By Sgt. 1st Class Lisa M. Litchfield
U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne)
No matter who you are, you have likely, at one time or another, been put in a situation where you were expected to be competitive; a situation where someone involved would be designated as the clear winner. When the units throughout the U.S. Army Reserve holds their Best Warrior competitions each spring, the environments are designed this way. Lower echelon commands hold competitions and one Soldier and one noncommissioned officer advance to the next higher competition until each October. This is when the Department of the Army announces the final two winners at the annual Association of the United States Army (AUAA) conference in Washington D.C.
But that isn’t really the end of it. Although the odds are not necessarily in your favor to be the last Soldier standing, there are benefits to being involved in the process that go much further than adding a title and an award or two to your resume. This year the competitors at the 2021 U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne) Best Warrior Competition got to experience this firsthand.
“Best Warrior grows you as a Soldier because it’s humbling,” explained Staff Sgt. Valery Valtrain, 151st Theater Information Operations Group, Fort Totten, New York.
“No matter how good you may be, there is an area that causes you to stumble … everyone had areas to improve on and it is amazing to see how energetic everyone was to build themselves up to become better.”
Valtrain went on to explain that although there is, of course, a physical aspect to the competition, it wasn’t what she believed the point of the week was.
“There are so many MOSs, there is a cohesion that is necessary for the Army as a whole to function,” said Valtrain. “Being a Soldier means looking past your own needs to become part of a greater goal, a greater good.”
Staff Sgt. Natalie Tedesco, 303rd Psychological Operations Company (Tactical), Coraopolis, Pennsylvania and Staff Sgt. Riley Greenwald, 432nd Civil Affairs Battalion, Green Bay, Wisconsin, both felt like the unique skills of the USACAPOC(A) Soldiers played a part in how quickly this group of competitors bonded and were able to learn from each other, rather than just being adversaries during the competition.
“Our group came together extremely fast,” said Greenwald. “In the Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations world, it takes a different breed of Soldier to be outstanding in those fields and everybody on our team was an outstanding Soldier. There’s so much to be said about putting a team together in 24 hours.”
Tedesco agreed saying “Our group was definitely close and able to form relationships quickly and help each other, which is a testament to our MOS. As PSYOP and Civil Affairs, we must be able to build relationships and help people.”
Operating as a team, encouraging each other on the “battlefield,” and realizing where their strengths and weaknesses lie, the 11 Soldiers in this competition also were able to realize a potential in themselves that they may not have seen before.
“Ever since beating brain cancer 3.5 years ago, I have been challenging myself at every opportunity to better myself as a person and Soldier,” explained Sgt. Shayn Lindquist, 412th Civil Affairs Battalion, Whitehall, Ohio.
“Every time I complete one challenge, I immediately look for my next one,” he said. “Each time I compete, I grow more as a knowledgeable NCO who can pass that on. Especially being an NCO who has not been deployed yet, it is all the more important that I take these opportunities to develop my skill set and knowledge so that when that time comes, I will be prepared to lead Soldiers.”
Staff Sgt. Jonathon Chacon, 426th Civil Affairs Battalion, Upland, California, who would go on to win the 2021 USACAPOC(A) BWC, explained that while they all came to compete, they left with knowledge they wouldn’t have without being here.
“We all came here knowing that we would be competing against each other at a high level, and it would be tough,” explained Chacon. “But with everyone feeling the same sweat, pain and fatigue, camaraderie and a mutual respect can and did develop fast. Everything that these competitions expect out of Soldiers is well within the training reach of every company level unit and if not, everyone knows somebody who knows somebody. Networking is the key for any shortcomings.”
Tedesco was also quick to point out the far-reaching benefits to being at the competition.
“There are so many aspects of this competition that I will take back to my unit - starting with leadership,” she enthused. “The cadre leadership set the tone for what a good leader is and how to teach, guide, and push their Soldier's limits.”
“I will also bring higher expectations of basic Warrior Tasks and Battle Drills, while further building their (Soldier) knowledge in new areas such as land navigation refreshers, pulling different radio systems, weapon systems, and harder physical training. I think with the pandemic, many people are too comfortable and need to be reminded what is needed of them,” Tedesco went on. “Being a Soldier means holding myself to the highest expectations professionally and personally. I must always be trained and ready to defend our country as well as personable to quickly build trust with my brothers and sisters in arms.”
Before she even left Fort Jackson, Valtrain was identifying what she needed to work on for the future of the force.
“I've already initiated conversations with my 1st Sgt. to discuss training shortages,” explained Valtrain. “I have plans to make more of a hodgepodge of training, instead of breaking everything up into individual training, mesh them together.”
The competitors were rarely seen outside of each other’s company, and even once they were individually done with tasks you could find them next to their fellow Soldiers, cheering them on every step of the way.
No stranger to competition, Greenwald stated, “you can’t just be idle … I’m a very outspoken person and I know, being a leader, you have to be there to help motivate everybody. Sometimes counterfeit motivation is, honestly, the best motivation…. All it is is one foot in front of the other. You can do anything in the world for 10 seconds at a time.”
Valtrain confessed that the support of her fellow competitors kept her going.
“The group of Soldiers competing were amazing,” she explained. “Their enthusiasm and support definitely made it easier to keep moving forward.”
While that support was critical to keeping the Soldiers going, it isn’t the usual way to conduct business in competition. For Lindquist, who would eventually go on to be crowned the USACAPOC(A) NCO of the Year Runner-up, it was the right thing to do.
“It allows everyone to compete better,” he said. “We all helped each other develop and improve upon our weaknesses, knowing well that it was a competition. We did this because the Army is not an individual oriented organization, it is a team. So, although we made the competition harder for ourselves, we had a blast doing it and made it all around more fun and enjoyable.”
Lindquist had a blast all the way around in the competition.
“It is very rare for a Soldier, especially an Army Reserve Soldier, to practice all their basic Soldiering skills within a year, let alone three days,” he said. “This is the best opportunity for any Soldier to test those skills and see exactly what they need to work on in a very short period of time. The most important takeaway to pass on is that I want Soldiers to know BWC is not a “voluntold” event, but is actually a lot of fun and every time I do one, I look back on it and say I was glad I did it, regardless of the results.”
Camaraderie, confidence, leadership skills, support, networking, training. So much more than just a title.