Fourteen Soldiers from across the Army National Guard competed in the 2011 Best Warrior Competition Friday through Monday on Fort Benning. The winners will go on to vie for the titles of All-Army NCO and Soldier of the Year later this fall.
“In the Army National Guard, there’s over 300,000 enlisted members,” said 1st Lt. Christopher Pegg, public relations officer for the Warrior Training Center. “These are the top 14 out of those 300,000. So it’s a significant milestone for these individuals. It really represents the Army at its best.”
Competitors were divided into junior enlisted and NCO categories — one Soldier and one NCO from each of the seven regions in the U.S. states and territories. They were scored on more than a dozen events, ranging from the Army Physical Fitness Test to a combatives tournament. Each event was timed.
Sgt. Erich Friedlein, who was promoted since he first signed up for the competition and is competing in the junior enlisted division, said he has never done anything like Best Warrior.
“It’s been pretty fun and tiring, but there is an end, so you just keep pushing through,” he said. The Infantryman, assigned to the Pennsylvania National Guard, said the most difficult event was Warrior Stakes, a round-robin style challenge with a variety of field-related tasks.
“There were so many weapon systems,” he said. “You had to remember. There was a sequence. You had to clear it, disassemble it, assemble it and perform a functions check, and each weapon system had a different sequence. It was tough.”
The competition was about more than just physical feats, he said, but truly encompassed the whole Soldier.
The diversity of the tasks lined up with the tenants of Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, Pegg said.
“This is that competition. It’s all-encompassing,” he said. “You’re doing it all — from writing an essay to getting out on the range. It’s a measure of that individual and how they live up to the Army values, their physical fitness, their stamina. The Soldier (must be) mentally and physically fit.”
Some events, like the stress shoot, required adaptability on the part of the competitors. They had to engage targets in an ambush environment while intermittently being called upon to evacuate a casualty, operate a radio, put in a report and other tasks.
“We’re pushing them outside of their comfort zone to see how they will react,” Pegg said. “It’s more than what I think they were expecting. Some of the comments I’ve heard have been about the intensity of the competition. It has been (grueling).”
Sgt. Nakomus Oliver, an NCO competitor, said the most challenging aspect of the competition was the other competitors.
“It was more than what I expected,” he said. “I (am) just very honored to compete with the top guys out of all of the other regions. I just want to make it over the top.”
Even if he doesn’t win, Oliver said he will take back some great training to his unit in Mississippi which will better prepare them for next year’s competition.
Spc. Brent Schipper is representing the Southeast region in the enlisted division. An air defense Soldier from South Carolina, he has only been in the National Guard for two years.
“I never though I’d make it this far, but if you’re going to do something you might as well put everything into it, and it seemed to carry me this far,” he said. “I started at company level company, brigade, state, region three and then here at nationals. It’s sort of surreal. It’s such a close competition. Everybody’s so knowledgeable. I’m just glad to be a part of the best of the best.”
Because of his MOS and since he hasn’t yet deployed, Schipper said about three quarters of the assignments have been firsts for him.
To win, he said, he’ll need strong focus and attention to detail, but either way, the competition has given him unique training on many tasks unfamiliar to him.
“It’s a once in a lifetime thing,” he said, “unless I come back next year.”
The competitors traveled to Washington on Tuesday for tours and meetings with senior leadership in the National Guard. The winners will be announced next week.