By ANDREA WALES
U.S. Army Human Resources Command PAO
The competition was fierce, and there wasn’t a clear front-runner among the top four at the Military District of Washington Best Warrior Competition at Fort A.P. Hill, Va., recently.
Sgt. Robert Keifer, an infantryman with the Honor Guard Company of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), eventually won, earning the title of MDW Noncommiss-ioned Officer of the Year for 2013 and the right to compete at the Department of the Army’s Best Warrior Competition in October at Fort Lee, Va.
Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Deno, an active Guard Reserve Soldier who works in the U.S. Army Human Resources Command’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company, earned a spot as runner-up, which made him an alternate who will compete at the DA level in the event the Old Guard Soldier can’t compete.
Spc. Michael Sands, also of The Old Guard (in Company D, 1st Battalion, 3rd U.S. Inf. Reg.), was named MDW Soldier of the Year.
The MDW BWC determines who from the Military District of Washington and related commands elsewhere in the country will go on to vie for the title of Best Warrior in the entire Army.
“At that (MDW BWC) level, everybody is very well-trained,” Deno said. “I was the oldest one and the one with the most rank. The guy who ended up winning was the second oldest at 31. Most of them were in their mid-20s. You’re going against the best, physically, mentally. They knew their stuff.”
Deno quietly beamed when he talked about the great honor it was to represent HRC at such a high level.
“Not everybody expected someone from HRC to do so well in all the events,” he said. “Coming from cubicle city, we don’t see weapons very much or the typical warrior tasks that Soldiers in the field see. We don’t have weapons. We don’t have equipment. We have to go out and use our resources in order to be trained in our warrior tasks and drills.”
Deno and his sponsor, Sgt. 1st Class Elite Pierre (also an AGR Soldier), had to be resourceful while Deno was in training. Pierre was last year’s HRC NCO of the Year and a competitor at MDW BWC in his own right (earning second runner-up for top NCO in 2012).
“We had to go with other units on post and borrow weapons from them—use equipment, weapons and training facilities from other places on post,” Deno said.
When Deno was named HRC’s NCO of the Year after the HRC Best Warrior Competition, a lot of people were surprised, he said.
“I was an AGR, and I was going against the Old Guard. They are pretty intimidating—very well-trained, very professional,” Deno said.
“They are hand-selected—the best of the best—to represent our country, the presidential honor guard basically. Everybody at HRC is also the best of the best in our fields. Our experience and our expert knowledge of our military occupational specialties give us credibility” with the Soldiers whose military careers are guided by HRC career managers.
Deno’s accomplishments in competition didn’t escape the notice of the chief of the Army Reserve. Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Talley, who is also the commander of the U.S. Army Reserve Command, presented Deno with a three-star coin during Talley’s recent visit to Fort Knox.
Deno definitely earned any accolades he received because of the way the events were strung together one after the other and performed in the blistering heat, Deno said.
“There wasn’t much time to recover,” he said. “It was, do the event, do the best you can, then start thinking about the next one.”
The 10 competitors (seven NCOs and three junior enlisted Soldiers) were evaluated on basic and advanced warrior tasks and battle drills, day and night land navigation, urban-warfare simulations, physical fitness, rifle qualifications, a written examination, a ruck march and a board review.
Completing warrior tasks made up the major part of the competition. Soldiers had to read an operations order, then extract all the key information, such as the challenge and password, call signs, frequencies and grids to the next objective. They had to navigate through a tactical lane.
“Basically, you are walking through the woods from one station to the next, Deno said. “You shoot that azimuth, then go to the next task station: Casualty, search a detainee, do a SALUTE report (Size, Activity, Location, Unit, Time, Equipment). You’re looking through binoculars at a sand table, simulating a target on a grid. Based on the SALUTE report, we determined it was enemy, then we had to call for fire on it.”
One of the tasks was inspecting grenades and identifying deficiencies, then choosing three out of the five grenades to throw at a target.
“Hopefully, the ones you picked were good!” he said.
When it came to the lanes training, competitors who didn’t do very well in one task would come out OK if they did well in the others, Deno said, because there were so many warrior tasks.
Later that same day, the Soldiers went to the leadership challenge, which is similar to an obstacle course, Deno said. The task was to work together to move an ammunition crate and a wagon across a water hazard to simulate a minefield. Boards/planks were available to use to accomplish the task.
“When we were rolling the wagon up the ramp, a wheel fell off and ding ding ding! We figured out we could take the wheels off and just carry it across piece by piece,” he said. “Sgt. Pierre fell out of his seat! He realized I was going to win that event because of sheer luck!”
Although Deno conceded that every part of the competition was difficult, he really liked the range where the Soldiers did M-4 semi-automatic rifle qualification and 9 mm pistol qualification.
“We did the M-4 qual, then the 9 mm, then we had to run in our Kevlar—our full battle rattle—a mile back to the M-4 range where they did the stress shoot,” he said. “On your way back, it was another mental game. They told you we would find a five-gallon water jug that we had to take with us to the range. When we got to the water cans, they were all filled with water, but our instructions only said to bring back a five-gallon water jug, not a five-gallon water jug filled with water, so most of us dumped it.”
Even though two of the competitors were allowed to go at a time, they ran at different speeds so they all got to it at different times, Deno said. Not everybody saw someone dump the water so some schlepped it back with them.
Once back at the range, competitors had to go immediately into a stress shoot.
After each Soldier got done running, he grabbed his ammo magazines, then he had to shoot around a doorway, left-handed and right-handed. He had to shoot through a window, then the Soldier must drop back and shoot standing up, then drop to the prone position. After that, he must maneuver to a kneeling position, shooting left and right.
“The hardest part was that it was a hot day and we started out with a 5 o’clock five-mile road march,” Deno said.
The Military District of Washington’s Best Warrior Competition proved that endurance and perseverance are two of the most important qualities a Soldier can possess.