Story by Catherine Lowrey on 11/08/2017FORT MCCOY, Wis. The fierce and unforgiving wilderness of Fort McCoy was the proving ground of the latest round of competitions for civil affairs Soldiers from across the Nation. The 353rd Civil Affairs Command Best Warrior Competition made its way to the Total Force Training Center Oct. 30 thru Nov. 5 to battle their way to the next level of completion and earn the title of 353rd CACOM 2017 Soldier and Non-Commissioned Officer of the year.
As a Total Force Training Center, Fort McCoy's primary responsibility is to support the training and readiness of military personnel and units of all branches and components of America's armed forces. With 60,000 acres of training areas, live-fire ranges and maneuver areas, Fort McCoy provided a perfect environment to test the competitors.
The 88th Readiness Division's Public Affairs Office, headquartered at Fort McCoy and newly renamed to reflect an ever evolving role in the direct readiness of our Nation's Forces, caught up with the competition on day four. Already deep into battle, the Soldiers were out on the range for M16 rifle qualification and NBC day and night fire.
"The challenging part is there are no repeats, there are no alibi fires," said Master Sgt. Christopher Shriber, operations sergeant for the 308th Civil Affairs Brigade.
"They have already been through two days of stressful events with everything from medical TC3 [Tactical Combat Casualty] lines to Army Warrior Tasks and drills. They have done essay questions, a PT test and a ruck march, Shriber continued. "They are at the point now where we will see the separation of the competitors - the ones who are physically and mentally spent and the ones that still have what it takes to keep going.
The competition is very tight. Today, two or three hits on a target can be the breaking point for some of these Soldiers."
Sergeant Maj. Gladys Colon, 353rd CACOM operations sergeant major, explained why Best Warrior Competitions are important to the overall readiness of Army Reserve Soldiers.
"These events test the skill levels of our Soldiers in a competitive, field environment, Colon said. "Ideally they've been training and studying and improving the skills sets they already have to make themselves better, to make themselves ready, not only for the competition, but for overall unit readiness."
The 353rd Civil Affairs Command organizes, trains, and equips assigned Civil Affairs forces to mobilize, deploy, conduct civil military operations, and redeploy in order to support Geographic Combatant Commander mission requirements with focus on the U.S. Africa and U.S. European Command areas of responsibility.
"We all need to know weapons assembly and maintenance, functions check. We all need to know how to read a map and plot grid coordinates and get from point A to point B," Colon continued. "Those are all necessary skills that we have to know and understand on a fundamental level."
"We are watching to see what they trained on at their unit," continued Colon. "We want to see where their strengths and weaknesses are so we can improve on it not only here, but ultimately, have these Soldiers take what they learned back to the unit and train their Soldiers for future readiness."
Specialist Chris Patton, 304th Civil Affairs Brigade HHC competitor, who has been in the Army Reserve for three years and is competing in the Best Warrior Competition for a second time, expressed his commitment to continuing to improve not only himself, but his fellow Soldiers.
"It's definitely a great way to get an adjustment on your bearing," Patton said, "kind of a reminder of what your competencies are, what the standards are, everything across the board. And a way to take that learning experience and bring it back and disseminate it, do some peer to peer education.
You never know until you get out here what your deficiencies will be. It's such a test of mental fortitude and raw conditioning."
The 353rd CACOM BWC winners will go on to compete in the U.S. Army Civil Affairs & Psychological Operations Command (Airborne) completion which ultimately leads into next year's U.S. Army Reserve Best Warrior Competition.
USACAPOC, headquartered at Fort Bragg, provides eighty-two percent of the civil affairs forces for the Army and Joint Forces commanders and eighty-three percent of the Department of Defense's psychological operations forces.
USACAPOC Command Sgt. Maj. Pete Running was out in the field with the 353rd following the competition closely.
"I'm here to do an assessment of what they're training," Running stated. "To ensure the trainers and evaluators, themselves, are following the tasks conditions and standards to the letter of the regulation. Making sure they are doing everything correctly, so that when our Soldiers compete here, and they win here, they go on to the next level knowing the expectation."
"Historically we've had some really good competitors who have gone on to compete, not only for the Army Reserve, but for the Army as well," said Running.
"What this is, what best warrior competitions do, is give a snap shot of the best Soldiers across our command on Soldier readiness and their ability to shoot, move, communicate and survive on a battlefield."
Running went on to say he has been involved in these competitions, and personally as a competitor, all the back as early as 1984.
"I became a better soldier because of it," shared Running. "I became a better leader because of it. And I was able to impart that knowledge and those skills to my fellow soldiers."
"The most challenging part is the internal stress," Running said. "The internal stress that they place upon themselves on trying to do right to be perfect is what gets them."
Running also shared his assessment of the location of this year's competition.
"Fort McCoy is a fantastic training environment. The installation is in a great location," Running said. "The training lanes and training areas are exceptional. The support USACAPOC gets from Fort McCoy is unparalleled. No other installation compares. Fort McCoy really goes out of their way to help and support us. That's why we come here and why we want to keep coming back."
"I'm having a blast, Colon added. "There is nothing like seeing soldiers out in the field working on basic skills and having that camaraderie and that competition level against each other and for each other. They do spur each other on when they are at these sites. They want to win but they also want to have a little bit of that competitive spirit with that person that they are competing against," said Colon. "It's great Army training."
"I get excited about these competitions," Running said. "They are a lot of fun. It's great to see how the Soldiers start out coming from across the command, thirty states and Puerto Rico, they'll come together as individuals and they leave here as a team."