Soldiers from the 95th Training Division swept the podium claiming all three titles at the 2021 108th Training Command’s Best Warrior/Drill Sergeant of the Year Competition at Fort Jackson, South Carolina April 5-9.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because the 95th TD swept the podium at the 2020 BWC/DSOY as well. In fact, the 95th TD has claimed the Command Soldier of the Year title for the last two years, the Command Noncommissioned Officer of the Year title for the last three years and the Command Drill Sergeant of the Year title for the last five years.
Of course, this year’s competitors from the 95th TD did not enter the week knowing they were going to win. They were just as anxious as the division-level competitors from the 104th Training Division and the 98th Training Division, especially after seeing each other perform at the various events, said Bolingbrook, Illinois native, Spc. Everado Gutierrez, the 95th TD Soldier of the Year who claimed the 108th TC Soldier of the Year title.
“Just three weeks ago, I was competing for the Division, and I won,” said Gutierrez, explaining how he felt confident in the beginning of the week. “But then, I came over here and saw Spc. [John] Fowler [98th TD SOY] and how he did on the Army Combat Fitness Test on day one, and it kind of got me a little nervous.”
As the competitors fought their way through 20 separate events (21 for the drill sergeant of the year category competitors), each discovered their own strengths and weaknesses, making it hard for them to know where they stood against their peers. The nature of competition pushes each Soldier to want to win, and make their unit proud.
The realization of not performing the best on some events was an additional mental stressor to deal with during the week, said Tacoma, Washington native, Sgt. David Blackmer, the 95th TD NCO of the Year who claimed the 108th TC NCO of the Year title.
“I wasn’t necessarily happy with my scores on some of the events at the beginning of the week, and I got kind of down and out,” said Blackmer, explaining how he had to decide to not linger on those feelings and continue to put forth his best effort.
“That’s what an NCO does. That’s what we do in the Army. You just have to drive on and shake it off, and obviously, it paid off for me, he said.
Sgt. Juan Parada, the Converse, Texas native from the 95th TD who claimed the 108th DSOY title, could not agree with Blackmer more about putting forth 100 percent effort on each event.
“Go for it. You never know what your limits are unless you do it. Then, at that point, you know what you can and cannot do, he said.
Essentially, the entire purpose of competition is to create a culture of success, a band of excellence, said Command Sgt. Maj. Todd Priest, 108th TC Command Sergeant Major. Priest said he saw the motto, ‘Iron Sharpens Iron,’ become a reality as the competitors pushed each other to excel with an inspiring amount of teamwork and camaraderie.
During the 12-mile ruck march, Blackmer and Staff Sgt. Darell Thompson, the 98th TD NCOY, were side-by-side, bounding past each other for a few feet and then repeating it again, and again.
This back and forth throughout the entire 12 miles drove Blackmer and Thompson to dig even deeper, and really made the grueling event enjoyable, said Blackmer who finished the ruck march in two hours and 31 minutes, just two minutes faster than Thompson.
“I don’t think I would have finished nearly as fast as I did, if it had not been for him. We just really pushed each other, he said. Even though we were competitors, we both just wanted to see each other do great. Both of our times improved from our last ruck march times, even though the rucks were much heavier, and it was a really good experience.”
The next pair to finish the ruck march were two 95th TD drill sergeant competitors, Parada and Sgt. David Kratky. They pushed each other throughout the competition and finished the ruck march at the exact same time.
In fact, Parada and Kratky were so close in all their scores at the 95th TD Drill Sergeant of the Year Competition that both were sent to compete at the 108th TC competition. So, Parada credits Kratky for pushing him to another level.
“If it wasn’t for him, I would not be in this position, as the Drill Sergeant of the Year,” said Parada. “It was his effort, mindset and motivation that drove me. It’s competitors like him…their leadership and camaraderie that drives me, and the others. And that’s what leads to successes, like myself being here as the DSOY.”
Even Soldier of the Year competitors, Gutierrez and Fowler, were motivating each other throughout their 12 miles, said Gutierrez.
“[Fowler] was motivating me, ‘Keep up with me. Keep up with me.’ Then, vice versa when I would see him slow down.”
These were just a few examples of the professionalism and teamwork that Priest said he saw throughout the five-day competition at Fort Jackson. And as the 108th TC’s command sergeant major, Priest said this is exactly what he hopes to see at every training event.
“At the end of the day, you both win, your units win, and we have better leaders because of it.”
By creating challenging and motivating events, like a Best Warrior Competition, we are building stronger Soldiers and more cohesive units, something we need outside the garrison environment, explained Priest at the awards ceremony.
“Oh by the way, that is how we go to combat. We don’t go into combat by ourselves. We go to combat with our Soldiers to our left and right. We are part of a squad when we go forward. We don’t do things by ourselves.”
Now, as for the 95th TD’s secret to success in clinching the 108th TC’s Best Warrior/Drill Sergeant of the Year titles, Parada says he attributes the pattern to the division’s culture.
“I would say that the leadership we have, starting at the commanding general and the command sergeant major from the 95th TD, all the way down to my first sergeant and commander, they are motivational. Their drive and their willingness to train, and train and train, allows myself and my fellow peers to be successful.”