FORT BRAGG, NC ─ They’re back to doing their day jobs—learning non-trauma medical procedures, freshening up foreign language skills, practicing civil information management procedures, fixing malfunctioning computers, processing travel orders—but for 36 hours last month, 48 Civil Affairs and non-Civil Affairs Soldiers tested the outer envelope of their Soldier skills at Fort Bragg ranges and training facilities.
The 12 four-man teams endured themselves, their teammates and their watchful evaluators during the brigade’s inaugural Best Teams Competition during the brigade’s fourth annual Civil Affairs Week, March 14-18.
While competitors tended dirt, sweat and sore muscles, evaluators scrubbed scores to determine the winners.
Two days later, several hundred of their peers and associates saw the winning teams presented their trophies during the brigade’s annual conference at Pinehurst. The team from John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School took top honors in the Civil Affairs Team category, while a team representing the 91st CA Battalion emerged the winner in the Low-Density Team category, a special competition reserved for Soldiers working outside the 38B Civil Affairs – roughly one quarter of the CA brigade’s 1,600 Soldiers.
Thirteen events were rolled out during the non-stop competition that began with the Army Physical Fitness Test, an obstacle course, the leader’s reaction course, a land navigation course and a night road march on the first day. The second day featured Military Stakes, a key leader engagement, medical triage and evacuation, and weapons firing on the M-4, M-9 and M-240. During the final event, hundreds of brigade and battalion Soldiers and Family Members gathered around the 96th CA Battalion headquarters, to cheer the teams as they crossed the finish line after a trail run below Son Tay Road.
“The Civil Affairs Soldier has to be physically fit, but while he’s tired, he has to function mentally, and that’s what we were trying to achieve,” Master Sgt. Tony Sandoval, brigade operations sergeant major, said.
A primary focus of the competition was to show the value of teams, each battalion’s Civil Affairs team had to be an existing team and not a “super team,” consisting of Soldiers specially selected for the competition. The rules also emphasized teamwork and judgment over muscle power. For all timed events, each member on a team had to finish within minutes of each other. “You had to start as a team and finish as a team,” Sandoval explained.
Scores for physically exhausting events were weighted less than events that required more knowledge and judgment skills. A unique event for Civil Affairs teams was a key leader engagement scenario, where they role played meeting with leaders of a village to address a local security issue. In another scenario, all teams had to treat and evacuate a wounded villager while under attack by small arms fire.
“All that stress, physical and mental,” said Sgt. 1st Class Alan Rivera, a member of the winning team in the Civil Affairs Team category. “As a team, you really have to come together and work together, to find the strengths and weaknesses.”
Rivera said he found the biggest challenge for the competition was to find the time so the team could train together. As an instructor for Civil Affairs Soldiers studying at the special warfare school, Rivera explained, “We’re on the platform all the time and get all these distracters.”
At the brigade, assembling a battalion team also proved challenging. “We started with eight people and ended up with four,” said Capt. Rick Tucker, team leader for the winning “low-density” team. For Tucker, the worst part of the competition was the walk from Range 33 to 29 with a rucksack, the afternoon after the night road march.
“We went in just to finish,” Tucker said. “I was very proud of my team and grateful to people in battalion who helped us train for it. I was very glad to complete it and definitely learned a lot. Like Command Sergeant Major (Thomas) Wall [95th CA Brigade command sergeant major] said, ‘We have to train all the time.’ It shows that low-density soldiers also need to be training constantly, not just CA Soldiers.”
For Capt. Paul Barnett, the SWCS battalion’s CA team leader, winning “felt good. It justifies the instructors that we do have at the CA school and the training we do for the next generation of CA Soldiers.”
Sandoval agreed, “The SWCS team coming in first validated that we are sending our best and brightest to SWCS, to prepare soldiers coming into the CA force.”
“We might add a few events,” Sandoval said. “Do a team [airborne] jump to start the competition, adjust time lines to add a few more events. Make them more tired and think a little more.”