For the first time, the Army will run a “best squad” competition that will pit soldiers from a variety of jobs against each other in five-soldier teams.

No, that’s not an error, it’s not a nine-soldier squad.

Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston announced at the annual Maneuver Warfighter Conference at Fort Benning, Georgia, on Tuesday that the “squads” will be composed of five soldiers to better allow for non-infantry units to compete.

And they can be led by a sergeant first class. That’s because some non-infantry sections participating may be led by a sergeant first class.

The squad will contain one squad leader, either sergeant first class or staff sergeant; one team leader, either a sergeant or corporal; and three squad members at the rank of specialist or below.

The competition will run in September in conjunction with the Best Warrior Competition.

“For over two years I’ve talked about the importance of building a cohesive team that is highly trained, disciplined and fit,” Grinston said. “Now it’s time to measure ourselves against that standard.”

A version of the Best Warrior competition dates back two decades and most recently included 20 events that ranged from marksmanship to medical evacuation skills.

An Army release that published simultaneously with Grinston’s comments at Fort Benning noted that specific details on how parent units will form these squads for the competition has not been finalized.

“We don’t want divisions assembling super-squads,” he said. “But we have to figure out how that looks because each competing command is operated a little differently.”

That means squads can form from parts of a traditional infantry squad or vehicle platform crews such as tanks or Strykers. Leaders could also choose a squad from across a headquarters battalion.

Neither the release nor Grinston laid out specifics of what the squad will face in this competition.

“We’re going to challenge them in ways maybe they haven’t been challenged before, see how they respond when they’re stressed in other ways,” Grinston said.

The competition adds to the existing Best Warrior Competition, which includes Soldier of the Year and NCO of the Year awards.

Grinston also plans to select the NCO and Soldier of the Year from among the 60 competitors but they won’t necessarily come from the winning squad, according to the release.

The move mirrors efforts in recent years to push accountability down to the squad level, with such initiatives as “Not in my Squad” and, more recently, “This is My Squad.”

The small unit skills testing also parallels recent experimentation in running more frequent individual soldier training standards, such as the Expert Soldier Badge, the Expert Infantry Badge and the Expert Field Medical Badge.

In September 2021, the Army announced that units would offer two to three opportunities a year for badge testing as opposed to the sometimes two-year wait time for testing that some soldiers experienced in the past.

The EIB was created in 1945; the EFMB in 1965; and the ESB in 2019.

“I want units to really think about what makes up a squad,” Grinston explained. “‘This is My Squad’ isn’t just about the traditional infantry squad. It’s about those small groups of Soldiers who really know and care about each other and hold each other to a high standard of proficiency, discipline, and fitness.”

The winners of the best soldier, best NCO and best squad competition will all be announced at the annual Association of the U.S. Army exposition in October.

Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.

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