News: Arkansas Guardsman earns great honor, becomes Army National Guard NCO of the year
Story by Sgt. Jerry Boffen
FORT BENNING, Ga. – Sgt. Matthew Howard, Clarksville, Ark., bears many titles: noncommissioned officer, veteran, cannon crewmember, husband, father and deacon at his local church. When he came to Fort Benning, Ga., July 30, to compete in the Army National Guard’s Best Warrior competition, the Arkansas native had aspirations to add one more title to his resumé: NCO of the year.
Howard, a member of C Battery, 2nd Battalion, 142nd Fires Brigade, Arkansas National Guard, wasn’t alone in this pursuit. He had to outperform NCOs from six other regions throughout the U.S. who were all vying for the same title. Like Howard, all of the competitors had to first win their state level competitions and then their regional competitions before earning a spot in the National Guard-wide competition. Surely this would be no walk in the park, but Howard said he invited the high level of contention.
“I don’t want to be the best just because I beat other people that weren’t,” he said. “I want to be the best because I competed with the best and won.”
The competition consisted of various events that tested soldiers in nearly every aspect of Army matters, including an appearance board that tested the competitors knowledge on a wide array of subject matters, a qualification on the M-16 rifle, a nearly 7-mile road march, a timed land navigation course, an obstacle course, stress shoot and several other events that challenged the soldiers both physically and mentally.
With such a vast amount of challenges, Howard needed to prepare long before he arrived here. He credits his wife, Jennifer, and daughter, Julianna, for helping him with the preparation for this competition as well as getting him through it.
“My family’s been awesome,” Howard said “They’ve helped me study but also they understand. This is a week away from them but they understand …[my wife] has been so supportive and encouraging.”
He also said that his sponsor, Staff Sgt. Eric Evans, the training NCO from the 142nd, has been a huge aide in the preparation and execution of the competition.
“He has been an extreme help through this whole thing,” Howard said. “He’s helped me study and get all my gear ready and whatnot. He keeps pushing me on. When I’ve had a rough time, he’s been there to tell me to shake it off and focus on the next event.”
For the five days he was here, Howard worked tirelessly toward earning the title of NCO of the year. He faced long periods of competing, some lasting more than 18 hours. Much of the competition was held outdoors, where the humid, near-100 degree Georgia heat wore on Howard and the other competitors. Relief from the blazing sun was often only found because the events for many days began before sunrise and ended after sunset.
Yet Howard persevered and as he stood, dripping with sweat and catching his breath following his completion of the final event, he spoke excitedly about the honor he drew from his participation in this competition.
“I’m the representative of the seven states in my region and that’s a great honor,” he said, “and the winner of this is going to go on to represent the entire National Guard. So, out of three hundred thousand soldiers or more, you’re the one that was picked to represent the National Guard and that’s such an honor.”
He continued to comment on how he would feel if he was named the National Guard’s NCO of the year.
“Oh my gosh,” he exclaimed. “I’d be blown away. It’s a humbling experience just to be this far, but to be the NCO of the year for the National Guard would be awesome. It’d be an incredible honor. I know my friends and family back home, my sponsor… and the guys in my unit that have been supporting me throughout this competition would be incredibly proud.”
“If they call my name tonight,” he continued with a laugh, “we’re going to lose it. It’s going to be a party in Arkansas.”
Six hours later, Howard stood side by side with his fellow competitors atop a stage, anxiously awaiting the announcement of the winners. The bronze medal for finishing third was given out, but not to Howard. Then the silver medal was awarded, still not to Howard.
Anticipation was apparent on his face and when Howard’s name was called as the National Guard’s NCO of the year, a wave of joy appeared to come over him. He turned to the competitor next to him and congratulated him for the job he had done with a pat on the back before graciously walking forward to accept his gold medal. Excited shouts of congratulations rang out as the more than 100 other people in attendance rose to their feet and applauded the Arkansas native.
Now, Howard will go on to represent the entire Army National Guard in the Department of the Army’s Best Warrior Competition in October at Fort Lee, Va. where he’ll compete to be named the NCO of the year for the entire Army. Before that happens, though, some people in the Clarksville need to “lose it”. It looks like there will be that party in Arkansas after all.
This work, Arkansas Guardsman earns great honor, becomes Army National Guard NCO of the year, by SSG Jerry Boffen, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.