European Best Defender Competition tests “total Soldier concept” for 10 AAMDC

Soldiers from the 10th Army Air and Missile Defense Command competed in a strenuous battle to test their physical and mental capabilities during the 2021 European Best Defender Competition, April 11-16.

The European Best Defender Competition is a command competition consisting of several events held over a five-day period, including reacting to a Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear (CBRNE) attack, rugged terrain course, land navigation course, Army Combat Fitness Test, grenade range, written test and essay, 16-lane obstacle course, stress shoot, weapons assembly, 12-mile foot march, and a formal board.

U.S. Army 1st Lt. Brandon Rhea, Sgt. Antonio Irvin, and Pvt. Joshua Kinder, 5th Battalion, 4th Air Defense Artillery, 10th Army Air and Missile Defense Command, receive awards for winning in their respective categories during the European Best Defender Competition at Ansbach, Germany, April 15, 2021. The Best Defender Competition is an annual five-day event hosted by the 10th AAMDC that challenges Soldiers physically and mentally. The winners will advance to compete against other commands across U.S. Army Europe and Africa later this year. (photo by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Terrance Rhodes)

On day one, the Soldiers conducted a land navigation course, where they traveled by foot through wooded areas to successfully identify different points on the map during both day and night iterations.

“I’m jumping in head first and learning as I go,” said Pfc. Fabian Moya, 5th Battalion, 7th Air Defense Artillery Regiment (5-7 ADA). “I’m a little nervous but I hope to gain experience and knowledge to advance my Army career.”

Following land navigation, Soldiers faced an uphill battle with the rugged terrain course. The rugged terrain course is made up of a 1.5 kilometer loop with six distinct obstacles to test individual Soldier movement. Each obstacle is hidden deep in the woods with only one way in and one way out.

Immediately after the timer started, Soldiers climbed a muddy steep hill to find the first obstacle. Spc. Ronnie Jarmon was one of many competitors who considered the course to be grueling. “I got lost,” he said. “When I got to the top of the first hill, it felt like my legs were on fire.”

Soldiers took a guided path between two poles to help them navigate through the remainder of the course, jumping over towers, climbing on ropes, crawling through obstacles, and balancing themselves on beams to cross the finish line.

Later that day, Soldiers tested their resilience and ability to react and survive in numerous combat situations during the situational training exercise (STX) lanes.

“I don’t get the chance to train like this often. It’s been a lot of fun getting back into the field,” said 1st Lt. Brandon Rhea, 5th Battalion, 4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment (5-4 ADA). “The fatigue is really starting to set in.”

Day two kicked off with an early morning Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT), grenade lanes, and a written test and essay to reflect on Soldiers’ abilities to effectively communicate as a leader. According to Master Sgt. Kevin Cadungug, an advisor for the competition, this combination of mental and physical abilities helps create the total Soldier concept.

“Sometimes they just need an extra push to get them through,” said Sgt. Cadungug, “and this competition will give them just that. Soldiers are stronger than they think.”

“The physically challenging times were the most rewarding to finish,” said Sgt. Charles Bell, Headquarters Battery,10th AAMDC. “This competition is very eye opening.”

The written test and essay consisted of 50 multiple-choice questions focusing on general Army knowledge. The essay required a minimum of 250 words on how to create a culture to prevent the Army’s three corrosives: suicide, racism and extremism, and sexual harassment and assault.

“For some Soldiers, the mental aspect of the competition may be tougher than the physical aspect,” said Master Sgt. Ronelle Wallace, an advisor from Headquarters Battery, 10th AAMDC. “Mental agility plays a large part in the competition.”

Soldiers remained fueled by perseverance and determination as they moved through each remaining section.

“I told myself not to give up and to keep pushing through,” said Sgt. Antonio Irvin, 5-4 ADA. “It was more mentally challenging than physical for me.”

As the week continued, Soldiers maneuvered their way through the 16-station obstacle course, stress shoot, and weapons assembly to test their strength and agility.

Soldiers faced a series of challenges during the obstacle course. Some found themselves at a disadvantage on certain obstacles, but showed that tactical thinking was a key to success.

“My height made several sections difficult for me,” said Pvt. Joshua Kinder, 5-4 ADA. “The high step obstacle was well over my belly button and I couldn’t use my hands and I fell quite a few times…before each obstacle, I tried to analyze it quickly and think about the easiest and fastest way to go about it.”

The stress shoot consisted of a 3-mile run in full gear holding their M4 rifles. Directly after the 3-mile run, Soldiers were instructed to low-crawl 25 meters, pull a 90-pound sled, and immediately engage targets in various shooting positions.

“We are constantly put in stressful environments and we have to be able to do everything we can to survive,” said Pvt. Kinder. “I’ve been told to train like I would fight.”

Day four began before sunrise with a 12-mile foot march — each Soldier carrying a rucksack weighing a minimum of 35 pounds.

Later that morning, each participant reported to the formal board where senior leaders from each unit asked questions about general military knowledge, tested the competitors’ ability to execute basic commands, and graded their overall military appearance.

“I wasn’t nervous leading up to the board until I stepped foot into the building,” said Pvt. Kinder. “My nerves hit me like a wave.”

The week concluded with an awards ceremony recognizing the winners from each category — officers, non-commissioned officers, and junior enlisted Soldiers — of the European Best Defender Competition.

“Every event is weighed equally when determining the overall winners,” said Master Sgt. David Callagy, NCOIC for the European Best Defender Competition. “Each event over the course of the week is based out of 100 points.”

Of the nine Soldiers who competed, representing each subordinate unit under the 10th AAMDC command structure, three Soldiers exceeded expectations, overcame obstacles, and claimed the title of 2021 European Best Defender.

“You don’t have to be the fastest, the strongest or the smartest,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Giancarlo Macri, the 10th AAMDC senior enlisted advisor. “It takes heart and mental toughness to become a 360-degree Soldier.”

Each winner for their command was presented with an Army Achievement Medal and sword by the Commanding General and Command Sergeant Major.

“This competition is about the warriors who stepped up to compete,” said Brig. Gen. Gregory Brady, commanding general of the 10th Army Air and Missile Defense Command. “These Soldiers demonstrated a winning attitude by setting goals and achieving them.”

1st Lt. Brandon Rhea, Sgt. Antonio Irvin, and Pvt. Joshua Kinder received the title of “Best Defender” in their respective categories. All winning competitors are from the 5th Battalion, 4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment.

“It’s a great honor to represent my Battalion and make my Battery proud,” said 1st Lt. Rhea. “I left it all on the field.”

The best defender from each category will advance to compete in the best warrior competition hosted by U.S. Army Europe and Africa, later this year.