By Joe Lacdan
FORT MEADE, Md. -- Best Warrior Competition planner 1st Sgt. Mike Kriewaldt didn't attend any of the previous Best Warrior competitions. Nor did he compete in those events or watch any footage.
Instead the first sergeant from the Asymmetric Warfare Training Center at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, drew on experience from his eight combat deployments to build a competitive event tasked with pushing Soldiers to ever-increasing standards.
The annual contest begins Sept. 30 at Fort Lee, Virginia, and ends Oct. 5 at Fort A.P. Hill. Winners will be announced at the Association of the U.S. Army's 2018 Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington, D.C., Oct. 8.
With a new physical training exam on the horizon and Soldiers being asked to become more versatile and multi-skilled than ever before, Kriewaldt, a 43-year-old Soldier with 19 years' experience in the Infantry, spent nine months building the agenda for the competition.
Kriewaldt remains tight-lipped about the specifics of this year's event to keep contestants guessing and prepared for any of the warrior tasks outlined in the Soldier's Manual of Common Tasks. Those warrior skills include weapons proficiency, first aid, combat techniques and casualty reporting.
"They don't know what they're going to be tested on," Kriewaldt said. "So they have to be professional and competent on everything."
Kriewaldt began planning for the competition last February and since then has had meetings with Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey. The first sergeant said that Dailey has made site visits to A.P. Hill to monitor progress, including one visit earlier this month. Kriewaldt also met with members of Human Resources Command and with the Asymmetric Warfare Group cadre. He also spent time hosting conferences at A.P. Hill and Fort Meade, Maryland.
"I communicated with him and worked extensively with his staff," Kriewaldt said of the SMA. "I provided numerous briefs, talked to them each day. This is his competition. This is designed to meet his intent."
Dailey recognized Kriewaldt, his organization and all the people who worked behind the scenes to help create the best possible event to challenge the competitors.
"First Sergeant Kriewaldt, the Asymmetric Warfare Group Team, and all of our support elements have done a phenomenal job of putting together rigorous, realistic, scenario-based events to challenge each competitor to think and execute as we want all of our leaders to do," he said. "It puts them in stressful situations that will allow them to identify and create solutions to very realistic challenges our Soldiers face every day on the battlefield."
While Kriewaldt won't reveal what's in store for the contest's 22 competitors from across the major commands, he said the 2018 contest will uphold the Army's rigid training standards.
"They're going to be tested on all the warrior tasks, battle drills, competencies and attributes that are associated with being a 21st century Soldier," Kriewaldt said.
To become one of the final 22, Soldiers must first compete at the battalion, brigade, division and command levels.
At the U.S. Army Cyber Command's Best Warrior competition in August, Soldiers went on a 12-mile ruck march carrying full battle gear. They also took part in a simulated casualty exercise and an obstacle course at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia.
"I would say that being a physically-fit Soldier in today's Army is essential and is key because Soldiers and leaders are willing to be faced with numerous different challenges," Kriewaldt said. "They have to be physically able to meet the mission that they're given. And sometimes those missions are not what they think they're going to be."
The benefits of the contest will reverberate across the service long after the competition ends. Kriewaldt hopes that the standards set by the competitors will influence budding Army leaders at their home units and major commands.
"They will have a taste of adaptability and learn to be an agile leader," Kriewaldt said. "And those are all indicative of the future Soldier."
Dailey agreed, and congratulated the 22 Soldiers for reaching the Department of the Army-level competition, and expressed confidence they would emerge from the event as better leaders.
"The Best Warrior Competition is ultimately about readiness," he said. "It requires these warriors to demonstrate they are physically fit, and have mastered the basic combat skills necessary to survive on the battlefield. Congratulations to each of them for making to this level. They will, undoubtedly, walk away from the Best Warrior Competition as better Soldiers and better leaders."
Last year, Staff Sgt. Ryan McCarthy, a combat engineer from U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, won NCO of the Year, while Spc. Hazen Ham, an Infantry Soldier from the 35th Infantry Regiment, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, took Soldier of the Year.