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NCO’s rigid regimen preps him for elite competition

Sgt. Mark A. Cloutier Sgt. Dariusz Krzywonos works on a Structured Self Development Course to increase his knowledge base.

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At the end of a four-day competition in July, during which nine NCOs battled at Fort Bragg, N.C. for the title of U.S. Army Forces Command Noncommissioned Officer of the Year, a Joint Base Lewis-McChord-based field artillery NCO emerged as FORSCOM's finest.

Since that time, the 6-foot-6-inch, 43-year-old Sgt. Dariusz Krzywonos, has maintained his steady and disciplined training regimen, which has brought him to the mother of all Army NCO of the Year battles - the Army Best Warrior Competition.

From Monday through Thursday, Krzywonos, a field artillery surveyor/meteorological supervisor, Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 2nd Battalion, 12th Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, faced off in Washington, D.C., against 12 other NCOs who have also earned their right to fight, scrap, shoot, move and communicate their way to the coveted title of the Army's Best Warrior for 2012. To win, Krzywonos has amped up his training more than ever. "For a man who just pinned his sergeant stripes in February of this year, he's been turning heads, opening eyes and dropping jaws all over the place since he got into this race," said Staff Sgt. Joseph Jamison, Krzywonos' sponsor, and also a field artillery surveyor/meteorological supervisor. "After he did so well at his E-5 board, he was pulled to represent 4th Brigade in the I Corps NCO of the year challenge - and he just kept going."

From the 4th Bde. challenge to his FORSCOM win, Krzywonos had no free time. To prepare for the next competition, his command excused him from traditional duties to fill his calendar with self-paced training and studying. With that support, he said he was determined to make the most of his time. He started six days a week at 4:45 a.m.

As Krzywonos started his Jeep to go to work, he was already reciting the NCO Creed.

"This puts me in the right frame of mind and helps keep me on track throughout the day" he said. "I follow this with the Soldiers Creed, then I sing the Army Song, then the First Corps Song. By the time I hit the highway I'm ready for the Army Study Guide tape review."

Physical, mental discipline

A year ago, Krzywonos copied the 300-plus pages of the Army Study Guide from the Internet. He then read the entire guide onto microcassette tapes, outlined and indexed it.

"I have a little chart that shows me which part of the study guide I studied last and which part I need to study next," he said. "The 35-minute drive to and from work each day allows me to listen to at least four chapters of the guide each day ... I want to perform well and present well as someone who has expended every effort in preparing one's self. "

Krzywonos has been continuously studying his guide since September 2011 when he began preparing for the promotion board and his battalion's Soldier of the Year Board.

Krzywonos works out at base fitness centers, spending 90 minutes on the track in sprints and runs of varied lengths.

"I run four to five times each week," Krzywonos said. "My goal is to be able to run the two miles in less than 12 minutes, but the seconds just don't seem to come off quickly enough any more. My legs are well conditioned, my breathing is good and I'm down to 197 lbs. from the 204 lbs. that I was carrying at the FORSCOM event. And that's good because I feel more energized - but it's still been a challenge to shave seconds off here and there."

Krzywonos found ways to creatively whittle down his run time.

"Each week I try to break two of my records from the previous week - either in the 400 meter or 800 meter laps, or else in the two or three mile runs," he said. "As long as I break at least two of those records from the week prior, then I'm satisfied that I'm still making progress."

Brutal daily routine

After breakfast, he checks in with his unit before starting the next leg of training.

"The day really isn't as long as it seems so I work very hard to make every minute count," Krzywonos said. "I try to spend two to three hours before lunch working at the education center on the Structured Self Development course that I'm enrolled in."

After exercising his mind for a few hours, he returns to the gym every other day for a lunchtime free-weight workout.

"I'd personally like to gain a little more muscle, but it affects my speed and slows me down some, which, in turn, requires more effort to propel myself during the run portion of the competition," Krzywonos said. "So I use roughly 60 percent of normal workout weights to help keep me leaned out and fast as possible. Also, because I need to concentrate on upper body strength overall, I will work the same muscle groups each time: chest; biceps; triceps; shoulders and abdominals. "

Krzywonos ate boxed lunches on his way to one of the base libraries for a quiet place to study his recorded study guide for a few hours.

"About 80 percent of the time I spend on the study guide is simply to maintain what I've already assimilated for information," he said. "I don't have all that many years in the Army so I'm trying to broaden my knowledge by digging deeper into the sections. It is somewhat tough going because there is only so much time before the competition."

Krzywonos continuously improvised and adapted his training schedule to incorporate oportunities that became available.

"I try to go to the range twice a week - whenever the opportunity is there," he said. "Each time I go to the range I take a different weapon so that I‘m forced to use all of my marksmanship skills.

He concentrated his efforts on the weapons he would use in the competition, mentally assembing and disassembling them when he did have the real things.

"My time spent in the Marine Corps has certainly helped me with my knowledge in the area of weapons and marksmanship," he said.

More training at home

Krzywonos usually returns home at 5:30 p.m. for an hour's rest before private combatives lessons from a former Army officer who trains Soldiers for tournaments. Krzywonos had a scare in August when he was injured during one of the sessions.

"As I was attempting to repel my opponent's attack, my knee had other ideas when faced with the other fighter's 235 pounds of fury - the knee popped out and then back in, accompanied by a great deal of audio effects; it was quite scary," he said. "Training was a bit tenuous for awhile, but I think things are ready to go now. We'll see."

Krzywonos ends his typical day at nearly 8 p.m.

He said he believes the toughest parts of the NCO competitions were behind him when he left the battalion.

"I've found so far that the complexity of the questions in the boardrooms have been just about the same overall, except that the brigade-level questions were, I think, the toughest," he said "There is also this certain psychology of the board - going up in front of my own battalion's first sergeants was the most tense for me because I was a known entity there, and I wanted to present myself as best as I could to sustain a good reputation with those who know me."

Krzywonos will likely deploy to Afghanistan when he returns to help prepare Afghan forces to take over security in the region.

"With the war drawing down, this may be my last chance to deploy - so I'm looking forward to it," he said. "I believe that going to combat is a price that every Soldier should be willing to pay for the opportunity to wear this uniform. I just know that somehow I will feel an even deeper sense of pride when I put mine on once I have returned."

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