FORT EUSTIS, Va. – In an effort to balance the tradition of recognizing Army professionalism and being good stewards of limited funds, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command revamped the way it challenges, chooses and celebrates its best enlisted Soldiers.
Chosen from a field of 17, Sgt. Curtis Bittner, from the Fires Center of Excellence at Fort Sill, Okla., and Staff Sgt. Benjamin Steele, from the Initial Military Training Center of Excellence at Fort Jackson, S.C., were named U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command’s, or TRADOC’s, best Soldier and noncommissioned officer, respectively, during a video-teleconference, or VTC, hosted at TRADOC headquarters, with 11 units throughout the United States.
Before the winners were announced, Gen. Robert Cone, commanding general of TRADOC, emphasized that although the announcement was done via VTC, the recognition was no less important.
“I’d like to congratulate each and every one of you for aspiring to compete – to be the man or woman in the arena – to step forward and say ‘I’m going to take a shot at this,’” Cone said. “I will guarantee you just because of your participation and just because of the preparation you have made, you are, in fact, a better Soldier or noncommissioned officer – and your units are better – for having had this experience.”
During the competition, the competitors were confronted with events such as land navigation, media interviews, the Army Physical Fitness Test, a comprehensive test covering military knowledge, and proficiency in the 10 warrior tasks and battle drills and their nearly 60 sub-tasks.
“These Soldiers were not just challenged physically, but they were also mentally tested to ensure they are experts in their profession and standards,” said Sgt. Maj. Jerry Taylor, TRADOC’s G-3 sergeant major, who also oversaw the competition.
Due to reduced funding and the requirement to prioritize spending, TRADOC leadership decided to run the competition differently than in previous years. Some of the events, such as the warrior tasks and battle drills, were graded by the competing Soldier’s unit at location, and the land navigation event was conducted at the Non-commissioned Officer Academy nearest each competitor.
“In the past, there would be costs for travel, lodging and per diem for each competitor, and all of the support staff needed to run the competition for an entire week at a location, probably more than 70 people in all,” Taylor said. “Now, we cut costs by conducting some events at the competitors’ locations and other events virtually, using technology such as video teleconferencing.”
Sgt. 1st Class Michael Dawly, 309th Military Battalion, represented Fort Huachuca at the competition as the “Best NCO” in the TRADOC competition. Due to the deployment of the post’s junior selectee, there was no “Best Soldier” representing the installation in this year’s event.
Sgt. 1st Class Scott Sawyer, Fort Huachuca NCO Academy S3, said Dawly was tested here on the APFT (Army Physical Fitness Test) and that he and other members of the NCO Academy observed and validated other aspects of the Soldier’s testing, and shared his thoughts about the changes to this year’s competition.
“From a resource standpoint, it’s a fantastic idea, especially having the NCO Academy vetting the PT contest. Everyone here understands the standards,” Sawyer said.
“However, from the competition standpoint, having everyone together and being able to compete against each other brings out a different level of competition.” He explained there is a different environment and feeling when competitors are physically able to challenge each other in person.
The culminating event in the competition was the final board appearance. Steele and Bittner, along with the other competitors, took turns answering challenging questions from a board of senior non-commissioned officers, including Taylor and TRADOC Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel Dailey. Although their chairs were seemingly right in front of the board, each competitor was actually facing a camera in a VTC room back at their home station.
Dailey said finding cost savings in annual competitions like the TRADOC NCO and Soldier of the Year is important for the Army that is operating under tough financial conditions.
“This is important,” Dailey said. “Not only for the Soldiers that win, but important to resonate across the command with their leaders, peers, fellow Soldiers and noncommissioned officers because this builds esprit de corps. This is part of the Army Profession, and it sends the message that we are still an Army Profession, and even during a time of limited resources, we can still do what our nation asks us to do.”
Steele and Bittner will now represent TRADOC against other competitors – in person – from across the Army during the Best Warrior Competition, held Oct. 15 –17, at Fort Lee, Va.