21st TSC Soldier’s journey to Army’s best warrior competition

by Staff Sgt. Michael J. Taylor
21st TSC Public Affairs

A 21st Theater Sustainment Command Soldier’s road to competing in the Army’s premier Soldier skills competition, the Department of the Army Soldier and Noncommissioned Officer of the Year Best Warrior Competition, has paved the way for him to become a better leader.

“The Army has a book definition for leadership, but I don’t think that we as Soldiers should limit leadership to the book definition,” said Spc. Richard Shepard.
“We all have different outlooks and experiences, and if we can offer something that can help each other grow, then that is great leadership.”

Shepard, an intelligence analyst for the 21st Theater Sustainment Command, tested his Soldier skills against 23 of the Army’s best warriors in October at Fort Lee, Va.

His accolades up to that point were winning best warrior competitions at the company, command and U.S. Army Europe levels in a nine-month span. He didn’t win at the DA level, but the 22-year-old attributes part of his iron dedication to his life prior to the military, saying that being responsible for taking care of his two brothers while his parents worked taught him things that he now puts to use.
A year into his enlistment, Shepard’s leaders took notice and sent him to his company’s Soldier of the month board.

“What actually stuck out to me about Shepard was that I noticed that he was one of those people who liked to go to school, liked to study and liked to learn new things.

I thought [well] those are some pretty good attributes for someone who has to prepare for a board,” said Staff Sgt. Travis R. Andrews, Shepard’s supervisor, an intelligence analyst with the 21st TSC.

“I figured if he just does his studying and focuses on the board the same way, then he could be really successful.” Shepard won the Soldier of the month and was now set on a path he hadn’t foreseen.

“When I first started I didn’t expect to go as far as I did, I just wanted to go to the board and do my best and in turn gain that experience and knowledge that comes with attending a military board,” said Shepard.

According to him, he thought the ensuing command-wide board was the highest level and the end of the competitions. That event pushed Shepard to his maximum both mentally and physically. There was a 12-mile ruck-march, zeroing and qualifying with a weapon, combatives and day and night land navigation.

“The 21st TSC board was very difficult, but I think, that the way it was set up, it definitely played a big role in preparing me for the USAREUR board,” said Shepard.
He won the USAREUR best warrior title and immediately began a month-long preparation for the DA competition.

“I was glad that I had won the board, but I figured that the next level would be more difficult, so I didn’t really have time to celebrate if I wanted to ensure that I did my best during my next challenge,” said Shepard.

Shepard traveled to Grafenwoehr for three weeks of training at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center to prepare for the Army level competition.
After which, he had a week of rest before venturing to Fort Lee, Va.

To prepare for boards, Shepard said he breaks up his study material and studies at 15 minute intervals, sandwiched between short breaks. According to him, this method ensures that he has an opportunity to retain the information he learns, instead of overloading his brain.

“The way I think about it when preparing is, you know that the competition only lasts four days, four days is nothing compared to the amount of years you have on earth, so that’s just four days of pushing yourself to as far as you can mentally and physically so just get out there and do it,” said Shepard.

“During one of the competitions I found out that one of the Soldiers competing actually had cancer prior to the competition and was recovering from treatment while he was competing and I thought that was awesome,” he said.
“You see people from all walks of life with different personal situations, and if they can get out there and do it then why can’t I?”

Shepard said the Army competition was different than all the boards.
“The biggest difference was on the first day,” Shepard stated.
“When we got there the first thing they did was give all the competitors three Soldiers who we were responsible for, and we had to look out for them throughout the entire competition.” Although Shepard didn’t win, he feels he’s still a winner because of all he learned along the way.

“I wasn’t disappointed to find out that I didn’t win. I am just grateful for even making it this far and being able to see all the things I’ve seen and learn all the stuff I’ve learned along the way,” Shepard said.
“I’m happy, because now I can take back my experiences and share them with others.”   

Shepard credits his leadership with helping him on the road to achieving his goals, and with less than 24 months in the Army, he is now in a better position to get promoted and use those newfound leadership skills and experiences to take care of Soldiers.