After two decades, the Army‘s Best Warrior Competition is over. Instead, this year will see the inaugural Best Squad Competition, as the service zeroes in on team building.
On Tuesday, Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston, the service’s top enlisted leader, announced the new competition, which will kick off in September. The winning squad will be announced during October’s Association of the United States Army, or AUSA, conference.
“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.”
The Best Warrior Competition consisted of physical fitness events, marksmanship drills, medical tasks and written exams. The full list of what the Best Squad competition will feature is unknown, but events will be team oriented — such as conducting a squad attack, in which part of the squad fires on a target, while another element flanks and assaults it. Twelve teams, including one each from the Army Reserve and National Guard, will compete.
The new competition will not use traditional infantry squads, which typically have two teams of four soldiers, with each of those teams led by a noncommissioned officer and then a squad leader in charge of those two NCOs.
Instead, the competition will use five-person squads, with two NCOs in charge of three junior troops. A sergeant first class or staff sergeant will lead; the squad will also have a sergeant or a corporal as team leader, along with three junior enlisted soldiers. Though staff sergeants traditionally lead infantry squads, the higher rank has been authorized for units that are typically led by an E-7.
“It’s not going to be perfect, I acknowledge that,” Grinston said. “But we’re still going to do it.”
But units should not try to build a “super squad” of their best soldiers to dominate the competition. Instead, Grinston said he wants organic teams of soldiers who work together every day.
“Don’t build the super squad to come. It’s designed for your teammates to appear before the Army,” Grinston said. “The goal is you have a squad that is organic.”
Despite there being no formal Best Warrior Competition, soldiers in the new squad event will still be evaluated individually. Along with the winning squad, the best performing individual soldier and noncommissioned officer will be announced at AUSA. Those two soldiers may come from a squad that did not win the overall title.
The announcement comes as the “This is My Squad” initiative has become a staple of Grinston’s time as the force’s top enlisted leader. That effort is designed to replicate the cohesion often seen in small special operations units. NCOs in squads have the most impact on the force’s junior troops; therefore, efforts to embolden leaders in lower levels have been seen as critical to the basic functions of the service — the idea being strong squads mean a strong Army.
Beyond training, Grinston has urged leaders to get to know their junior troops and their families, and what resources those soldiers might need, whether that’s specific training for military skills or mental health care.
“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.”
— Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.