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Practice makes best

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By STAFF SGT. DARRON SALZER / First Army Division East

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Shoot. Move. Communicate.

These fundamental Soldier capabilities were put to the test during a recent First Army Division East Best Warrior Competition for the second quarter of fiscal 2018, hosted by 157th Infantry Combined Arms Training Brigade at Camp Atterbury, Indiana.

During the four-day competition, Soldiers participated in events such as evaluate a casualty, a six-mile ruck march, a physical fitness test, day and night land navigation and a sergeants major board.

“The intensity of the events is very high,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jaime Garza, an infantry observer coach/trainer from 174th Infantry Combined Arms Training Brigade, located at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey.

“It’s a smoker,” Garza said.

The competition was also a welcome change for Soldiers like Army Sgt. Rakeem Carter, a public affairs noncommissioned officer at 4th Cavalry Multi-Functional Training Brigade, in Fort Knox.

“It’s a blast to get out of the office and do something different!” Carter exclaimed. “Being able to get out and sleep under the stars, or ruck march, or do land [navigation] or fire a weapon — those are all things I’ve done very little of in my career and it’s great to be able to do those things now.”

Before becoming a public affairs specialist, Carter said he worked as an optical laboratory specialist making eyeglasses for service members in a factory setting.

“Some of the challenges I’ve had coming from non-combat [military occupational specialties] and having never deployed are a lack of experience doing things like call for fire, firing a weapon, ruck marches or staying out in the field,” he said.

The call-for-fire event was where Carter said he struggled the most.

“I’m just not used to having to identify a target, plot where a target is on a map based on my location and put rounds on a target, so I struggled a bit,” he said.

In the lead-up to the competition, Carter said he worked with field artillery and infantry Soldiers to hone his skills and become a more competent competitor.

“It has taken a lot of work for me to be able to come here and keep up at all,” Carter said. “Walking away from this competition though, win or lose, I’m not going to be the same [Soldier] I was coming in.”

Carter’s hard work and sheer determination didn’t go unnoticed by fellow competitors.

“For someone that was doing things way outside of their normal scope of duty, he did a phenomenal job,” said Staff Sgt. Christopher Soper, an observer coach/trainer from 1st Battalion, 335th Infantry Regiment, 157th Inf. CATB.

Soper, who later won, said he felt an overwhelming sense of honor for “the fact that everything I
have done, not just
for this competition but throughout my military career, has paid off.”

All quarterly winners will advance to the all-First Army competition scheduled for next year. Winners from there will represent First Army at the U.S. Army Forces Command competition.

Soper said his strategy was to push himself farther and harder than what he thought was even possible, getting out of his comfort zone – hopefully a winning strategy next year.

“I know the competitors there will be pretty much even with me so I need to somehow be exponentially better than them,” he said. “I just need to keep training because practice makes perfect.”