‘Best Warrior’

Published 9:23 pm Monday, March 26, 2012

2nd Lt. Robert Reed of Cardonia, Mich., and Spc. Craig Cottrell of Suffolk, Va., train for physical fitness events, prior to competing in the Regional Command East Best Warrior Competition at Forward Operating Base Shank.

LOGAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan — With events like land navigation, weapons assembly, obstacle courses and a 150-pound three-mile litter carry, the Regional Command East Best Warrior Competition is physically and mentally tough.

Task Force Corsair was afforded the privilege of sending two of its best soldiers to the competition to fight for the title of “Best Warrior.”

The competition lasted nearly seven hours and consisted of two-man teams from across the region battling it out in 10 different events.

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Second Lt. Robert Reed, who serves as chief of operations, and Spc. Craig Cottrell of Suffolk, a flight operations and radio operator, were selected to compete because of their physical and mental stamina and desire to represent Task Force Corsair.

Reed and Cottrell and 25 other two-man teams arrived at Bagram, Afghanistan, (host location of the Best Warrior Competition), March 10, for a pre-competition welcome dinner, where they met the other 25 two-man teams against whom they would compete.

After dinner, each team was given a start time for the following day’s competition, with team start times staggered over a 13-hour period. Reed and Cottrell, also known as Team 26, were given the last time slot, a 6 p.m. start.

It was dark, cold and raining when it was time for Team 26 to start. The first event entailed three minutes each of push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups. Team members were allowed to alternate with each other, but one person had to be executing the specified exercise at all times. Nine exhausting minutes later, the two Corsair soldiers moved on to the next event — the memory challenge.

The memory challenge gave each team a box of random objects and 30 seconds to remember each object and its location in the box. Cottrell quickly came up with a game plan.

“I turned to 2nd Lt. Reed and told him to memorize the left side, and I would memorize the right side. This way, we each only had to focus on and remember only half of the box,” Cottrell said.

But they wouldn’t be asked to remember the objects just yet; the next event was a 150-pound, three-mile litter carry. Both Reed and Cottrell said this event was the most strenuous one.

“This event set the tone right away for how physically challenging the competition would be,” said Reed of Cardonia, Mich.

And if the weight of the litter and the distance alone weren’t challenging enough, halfway through their trek, Bagram took indirect fire. Reed’s competitive mindset was evident as he looked to his teammate in response to the indirect fire and shouted, “Indirect fire? We don’t have time for this!”

The three-mile litter carry route led them to an obstacle course that would involve problem-solving skills to overcome each obstacle.

“Second Lt. Reed said that you must have a plan before you start,” Cottrell explained. “So we took a moment to develop a plan prior to starting each problem set.”

Using their problem-solving abilities and teamwork, Team 26 made the obstacle course one of their strongest events, and they moved onto the range event in high spirits.

The range event also played to the strengths of Reed and Cottrell, who had spent time training with the Task Force Corsair’s Pathfinder company. The Pathfinders shared their knowledge in shooting techniques prior to the competition, and Team 26 had no trouble demonstrating their skills in front of the other 25 teams.

By then, it was nearly midnight and still raining, and the Corsair team donned helmets and improved-outer tactical vests, grabbed weapons and moved on to the next event, a six-mile foot march.

“We ran more than half of the six miles partly just to keep warm,” admitted Cottrell.

After the six-mile march, an exhausted Team 26 moved to the Warrior Tasks event, which comprised four tasks — combat life-saver, land navigation, radio operations and weapons assembly.

They progressed through CLS with ease, boasting one of the fastest times. Radio operations also proved a highlight for Team 26. Cottrell, a radio operator for TF Corsair, was able to quickly show off his expertise. Land navigation followed, which gave Reed a chance to demonstrate his expertise.

The weapons assembly event was the last of the Warrior tasks. Four different weapons were disassembled and the pieces placed in a box. Each team had to assemble all weapons in the allotted time.

“Due to the cold temperatures we could barely feel our fingers, which made assembling the weapons a very difficult task,” recalled Cottrell.

Team 26 was not able to assemble the weapons in the allotted time, but they did not let it get them down. While waiting for the start of the next event, Reed paused to offer encouragement to his teammate: “Win or lose, I’m just proud that we did this.”

The Corsair team knew the competition was almost over when they encountered a “mystery event.” The mystery turned out to be a three and one-half mile run. At this point, Team 26 had competed for nearly seven hours and traveled almost 10 miles.

Reed remembered his motivation during this event.

“After the first 10 miles, you stop worrying about the distance left. You just tell yourself to make it to the next step,” he said.

After the run, they had just one event left, the conclusion of the memory test. Team 26 would now have to remember everything they had seen in that box seven hours and 13 miles earlier. Cottrell’s plan for each man to remember only half of the box proved exceedingly successful. Another great score for the TF Corsair Team.

Finally, the competition was over. Reed and Cottrell would just have to wait for the results and awards ceremony to see how their performance ranked against the other 25 teams.

The following day the Best Warrior awards ceremony took place. While Task Force Corsair’s Team did not take home the Best Warrior honor, they were congratulated for their excellent performance by the Division Commander, Maj. Gen. Daniel Allyn, the Division Command Sgt. Maj., and Command Sgt. Maj. Isaia Vimoto; along with the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade commander and the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade Command Sgt. Major.