By Eve Meinhardt
Eight noncommissioned officers and seven junior enlisted Soldiers representing units from across the U.S. Army Forces Command competed for the title of FORSCOM Noncommissioned Officer and Soldier of the Year gave their all during the Best Warrior Competition at Fort Bragg, Aug. 17-24.
Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Grinston, command sergeant major, FORSCOM, was with the competitors throughout the week to provide motivation and support. He said that the events were designed to test the mental and physical toughness of each of the participants and that even though they were evaluated as individuals, it still showcased their skills as part of the Army team.
“The Army Best Warrior Competition builds esprit de corps, morale … and it really tests to see if all that training that they’ve done for years of their lives (puts them among) the best of the best,” said Grinston. “It’s very important for Soldiers to know they can test themselves physically and mentally, with probably some of the best Soldiers in the U.S. Army, to see how they come out.”
While each competitor had an idea of what events testing their mettle and Soldier skills might be in store for them over the week-long competition, there was no published schedule of what the day would bring and sometimes the day’s events were altered just to keep everyone on their toes. Gen. Robert B. “Abe” Abrams said that this was deliberately done to test the resiliency of the competitors.
“We wanted to have an unknown component, something unexpected, to represent the battlefields of the future,” said Abrams, commanding general, FORSCOM. “We have to have Soldiers in our formation able to deal with ambiguity and the unknown. They have to be able to respond based on what they are currently facing without knowing what’s next.”
Keeping the 15 participants guessing was not an easy task, especially considering that each of them was facing their fourth or fifth Best Warrior challenge after moving up through battalion, brigade, division and corps-level competitions. By day four of the competition, as they had to provide medical aid and evacuate a casualty under fire, the physical and mental demands each of the Soldiers faced were clearly taking a toll, but they continued to press forward and exert what remaining energy they had to overcome the challenge before them.
As he prepared to set off in the woods, aware that he was probably going to come under fire because of the paint ball gun and mask he was issued, but not knowing that he was going to have to treat a chest wound and amputated limb, Staff Sgt. Ifegwu Ifegwu took advantage of the brief moment to catch his breath while double-checking the contents of his aid bag. He said that he looks at the competition as an opportunity to test himself.
“I’m just going to try my best,” said Ifegwu, a member of Wu Tang Platoon, Blackhawk Troop, 1st Squadron, 89th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division. “I’ve said that at every level of competition and that’s all you’re ever going to get from me. I’m not competing to win; I’m just trying my best.”
Ifegwu’s best was enough from him to be named the XVIII Airborne Corps NCO of the Year. He, along with Pfc. Caden Emmons, 541st Transportation Company, 129th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 101st Sustainment Bde., 101st Abn. Div., represented the best of the XVIII Abn. Corps and came to Fort Bragg to compete against other FORSCOM Soldiers for the opportunity to represent the command at the U.S. Army Best Warrior Competition later this year.
At the Aug. 24 luncheon celebrating the culmination of the FORSCOM competition, Ifegwu’s name was announced as the top NCO. He silently accepted the honor and stood by Abrams and Grinston, awaiting the announcement of the Soldier of the Year. When Emmons name was called, Ifegwu’s face broke into a smile that he did not allow for his own achievements and cheered as Emmons came forward to accept his award. His joy was doubly apparent when it was announced that Abrams also requested a waiver to the time in service requirement and that Emmons was being promoted to specialist.
When Emmons spoke after his surprise promotion, he honored the strength and camaraderie of his other competitors and said he was humbled by the experience. Both of the winners said that they are looking forward to the challenges ahead even though it means they must continue training and preparing for the next level of competition.
“The toughest part of this competition was the not knowing,” said Emmons. “I learned a lot from that and will take that with me. It was an honor to be able to come here and compete. I really had a great time.”
Ifegwu echoed his sentiments from day four and said that he makes no promises, but will continue to try his best at the next level of competition.
“I just want my actions to inspire my Soldiers,” he said. “I just want them to know that they should always work at moving forward and making progress. You shouldn’t be afraid to face any challenges that may get in your way. Just focus on doing your best, that’s what counts.”