NEWS | July 14, 2015

Soldiers Endure, Move on to USARC Best Warrior Competition

By Story by Sgt. Ferdinand Thomas 377th Theater Sustainment Command

FORT DEVENS, Mass. - The stakes were higher than ever for 10 U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers competing in the 377th Theater Sustainment Command Best Warrior Competition held for the first time this year at Fort Devens, Massachusetts. Only one noncommissioned officer and one junior Soldier could represent the 377th TSC at the U.S. Army Reserve Command’s competition, and only the best rose to the top during the weeklong event April 13-17.

The Best Warrior Competition is an overall measure of Soldier knowledge, physical fitness, mental stamina and much more. Troops started each day as early as 4 a.m. and finished as late as midnight or later during the contest. Planners build the schedule in a way that brings out a variety of skills developed through focused training.

“One purpose is designed to test the heart and spirit of the warrior,” said the 377th TSC’s top noncommissioned officer, Command Sgt. Major Nagee Lunde. “As leaders, we look at how well we are training our NCOs and our Soldiers. Everything we test them on is associated with Army doctrine. And everything that is associated with Army doctrine is associated with how we fight and train. Therefore, I use this to make sure Soldiers are trained well for the battlefield.”

Contestants competed and won within their own commands to make it to Fort Devens but the level of training, preparation and drive separated front-runners from the rest of the pack early in the competition. The top finisher in the junior enlisted category, Pfc. Ilya Avdeyenkov, believes the entire experience brought out the best in competitors.

“In the process of preparing for the Best Warrior Competition, I became a better Soldier,” said Avdeyenkov who represented the 316th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary). “I know my soldiering skills a lot better.”

Army Sgt. Donna Grady, also representing the 316th ESC based in Coraopolis, Pennsylvania, agreed. Grady, who was treated by medics for two large blisters that developed on her feet, battled through the pain to win the Best Warrior title in the NCO category.

“I believe the overall focus of this competition is to get us to a point of mental and physical exhaustion and see how we respond and continue to be resilient and perform under those kinds of situations that really bring out the warrior inside each of us,” said Grady, a Pittsburgh native.

The jam-packed schedule summoned that warrior in each competitor. The intensity of this competition is no secret to Soldiers. They enter understanding the bar is set extremely high and that the fast-paced, high-energy environment starts upon arrival.

Weigh-in and a full layout of the troops’ equipment came just hours after walking through the door—the official start of an event-filled week. Soldiers tackled more than 30 events over the course of the competition including the Army Physical Fitness Test, M9 qualification, Confidence Course, Day and Night Land Navigation, Combatives and much more. The intensity kept the competition’s cadre, predominantly from the 655th Regional Support Group, on high alert for injuries. The conclusion of a 10K ruck-march took some to the brink of complete exhaustion. By the end, temperatures were in the upper 50s but full gear and a 35-pound ruck-sack raised body temperatures. Their gear included body armor with plates, the Army Combat Helmet and protective mask.

“What’s the next event?” asked Army Sgt. William Gonzalez, breathing heavily and soaked from head to toe in his own sweat.

Gonzalez, a human resources specialist who represented the Deployment Support Command, was last to finish but undeterred as he attacked the remaining events. His was a determined spirit characteristic of all the competitors.

Through it all sponsors, cadre and a host of senior noncommissioned officers from across the command enthusiastically cheered for competitors; motivating them through words and action to finish strong.

“Watching the sergeant major pass me on the ruck march helped pump me up,” said a surprised Spc. Timothy Hutchinson, 310th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) of Lunde. “I couldn’t believe an old guy was passing me. It made me push harder to see someone older than me and with higher rank than me beat me in a physical event.”

Contestants range in age from 19 to the late 20s and hold a variety of sustainment professions from mortuary affairs to chemical biological radiological and nuclear specialist. Many in the group are pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees in areas such as music education and nursing. Each brought something different to the table that helped build camaraderie among contestants throughout the week and enduring friendships beyond the competition. For Avdeyenkov, that support helps fuel him to the next stage.

“When you’re down or you’re feeling like you wanna give up, just remember all the people that contributed to your success and those are the things that keep you going.”

Grady and Avdeyenkov advance to the USARC competition where they will represent the 377th TSC at Fort Bragg, N.C. May 4-8. Winners here will represent the entire Army Reserve in the final stage of competition where they will go head to head against the finest warriors in the Army for the title of Department of the Army NCO and Soldier of the year.