The competition required a hike over miles of hilly and muddy terrain carrying a 40-pound weight on his back and a rifle in his hand.
It tested marksmanship, physical conditioning and the ability to use a compass, followed by an interview by top non-commissioned officers on competitors’ “viewpoint” relating to military life.
Newton County native Sgt. Hunter Davidson emerged the winner of the 2021 XVIII Airborne Corps Noncommissioned Officer of the Year competition recently.
The 24-year-old moves on to face other regional winners in August at Fort Bragg in North Carolina in the U.S. Army Forces Command (FORSCOM) national championship.
Davidson’s mother, Covington resident Kathy Davidson, said she and other family members knew “in our hearts and minds” that Sgt. Davidson had a very good chance of winning.
“He just has that determination,” she said.
Hunter is the youngest of five siblings and said seeing his parents’ “extreme work ethic” helped prepare him for the challenges of the NCO competition and military life in general.
“To see them make ends meet where we were all able to play sports, we were all able to do the things we wanted to do, and to see them both working multiple jobs at times to make sure that we had a living — that work ethic and that dedication — that’s a big part of my success,” he said.
The 2015 Eastside High School graduate is assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team and 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, according to a story published on the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Visual Information Distribution Service.
The five-year Army veteran began his journey by winning the same type of competition in May at his home base at Fort Stewart in Hinesville.
From June 20 to 23, Davidson represented the 3rd Infantry Division and earned the right to compete next month by defeating winners from three other divisions.
During the June competition, Davidson finished 45 minutes ahead of his nearest competition on the first day that included a land navigation test stretched over 19 hours, the DOD publication reported.
The second day featured the 16-mile ruck, which included walking at a fast pace over hilly terrain with a 40-pound backpack.
Stops along the way that tested a number of skills added three miles to the ruck. Rain during part of the day added extra weight to the backpack and created muddy conditions that made parts of the course even more difficult to navigate, he said.
“It was super hilly. There were never-ending hills,” Davidson recalled.
He said officials organizing the competition created a route and obstacles which the four had not seen.
The purpose was to see which non-commissioned officer was best at confronting obstacles for which they were not prepared, Davidson said.
Then, to top off the physical and mental challenge, judges kept the competitors in suspense by not announcing a winner until a ceremony on the last day, he said.
Kathy Davidson said her son enjoyed field sports growing up and competed in a number of organized sports before and during high school — excelling in baseball.
Hunter Davidson said he has loved to compete since age 4 when he began playing baseball on a team in Covington.
He grew up playing most sports, like wrestling and football, but spent most of his free time playing baseball on teams at City Pond and other local venues. He also spent many summers competing in other parts of Georgia and the Southeast on travel baseball teams.
Hunter is married to the former Addie Boes, a Newton High School graduate who grew up in Oxford. The couple recently settled in a house in the nearby town of Midway rather than living on the base.
Hunter and Addie married when Hunter was 19. He said he was doing well working with a landscaping business soon after graduation from Eastside but felt he was missing something in his life.
After enlisting, he trained in Europe and moved on to Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State and Fort Stewart.
Kathy Davidson said Hunter let his parents know from his early teens that he wanted to join the Army.
“He wanted to be in the infantry,” she said.
Hunter Davidson agreed.
“It’s something I always thought about,” he said.
He said he saw the Army as a way to help those without the resources who “can’t help themselves” worldwide fight against the tyranny of extremist groups bent on conquest.
“It’s a different way of helping people,” he said