JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas –
Challenges associated with the 2019 coronavirus disease, or COVID-19, mean adjustments for the U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence, or MEDCoE, 2020 Best Warrior Noncommissioned Officer, or NCO, and Soldier.
Staff Sgt. Michael Nguyen, the MEDCoE 2020 Best Warrior NCO, and Spc. Jesse Estrada, who is representing the MEDCoE in the Soldier category, competed in this week’s higher-level competition.
The U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, or TRADOC, hosted the first-ever TRADOC Best Warrior virtual oral board Aug. 25 in lieu of an in-person competition. Competitors are evaluated on a written exam, the virtual board and scores provided by their home station commands for in-person events like the Army Combat Fitness Test, a ruck march, weapons qualification and land navigation.
Nguyen, a 68 E dental assistant assigned as an instructor in the NCO Academy at the MEDCoE said being named the MEDCoE 2020 Best Warrior in the NCO category was a great honor and he was not deterred from entering the competition this year despite the need for social distancing and use of masks for most events.
“It was truly a unique experience to compete in an environment that wasn’t traditional,” Nguyen said. He said that all of the control measures put in place by the MEDCoE leaders, planners and staff, made him feel at ease about the risk and allowed him to concentrate on the competition. “I don’t regret taking on the challenge to compete in the COVID environment. I think we do ourselves a disservice if we immediately say no to something just because it is more difficult.”
Estrada, a 68 W combat medic assigned to MEDCoE’s Training Support Activity, or TSA, also decided not to back down from the challenge. He was notified late last week that, as the 2020 MEDCoE Best Warrior runner-up in the Soldier category, he was being asked to represent the MEDCoE in the TRADOC board to replace the first place Soldier, Spc. Tristan Chandler, a 68W combat medic also assigned to the TSA.
Chandler, the official MEDCoE 2020 Best Warrior Soldier, developed respiratory symptoms, though he tested negative for COVID-19. Out of an abundance of caution, MEDCoE leadership placed him on restriction of movement, or ROM, despite the negative test.
Last month, the MEDCoE conducted its annual Trinity Competition to select the best medic, best warrior and drill sergeant of the year. After seven days of grueling, evaluated events, the winners were announced in a ceremony hosted by the MEDCoE command team of Maj. Gen. Dennis LeMaster and Command Sgt. Major Clark Charpentier July 20. Estrada was first runner-up in the Best Warrior Soldier category.
Estrada said that competing in the Trinity Competition was pretty difficult but that he was relatively happy to have come in second place in the challenging event. He was notified late last week that he, as the runner-up, would take Chandler’s place in the virtual board. Though he didn’t have as much time to prepare as his counterparts, he never considered turning down the opportunity to compete at the TRADOC level.
“I did not think about saying no,” Estrada explained. He said he appreciates the opportunity to compete at a higher level. “I just wanted to prove myself. I take it as a fun challenge and good competition that goes with it.”
Both Estrada and Nguyen agreed that that the experience alone of pushing themselves to compete at the installation and higher level is of great benefit due to the lessons learned and knowledge gained during the intense physical and mental preparation.
“The day after the TRADOC competition, whether I win or if I lose, nothing changes,” Nguyen said. “I am going to continue to develop NCOs, to teach them, coach them and mentor them and develop the Army and future leaders.”
Winners of the TRADOC 2020 Best Warrior Competition will be announced in a virtual ceremony Sept. 1 and will go on to compete in the Army’s Best Warrior virtual competition.