Key 21st Theater Sustainment Command leaders and competition officials unveiled Team 21’s 2016 Best Warriors before an enthusiastic audience of officers, sergeants, Soldiers, family members and visitors during a dynamic culminating ceremony held May 24 at the Wagon Wheel Theater on Smith Barracks.
Army 2nd Lt. Justin Ganzer, executive officer of the 16th Sustainment Brigade’s 106th Financial Management Support Unit, claimed top honors among command junior officers.
Sgt. Vanessa Carrillo, a heavy vehicle driver with the Knight’s Brigade’s 515th Transportation Company, 39th Transportation Battalion, bested four other sergeants to capture the noncommissioned officer crown.
Spc. Gerardo Gonzalez, a military policeman with the 709th Military Police Battalion, 18th Military Police Brigade, triumphed in the Soldier category, outpacing three rivals.
Fifteen candidates from headquarters and subordinate organizations across the command competed in the intense, annual 21st TSC Best Warrior Competition. Participants based in Grafenwoehr and Sembach as well as Kaiserslautern and Baumholder put their Soldier skills, stamina, conditioning and wits, not to mention their nerves and endurance, to the toughest of tests.
Candidates from the 16th Sust. Bde., competing on their home turf due to a late change in venue, performed superbly, capturing a second-place as well as two first-place titles.
NATO Brigade candidates competed concurrently but not directly against TSC rivals. Sgt. 1st Class Dominador Rubang and Staff Sgt. Ricky Holder both move on to the regional competition.
The TSC’s top troops square off against superior Soldiers across the region during the European Best Warrior Competition, scheduled for Aug. 7 through 11 in Grafenwoehr. Stellar Soldiers from U.S. Army Europe and Army Africa headquarters, the 173rd Airborne Brigade, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, 12th Combat Aviation Brigade, 10th Army Air and Missile Defense Command, 5th Signal Command, Joint Multinational Training Command, Europe Regional Medical Command, Installation Management Command-Europe and NATO Brigade will compete for continental bragging rights and an opportunity to challenge the Army’s ultimate warriors in early fall.
“This competition was tough — way tougher than brigade-level,” Gonzalez said. “It was condensed, but that actually made it tougher. I hope the USAREUR competition will be as intense. I look forward to the challenge.
“The ruck march was the toughest event,” Gonzalez added. “The distance and the hills really put a strain on your legs and feet. But I told myself, ‘I can’t quit and I won’t quit. I have to finish the whole thing.’”
Ganzer, a mild-mannered finance officer and graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, acknowledged his achievement falls outside the realm of activities conventionally associated with his day job.
“I relied pretty heavily on my experience at West Point,” Ganzer said after the competition. “In finance, you don’t always have an opportunity to spend a lot of time on tactical tasks, but this opens the door to everyone outside the normal range of specialties. A lot of people asked me about the competition. We didn’t have anyone from finance try this in the past, but we may have more in the future.
“I feel like I’ve learned a lot during this competition,” Ganzer added. “And I definitely have more work to do in preparation for the USAREUR competition, but I’m setting the goal of winning. You don’t want to settle for anything less.”
Candidates endured a relentless onslaught of events rendered all the more intense by its condensed schedule. Sunday bore little resemblance to a church picnic, or even a conventional administrative report day. Contestants completed an Army physical fitness test in full field gear, reported to a military board, wrote essays and completed a written examination in addition to administrative tasks associated with the onset of the competition.
The second and most brutal day started in the middle of the night, with candidates dressed, packed and on the road before 3:30 in the morning. After performing emergency first aid on a simulated casualty under duress, candidates transitioned from saving lives to taking them, assembling and firing small arms under a variety of challenging conditions. Candidates moved under simulated attack, reacted to fire, sent reports, threw grenades, operated radios, cleared a building and exploited the site during a challenging situational training exercise. Weary competitors enjoyed little respite after the exercise, calling in a fire mission, confronting a hard-hitting battlefield correspondent and falling promptly under chemical attack.
A culminating 12-mile foot march beginning in pre-dawn darkness and combatives tournament punctuated the final day of the competition. Raucous applause greeted the announcement of the winners during an awards ceremony held on the base’s main auditorium after three days of frenetic activity.
Brig. Gen. Arlan DeBlieck, the TSC deputy commanding general, and Command Sgt. Maj. Stanley Richards, the TSC senior enlisted leader, presided over the ceremony and presented awards. The general praised the NCO corps, which supplied the largest number of candidates, as well as the fighting spirit of the competitors.
“I’m very proud to stand before 15 people without an ounce of quit in them,” DeBlieck said. “You showed up to compete knowing what you were facing and knowing the challenges in front of you.”
Dedication and tenacity, DeBlieck noted, are what’s in the competitors’ DNA, and it’s what makes them special.
DeBlieck also urged candidates to embrace the competition as a professional development opportunity, for peers and Soldiers as well as themselves.
“All of you are winners because all of you can take the experience and the lessons learned and offer a hand up to others who can benefit from your example and your guidance,” DeBlieck added. “That’s what the Profession of Arms is all about.”
“This competition exemplifies everything the Army and Team 21 are about,” Richards said. “These candidates gave everything they had, mentally, physically and emotionally. We deliberately challenged them, and they met every obstacle head on, even when they were tired, hungry, sore and cold. You couldn’t watch them without feeling pride in the team we’ve built and the young leaders we’ve developed.
“This is the embodiment of the warrior ethos,” Richards continued. “These candidates have day jobs too. They’re medics, cooks, mechanics, intel analysts, admin and supply specialists, and here they are accomplishing field missions under the most challenging circumstances to the highest standard. This tells you everything you need to know about the quality of our Soldiers and readiness within this command.”
Little rest awaits the weary. The competition concluded just ahead of Anakonda 16, a major regional exercise involving large swathes of TSC headquarters and subordinate organizations as well as allied forces across Europe and the world. Winners resume training for the European Best Warrior Competition in early summer. Most will spend around a month in preparation for the challenging regional competition in northern Bavaria.
“They’ll certainly have their work cut out for them in ’Graf,’” Richards said. “They’re going up against some of the finest Soldiers across a continent, including paratroopers from a premier airborne infantry brigade. It definitely won’t be easy, but after what I’ve seen over the last three days, nothing these guys accomplish will surprise me. They’re capable of anything. The sky’s the limit.”