News: Texas National Guard soldiers and airmen compete for title of Best Warrior
Story by Sgt. Suzanne Carter
CAMP SWIFT, Texas - The overcast sky, chilly temperature and intermittent precipitation did not dampen the excitement among soldiers and airmen as they lined up for a ruck march during the Texas Military Forces’ Joint Best Warrior Competition held at Camp Swift, near Austin, Texas, Feb. 6-8, 2014.
Twenty-seven competitors from Army and Air National Guard units across Texas participated in the annual three-day event to determine the most physically and mentally fit junior enlisted Soldiers and Airmen and non-commissioned officers.
"I'm here to see what I'm made of," said Air Guard Staff Sgt. Samuel Laureto from 147th Security Forces Squadron, 147th Reconnaissance Wing. "I volunteered for this so I'm just putting in everything that I've learned in the past seven years in the military, and now I'm seeing what pours out at this competition."
Carrying a 35-pound rucksack and M4 rifle for six miles was just one of several demanding tasks the competitors completed. Other competition components included: weapons qualification, land navigation, a service dress uniform appearance review board, a written essay, confidence course, and a mystery event. All aspects of the competition were designed to test competitors' endurance and composure.
"It's really tough," said Army Spc. Heather Shipley from Headquarters Company, 136th Military Police Battalion, 136th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade. "It's a learning experience more than anything. I know what I need to go home and work on definitely."
This competition provided a valuable opportunity for members of the Texas Air and Army National Guard to showcase their abilities in a joint environment.
"We're very unique as the National Guard," said Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Mitchell Brush, senior enlisted adviser to the National Guard Bureau. "We fight fires together; we fight floods together. It's great that we can meet today and build those relationships instead of when we're in a crisis situation where we don't have time to make those introductions."
Competitors also recognized the importance of the camaraderie they experienced by engaging in the competition together.
"It's a really cool experience and a friendly competition," said Army Spc. Samuel Ellison, Intel and Sustain Company, Division Headquarters Battalion, 36th Infantry Division. "We helped each other, and it's a great time to meet and network with people you don't always get to see."
Laureto said that the support from senior NCOs as well as support between the branches made the competition better.
"I've never had [so much] support from such a high enlisted core and from both sides of the National Guard," Laureto said. "We're playing off each other's weaknesses, playing off each other's strengths as well. It's good to see the challenges brought by both branches."
However, the review board appearances conducted on Thursday demanded more focused preparation as extensive knowledge of military organization, protocol and procedures was required.
"I've spent the past month … trying to know everything I needed to know," said Shipley, a full-time college student, mother, and the sole female participant in this year's competition. "With the school work on top of that and all the studying that's involved, it's a lot of memorizing."
The near-freezing temperatures during the land navigation task, weapons qualification and the ruck march portions of the competition posed an additional challenge. However, the uncontrollable element of the weekend did not deter the competitors from putting forth their maximum effort.
"Distance running is something I do in my off-time, and I really like the combination of physical and mental fitness that you need to keep going during the ruck," Ellison said.
The physical and mental challenges the competitors faced culminated on Saturday with the confidence course and the mystery event. The confidence course is eight structures in a horseshoe format across a quarter-mile distance. In between each object, participants were required to perform various exercises in order to move to the next obstacle.
"I'd definitely say what would tell us apart on the obstacle course was the exercises in between," said Army Spc. Brian Foster from the 102nd General Support Battalion, 71st Theater Information Operations Group. "Especially the burpees. That's my least favorite exercise on the planet."
Senior leaders from the Air and Army Guard along with several local and state elected officials attended the final day of competition to recognize the efforts of those competing. They offered support and encouragement to competitors as they navigated through the confidence course.
"The course is pretty difficult," said Texas State Senator Leticia Van de Putte, chair of the committee on Veteran Affairs and Military Installations. "I didn’t anticipate all the interim activities that they have to do before the major station. Although it's a competition, I really enjoy that each of the folks here are cheering on every competitor."
The final “mystery” event, presented a unique challenge for the already mentally, physically and emotionally taxed soldiers and airmen. With a design similar to the obstacle course run, competitors had to complete a variety of physically challenging activities between marksmanship tasks using four different weapons.
During the competition, soldiers and airmen applied prior training, demonstrated their physical and mental capabilities and pushed themselves to their limits to meet and overcome each challenge.
"Competition makes our world go around," said Tim Kleinschmidt, Texas State Representative, District 17. "So to me, when you're competing, you tend to perform to the level of your competition. If you've got mediocre competition, well you don't have to strive too hard to win. If you've got good competition, well then the game goes up."
The two top scoring NCOs and junior enlisted from the Army National Guard will continue on to a regional competition to be held later this year.