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NEWS | Feb. 16, 2024

98th Training Division selects 2024 Best Warriors and Drill Sergeant of the Year

By Lt. Col. Michelle Lunato 98th Training Division - Initial Entry Training

U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers from across the 98th Training Division (Initial Entry Training) competed in the Best Warrior and Drill Sergeant of the Year Competitions at Fort Moore, Georgia, Feb. 8-11, 2024.

The 18 competitors from the Division’s three brigades were all vying to win one of the three possible titles: Division Soldier of the Year, Division Noncommissioned Officer of the Year and Division Drill Sergeant of the Year. While a Division win was the immediate mission, the larger goal was being able to represent the Division at the 108th Training Command (IET) Best Squad Competition in March.

The Best Warrior/Best Squad Competition program, which is conducted across the the U.S. Army, U.S. Army National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve, is an annual event that identifies and honors the most skilled and proficient Soldiers. Winners at each level move onto higher headquarter’s competition, with the ultimate end state of competing at the Department of the Army’s week-long Best Squad Competition that includes Soldiers from all components competing side by side.

To save funds, division-level competitions typically condense BWCs into four days, which includes travel days. That leaves only two grueling days for the competitors to test their physical and mental readiness.

The 98th Training Division competitors kicked off their first real competition day at 5:30 a.m. with a non-standard Army Combat Fitness Test. The test included six events: three repetition maximum deadlift, standing power throw, hand release push-up, sprint-drag-carry, plank and a 2-mile run. What made the test non-standard was the fact that the Soldiers conducted the test while in their Operational Camouflage Pattern uniforms (with tennis shoes) rather than the traditional physical fitness uniforms.

Upon finishing their 2-mile run, the Soldiers were directed to regroup and put on their boots. Before heading out on a 3-mile ruck march, they were all tested on their effective use of military camouflage paint.

Immediately upon returning from the 3-mile march, with 30-pound rucks, the Soldiers were told to hydrate and get ready for the next event, an obstacle course. This obstacle course was not what Soldiers expected or planned for, said the Division Soldier of the Year winner, Spc. Jamie Vanderschoot, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Brigade.

“Since we did I just wasn’t expecting it. I was anticipating others on post, which you should never do anyway — always be prepared for what’s to come.”

The Ranger course included some common obstacles like various walls and a vertical ladder to scale, but it threw in a number uniques challenges for the Soldiers as well. After climbing a rope, the competitors moved over to the horizontal ladder, with spinning rungs, but instead of falling into dirt or mulch below, the pit below was full of water—cold water. Immediately after that, the Soldiers moved into the crawl pit, which was also full of water. There, they performed a mix of high crawling and low crawling under barbed wire. All that cold water was a mix of good and bad and challenging and rewarding all at the same time, said Vanderschoot.

“It was after a ruck, and after the PT test and camo face painting, so when you’d fall off an obstacle and fall into the water, it felt amazing—until you went chest deep under the water to go under the barbed wire—my hair got stuck, couldn’t breath…that was definitely the most fun. It was very hard, but the most rewarding, in my opinion, to finish that.”

The pace of events, all before noon, brought physical and mental challenges to the competitors. However, this what all the competitors were here for said, Division NCO of the Year winner, Staff Sgt. David Lamb, Delta Company, 2/398 of 1st Brigade.

“I enjoyed the obstacle course a lot. I enjoy the physical aspect of running that 3-mile ruck and then going straight into the obstacle course—them just pushing us to exhaustion.”

Of course, the day wasn’t over, there were plenty of events remaining. After changing out of their wet uniforms, the Soldiers jumped onto a bus and moved out to both the M4 Zero and Qualification Ranges, where they also took an Army knowledge test.

Then to end the day, they jumped back onto the bus to test their land navigation skills, where they had to find points on both a day and night course.

Day two came quick for the competitors as the first event was the 12-mile ruck march (with a 30-pound ruck) that began at 5:30 a.m.

Many Soldiers anticipate and train for 12-mile road marches, but after a grueling first day of events, it’s a strain on your body and mind, said Division Drill Sergeant of the Year winner, Staff Sgt. Michael Spragg, Bravo Company, 2/417 of 3rd Brigade.

“The hardest part [of the competition] would be the 12-mile ruck on the second day. We had already put a lot of effort in on the first day, which was great. And coming out, right off the bat, and doing a 12-mile ruck, in which most would be a run, was challenging.”

However, this is exactly what Soldiers volunteering for the competition wanted, said Vanderschoot.

“I chose to do the competition simply because I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to show myself and others that I can compete among the best, with the best and see how that comes out. I wanted to prove it not only to myself, but to my unit. I owe a lot to them for all that they have done for me.”

The pace and mix of events is what made the competition great, said Lamb.

“It definitely pushed me physically and mentally. There was not a lot of down time to rest or take a load off. We were just moving nonstop. So we are all really sore from it.”

Physical strain was not the only daunting task for the competitors though. Their mental agility was tested after the 12-mile ruck march with another array of tasks, such as giving drill and ceremony commands, a written essay and a military board. And for some, those events were the hardest, said Lamb.

“For me, the most challenging [part of the competition] was the board. That’s my weak point—being in front of other people in groups like that or being put on the spot.”

In hindsight, Lamb said he did a lot of physical preparation, when that is already his strong point, so he recommends that other Soldiers change up their training plans to work on tasks they find difficult.

“Don’t just focus on your strong points, but hit your weak points as well.” The Army traditionally is a male-dominated force, but Vanderschoot encourages other young females to not let that fact deter them.

“That does not mean anything. You should go for it. There are so many opportunities. There are people here to guide and encourage you. So don’t feel lost. Don’t feel scared. Just step forward and keep going.”

In fact, the Division Soldier of the Year was not ever planning on joining the U.S. Army Reserve, she said.

“I never thought about the military for myself and then one day, when I was a Senior in high school, I decided to do it. The thing is, if you want to do it, go for it. No one is going to tell you no.”

Whether its becoming a Soldier or seeking some other form of challenge and self improvement, the Division Drill Sergeant of the Year said, it’s the only way to go through life.

“Get out of your comfort zone. There is no growth in your comfort zone. The only way to grow is to push past that. There are a lot of people who I see come to competitions who don’t want to be here, and by the time they leave, they are glad they did it. And that’s because competition makes you grow,” said Spragg.