Army ‘Best Squad’ Competitors Face Shooting, Ruck Marches, and a Pentagon Review Board
Twelve squads of soldiers from around the Army — from infantry soldiers to cyber and logistics experts — will go head to head at Fort Bragg this month in the Army’s first Best Squad competition. The eight-day event will feature a gauntlet of at least 10 fitness and combat events, starting Sept. 29.
And to top it off, after the field portion of the competition, the top four teams will travel to Washington, DC, for perhaps the most high stress event of all — a review board-style interview in front of top Army leaders.
When the dust settles, officials will name one squad the “best” in the Army. Along with bragging rights, the Army hopes the soldiers who take part will take back to their home stations commitment to sharpening traditional squad-level combat skills through competition.
The Best Squad Competition will be watched not just by onlookers at Fort Bragg but by eyes as high as the Pentagon, said Sgt. Maj. Phil Blaisdell, a Pentagon planner.
“Nobody wants war, but we have to be prepared,” Blaisdell told Coffee or Die Magazine. In future warfare, he said, “our squads are going to have to operate on their own. There may not be patrol bases like Iraq and Afghanistan. They need to be able to be out there and survive and thrive.”
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston named the Best Squad Competition as one of the Army’s key readiness efforts in a speech at an Association of the United States Army summit in Fayetteville, North Carolina, earlier this summer.
“It’s the first time we’ve done a Best Squad Competition — I know we’ve done those in the Army — but this is the first time we’ve done it for all of the Army,” Grinston said.
“For the last two years, we’ve been talking about building cohesive teams,” Blaisdell said. “We’ve talked about it a lot, but now we’re actually going to see these squads compete against each other.”
At minimum, events will include a written exam, essay, physical assessment, 12-mile foot march, warrior tasks and battle drills, a scenario-based marksmanship event with a combination of weapons ranging from pistol to M2 heavy machine gun, a squad mission, and a mystery event.
“We expect them to be able to shoot their weapons. We expect them to be experts at warrior tasks and battle drills,” Blaisdell said. “We expect them to be fit. We expect them to, you know, know their doctrine.”
Warrior tasks include individual skills like loading and unloading weapons and using hand grenades, and battle drills include maneuvers like reacting to enemy fire.
The four squads with the highest scores in the field portion will travel to Washington, DC, for the final event, a board appearance in front of Grinston and other senior enlisted leaders, who will select the best squad. Also from the top four squads, the panel will select the best squad as well as the best NCO and best soldier of the year.
“As we go from 12 to four squads, I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a tight race, so the board may be the event that seals the deal,” Blaisdell told Coffee or Die.
The competition is one of a growing number of “Best of“ competitions within the Army. Since 2002, the Army has held the Best Warrior Competition, a servicewide competition to select the best noncommissioned officer, or NCO, and best soldier of the year. And along with the long-standing Best Ranger, competitions for snipers, combat divers, medics, and even interrogators have launched in recent years.
Each of the 12 squads at Bragg will be made up of five enlisted personnel — a squad leader, who is a sergeant first class or staff sergeant; a team leader, who is a sergeant or corporal; and three junior soldiers, Blaisdell said.
“Everything that they do, they do as a squad,” he said.
Operational commands sending a team include Forces, Training and Doctrine, Materiel, Special Operations, Cyber, Futures, and Medical. Geographic command teams will come from Europe, the Pacific, and the Military District of Washington. The National Guard and Reserve are also sending teams.
Throughout the year, squads have been working their way through a pipeline of competitions within their own command. Blaisdell said each Army command runs its pipeline differently, but he mentioned the winning squad from the Army’s largest command, Forces Command, or FORSCOM, as an example.
In order to reach the Fort Bragg finals, the squad from the 101st Airborne Division had to win competitions at the brigade, division, corps, and command level before advancing to this month’s Best Squad Competition.
“We’re not just talking infantry squads,” Blaisdell said. “We’re talking anyone who you go to work with every day. If you go to work and you have four or five people in your office — we consider that like your squad.”
The chief of staff and sergeant major of the Army will announce the winners in Washington on Oct. 12.