What is the Best Warrior Competition?

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The medic checks Spc. Caladie during the 2019 104th Division (LT) BWC

What is the Best Warrior Competition? It’s a question I struggled finding the right words to accurately depict, but I think the best answer I could conjure up was honor, everything that goes into it from the competitors to the cadre represents something so much larger than ourselves. We come together from across the United States to put our skills as Soldiers to the test, but we aren’t setting out to honor ourselves. We honor the flag on our shoulder and the patch over our hearts.

We honor those who died for our independence, for the freedom of all our people, for the freedom of people across the globe. We honor the paratroopers who jumped into hell without a second thought to free the world from one of the most volatile, genocidal dictators the world has ever and will ever see. We honor the Soldiers who stormed the shores of Normandy into certain death, we honor every man and woman who died for something much larger than themselves.

I often think back on my career in the Army, the things I have accomplished, the things I strive to accomplish, and even the things I may never accomplish. I have stood at the grave of Felix Modesto Conde Falcon, holding the Army colors while serving in the First Cavalry Division Honor Guard as Gen. Milley and Command Sgt. Maj. Schroeder posthumously awarded the deserving hero of the Medal of Honor. It was a violently windy day and all 187 streamers were whipping around, the stack of Soldiers beside me pinned me down with their shoulders because there is no movement, there is no adjustment. We stand at the position of attention and by god we aren’t allowed to have a droplet of sweat so much as streak down our foreheads. It was never even a question of could I hold the colors for the entire ceremony in the conditions, how could it be. I am here to honor a man who had lived with courage and honor I can only imagine; fighting in Vietnam, a man who died protecting his men, and crippling the enemy forces. Upon the completion of this ceremony now Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Milley briefly spoke with us, thanked us, and even gave us his coin. I couldn’t even register what had happened because all I wanted to do was look at the Medal of Honor up close in person as it rested on the tombstone of a fearless warrior whose soul was at rest. I hold this legendary man in my heart everywhere I go for eternity.

Spc. Caladie is 2nd Brigade Soldier of the Year at the 104th Division (LT) BWC.

 

As I prepare for my fifth Best Warrior Competition, I can’t help but think about the past competitions, most importantly my loss at Division last year. I competed through the entire competition with what I had thought was a hernia. My physical training between brigades and divisions was essentially nonexistent I was just trying to recover and I just couldn’t seem to get back to normal, the pain in my pelvis area was not unbearable but constantly restraining me from my full potential. Not competing was never a thought in my head. Thinking back on Staff Sgt. Falcon, the troopers of Easy Company at Bastogne, and Red Platoon and what they overcame at Command Post Keating, my pain couldn’t have felt less insignificant. Nothing that I face in life will ever be comparable to the Heroes who have come before me, so nothing will stand in my way of honoring them. I competed and gave it my absolute best, and that just was not good enough. Later that summer I still couldn’t shake the pain and went to the Emergency Room to find out I in fact had testicular cancer. Honestly, I felt alone and scared. I fell into a depression, put on weight after my surgery, and frankly wasn’t honoring myself let alone the people I look up to as giants, uncommon men who found strength in each other and their cause. That was when I decided to compete again this year for the title of Soldier of the Year, I had no other choice. What better way to reestablish myself than throwing myself back into this series of competitions. I did not look the part; I believe my unit was very hesitant to send me back, being last year’s winner was probably the only reason they ended up letting me return.

Spc. Caladie trains incoming cadets on AT-4 rocket launcher, West Point, July 2018.

 

Where do I want to be? I sometimes think to myself I want to reach the pinnacle and stand at the mountain top as Soldier of the Year for the entire United States Army, but I’m constantly reminded by my reading or viewing of historical documentaries, that is not my goal at all. I want to honor those who came before me, I want to inspire those who stand beside me, and I want to educate those who will come after me. My passion is and has always been with the people, all people from all walks of life. Which brings me to the Soldiers I compete with. I can honestly tell you I have never come out with the intention of beating a fellow Soldier. That is not what these competitions are remotely about for me. I want to do the absolute best I can, but not to beat the Soldier next to me. These competitions are brief, some three days and others a week. In that short amount of time we form bonds that will last a lifetime, we work ourselves to the bone and give our absolute all not just to the competition but to each other. We share the journey amongst ourselves, we even gripe and complain together, knowing full well we signed up for this and we greatly enjoy it, but sometimes it just gives us a boost in morale talking a little spit on mile 57 of rucking to our next station. We pick one another up when we are down, we motivate one another with awful cadences or popular songs sung at a tune that no one would ever want to hear. We form bonds that just can’t be formed outside of a state of suffering.

In closing I will leave you with this quote, “If a man hasn’t discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.”- Martin Luther King Jr. I think every single human being who has put that flag on their shoulder, and that patch over their heart; has given themselves up to something much bigger than themselves. Not just the country and her people, nor the Army; each one of us has given ourselves up entirely to Soldiers that stand next to us.

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