Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey is shaking up the Army's Best Warrior Competition.
Also, for the first time in the event's history, competitors who don't meet basic Army standards will be eliminated from the competition. A soldier who fails the physical fitness test or land navigation will be immediately sent home.
"We have to clearly send the message that this [competition] is for the best of the best of the best," Dailey said.
The Army's annual Best Warrior Competition tests soldiers on everything from urban warfare simulations and board interviews to physical fitness and warrior tasks and battle drills. It has been described as the Super Bowl of Army competitions, and competitors earn their spot in the Army-level event by competing in various competitions throughout the year at the command to which they're assigned.
The competition ultimately determines a Soldier of the Year and Noncommissioned Officer of the Year.
This year's competition kicks off Oct. 6.
There was nothing wrong with previous competitions, said Dailey, who became the Army's top enlisted soldier on Jan. 30.
"But now, unfortunately, you have a new sergeant major, and things that matter on the battlefield — the ability to shoot your weapon, the ability to give physical aid to your battle buddy, the ability to call a 9-line medevac, the ability to road march 12 miles with combat gear and be able to execute and fight at the end of it — that's just stuff that's really important," Dailey said.
Soldiers who fail land navigation during the 2015 Best Warrior Competition will be sent home.
Photo Credit: Spc. Alexandra Campo/Army
The goal isn't to make the competition "unpassable or undoable," Dailey said.
"But we're going to set the example from the top that PT is important, that land nav is important, that being able to shoot your weapon is important," he said. "It's so critically important that it could kill somebody on the battlefield."
This year's competition will be at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, instead of Fort Lee, Virginia, where it has traditionally been held.
Hosting the event is "very taxing" on Fort Lee, which is the Army's largest advanced individual training post, Dailey said. He also wanted to take advantage of the facilities at Fort A.P. Hill, which is closer to the Washington, D.C., area.
"We have this perfect training ground between here and there that's underutilized," Dailey said. "We've got some great training facilities, some great ranges at Fort A.P. Hill."
The post is often used for training by special operations forces, and the Army's Asymmetric Warfare Group has a camp there where it runs its Adaptive Leader Program, Dailey said.
"I wanted to capitalize on some of that because that's how we want our NCOs and soldiers to think, to be adaptive on the battlefield," Dailey said, adding that the Army has tasked the AWG to run this year's Best Warrior Competition.
"There are some phenomenal noncommissioned officers at the AWG capable of putting them through some tough, realistic training scenarios," Dailey said. "It's going to be very physical but also very mental, the whole-soldier concept."
That means that this year, instead of going to a lane and being asked to complete a task, competitors will be required to perform various tasks under fire or in simulated combat scenarios.
"Instead of putting them on a lane and saying 'disassemble and assemble this weapon system,' they may find themselves having to casualty evac and then put together a weapon system out of a box of parts and do first aid while they're doing that," Dailey said.
The soldiers also will be graded on their ability to speak to the media, how they perform in front of a board, and their ability to plan for an upcoming mission.
"Every single thing you do from the time you show up, you're going to be graded on," Dailey said. "Each one of those events will be weighted with regards to the importance of how it resonates on the battlefield."
Best Warrior Competition events are designed to measure the Soldiers' physical abilities, leadership skills, teamwork and critical thinking.
Photo Credit: Spc. Jordan Talbot/Army
"To be completely honest with you, we've had [competitors] fail basic soldier standards," Dailey said. "You should not be receiving recognition if you cannot pass a basic Army standard."
The list of events that soldiers will be required to pass or risk elimination hasn't been finalized, but it will be based on basic Army standards and could include the PT test, road marching, land navigation and the written exam.
"There are things we have stressed that are very, very important for every single soldier," Dailey said. "My whole thinking on this, and it's based on a very simplistic thought, is if we say this is our best soldier and best NCO of the year and they fail the basic Army standard, what message are we sending to the force?"
Trip to Washington
Competitors who make it through the week will then be brought up to the Washington, D.C., area for their appearance before the board.
There will be two boards this year; one for the NCOs and another for the soldiers.
They also will go on a staff ride to learn more about the history of the Army.
The competition will culminate with a cookout at Dailey's quarters on Fort Myer, Virginia.
During the cookout, individual award winners – for things such as best PT score and fastest road march – will be awarded.
The overall winners will not be announced until a luncheon during the Association of the United States Army annual meeting, scheduled for Oct. 12-14 in Washington.
Dailey insisted his big changes to the competition do not reflect badly on previous events.
"We're trying to honor the best," he said. "We're going to send that message very clearly. They're going to earn it. When I was in Iraq, you walked 14-hour patrols in 120-degree weather with a 100 pounds on. It's hard. That's what we expect soldiers to do on the battlefield."