FORT LEE, Va. – The Army’s top soldiers and noncommissioned officers came together to represent the major commands from Training and Doctrine Command to Special Operations Command to compete for the coveted top position of U.S. Army Soldier and Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year, Oct. 15–19, 2012.
Representing Forces Command was the 82nd Airborne Division’s own Spc. Jeremy Shivick, an infantryman assigned to 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, and Sgt. Darius Krzywonos, a field artillery surveyor assigned to 2nd Battalion, 12th Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.
From Oct. 15–19, 2012, the competitors were challenged to display their knowledge, show off their skills, and demonstrate their abilities to be an official spokesperson for the Army. The competitors began with a written test and an electronic warfare simulator on the first day. Over the next three days, they were constantly shuttled from field environments to garrison environments and were challenged physically and mentally from before the sun rose, to well after the sun set.
Their second day began with an Army physical fitness test, which was attended by hundreds of the post’s resident entry and advanced-level trainees. They shouted wildly as if cheering for their favorite sports stars as the competitors completed each event. Even the two-mile run was like a scene out of the Olympic games. Many of the competitors scored the maximum 300 points, and it remained too early for any particular soldier to stand out.
Unlike the division and corps-level competitions, it wasn’t easy to be able to determine how one soldier compared to the others, Shivick said. They were all extremely skilled and talented, he explained.
“I feel like I’m doing pretty well,” Shivick said. “I trained for these specific tasks, and I used to think ‘How am I going to apply what I know with common sense and judgment in a battlefield environment to accomplish the mission?’”
Despite his successes in his career, from earning his Expert Infantryman Badge his first try, to accelerating to the 82nd Airborne Division’s Soldier of the Year shortly afterward, Shivick remains a quiet and humble young paratrooper. He has attributed most of his successes to his leadership, particularly his squad leader, Staff Sgt. Jason Thomas, who also earned the title of the XVIII Airborne Corps Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year.
“They [my leadership] are the cornerstone of why I’m here today as well as the training when I first got to my unit,” Shivick explained. “A few months after I got to my unit I had to take the expert infantryman test, I passed that … it has manifested into me being here now.”
Despite the months of training and studying and preparing for the Best Warrior Competition, Shivick remains open-minded about his challenges, and takes every experience as an opportunity to learn.
“What I really liked about this [competition] is they assigned a team [to me], and as a specialist, I haven’t quite been given the title of team leader yet. I’ve been given ethical issues to think about with [this team], and when I return to my team [at Fort Bragg, N.C.], I feel like I can take these experiences with me,” he said.
The team provided by the 7th Sustainment Brigade was the cornerstone of one of the final events of the competition. Shivick and the other competitors had to lead a fire team down a street of an Afghan village in order to pass the lane. Proper maneuvers were required, along with proper hand signals and security, as the competitors and their teams navigated through the improvised explosive device lane. Along with maintaining a sharp lookout for IEDs, Shivick was required to report the progress of the patrol to the tactical operations center and interact with local population.
Krzywonos, a towering soldier who stands more than a foot higher than those around him, is a native of Poland and a Marine Corps veteran of Boznia and Somolia during the early 1990s. Like Shivick, he is quiet and humble, insisting that his personal role is only a small part of the overall Army mission.
“The lessons learned through the Marine Corps are carried with me here over the years,” Krzywonos said. “They are discipline, the need and desire to carry on despite challenges, discomforts, and heartaches, no matter what.”
That discipline and drive was challenged on the third day of the competition when the candidates were roused at 4 a.m. to the sounds of firecrackers, artillery simulation rounds, sirens, and shouts from the graders that dozens of their comrades were injured outside. The candidates rushed outside to save the lives of their comrades, played by Fort Lee soldiers who each had simulated life-threatening injuries. In less than 30 minutes, each candidate had to rush to a casualty, provide life-saving treatment, and carry him or her to a casualty collection point.
With little time to recover, they were moved to the ranges to complete stress shoots, improvised explosive device lanes, and the chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear lane, in which they were required to clear villages with full mission oriented protective posture clothing using such equipment as gas masks.
“The stress shoot pushed me to the brink physically,” Krzywonos said. “It was a hard event, but it was a well organized course. Each event had its own level of challenges.”
“Every day I’m learning something. No matter what level of competition I attend, I’m always impressed with the attitudes, abilities, and stamina, both mental and physical that other Soldiers possess,” Krzywonos said.
The final culminating event of the U.S. Army Best Warrior Competition was the board, whose president was the Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond F. Chandler. Both Shivick and Krzywonos said they were well-prepared, and looked forward to completing the final event, and moving on to find out who won.
Finally, at the end of the week, all the competitors were moved to Washington D.C. to participate in the Army Ten-Miler, and to attend the Association of the United States Army annual convention, where the winners would be announced.
“This isn’t just about warrior tasks and drills, but the whole warrior concept,” said Sgt. Maj. of the Army Chandler at the AUSA luncheon.
Vice Chief of Staff General Lloyd Austin added, “Our best asset is not our tanks or our weapons, but our people.” He continued, “I’ve seen you do the most amazing things, seemingly impossible things, and I have seen you do it routinely.”
Despite the best effort made by the Forces Command Soldier and Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year, Sgt. Saral Shresta representing United States Army Special Operations Command took home the title of Soldier of the Year, while Staff Sgt. Matthew Senna representing United States Army-Europe took home the title of Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year.
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