MIGHTY CULTURE

This is why 'Best Soldier' competitions actually matter for junior enlisted

Within the United States Army, each unit will routinely hold competitions to determine which soldier is the best at their given role. There's a competition for best warrior, best Ranger, best medic, best cook, soldier of the month, NCO of the quarter — you name it. The list goes on to include nearly every MOS, ranked each month, quarter, and year.

But when it comes time for the first sergeant to get the names of those who will nobly represent the company, you'll hear nothing but crickets from the joes that are busy waiting until close-of-business formation. It's like pulling teeth each and every time. In fact, you'd hear less groaning and complaining if you voluntold them to go fill sandbags with spoons.

Yes, you'll have to put in some effort, but even if you rank somewhere around 10th place, getting in on these competitions is a more rewarding experience than nearly anything else you'd otherwise be doing. Here's why:


One of the most important steps in getting promoted is getting your name out there in a positive light. That doesn't mean you need to be Captain America, but any (positive) means of getting your chain of command to know your name, face, and think higher of you than the dirtbags in formation is a good thing.

Your squad leader should obviously know who you are and everything about you — they write your monthly counselling statements after all. Your platoon sergeant should know a bit about you, your first sergeant should probably know whether you're a dirtbag or not, and your battalion sergeant major probably only knows that you exist.

Go any higher than that, and they've got way too many troops to keep track of.

Best Soldier competitions give you that "in" without resorting to underhanded brown-nosing.

I mean, giving any kind of blood, sweat, and tears in the name of the unit will keep them happy.

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Mason Cutrer)

When you arrive at a Best Soldier competition, you're always escorted by your immediate chain of command. If you happen to be the only joe brave enough to try, that means you'll be walking in with just your squad leader, platoon sergeant, and first sergeant — all ready to cheer you on.

Here's a fact for you: Once you've reached a certain rank on the enlisted side, you'll have to stomach the fact that your personal glory days are behind you. Your entire career, from that point forward, depends on your men and how well you lead them. When you're out there at a Best Soldier competition, the NCOs aren't just cheering you on — they're out there collecting bragging rights. "See that dude? That's my guy!"

Just try to make them proud. They're using you to insult their fellow NCOs' ability to lead and train soldiers.

(U.S. Army photo by Timothy L. Hale)

For obvious reasons, if you come out of that challenge with a shiny gold medal or trophy, you're going to become the giant middle finger your NCOs will raise at their peers. Their pride in you will open whatever doors you wanted opened in your career. You want to go to airborne school? Win Soldier of the Year and your first sergeant will fight for you when that slot comes down from battalion. Want to get promoted? Your first sergeant probably won't even ask you any questions at the board. They'll nod to their fellow first sergeants and sergeant major and say, "that soldier's good. That's my guy."

A glowing recommendation like that could mean no other questions will be asked and you get your (P) status with a snap of the fingers.

Oh? You thought those questions you've been studying for months actually mattered? Well... That's a discussion best saved for another time...

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Raquel Villalona, 2ID/RUCD Public Affairs)

It is a competition though, and it's far from guaranteed that you'll win — or even medal. While your platoon sergeant may knifehand your ass and threaten you with a 24-mile ruck march for getting "the first place loser" (better known as "second place"), that's just incentive to push you. Try your hardest and you'll be okay.

I really don't want to sound like a corny, motivational 80s sports flick, but it really doesn't matter if you win or lose. It only matters that you gave it your all. Your chain of command will respect you far more for coming in a hard-fought second place than if you shriveled out of the competition to begin with. Hell, come in last place — as long as they know you honestly give it everything you had, everything will be fine in the end.

Your chain of command now knows, without a shadow of a doubt, that you will push yourself to the limit when needed — and that's truly the greatest thing a leader could ask of their troops.

But, you know, there's far more praise if you bring that award home for your platoon sergeant's desk.

(National Guard photo by Master Sgt. John Hughel, Oregon Military Department Public Affairs)