Sgt. John Morris makes his way through the weaver obstacle on the course at Fort Stewart, Georgia, during the 18th Airborne Corps Best Squad Competition on July 25-28, 2022. Photo by Noelle Wiehe/ Coffee or Die Magazine.
FORT STEWART, Ga. — Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Baldwin grunted and panted as he and his squad of soldiers pushed themselves through an obstacle course on Fort Stewart in searing 100-degree Georgia temperatures, with little to no cloud coverage. Though just 33, Baldwin said his teammates of “Chaos Troop" from the 173rd Cavalry Regiment of Fort Bragg's 82nd Airborne Division call him "the Old Ranger" because he used to be a Ranger and, well, younger soldiers think he's old.
“It’s not the age,” Baldwin, an Auburn, California, native, told Coffee or Die Magazine. "It's the miles."
Baldwin and Chaos Troop were among five teams from some of the Army's top conventional units that competed this week in the 18th Airborne Corps Best Squad Competition.
Spc. Jackson Bond maneuvers his way through the weaver as part of the Fort Stewart obstacle course July 27, 2022, during the 18th Airborne Corps' Best Squad Competition. Photo by Noelle Wiehe/ Coffee or Die Magazine.
After four days of competition, a team from the 101st Airborne was named the winner. Sgt. 1st Class Brandon Rodriguez, Sgt. Andrew Row, Cpl. Jared Kiner, Spc. Samuel Alvarez, and Spc. Liam Lee were presented awards Thursday, July 28, during a ceremony on Cottrell Field.
The competition pitted five teams of five soldiers — one sergeant first class, one sergeant or corporal, and three specialists or below — against each other. The 18th Airborne Corps Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas “T.J.” Holland told Coffee or Die that the competition was meant to test “every component of soldier lethality, fitness, and cohesiveness.” Competing soldiers could hold any military occupation specialty and included squads from the 18th Airborne Corps' brigade, signal brigade, expeditionary military intelligence brigade, and military police brigade.
“This is harder than RAP [Ranger Assessment Phase] week,” Baldwin said, referring to the physically grueling first week of Ranger School. Chaos Troop, Baldwin said, had been training together for about a month, mostly on the 82nd's pre-Ranger course, but some in the competing squad have known each other far longer. He added that the competition is “very professionally organized” and “it's extremely challenging. I very much appreciate that.”
The 3rd Infantry Division squad begins the Fort Stewart obstacle course on July 27, 2022, during the 18th Airborne Corps Best Squad Competition. Photo by Noelle Wiehe/ Coffee or Die Magazine.
“We have all these different unique eight separate different units, and I wanted to try to drive that competition of lethality in those units,” Holland said. “Any MOS in the Army can come together, as long as they’re an organic squad, they can compete and win.”
Holland also said the current heat wave — punishing even by the standards of a Georgia summer — was another factor.
“It's hot there,” Holland said. “And that's one of those aspects of stress is, ‘How do we also take care of each other?’ It's important to put people first, and who we are as we treat the people in our squad like they're members of our family. And if that's true, and we're that cohesive, that we know if one of our soldiers is potentially becoming a heat casualty, we gotta take care of him.”
Other events included marksmanship, land navigation, small-unit tactics, and physical endurance.
The 101st Airborne Division squad will go on to compete in the US Army Forces Command competition slated to be held in Fort Hood, Texas, in August and at the Army level in October.
Spc. Jackson Bond with the 82nd Airborne Division cools down after his squad completes the obstacle course on Fort Stewart, Georgia, July 27, 2022, as part of the 18th Airborne Corps Best Squad Competition. Photo by Noelle Wiehe/ Coffee or Die Magazine.
The 18th Airborne Corps is made up of more than 90,000 people, “and if anybody pays attention to anything Airborne Corps, you know, we're ready to go within 18 hours, right? And so we want to measure and make sure that our soldiers are in fact ready to go.”
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Noelle is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die through a fellowship from Military Veterans in Journalism. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and interned with the US Army Cadet Command. Noelle also worked as a civilian journalist covering several units, including the 75th Ranger Regiment on Fort Benning, before she joined the military as a public affairs specialist.
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