NEWS | June 27, 2017

7th MSC Soldier faces challenges at USARC Best Warrior Competition

By By Sgt. 1st Class John Freese, 7th MSC Public Affairs Office 7th Mission Support Command

“Be the person [who] decided to go for it…for the schools, the letters, the awards, the comradery, the pride. Do it.”

That’s the perspective of Sgt. Erin Hodge, just days after participating as the lone representative for the 7th Mission Support Command in the U.S. Army Reserve Best Warrior Competition June 11-17 at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Her drive to train for, compete in and stand out among her peer Soldiers has made its mark at the 7th MSC.

“I am extremely proud of Sgt. Hodge and her accomplishments,’’ said the 7th MSC’s senior NCO, Command Sergeant Major Raymond Brown.

Brown stressed that Best Warrior is more than an individual Soldier event.

“It sounds counterintuitive, but at this level of competition it is more about a person's true commitment to being a team player,” Brown said. “Sgt. Hodge always extended a hand to her competitors. That attitude goes a long way and she competed among the best in [U.S. Army Reserve Command].”

Asked for one word to describe it all, Hodge emphasized that it is was challenging — possibly the most challenging things she’s done.

“Between sleep deprivation and sweat in my eyes, to being able to physically keep up with my male team members sprinting across a landing zone was both mentally and physically challenging,” Hodge said. “There were several occasions that I wanted to quit. During the unknown distance foot march I contemplated dropping my ruck and gear and sitting down. At 0200, when we were abruptly woken up [to march] by the sound of banging on the barracks room door, I was tempted to zip myself up into my sleeping bag and miss formation. However, even with all those road blocks that I put in front of myself, I just kept pushing to face the next challenge.”

Of course, the challenges began well before the days of competition. There were adversities typical to many reserve Soldiers in their non-stop efforts to balance home life, work, school, and military duty.

She worked with her sponsor, Sgt. First Class Juan Perez, to study and rehearse for the board of sergeants major, hone her warrior tasks and conduct intense physical training sessions. She did several practice ruck marches and spent a lot of time in the gym to increase her strength.

On this front she solicited support from a 7th MSC peer, Staff Sgt. Kara Green.

“We motivated each other to work hard in the gym,” Green said. “It makes a big difference when you have someone in there pushing you.”

On a white board in the gym on Kleber Kaserne, Hodge wrote out some intense weight routines which served as their training program. It focused on legs, back and core — essential for carrying heavy loads and mitigating the risk of injury during events like the obstacle course and Army Combatives.

Hodge also attended a Combat Life Saver class, faced tough questions from a mock sergeant major board, increased her skills with the advanced Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System and practiced with the 9 mm pistol, the M-4 Carbine, and the Squad Assault Weapon.

While none of the competition events fell specifically into her military occupational specialty of preventative medicine, she was strongest in the medical and Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear defense lanes.

The ruck march was her biggest challenge.

Competitors were dropped a couple miles from their gear and then administered a field Army Physical Fitness Test. This particular version contained a train-as-you-fight twist, with competitors donned in combat fatigues, boots and carrying an M-4 carbine.

What makes the ruck march mentally as well as physically tough for Warrior competitors is that they don’t know the distance. They are simply told to ruck up, are pointed in the right direction, and given the order to go.

“After a couple hours of trekking, I came to a sign that said ‘Mid-way point,’” Hodge said.

It was here where Soldiers were made to cross a muddy stream and then slosh on to the supposed second half of the distance in soggy boots and tired, pickled feet; a potentially deflating experience to say the least. Hodge had to dig deepest here, and harness an attribute noted by her command sergeant major.

“Sergeant Hodge seems able to work outside of her comfort zone; to push on through those tough times we face, better than many do,” Brown said.

As it turned out this time, the half-way sign was a red herring.

“I squished on for another 100 sad meters before I saw a huge clock with my time ticking away,” she said. “It was the finish line.”

Best Warrior is known to throw a curve or two in order to keep competitors on their toes, and Hodge found herself lacking in some of the tested skills.

“I wish I’d have thought outside the box more,” she said. “Setting up claymore mines, tying knots, throwing knives and tomahawks and prepping and shooting the AT4 (anti-tank weapon) never crossed my mind.”

There was one other challenge not yet addressed. In a field of roughly 40 Warrior Competitors, Hodge was one of only four female Soldiers. By competition’s end, she was one of only two left.

“There was an added pressure not to fail,” she said. “I hate that some people think females just can’t hang with the tough guys, and I was determined to prove them wrong.”

She and the other female finisher were given no special treatment or exception. They carried the same load, travelled the same distance, and faced the same conditions and constraints.

“When it was all over, a couple male competitors told me they’d be lucky to work with me. It was a huge complement and earning their respect made me feel invincible,” she said.