Making the Competition

11/19/2019  |  Story by Sgt. 1st Class Lisa M Litchfield and Photos by Sgt. 1st Class Lisa M Litchfield and Maj. Michelle Lunato
The Griffon
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Tucked back in the cubicles, in the Operations section of the 108th Training Command (IET) headquarters is a trio of desks. They house computers, phones, paperwork, office supplies, a few photos, some memorabilia. To most, they are just a few desks. To those who know, this is were the magic happens.

 

These desks belong to a trio of Sgts. 1st Class who are the masterminds behind the 108th Training Command (IET) Best Warrior Competition, and who facilitate the United States Army Reserve train-up for the Department of the Army BWC and TRADOC Drill Sergeant of the Year Competition.

Sgt. 1st Class Charles Glass, Sgt. 1st Class Michael Hunter and Sgt. 1st Class Justin McCarthy have made competition their business.

“I’ve had the opportunity to come and help build the 108th’s Best Warrior and Drill Sergeant of the Year program and assist the USARC competition,” explained McCarthy. Coming from the traditional Drill Sergeant company into an operations position has given me an all new perspective on developing product, testing Soldiers to the current Army standards right out of the STPs. Not only focusing on Drill Sergeant material but also the Soldier material and how our Soldiers will be tested to find the best of the best,” he concluded.

Prior to these noncommissioned officers taking charge of the program, the 108th Training Command (IET) BWC was tasked each year to one of the down trace divisions for development and support. While each division conducted an outstanding competition during their year of hosting, there was not much continuity and each year held a certain amount of “reinventing the wheel” as planning took place.

“The division would execute their own BWC and then turn around and execute the overall competition so there was zero product for the command,” explained McCarthy.

The list of requirements for a robust BWC is extensive. From developing training materials, acquiring billeting, arranging for meals and securing transportation to requisitioning training aids, ammunition, ranges, and training areas. The team was also responsible for developing and printing the program and arranging the award ceremony, securing the awards, location and guest speaker.

“It was a pretty huge learning curve,” laughed McCarthy, “but I think it went pretty well. We were able to produce the NCO of the Year overall from the USARC competition so our success has been fairly high.”

Pulling the support staff from all three divisions was an especially helpful part of executing this competition. While a single division shouldering the burden reduces the amount of available resources, having the command in charge opens up the options for support and reduces perceptions of favoritism.

“We were able to create a product that was unknown to the commands,” explained McCarthy. It allowed us to eliminate any possibility of spillage or favoritism to any competitor and truly allowed us to find our best.”

McCarthy wants his Soldiers tested. He wanted to build a competition that kept Soldiers guessing, that tested their limits and then pushed them beyond.

“Some of the Best Warriors have become very rigid,” said McCarthy. “Standard APFT, standard weapons qual, standard first aid, standard foot march. We wanted to change that.”

Change occurred for the team by digging into the books. By selecting non-standard tasks, finding the latest and greatest out there, checking to see what the active component was training and making sure that the competition here measured up. McCarthy wanted Soldiers tested based on current threat, tasks that would ensure our competitors an edge.

Even the tasks that are considered standard, land navigation, fitness, ruck marching and weapons training were conducted in non-standard ways.

“I think the largest surprise for us this year, they were separated and pretty much segregated throughout the competition because we had so much content prepared for them,” explained McCarthy. “They were always moving, they were never together and it seemed to never stop.”

The competition was structured to start several hours before sunrise each day, conducting events in the dark and moving into daylight operations, rather than the standard competition ritual of starting near daybreak and moving into night operations.

One of those non-standard executions took place during the land navigation portion of the event. Rather than conduct a standard day land nav course and move into night land navigation just after sunset, the 108th team reversed the narrative. Soldiers were mustered for movement several hours before daybreak and moved to that start of the land navigation course. Here they conducted their “night” land navigation prior to sunrise.

“It’s hard to recover Soldiers in the dark,” explained McCarthy. “We always know we can lose Soldiers, have a medical emergency, so my recommendation is a dark to day land navigation. We do our backward planning from daybreak to our start time early in the morning so we can execute that portion in the dark, but if we do have an injury or lost Soldier, it transitions to day making for an easier recovery... it also keeps the day moving without extending the day.”

Trying to create a new product to surprise competitors is a favorite for the team and they look at three different scenarios as they create: standard round robin warrior tasks, situational training exercises, and critical thinking lanes where several things are happening at once, creating scenarios where the Soldier must prioritize and act based on their own training, beliefs and instincts.

This year, the inclusion of the ACFT came as a surprise to some competitors, but was just another event designed by the team to fulfill more than one role during the competition.

“It’s one of the hot topics as a future operations piece,” McCarthy said. “I’ve been asked to learn the program, to help identify how we implement this amongst the 108th Training Command. So we saw an opportunity with our ACFT level three instructor to incorporate that into our trainings. We’ve actually incorporated a certification course into the validation for our instructors for level two, but we also incorporated not only the ACFT test but the ACFT block of instruction for the competitors so they would leave ACFT level one certified as well.”

Assisting with this force multiplier was Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan Roy who represented the 98th Training Division and 108th Training Command at the TRADOC Drill Sergeant of the Year competition last year and is serving as cadre for this competition.

Master Fitness Trainer and ACFT level three certified, Roy facilitated the ACFT and the training for certifications. Under his guidance, over 53 Soldiers returned to their formations with ACFT certification, 40-plus of those at level one, and the remainder ACFT level two.

Although his fitness expertise was paramount to his selection as cadre, Roy also felt like his experience last year was invaluable to the competitors.

“I went through the competitions,” explained Roy. “I can give feedback to them, I can help them to prepare, those who finish up. I know what they’re going through, I know what to look for. I did this competition last year at Ft. Knox... and even the TRADOC one. This one’s no joke. It’s going to be no joke. They’re going to be tested mentally, physically and emotionally.”

No joke is just the way the BWC team wants it. They are committed to an event that doesn’t stagnate, remaining fresh and relevant and changing every year to reflect current world situations and real life challenges. This is the first event the team has been able to create beginning to end and they are justifiably pleased with the result.

“We fully created (this) from beginning to closing,” enthused McCarthy. “all of the events, awards ceremony, locations, ranges, billeting, vehicle transportation, we were tasked to write our own WARNO, Op Order, FRAGOs, host our own IPRs, so.... we create a shell of a product and allow the NCOICs to alter the product to make it their own. By doing that, every year, even though we may execute some of the same tasks... it’s going to look different, it’s going to feel different.”

From the outside, different looks good as 108th Training Command NCO of the Year winner, Sgt. Joshua Smith, also swept the United States Army Reserve Command competition and will now go on to compete at the Department of the Army competition in October.

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