NEWS | April 28, 2016

Butler, Martin are U.S. Army Reserve Best Warrior “Game Masters”

By Timothy Hale U.S. Army Reserve Command

FORT BRAGG, N.C. – Sgt. 1st Class Aaron Butler, and Sgt. 1st Class Casey Martin could be considered the “game masters” for the 2016 U.S. Army Reserve Best Warrior Competition.

Much like the characters from the popular “Hunger Games” books and movies franchise, Butler and Martin are leading a team of training cadre devising and preparing a series of events and challenges for the approximately 40 U.S. Army Reserve noncommissioned officers and Soldiers who will come to Fort Bragg, May 2-8, for the ninth-annual U.S. Army Reserve event.

But unlike tributes that battle against each other to the death for the delight of spectators on giant video screens, the U.S. Army Reserve Best Warrior Competition is a solitary event unseen by most except the watchful eye of evaluators and training cadre.

The U.S. Army Reserve Best Warrior Competition pits Soldiers and NCOs competing against Army standards in technical and tactical proficiency as well as overall Army knowledge.
Those who can overcome challenges and obstacles by thinking on their feet and paying attention to the smallest details will have the odds in their favor to survive and maybe, just be named, the “Best in the Army Reserve.”

The top Soldier and NCO from the competition will represent the U.S. Army Reserve at the Department of the Army Best Warrior Competition later this year at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia.

“The U.S. Army Reserve Best Warrior Competition sits at the heart of everything that a Warrior and a defender of our country is all about,” said Sgt. Maj. Blaine Huston, the USARC G-3/5/7 sergeant major. “It gives them opportunity to hone their skills, sharpen themselves as Warriors, and to come out and demonstrate their proficiency and expertise. It’s the Super Bowl of Soldiers for a chance at the title of Best Warrior.”

Huston believes there is an expectation of what a Soldier should be in the eyes of the American public.

“When you say the word ‘Soldier’ to someone sitting in an airport or in a diner across this great nation, somebody has a picture in their mind of what a Soldier should be. All these visions come into their minds and I believe, if they were able to tune like an episode of the “Hunger Games,” and they could watch from their homes, they would see precisely what they envision of a Soldier, or a Warrior of this nation, by watching the U.S. Army Reserve Best Warrior Competition.”

Experienced Cadre’

Butler is no stranger to Best Warrior competitions. As the 2009 U.S. Army Reserve NCO of the Year, Butler knows what it takes to compete and win. Since competing at the Army-level event, Butler has been a sponsor and has organized Best Warrior competitions for his brigade and the Army Reserve Medical Command in 2014 and 2015. Butler, from Three Forks, Montana, is assigned to the 4225th U.S. Army Hospital in Helena, Montana as a medical logistics specialist.

Martin, a forward observer, has been a drill sergeant for 11 years and has dovetailed his experiences working with basic trainees and serving as a Best Warrior cadre two years ago at Fort Dix, N.J. into this year’s competition. Martin, from Mount Airy, N.C., is assigned to Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 320th Infantry Regiment, 98th Training Division, 108th Training Command.

“Butler and Martin are two fantastic senior noncommissioned officers that are absolutely in charge,” Huston said.

“They received our commanding general’s and command sergeant major’s intent and once they had that, they gave us an absolute ‘thumbs up’ and they took charge. They are gelling. They are seamless and one-in-the-same. They understand the big picture of producing the best candidates to go forward and represent the U.S. Army Reserve at the Department of the Army Best Warrior Competition,” Huston said. “At the end of the day, they are the two master-minds, the game masters. This is going to be a professionally-run event.”

But it is not just a two-man show. Butler and Martin have the support of hundreds of experts from across the U.S. Army Reserve and active duty units at Fort Bragg and Huston had high praise for those who are supporting this year’s competition.

“We have so many down trace commands that play a role in planning considerations,” Butler said.

