation to “sharpen the eye, harden the muscle, and preserve the skill of the warrior and hunter,” according to The Iroquois in the American Revolution, by Barbara Graymont.
“The 98th Training Division is hosting the competition, and our patch for the 98th is the Iroquois head,” said Sgt. Maj. Robert Cameron, 98th Training Division (IET) operations sgt. maj. and the head coordinator for the event. “Command Sgt. Maj. Priest decided to add the tomahawk throw to the competition to acknowledge our history and to build esprit de corps among our Soldiers.”
The plan worked, because the general consensus from the Soldiers was that they loved that event in particular.
“It was obviously a morale-building event designed to break up the stress of all the other events, and we all really enjoyed it,” said Sgt. Ryan C. Moldovan, 1st Bn., 390th Inf. Reg., 98th Training Division (IET). “I hope it becomes a tradition.”
Regardless of the area in which each Soldier excelled, the key to winning is consistency, according to Skola.
Soldiers competing in the 108th Training Command’s 2016 combined Best Warrior and Drill Sergeant of the Year competition wrapped up the first night of competition with a night land navigation course at Fort Jackson, S.C., March 21. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Brian Hamilton, 108th Training Command (IET), Public Affairs
“You can’t be just good at PT or just good at modules,” said Skola. “You have to be consistent at everything. You might not win every event, but if you come in second or third, you’re probably going to win just because you’re consistent.”
The overall winners for the 108th Training Command (IET) Best Warrior competition were Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Moeller and Spc. Kayla Bundy, both from the 95th Training Division (IET). Those two now advance to the Army Reserve level competition to be held in May at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Army Reserve Drill Sgts., Sgt. Ryan C. Moldovan, 98th Training Division and Sgt. 1st Class Blake Skola, 95th Training Division, will meet this September at Fort Jackson in a head-to-head matchup to determine who will be crowned the Army Reserve’s Drill Sgt. of the Year.