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NEWS | June 18, 2024

U.S. Army South takes second place at Army Futures Command Best Squad Competition

By Sgt. Joshua Taeckens U.S. Army South Public Affairs

U.S. Army South scored big, placing second in the U.S. Army Futures Command Best Squad Competition, held June 3-7 at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland.

Five Soldiers representing USARSOUTH came together for the neck and neck competition between U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command, U.S. Army North, U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command, U.S. Army Central and the Futures and Concepts Center.

“Words can’t express my pride in such a great team of professionals, dedicated to competing at such a high level, and I’m proud of them as individuals and also as a team,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Ronald Graves, USARSOUTH senior enlisted advisor.

During the five-day competition, the squads were assessed on their technical and tactical proficiency, as well as their ability to work as a disciplined and cohesive team.

The competition began with a 12-mile ruck march, followed by various weapons lanes, an Army Combat Fitness Test, or ACFT, detailed individual warrior tasks and squad battle drills, situational tactical exercises, day and night time land navigation, an obstacle course, and a written test all while being ambushed with various mystery events when they least expected. The competition ended with a board-style interview that tested their knowledge and professionalism.

Staff Sgt. Raycel Dasher, Team USARSOUTH’s squad leader and the 2024 AFC noncommissioned officer of the year, said that although his team was the oldest team competing, with an average age of more than 32 years old, they displayed mental and physical fortitude throughout the grueling competition.

“We set the tone for the whole competition in the very first event, completing the ruck march in under two and a half hours, which showed the other squads we came to compete,” Dasher said. “But, the guys really exceeded my expectations and showed a lot of heart throughout the competition.”

Dasher also stated that there were challenges to put together a team due to the organizational structure at Army South and difficulties to put together a consistent training schedule due to each team members’ work responsibilities. But even with all of the challenges and constraints the team encountered, Staff Sgt. Nathan Riddle said they bonded and adapted rapidly.

“For not having many opportunities to train together, we operated really well together on the squad level,” Riddle said. “We bonded right from the start, and it only grew stronger as we went through the competition. Through the lows and the highs, the injuries, aches and fatigue, everybody got up each day and accomplished the task at hand.”

Although it was a team competition, there were several events they had to complete individually. But according to Staff Sgt. Benjamin Klontz, squad member for USARSOUTH and the oldest member of the squad at 38 years old, the individual events only bolstered each team members’ commitment to the team.

“Knowing that our individual success would contribute to the overall success of our team, put a positive pressure on us to compete at our best and give it everything we had,” Klontz said. “It made us push our boundaries. For example, I shot my personal best at the weapons qualification and I know my teammate, Sgt. Kevin Acosta, hit a personal record at the ACFT the day after the 12-mile ruck march.”

The nonstop action wore down the competitor’s bodies and taxed their minds, but Acosta said that they were motivated in knowing that they were competitive in every event, never placing below third place.

“I think the most challenging event was the ACFT, because we did the ruck march the day prior, and we all had aches, pain, blisters and bruising,” Acosta said. “But we came together as a team, cheered on one another, and motivated each other to do the best we can. That effort and determination to win never faltered during the competition.”

The effort put forth by the older members of the team left a lasting impression on the only member of the team under 30 years old.

Spc. Matthew Nelson, who was promoted during the closing ceremony of the competition, said his teammates' technical and tactical knowledge set the standard for what he strives to be when he joins the NCO corps.

“Seeing my leaders operate during this competition was inspiring and pushed me to do my best in every event,” Nelson said. “Through my teammates’ high-level performance and how they each taught me and guided me through some of the warrior tasks that I wasn’t as familiar with, I know this competition made me a better Soldier. I will take the knowledge I gained from this competition and pass it on to my future subordinates when I become an NCO.”

In the end, Graves expressed his gratitude and support for the team’s professional conduct and how they represented the unit.

“Considering our organizational mission and structure, with constant exercise planning and partnership building, our squad’s ability to compete at this level is a testament to this small sample of Soldiers.”