“We have to tailor our events for a much larger competitor field. As far as execution goes, we have large support coming from Army Reserve Soldiers from throughout our commands who are here as part of their own annual training. Plus we have support from our active duty brothers and sisters in the XVIIIth Airborne Corps, 82nd Airborne Division, and the NCO Academy here on Fort Bragg. Our active duty partners are providing range NCOICs and safeties since they are more familiar with the ranges here.”

As a drill sergeant, Martin said the experience they bring to a competition of this size is unmatched.

“Drill sergeants primarily work as part of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command so they understand standardized training and evaluations,” Martin said. “An event like the U.S. Army Reserve Best Warrior is pretty much the same as running Basic Combat Training or Advanced Individualized Training standards. It’s all standard, collective training and evaluation without impartiality. The lane events in our competition will be run and evaluated in a similar fashion as current TRADOC programs of instruction.”

Butler said there will be 36 drill sergeants on the field at the competition. Each one was personally interviewed to determine their individual strengths in order to “ensure we put our best foot forward as a cadre’.”

From U.S. Army Reserve drill sergeants to transportation and medical, administration support, and each directorate within the command headquarters, Huston said that Butler and Martin have the best support staff to plan and manage the competition.

“Everyone of those organizations has a hand in the support of this competition,” Huston said.

No Time to Rest

Butler said this year’s competition has a very aggressive training schedule packed into a compressed, three-day window.

“We’re going to be moving the Warriors from one event, to the next, and to the next with very little downtime in between,” Butler said. “Cadre teams will be leap frogging to each event with a lot of coordination and logistics in between.”

He said competitors will arrive on May 1 and 2 for in-processing and other administrative duties. The actual competition phase runs from May 3-5, with the winners announced at an awards luncheon on May 6.

“This is our ninth year and it is going to be one of the most challenging events these Warriors have ever seen,” Huston said. “It is going to be physically demanding, mentally grueling, and they will be deprived of sleep to complete the competition in the short time we have them here.

“We will execute the competition to the standards and to do that we may take away a little bit of their time to rest, recoup, and recover. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s really all about - the Best Warrior Competition - and Warriors find a way. They’re living the Warrior Ethos and the Soldier’s Creed and they continue to move out,” Huston said.

“There is not going to be time for pain, there is not going to be time to be tired, there is not going to be time to be hungry. There is just going to be time to go,” he said.

The overall Soldier and NCO winner and their alternates will have three weeks of training with selected U.S. Army Reserve drill sergeants at Fort Devens, Massachusetts in August. That training will be the final preparation for the Department of the Army Best Warrior Competition at Fort A.P. Hill.

A Legacy of Success

In 2007, the U.S. Army Reserve and the Army National Guard made their first appearance in the Army-level competition at Fort Lee, Virginia, which was previously closed to reserve component Soldiers and NCOs.

In 2008, both the Army Reserve and National Guard shocked the active duty by sweeping the competition in both the Soldier and NCO categories – a feat that has not been duplicated since.

That year, then Spc. David Obray, a U.S. Army Reserve engineer, won the title of Soldier of the Year while, Staff Sgt. Michael Merino, a Montana guardsman, won the NCO of the Year title.

In the 14-year Army-level competition, the U.S. Army Reserve has had two more outright winners – Sgt. 1st Class Jason Manella in 2013, and the reigning NCO of the Year, Staff Sgt. 

Andrew Fink in 2015. There was one previous U.S. Army Reserve winner at the Army-level competition.

Spc. John Emmett, the Soldier of the Year in 2006, was mobilized with the U.S. Army Europe so they claimed the win.

Let the Games Begin

While the schedule will be tight and the events challenging, Butler wanted to remind this year’s Warriors of two things.

“Sleep while you can because you’re not going to get a lot of that here. And while you’re here and maybe struggling through an event, don’t forget that better Soldiers have done more and asked for less.”

The Warriors will have to reach deep down within themselves to find out — to borrow a line from the “Hunger Games”  — if the odds are forever in their favor.

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