May 7, 2015 –
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Pain. Exhaustion. The element of surprise. Mental and physical obstacles.
At the 2015 U.S. Army Reserve Best Warrior Competition, held here, May 5-7, Sgt. Maj. Blaine Huston, U.S. Army Reserve Command G-3/5/7, had only one question for the warriors.
“Are you with me?” said Huston.
He cautioned them that pain, exhaustion, surprises and the mental and physical obstacles they were about to face were designed to push each of them to their limits.
By the time the week ended, only a few were left to ask, like Oliver Twist, “May I have some more?”
At the end of it all, this year's Army Reserve Best Warrior winners, Staff Sgt. Andrew Fink from Cook, Minnesota, and Spc. Bryce Parker, from Marana, Arizona, gave it their all and then reached down within themselves and found even more.
Fink represented the 807th Medical Command (Deployment Support), while Parker represented the United States Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne), in this year's competition.
The smile on their faces as they accepted numerous coins, gifts and awards from Lt. Gen. Jeffrey W. Talley, chief of the Army Reserve, and others, gave no hints to the grueling days that Fink and Parker experienced.
“This competition met and exceeded my expectations right from the start,” said Parker. “It was grueling all day long, it just kept going, and going.”
Fink was quick to acknowledge his fellow NCO Warriors who slogged it out with him during the week.
“What keeps going through my mind right now is how lucky I am,” said Fink. “There are a lot of great competitors here.”
Fink, who is is a prior active duty combat medic with the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, credited some of his triumph to the lessons learned as an Army Ranger.
“In Ranger Battalion, you never quit anything you do, you always give your best, and that's what I did here,” said Fink.
Fink and Parker will represent the Army Reserve at the Department of the Army Best Warrior Competition in Fort Lee, Virginia, later this year, with aspirations to win it all, like Army Reserve Sgt. 1st Class Jason Manella did two years prior.
“I'm glad I could be a part of this and uphold the standard, and carry this on to the Department of the Army Competition like Sgt. 1st Class Manella did,” said Parker.
However, the end of this year's competition hardly dictated the path to glory these two Warriors took to win.
Thirty-six Warriors started the week. By the end, only 12 were left standing. It was Fink and Parker who outlasted them all.
<strong>Setting the Stage</strong>
Huston set the stage on the first day – leaving no doubt in the warriors' minds on what was to come.
With the enthusiasm of a leader prepping his troops for a battle over the ridge, Huston energetically addressed the warriors and their sponsors.
“This, has to be definitely in the top three most favorite things that fall under our umbrella, and that is those things that are training related, those things that are 'Hooah' related,” said Huston. “I'm able to get my Vitamin H out of this thing. Are you with me?”
The U.S. Army Reserve Command Best Warrior Competition pits the top Soldiers across the Army Reserve to compete for the title of best noncommissioned officer and best junior enlisted Soldier in the force.
“Out of roughly 200,000 Soldiers these competitors were singled out as being the very best, so that in itself, when the Soldiers leave this competition they should know they are 36 of the best Warriors the United States Army Reserve has,” said Sgt. Maj. Paul Klikas, U.S. Army Reserve Command G-37.
The Warriors and their sponsors, who were kept in the dark about the events and times, listened attentively as Huston gave his expectations about the competition.
“We're here to get down, we're here to get dirty, get dusty, get sore, and by the end of this thing we want to make sure that the very finest noncommissioned officer and Warrior in these groups will be selected as the winners and will then represent us very well by winning Department of the Army (Best Warrior),” said Huston.
The question that everyone in that auditorium pondered was, who would it be? But Huston made sure to share his praise on the group as a whole, energizing them for the challenges ahead.
“In my eyes, you are probably the most positive and wonderful representation of everything that is wonderful about our United States Army and our nation.” said Huston. “Are you with me? This is red, white and blue right here y'all.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Luther Thomas Jr., U.S. Army Reserve command sergeant major, shared Huston's sentiments later that evening at a no-host social.
“This has to be the most fit group I've seen since I've been in the Army Reserve, so I know this competition is going to be a great competition,” said Thomas. “I believe there is a Department of the Army (Best Warrior) winner, in this group here, and the competition for it doesn't start in October, it starts here.”
Although the Warriors and sponsors had no idea what events they were going to participate in, nevertheless the times they started, a rigorous and high tempo series of events were in place for the warriors.
<strong>Keep 'Em Moving</strong>
That high tempo started the next morning with the Army Physical Fitness Test before the sun's alarm clock ever rang.
In the early morning darkness, Soldiers and civilians from the U.S. Army Reserve Command headquarters, came out to cheer the warriors on during the APFT.
With not much time to rest and recover, the warriors completed a10km foot march through woods and tank trails under the hot North Carolina sun. With no time to spare, they immediately moved into a litter carry stress march for nearly a mile carrying a 185 pound medical mannequin. That event was designed to increase their fatigue before moving on to the M4 rifle qualification.
“There is no time for coasting, and no time for loafing, you just have to give it your all,” said Thomas.
Later that afternoon, the Warriors were given a mental and written challenge - testing them with a memorization scenario and essay. By the end of the day the number of warriors dropped from 36 to 14.
Despite the remaining numbers, the tempo didn't slow. The next day, the warriors again found themselves engaged during the midst of the morning darkness. Night land navigation turned into day land navigation as the Warriors were graded on map reading and terrain orientation.
The old saying “we do more before 9 a.m. than most people do all day” was a slap-in-the-face, cold-hard fact for this year's warriors.
Land navigation was followed by a visit to the “Little Nasty Nick” obstacle course primarily used by the special operations forces on Fort Bragg. Mystery events followed the obstacle course where the Warriors were tested on chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear procedures and Army Service Uniform deficiencies inspection.
By the final day, there were 12 warriors remaining to prepare for the command sergeants major board appearance.
Each warrior prepped their Army Service Uniform and studied with their sponsors before knocking three times and waiting to be called into the room, one by one, before the board members.
But in the back of their minds, the eight NCOs and four junior enlisted warriors knew, at the end of day, their would only be two left.
“For as long as we've had a United States Army, we've had different degrees and levels of competitiveness,” said Klikas, “The Army Reserve Best Warrior Competition exemplifies what that level of excellence should look like.”
Fink and Parker were the ones who endured the pain, fought beyond the exhaustion, faced the element of surprise, pushed through the mental and physical obstacles.
They answered Huston's call of “Are you with me?” with a resounding, “Yes we are!”
EDITOR's NOTE: Also receiving awards were: Sgt. 1st Class Keith Johnson, from Manchester, New Hampshire, representing the 1st Battalion, Army Reserve Careers Division, and Spc. Adam Job, a medical laboratory specialist, representing the 4225th U.S. Army Hospital, Army Reserve Medical Command, were named as the runners up in their respective categories.