CAMP HUMPHREYS, Republic of Korea – “Giving all I got. I ain’t never going to stop. Army changed my life…” Lyrics to the “Giving All I Got” U.S. Army Recruiter Anthem plays on as 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team “Bulldog”, 1st Armored Division (Rotational), 2nd Infantry Division/ROK-U.S. Combined Division, exceeds their retention expectations while forward deployed to the Republic of Korea for a nine-month rotation.
The 3ABCT, 1AD deployed to the Korean Peninsula and has been conducting combined training with their ROK Army allies since September 2018 to provide 2ID/ROK-US Combined Division with fully trained units for an increased overall readiness posture and still managed to exceed the Army retention standard.
“First of all, I would like to say that our Soldiers out here (Republic of Korea) were very motivated, and pure readiness played a factor in our retention program,” said Command Sgt. Major Michael Oliver, native of Detroit, Michigan and senior enlisted advisor to 3ABCT, 1AD. “We were the first brigade to close out our mission from the three large brigades in 1st Armored Division – Strike, Ready, and us Bulldogs.”
Bulldog Brigade has conducted more than 230 training and cultural events, in terms of combined training exercises to increase interoperability; as well as community partnership activities to further strengthen the ROK-US alliance throughout their deployment. However, meeting retention goals did not come without its challenges.
“We exceeded what we were supposed to for the first half (of the fiscal year), but it was definitely one of the more challenging missions I’ve ever had because we began with a huge disadvantage,” said Master Sgt. Nicholas Thompson, native of Las Cruces, New Mexico and career counselor for 3ABCT, 1AD.
“When the mission started on October 1st, Main Body 1 (first deployment flight from home station to Korea) was leaving, so we really didn’t even start retention actions until mid-November, almost December.”
Bonuses, duty station and assignments of choice are some of the incentives offered to Soldiers by career counselors to entice retention, however, career counselors at each unit also have to take other aspects into consideration that may impact a Soldiers decision to re-enlist.
“What is making the soldiers disgruntled? What is the problem? Are they being taken care of as far as their finances go?” he said. “We get involved in their personal stuff. We’ll even have spouses call and ask questions because it’s their career too. There’s a lot involved.”
Unit career counselors also have to consider the quality of individuals they are able to retain because continuation of service is not guaranteed. Military service is regarded as a privilege, not a right, due to the responsibility, risk, and high-operational tempo each service member will be required to face during their tour of duty.
“I believe serving in the Army is a privilege and we should only retain the best of the best in the military,” said Oliver. “We’re glad to have Soldiers serve, and we appreciate all of those who want to stay, but this is a hard job and we need the best for the Army from our American society.”
Each year, retired Chief Warrant Officer 3 Tommy Mills of El Paso asks himself how the organizers of the competition in his son’s name could possibly do better, but each year, they find a way.
This year was no exception for the Staff Sgt. Joshua M. Mills Commando Competition, with the largest number of teams ever participating in the fifth annual competition that honors our nation’s fallen.
The competition is named after an El Paso native and Green Beret who was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group, when he died Sept. 16, 2009, after his vehicle struck an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan.
“To say that we are honored and we appreciate what you do for our fallen, with our son’s name on it, I can’t thank you any more,” said Tommy Mills, as he spoke at the competition’s closing ceremony at 1st Lt. Paul A. Noel Parade Field at Fort Bliss Saturday.
Other family members in attendance included Joshua’s mother Celeste and his son Malaki, 9, who attended for the first time this year and not only got to hand out coins to the winners, but also visited with participants throughout the competition and received a tour at the 1st Armored Division Combat Aviation Brigade.
Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Dean, a Special Operations recruiter and organizer of the competition, said 12 teams of four competed this year, with new categories that included law enforcement and Reserve Officers’ Training Corps cadets.
The competition, which took place Friday (September 28) and Saturday (September 29) at Fort Bliss, included a set of difficult exercises that had to be completed in 80 minutes; a five-mile run that had to be completed in fewer than 40 minutes; a stress shoot with five events at McGregor Range, N.M.; all the obstacles at the Air Assault Obstacle Course (timed); and a six-mile ruck march with a minimum 40-pound ruck that included carrying water cans, ammo crates and litters, Dean said.
It ended with four Soldiers assigned to the Black Daggers Parachute Demonstration Team parachuting onto the parade field before the closing ceremony.
This year’s winners included Joint Task Force-North, the top Fort Bliss team; 19th Special Forces Group, the number one Special Forces unit; Team One from the University of Texas at El Paso ROTC, the best ROTC team; and the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team, the best law enforcement team.
In addition, Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Ricardo Luna, assigned to JTF-N, won the upper body round robin individual competition for the second year in a row. Derek Nepo, assigned to the 19th SF Group, was the top shot in the stress shoot.
Maj. Adam Antonini, a member of the JTF-N team, said the turnout from all the Fort Bliss units was impressive.
“Competing in the JMCC was a great opportunity to spend two days honoring an NCO who gave his life in defense of the American people,” Antonini said. “Seeing the Mills family in attendance at every event really motivated us to do our best.”
It’s important that the Fort Bliss community continues to support the event year after year, Antonini said.
Several 1st Armored Division units also participated, and Sgt. Armand Spencer, assigned to 1st Battalion, 37th Armored Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st AD, said the competition made him a better Soldier.
“I just love competitions and showing what you’re made of,” Spencer said. “It gives you that gut check and it’s a good way to represent our battalion.”
“The 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, Iron Brigade, has undergone some of the most intensive and realistic training the 1st Armored Division has to offer, and its leaders have forged a lethal and ready team,” said Maj. Gen. Pat White, 1st Armored Division and Fort Bliss commanding general.
Major General White added, “This force is fully prepared and ready to take over their new mission in support of Operation Spartan Shield.”
As part of the regular rotation of forces, the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team will replace the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division and combatant commander mission requirements to support of Operation Spartan Shield.