Maneuver Support Center of Excellence officials announced the winners of Fort Leonard Wood’s 2018 Best Warrior Competition in a ceremony held May 10 on Gammon Field.
The winners are:
— Drill Sergeant of the Year: Staff Sgt. Peter Stull, 1st Engineer Brigade
— Noncommissioned Officer of the Year: Staff Sgt. Joseph Hansen, 14th Military Police Brigade
— Soldier of the Year: Pfc. David Cox, 1st Engineer Brigade
— Joint Service Noncommissioned Officer of the Year: Sgt. 1st Class Johnathon Balcom, 14th Military Police Brigade
— Joint Service Junior Enlisted Service Member of the Year: Marine Lance Cpl. Hercules Knight, Marine Corps Detachment
Twenty service members, selected through quarterly boards at their respective commands, started in the early hours of May 8, but only 15 completed the newly condensed, three-day competition, which included events with a more mentally challenging aspect.
“This year we went ahead and shortened the competition to make it more of a non-stop and keep-it-moving type of competition,” said. Sgt. 1st Class Steven Payne II, Maneuver Support Center of Excellence G-3/3 noncommissioned officer in charge and event coordinator. “We condensed everything into three days, put everything in there and made it more intense. We also added a little bit more mental strain on them as well as ramped up the physicality, too, so it would be a much more mentally and physically challenging event.”
Why the change? Command Sgt. Maj. Jon Stanley, Maneuver Support Center of Excellence, explained.
“Last year, we drew the competition out over five days and because of that we felt there was (too much) rest time, and as people fell out or dropped out it created even more time,” he said. “So this year we decided we wanted to condense it so we could keep these guys moving.”
Additions to this year’s competition included the Army Combat Readiness Test on Day 1; the Marine Combat Fitness Test and drill-sergeant-specific tasks imbedded in the Warrior Tasks Battle Drills lanes on Day 2; a 300m swim on Day 3; and more miles covered on foot throughout the competition. The final surprise came when competitors were delivered to the awards ceremony by helicopter.
Stull said it was a “tough” competition, adding that he plans to increase his study time and do more rucking in preparation for the upcoming U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command level Drill Sergeant of the Year competition.
“It was grueling with some very good events that really challenged us,” Hansen said. “Physically, it was demanding, but it also had a good knowledge base to it to really test our expertise.”
Cox agreed and said some parts were a lot more challenging than he expected. He said he was prepared for the additional rucking due to his train-up schedule, where he rucked twice a week and studied hard.
The additional miles covered led to Knight offering words of advice to future Marine competitors.
“(The competition) was outstanding and very physically demanding with the events all back-to-back,” he said. “My best advice is to ruck, a lot — that was a new thing for me.”
Balcom echoed this sentiment and said overall he really enjoyed competing.
“It was way more than I expected,” he admitted. “It was extremely rigorous and tough to get through, but all the competitors motivated me.”
Maj. Gen. Kent Savre, Maneuver Support Center of Excellence and Fort Leonard Wood commanding general, said the Army’s Drill Sergeant of the Year has come from Fort Leonard Wood for the past four years, and last year’s NCO of the Year was also from here.
“That isn’t by accident,” he said. “It’s because of leaders that are putting forth their best warriors and NCOs. It’s because of the talent that we have here at Fort Leonard Wood, and it’s because of the toughness of the skills that we require for success and the rigorous training that we do.”
Savre added, “I’m really proud of what we have here at Fort Leonard Wood. I’m proud of the 20 that agreed to give it a go. I’m proud of their leadership that encouraged them. And I’m proud of the 15 that finished.”