SOF Warriors compete for top USASOC Soldier, NCO

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http://news.soc.mil/releases/News Archive/2008/July/080717-01.html

FORT BRAGG, N.C. (USASOC News Service, July 17, 2008) – As the fourteen Soldiers gathered on the field at Towle Stadium here, it appeared to be just another early morning physical training session. These Soldiers, however, were beginning the final leg of a journey which could lead them to Fort Lee, Va., or send them packing.

They stood stretching, preparing to take the Army Physical Fitness Test which would commence the U.S. Army Special Operations Command’s 2008 Non-commissioned Officer and Soldier of the Year Competition.

The three-day competition brought together fourteen Soldiers from across USASOC to contend as the best of the Army’s Special Operations Forces and for a spot at the Department of the Army-level competition later this year.

“We get a Soldier and an NCO from each of USASOC’s subordinate units,” said Sgt. Maj. Elwood Johnson, USASOC’s G3 sergeant major.

Johnson said this includes the full spectrum of USASOC Soldiers, from Special Forces, civil affairs, psychological operations, Rangers and support Soldiers.

Beginning at the battalion level, each unit across the Army holds yearly competitions like this one to determine their best Soldier and NCO. After each victory, the winners progress to the next highest level.

“The reason we hold this competition is … to highlight to the Army and the civilian community some of our top Soldiers who are each and every day out there doing great things, not only for the Army, but for the nation,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Parry Baer, USASOC command sergeant major.

The next event in the competition was weapons qualification and marksmanship with an M-16A2 rifle. The Soldiers had to zero their weapon, qualify and then fire while wearing an M-40 protective field mask.

“There were a small group of Soldiers who were tight on the APFT and on the range, but at this point it’s still anyone’s competition,” Johnson said.

The first day ended with a day and night land navigation course. This proved to be the most physically demanding part of the day for many of the competitors.

“The first day was definitely the most physical,” said Spc. Todd Gilger, a medium helicopter repairer with the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. “The land nav course required a lot of physical exertion, due to the distance and the time limits.”

Day Two begin early with the competitors performing hands-on common task tests. Each participant went through five stations with several different tasks depending on if they are a Soldier or an NCO.

“We look at tasks for the competition primarily as some of the basic tasks we expect all of our Soldiers to be able to do,” Baer said. “These range from physical fitness to rifle marksmanship, to combat skills tasks that our Soldiers have to use every day out there on the battlefield.”

The first station included nuclear, biological and chemical tasks. For Soldiers, this meant decontaminating themselves and their personal equipment, and for NCOs it required they submitted a level one NBC report. This station was followed by a call for fire, maintaining an M-4 rifle, assessing a casualty for NCOs, and first-aid and buddy carries for Soldiers. The last station was a mystery event, which required NCOs to process and report captured enemy equipment, and Soldiers to submit a SALUTE report.

“These are some of the most common tasks you will see in training,” Johnson said. “We didn’t know what tasks they will face at the Army-level, so we wanted to provide them with some of the most basic tasks.”

However, just because they were common tasks does not mean it was any easier on the competitors.

“So far, the hands-on tasks have been the most difficult,” said Sgt. Nicholas Thompson, a light-wheel vehicle mechanic with the 95th Civil Affairs Brigade. “You never know what situation they are going to put you in.”

The 24-year-old native of Tionesta, Penn., who has spent the past five years with civil affairs, said it was an honor to compete with the best NCOs and Soldiers from throughout USASOC.

“Being in the SOF community, and events like this, are always good training opportunities,” Thompson said. “The whole band of knowledge from throughout the community always provides new and better training.”

Although each competitor has their strong and weak areas, the overall competition is designed to assess the total Soldier.

“I will say there’s no one most difficult task,” Baer said. “Usually it takes a Soldier who is well-rounded in all the areas who can perform well in each individual area and in each individual task to make a strong candidate.”

The participants finished the day with a written exam and essay. All that was left for them was the final day and the oral board. This can be the most mentally demanding and intimidating event for many competitors.

“It starts in your mind,” Gilger said. “It can make you very nervous, but you just have to study everyday and have confidence.”

Gigler said if a Soldier studies hard and holds on to that confidence, they should have no problem in an event like this, despite the tough competition.

Although Gilger said he was unsure about competing at first, once he saw how well he was doing he became excited about it.

“I’m thrilled to be here,” he said. “It really is unbelievable. It’s an honor.”

Baer said it is always difficult to choose winners in a competition with such highly-qualified Soldiers.

“All the units across USASOC have some of the best soldiers from within the Army,” he said. “They all perform exceptionally well in all of the tasks we had before them. It makes you very proud that our country can produce such outstanding Soldiers that are willing to do whatever is required that their country asks them. Seeing everyone come together and compete makes you feel good about the command and where the Army is going in the future.”

Baer said the winners of this competition have one more tough challenge ahead of them before it’s all over.

“Later in the year they will compete against some of the best and brightest Soldiers from across the Army in the Sergeant Major of the Army competition,” he said. “I’m expecting our winners to do exceptionally well again this year.”

Even though they can only choose two winners, he said everyone who competed did an outstanding job in the competition.

“Lieutenant General Wagner and myself are extremely proud of the Soldiers from across the command who each and every day are out there working hard, doing the nation’s work,” he said. “The competitors who competed this past week are just truly examples of the fine Soldiers from across the command and the work that they do, the level of competence that exists in the command.”

The winners of the competition will be announced July 17 during an awards ceremony held at Bank Hall. They will continue on to represent USASOC at the Department of the Army 2008 NCO and Soldier of the Year Competition at Fort Lee, Va., as well as being honored at the Association of the U.S. Army Convention held in Washington, D.C.

Go team !:)
 
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