It was the final obstacle in a series of competitions that began many months ago. Twenty Soldiers from 10 Army commands underwent a grueling series of tests in the Best Warrior Competition last week at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia.
It ended Monday, Oct. 3, at the Association of the U.S. Army annual meeting in Washington, D.C., with the announcement that Sgt. 1st Class Joshua A. Moeller, representing U.S. Army Reserve Command, won the 2016 Noncommissioned Officer of the Year award, and Spc. Robert Miller, representing U.S. Army Pacific Command, won Soldier of the Year in the Army’s premier competition.
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey oversaw the 15th annual competition and called the Soldiers “the best and brightest our Army has to offer.”
Moeller, 36, is a cavalry scout serving as a senior drill sergeant with 2nd Battalion, 413th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 95th Division, 108th Training Command. He is a 16-year veteran and is working toward a bachelor’s degree in engineering management.
Miller, 24, is an explosive ordnance disposal specialist assigned to the 74th Ordnance Company. Miller is a three-year veteran and is working toward a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.
Competitors were praised for their mettle, and Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Daniel B. Allyn told the audience it rained throughout the competition last week, further compounding challenges.
“The scope, scale and complexity of what the Army does every day is simply awe-inspiring and illuminates why we must remain trained and ready for the missions at hand while concurrently preparing for challenges that await us in the days, weeks and months to come,” said Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Daniel B. Allyn. “That’s why the Best Warrior Competition is so important, testing warrior aptitude and urban warfare, physical fitness, professional knowledge and warrior tasks. The 20 elite competitors from 10 commands represent the very best that America’s Army has to offer.”
During the first phase of the contest last week, Soldiers took the Army Physical Fitness Test, which included a 2-mile run, as well as a written exam on general military topics and a graded essay. They also demonstrated battle drills. If basic Army standards were met, Soldiers advanced to the second phase, which included an evaluation of their military appearance as well as board interviews from a panel of senior sergeants major.
Allyn told the Soldiers and NCOs in the audience they play a vital role in helping the Army battle current challenges while preparing for future ones.
“As you train our next generation, our Army needs your candid thoughtful feedback as we continue to grow and adapt the future force,” he said. “Your input is essential in the development of solutions, from refining our doctrine to acquiring the best systems, to approving the way we train and validating our operational concepts.”
Calling it an honor to have international military senior enlisted leaders come through the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy, U.S. Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey congratulated seven of its Sergeants Major Course alumni during their induction into the International Student Hall of Fame on April 12.
“This is an institution that is built time and time again from the great men and women who have been students here, but also from the great leaders who have had the privilege of leading this institution to an institution of excellence throughout history,” Dailey said during opening-day ceremonies of the 2016 International Training and Leader Development Symposium at Fort Bliss, Texas. “I am truly proud and honored to represent the Army that represents the world through education.”
Each inductee was invited onto the stage to unveil their plaques. The seven honorees were Sgt. Maj. Lyubomir Kirilov Lambov, sergeant major of the Bulgarian Armed Forces, Class 61; Sgt. Maj. of the Army Henry Whistler Dulce Dulce, sergeant major of the Colombian army, Class 62; Warrant Officer One Anthony Lysight, force sergeant major of the Jamaica Defence Force, Class 55; Chief Warrant Officer Mohammad Al-smadi, sergeant major of the Jordanian Armed Forces, Class 59; Command Sgt. Maj. Lee Gil Ho, command sergeant major of the Combined Forces Command, Republic of Korea and Ground Component Command, Class 59; Sgt. Maj. Genc Metaj, sergeant major of Kosovo Security Force, Class 63; and Plutonier Adjutant Principal Adrian Mateescu, senior enlisted leader (command sergeant major) for the Romanian Land Forces, Class 57.
“There is a common bond between all of us in here … each of us has the same basic duty: accomplishing the mission and taking care of our Soldiers,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis Defreese, commandant of USASMA. “The students and faculty here get more from our international students and faculty and their diversity, knowledge and experiences than they get from us. This newest class of hall of fame inductees are outstanding examples of this.”
The focus of the three-day symposium was on training and fostering international partnerships. Attendees included Dailey, Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Daniel B. Allyn and more than 50 international military senior enlisted leaders.
Since USASMA hosted its first international class in 1975, the academy has graduated 821 international students, representing 76 countries, from its Sergeants Major Course. The International Student Hall of Fame was established in 2009 to recognize those international students who graduated from the course, have advanced to a position similar to that of the U.S. Army’s sergeant major of the Army, and have made enduring contributions to the leader development and education of the noncommissioned officers corps of their respective countries.
The symposium gave International Student Hall of Fame honorees a chance to return to USASMA and its familiar surroundings. Al-smadi said he was humbled to be part of the International Student Hall of Fame and felt at home.
“I came through USASMA eight years ago,” Al-smadi said. “It gave me the opportunity to learn from others’ experiences ─ not just the United States’ sergeants major who are very professional, but from NCOs from all around the world.”
“This is a big deal because this is a recognition not just for me, but for the entire Bulgarian Army,” Lambov said. “This is a great honor, and I am proud of this.”
If they ask, he will make it. Chances are, if a noncommissioned officer pitches an idea for a new piece of Army load carriage to Rich Landry, the equipment designer is going to turn it into something tangible.
A former Pathfinder in the 82nd Airborne Division, Landry understands the struggle of NCOs on the battlefield who are often weighed down with body armor, weapons and other
equipment. During a visit in late June to Fort Belvoir, Va., Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Daniel B. Allyn reiterated the Army’s desire to lighten the Soldiers’ load during a visit to Program Executive Office Soldier. “I appreciate what you are focused on … better kit and lighter weight,” Allyn told PEO Soldier staff members.
