News: Wisconsin Guard soldiers have strong showing at Best Warrior contest
Story by Vaughn Larson
CAMP ROBINSON, Ark. - The journey that began nearly a year ago for Sgt. Edward Schmitt of Lake Mills, Wis., and Spc. Brandon Byrne of Oak Creek, Wis., ended tantalizingly close to the gold July 24.
Schmitt and Byrne, Wisconsin Army National Guard soldiers with the 54th Civil Support Team and Company B, 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry, respectively, were top finishers in the grueling Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition.
Byrne finished second among the top-seven enlisted competitors in all the Army National Guard, while Schmitt placed third among the best seven noncommissioned officers competing at the event.
"It was fun, but I'm glad it's over," Byrne said the day after the event. "I'm sore and could use some sleep."
Schmitt said it was disappointing not to win, but he knows he did his best.
"I didn't leave any time or points out there," Schmitt said. "I won the events that I knew I needed to win to stay competitive, but made some mistakes and just gave up too much ground in some of my weaker events. I am proud of my efforts, but wish I could have brought the win home to Wisconsin."
The Best Warrior Competition measures the total soldier in physical fitness, endurance, military bearing, weapons skills, soldier skills, mental agility, resilience and warrior spirit. The just-completed competition tested soldiers in 10 events over the course of 56 hours in sweltering Arkansas heat and several inches of rain.
Schmitt said the shooting events proved his greatest challenge.
"I am an average to slightly above average shooter," he said, "but at this level, above average doesn't quite cut it."
Byrne excelled at marksmanship, winning the M4 qualification on backup iron sights with a score of 38 out of 40 targets. The toughest event for him was the road march with a loaded ruck sack.
"Ten-point-three miles, all in the rain, running up mountains at 1 o'clock in the morning," Byrne explained. "No fun."
Command Sgt. Maj. Bradley Shields, the Wisconsin Army National Guard's top enlisted soldiers, praised Schmitt and Byrne.
"The effort they both put forth was absolutely tremendous," Shields said. "I told them last night [at the awards ceremony], when you consider the total number of soldiers in the Army National Guard, remember that you took second and third. I couldn't be prouder of how they represented themselves and Wisconsin."
Twelve states - Arkansas, Florida, Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin - were represented at this year's event, held for the first time at Camp Robinson. More than 350,000 soldiers comprise the Army National Guard.
For the past several months, Schmitt and Byrne have matched their skills against Wisconsin Army National Guard soldiers at the company, battalion and brigade level before winning the Wisconsin Soldier of the Year Competition in April. They advanced to the regional competition in May, where they won the right to compete against the best National Guard soldiers in the nation.
Byrne said his brother advised him to give 100-percent effort during the competition — advice he is sharing with Soldiers who will take part in upcoming Best Warrior events.
"Your body won't fail you, and that's something they need to know to be able to push through and max that PT test or finish the ruck march or climb Pike's Peak and find your last point for land navigation," he said.
Schmitt said he learned a lot about himself during the course of these competitions.
"There are a lot of times when you have to really just trust yourself, and that builds a lot of confidence," Schmitt said. "Board appearances aren't nearly as daunting as they were before I started this process, and I'm sure that will continue to help me throughout my career."
Both Schmitt and Byrne thanked their sponsors, families and units for their support as they advanced from one competition to the next en route to Camp Robinson.
Sgt. Piero Lopez of the Arkansas Army National Guard and Sgt. Anthony Calvi of the Florida Army National Guard will represent the Army National Guard at the U.S. Army Best Warrior Competition at Fort Lee, Va., in October.
The Wisconsin Army National Guard has sent at least one competitor to the Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition in four of the past five years.
"There's no doubt in my mind that the National Guard Bureau knows who Wisconsin is," Shields said.