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JBLM hosts 2024 America's First Corps Best Squad Competition

Maj. Gen. Matthew W. McFarlane, deputy commanding general of First Corps, congratulates soldiers assigned to 593rd ESC on their victory in the 2024 First Corps Best Squad Competition on JBLM, June 14, 2024. Photo credit: Sgt. Chandler Coats

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JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD - Ten teams of U.S. Army soldiers from units across JBLM competed in America's First Corps Best Squad Competition at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, June 10-14, 2024.

"This event and how the winning team performed epitomizes why our Army continues to be the most dominant land force on the face of the earth," said Maj. Gen. Matthew W. McFarlane, deputy commanding general for America's First Corps.

The rigorous five-day event tested the soldiers in demanding challenges designed to evaluate their physical endurance, technical soldier tasks and battle drills, and teamwork.

The competition started with an Army Combat Fitness Test, an appearance board, and a written exam, setting the stage for intense field exercises.

"It's been challenging at times, but our squad has really been coming together and working as a team this week," said Staff Sgt. Lincoln Mance, squad leader for the team representing the
555th Engineer Brigade, I Corps.

Competitors were also evaluated on weapons and medical lanes, testing their proficiency in handling various scenarios under pressure. They also completed day and night land navigation courses, navigating rugged terrain with only a map and a compass.

Weapons qualification was a key component of the competition. Each five-person squad had to demonstrate proficiency in the M2 .50 caliber machine gun, M240B machine gun, M249 machine gun, M4 carbine, M17 pistol, and M320 grenade launcher. These exercises tested their marksmanship skills and adaptability across a wide range of weaponry.

In addition to the technical challenges, the competition included a "stress shoot" squad live-fire exercise, simulating combat conditions to assess how teams performed under extreme stress.

The final event was a 12-mile ruck march, demanding physical endurance and mental resilience. The teams were required to complete the event in three hours or less, the Army standard of 15 minutes per mile.

"Commitment to the team is what the Best Squad Competition is all about," said Command Sgt. Maj. Shawn F. Carns, command sergeant major for America's First Corps. "It puts you through some grueling challenges to help you become more resilient and become better together as a team."

As the competition concluded, the participating squads celebrated for their hard work and determination at an awards ceremony at Carey Theater on JBLM.

Squad five, representing the 593rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command, won. Squad one, representing the 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, was the runner-up.

Squad five's squad leader, Staff Sgt. Trevor Smolinski was named I Corps Noncommissioned Officer of the Year, and Spc. Nikolas Soung, also on the winning squad, won I Corps Soldier of the Year. The remaining squad members on the winning team were Sgt. Jason Pantano, Spc. Gregorio Gomez, and Spc. Ezekiel Hernandez.

"We competed with some of the best here, and we were definitely underdogs," Smolinski said. "It's super rewarding as the squad leader to take these soldiers from working in the motorpool to achieving something so significant."

Gomez echoed his squad leader's sentiment.

"Typically this kind of thing is more dominated by combat-oriented units, and we're forklift drivers at a transportation company," Gomez said. "So people doing our jobs don't usually get a lot of time to train like others might."

Pantano commented on the preparations that had been made leading up to the competition.

"We trained together for five months and got through two competitions to get here," Pantano said. "So we understood everybody's weaknesses and strengths. We came in keeping high motivation around the team; we had to pick each other up sometimes, but we just kept trucking through."

Hernandez expressed his enthusiasm for sharing his experiences.

"I look forward to going back to my platoon, showing them all the things that I've learned, and passing on my knowledge to other soldiers and NCOs."

The 2024 America's First Corps Best Squad Competition highlighted the skills and dedication of America's First Corps soldiers, reflecting their commitment to excellence and reinforcing the Army's commitment to maintaining a high standard of readiness and performance.

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