It’s a challenge Landry embraces.
“The beauty of what we’re able to do here is a Soldier comes to us with an idea, and in a very short period of time, they have something in their hands,” said Landry, individual designer in Load Carriage Systems, Product Manager Soldier Clothing and Individual Equipment, Natick Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass. “Soldiers leave here with at least a concept. It might be a 60 percent solution, and it might be a 90 percent solution if we’re lucky. But typically the 60 percent solution we are happy with right out of the starting gate.
“And then we evaluate,” Landry said. “We will have 50 of them built, and we let Soldiers tweak it. We do the tweaks to it very quickly once again, get something back in Soldiers’ hands and they will look at it and say, ‘That’s good.’ Then, we can go to test with it. We may have 100 of them built, either [at Natick] or by a small manufacturer. Then, a company-size evaluation [follows].”
The rows of backpacks on his office walls serve as inspiration to the former Pathfinder, who often goes to the field to survey Soldiers about the military gear in use. The walls
display backpacks used over the years by the Army, including the ALICE, all-purpose lightweight individual carrying equipment, pack. The ALICE pack was adopted by the military in 1973. The MOLLE, modular lightweight load-carrying equipment, system was due to replace it in the early 2000s. However, some units still prefer this style over the modern MOLLE pack.
“I always keep old stuff on the wall because I learn so much from it,” said Landry, dubbed “Pack Man” by comedian Larry the Cable Guy who visited Natick’s Soldier System Center in 2012 for his “Only in America” series. “You just never know. There might have been a time where they were using that effectively, and it’s good to look at that.”
How he works
Landry recently heard from the 82nd Airborne Division that Soldiers needed a pack that could carry essential equipment for airborne operations.
Out of that feedback came the MOLLE 4000, a 4,000-cubic-inch rucksack that uses a frame out of the U.S. Marine Corps inventory as a foundation. In fact, Landry had also worked on that pack for the Marines. The MOLLE 4000 is in the testing phase, and airborne units may receive the new pack in fiscal year 2017.
The MOLLE 4000 “is really similar to some of these older packs, but it does a good job of transferring the load,” Landry said. “One of the things that’s popular about this pack is it looks very similar to some of these old ones. A lot of Soldiers love the old stuff. You can’t pry the ALICE pack out of many Soldiers’ hands; they love it.”
Speed and simplicity are key points for Soldiers.
“We can take all the good points of these [older Army backpacks], take the science that Natick is so good at, and put it all together,” Landry said. “That’s really what our focus has been for the past 15 years on backpack technology — it’s transferring some load and getting it off the shoulders and onto the hips.”
Contributions from NCOs
NCO feedback is extremely valuable to Landry and what he does.
“A lot of what we do is very, kind of, ‘stubby pencil’ — we listen to Soldiers, we write it down and look at what we think it needs to be and what we need to happen when we build it,” Landry said.
NCO input comes in different forms for Landry, whether it comes through the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center’s Public Affairs Office, Operational Forces Interface Group outreach efforts in the field or by walking through Landry’s door during a tour at Natick.
“We have an absolute open-door policy for anybody in uniform,” Landry said. “You come in anytime, and we will listen.”
Plenty of feedback also comes during temporary duty assignments to military installations.
“Whenever we travel to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, or Fort Benning, Georgia, etc., there’s always this kind of exchange process,” Landry said. “We will do it through surveys or get Soldiers in a room and say, ‘What’s wrong with this?’ ‘What kind of problems are you seeing with this backpack?’ ‘We’ve had this thing fielded for X amount of years, how can we fix it?’ ‘How can we improve on it?’ Because that’s my job every day — fix stuff, improve, improve, improve. Everything can be improved. Nothing is perfect until we try and try and try, and keep on trying.”
Where it all started
Landry is extremely grateful for the sewing skills he picked up as a young infantryman. Those skills came in handy when he found himself modifying military equipment.
“I was that young Soldier who was changing stuff, who was reusing 550 parachute cord and 100 mph duct tape and showing [others] what I could do to change stuff,” he said.
“I have the best job, and I tell that to everybody,” Landry said. “You never know what you are going to be working on. I travel a lot. I have deployed to Iraq twice. I have deployed to Afghanistan. This is where you get all your good information. This is where you learn. That’s what it’s all about.”
Inspiration often strikes on the spot. While on deployment, Landry often takes photographs of unique ways that Soldiers are carrying or using military equipment.
“We really have to get out as much as we can and see that stuff,” he said. “Sometimes we’re thrown a curve like, ‘They’re carrying what? They’re carrying how? Wait a minute. We have got to get on top of that. We’ve got to figure out a way to do that.’ Sometimes that’s just how it works.”
The MOLLE pack can be credited to Soldiers, Landry said. It “came from learning from Soldiers, because what Soldiers put things through you can’t model in a laboratory,” he said.
“What Soldiers put [their equipment] through is amazing — airborne operations, air assault operations, heavy vehicle use,” Landry said. “Things get driven over. Things get ripped off the side of vehicles in the night when two vehicles pass — on a road sign, on a telephone pole.”
That’s why Army equipment has to be durable and be able to withstand the extreme conditions of Soldiers’ missions.
“We [at Natick] make a difference, and that’s the beauty of it,” Landry said. “Every morning I turn on the news, and I see Soldiers deployed who are wearing stuff that I designed. So the job satisfaction is huge. Everything a Soldier wears is done here, and we all touch it. It’s fun and meaningful.”