A hurricane in the region wasn’t enough to delay the start of the first-ever Army-wide Best Squad Competition. The contest got underway at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, on the 29th of September and is scheduled to continue through the 7th of October. The top 12 squads from across the various Army commands are putting their best foot forward in a series of combat-related events that include a 12-mile foot march, detailed individual warrior tasks, tests of weapons proficiency, squad battle drills, and the Army Combat Fitness Test.

Soldiers hold a rubber raft above their heads
Soldiers carry a rubber raft. Image Credit: SPC Jessica Scott, US Army

Instead of a typical nine-soldier squad (a squad leader and two fire teams of 4 soldiers each), the event will have squads composed of five soldiers competing against each other. So why, you ask, does the “Best Squad Competition” not test actual regulation-sized elements? To answer that burning question, we go to Sergeant Major of the Army (SMA) Micheal Grinston. The SMA says it’s to allow non-infantry units to compete on a more level playing field. Oh, and these five soldier squads can be led by a sergeant first class and not a staff sergeant as you would typically expect.

Ok, wait one, I’ve got to ask “why?” again. Got it. The SMA says it is because a sergeant first class may lead some non-infantry sections. I’ve got another question, but I’m not even going to ask. It had something to do with comparing apples to oranges. If you think I’m disrespecting the Army here, I’m not. I just pulled out my DD214 (Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty, for you civilian types), and right there in black and white, it reads 17 years, 6 months, and 28 days of service, and that’s not counting 4 years as a cadet. I love the Army; I sacrificed and great amount for the Army (and reaped many benefits as well). I just find this whole five-person squad thing a bit disconcerting. But let’s continue.

According to The Army Times, “The squad will contain one squad leader, either sergeant first class or staff sergeant; one team leader, either a sergeant or corporal; and three squad members at the rank of specialist or below.”

A five person squad stands with crossed arms
This is the United States Army Cyber Command team. Is anyone else getting a twinge of a “Hunger Games” vibe here? Photo by SPC Vincent Levelev via DVIDS

After phase one of the competition is completed at Fort Bragg, the surviving…err, top four highest scoring squads will head to Washington DC for a “board-style” interview that will “test their knowledge and professionalism in front of top Army leaders,” or so says army.mil.

Since being sworn in as the Army’s top enlisted soldier, Sergeant Major Grinston has worked hard to build small unit bonds through his “This is My Squad” (TIMS) initiative. He says, “It’s about engaged leaders who know their Soldiers and build cohesive teams that are highly trained, disciplined, and mentally and physically fit.” He has also been quoted as saying that the TIMS campaign “was designed to replicate strong, cohesive teams often found in Special Forces units.”

US Army Special Operations Command squad
Here we have the US Army Special Operations Command team. Not a single SF guy among them. These gentlemen all hail from the 75 Ranger Regiment

Speaking of Army Special Forces, I found this really interesting Tweet pinned to the top of the USASOC Twitter feed. It answers the question, “Why the hell would anyone want to do that?” Check it out; it’s less than 2:00 minutes long.