Soldiers compete for best warrior titles at S. Korea’s sustainment hub
By MARCUS FICHTL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 12, 2018
DAEGU, South Korea — Water survival, stress shoots and a ruck march through a freak snowstorm didn’t stop 10 competitors from competing for best warrior titles last week at the Army’s sustainment hub in the southeastern city of Daegu.
The competitors, who won similar contests at the brigade and battalion level, traveled from as far north as Camp Casey to earn a chance to represent the 19th Expeditionary Sustainment Command in the categories of best soldier, best noncommissioned officer, best officer and best KATUSA, as South Korean soldiers assigned to the Army are called.
The winners, who will be announced on Thursday, will continue on to compete against representatives from other Army units in South Korea for Eighth Army’s top spot in May. The NCO and soldier winners will then move on to the Pacific competition and those winners will then compete at the Army level later in the year.
Command Sgt. Maj. Maurice Chaplin, the 19th ESC’s senior enlisted adviser, called the competition a test of the “total soldier concept.”
He said the competitors were tested in a dozen events from land navigation to basic physical fitness before ending with a tense formal board challenging their knowledge about the Army.
The competitors ranged from military policemen to ammunition specialists to quartermasters — a microcosm of the 4,200 troops tasked with moving beans and bullets across the peninsula, which is divided by the Demilitarized Zone.
“Our reach is from the DMZ to the sea,” Chaplin said.
The logistical backbone of Eighth Army, the sustainment command was constituted in 2005 though earlier iterations of the unit have been in South Korea since 1964.
Some 28,500 U.S. servicemembers are based in South Korea, which remains technically at war with the North since the 1950-53 conflict ended in an armistice instead of a peace treaty.
Unlike most units in South Korea that maintain their fighting capabilities with drills and war games, Chaplin said the 19th ESC simply goes from “practice to game time” since their day-to-day mission of providing food, fuel and water is the same in peace as in war.
While the mission stays the same the challenges always change and Chaplin said the best warrior competition tested just that with a surprise from Mother Nature during the 12-mile road march.
“We were expecting rain, but what did we get — snow,” he said. “You have to quickly adjust to your new element to continue to successfully accomplish your mission.”
Sgt. Jordan Mack, an ammunition specialist with the 6th Ordnance Battalion, originally competed in the soldier category representing the massive industrial depot at Camp Carroll known as Material Support Command Korea, but was promoted just a week prior to the competition, propelling him into the NCO category.
“I won the MSC-K brigade soldier category about two weeks ago and then I got promoted last Friday, came here and they boosted me up to the NCO category,” the 29-year-old from Thornville, Ohio said. “It makes you want to try harder.”
Pfc. Michael Jagelski, 18, of the 94th Military Police Battalion, was thrust into the competition just two months after finishing basic training and arriving in South Korea in December.
The Goldendale, Wash., native said the stress shoot, a gauntlet of physical and military tasks ending with the soldier firing rounds downrange in a gas mask, was his turning point during the competition. “I didn’t know what to expect; I was surprised and honestly it was kind of terrifying, but I learned a lot about how I could handle pressure,” he said.
Chaplin said he’s ready to see his soldiers take the next step and challenge the rest of South Korea to represent Eighth Army, proclaiming he’d take anyone of his “warriors” over a 2nd Infantry Division soldier.
“19th all day,” he said.