Story by Michael Voss on 07/22/2019
By Kelly P. Morris, USAACE Public Affairs
After a grueling four days of competition in the heat of lower Alabama summertime, two competitors rose to the top in the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command Best Warrior competition held at Fort Rucker July 15-18.
Spc. Thomas U. Massengill, a religious affairs specialist with 1st Battalion, 30th Field Artillery Regiment, U.S. Army Fires Center of Excellence, Fort Sill, Okla., was named the TRADOC Best Warrior Soldier of the Year. This year’s TRADOC Best Warrior Non-commissioned Officer of the Year is Staff Sgt. Dakota A. Bowen, a drill sergeant with 3rd Battalion, 39th Infantry Regt., U.S. Army Training Center, Fort Jackson, S.C.
During an awards ceremony at the U.S. Army Aviation Museum July 19, ceremony host Command Sgt. Maj. Brian N. Hauke, U.S. Army Aviation branch command sergeant major, praised the competitors for their efforts personally and professionally.
“These warriors over the course of this week displayed the courage, confidence, strength, aggressiveness, discipline, bravery, candor, competitiveness and teamwork inherent to and widely accepted as warrior traits,” Hauke said.
At some point every competitor questioned their ability and whether they could go on, he explained.
“But yet here you are, conquered the battle, warriors every one,” he said.
Hauke thanked cadre and family members for their support, including the team at Fort Benning that supported the events held there on Day 2 of the competition.
Throughout the week, Hauke, along with USAACE G-3 sergeant major, Sgt. Maj. Shawn C. McKay, conducted Facebook live events to connect with families and the public.
Shortly after arriving on Sunday and receiving their packets and overall guidance from McKay, the competitors rallied at the Landing Zone where they were welcomed by Maj. Gen. David J. Francis, USAACE and Fort Rucker commanding general.
Francis said he was proud of all of the competitors “for making the cut to be here. It says a lot about you, your character, your fitness, your aptitude, and your skills.”
Since the USAACE hosted this year’s event, some Aviation flavor was included in the competition, Francis explained.
In addition to the sights and sounds of Army aircraft training in the skies overhead at Fort Rucker during the weeklong meet, multiple events included downed-aircraft scenarios. The competitors also climbed onboard a Chinook for transport to and from Fort Benning, Ga. for some events held there.
The competitors also received words of wisdom from Hauke and the TRADOC command sergeant major, Command Sgt. Maj. Timothy A. Guden, who commended the USAACE for the hard work preparing for the event and welcomed competitors.
“Every single one of you should be down here with the desire to conquer it, take it over, own it,” Guden said. “That’s the mindset you have to have when you come to this level.”
Soldiers’ mental and physical mettle was tested across a variety of challenges, beginning on the first day of competition with a daytime land navigation event, the urban operations course, uniform inspection and verbal quizzing by a board of command sergeants major from across TRADOC, and land navigation at night.
On Day 2, they faced multiple swim events, an unknown distance run, obstacle course, tomahawk throw, and the range, among other events all held on Fort Benning, Ga. Soldiers returned to Fort Rucker again via Chinook to a bivouac area in the vicinity of Tabernacle Stage Field, where they experienced a taste of Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape training by learning and testing their fire building skills. The learned how to make their own shelter there, and that was their home for the night.
Day 3 started with an early 12-mile road march, then moved on to the break contact range where competitors reacted to a downed aircraft scenario, extracted a casualty, engaged targets, and evacuated the casualty to a safe location to continue medical exam and call in the medevac support. The day continued with weapons proficiency and a stress shoot where competitors engaged targets using a variety of weapons.
Day 4 included the Army Combat Fitness Test, followed by the culminating event for the weeklong competition–a combatives tournament at the Fortenberry-Colton Fitness Center, a spectator event where the competitors’ hand-to-hand combat skills were put to the test as fellow Soldiers and leaders cheered them on.
According to the winners, the ruck march was their toughest event.
“Body was hurting, and then we still had more to do after that,”
Massengill said. “It was just overcoming the hurt, and just keep going.”
Because both are from the South, the Alabama heat and humidity was no surprise.
“We just did a lot of training during the day in the heat of the day, to make sure I was prepared for this competition,” Bowen said of his preparation at Fort Jackson.
The winners said they were grateful for the win.
“Everything I do, I do it as if I’m doing it for God,” said Massengill.
He said he appreciated the support of family and friends, his unit and Fort Sill for preparing him, his fellow competitors he was able to get to know, and to all who provided the gifts at the ceremony.
Bowen said he was excited to know family could connect via social media, and he was grateful for friends who made the trip for the ceremony, as well as the camaraderie among the competitors.
“I saw a lot of NCOs mentoring the Soldiers here, and then each other. We were helping each other out, and it was pretty awesome,” Bowen said.
Both Hauke and McKay noted several personal victories they witnessed during the week. One competitor pushed past the point where he thought he needed to quit and later came back to thank McKay for his encouragement. Others faced their fears, and a few of them encountered poisonous snakes in the woods. Despite the obstacles, the competitors never gave up.
“No matter how tough it is out there, they were still giving it,” McKay said.
Massengill and Bowen will now advance to compete at the Army-level competition.