EASTOVER, S.C. – An early morning obstacle course, a Sergeants Major board, combatives, weapons qualification, a physical fitness test and knowledge of basic soldier skills were just the beginning of what soldiers went through when competing to win the 2013 South Carolina National Guard Best Warrior Competition.
Many units were represented as 11 competitors vied for first place during the competition held at the McCrady Training Center, Feb. 14-17. Throughout the four-day struggle, each participant gave their all but ultimately, only two would take home the top honors.
Spc. Robert Parrish, a cavalry scout with 1st Battalion, 118th Infantry Regiment, won the junior enlisted competition and Staff Sgt. Jesse Mullinax, 218th Regional Training Institute, won the noncommissioned officer competition.
“I feel great,” said Parrish after finding out he had won. “My body hurts, but I’m going to go home, and sleep for a little bit and start prepping for the Regional Competition.”
The competition was tough according to Mullinax. “I don’t know why I won,” he said earnestly. “When looking at the soldiers beside me, it was difficult to tell who was going to win. Several of us thought, ‘I’m not going to win,’ but we knew it was between one of another two guys.”
This competition was not taken lightly by any of those competing. Weeks, and often months, went into the planning and preparation. And both of the top two soldiers said they would not have made it without the support of their units.
“My unit put me through all the weapons systems,” said Parrish, who contributes much of his success to his unit properly preparing him for the competition. “They brushed me up on land navigation and other things that I have not done since Basic [Training] and AIT [Advanced Individual Training]. They really prepped me to come down here.”
Even those who did not win the overall competition in their categories gave credit to their units for preparing them.
“My unit was very supportive,” said Sgt. Joseph Heyd, 59th Troop Command, who was a competitor last year as a junior enlisted soldier and returned this year to compete at the noncommissioned officer level. “My squad leader walked me through every weapons system. I’ve never fired the M9 before and he made sure I was familiar with it before coming to the competition. I could not have gotten here without them and I really appreciate all their support.”
Regardless of how much a soldier prepares, no one can be equipped for everything that they are to face once the competition begins. On a chilly morning, when temperatures are hovering in the low 30’s, competitors try to mentally and physically prepare for an entire day of physical exertion.
Already going on little sleep, the competitors pair up against each other to compete in an obstacle course before they begin a grueling a six-mile road march, weapons qualification and stress shooting all before the sun goes down that day.
“I have huge blisters from the ruck march,” said Spc. Alexandra Kyzer, Company A, 2nd Battalion, 151st Aviation communications, “but I finished it with a time of about one hour and 43 minutes.”
To make it through the march, Kyzer said she “sang songs and prayed a lot.” She added that she was chosen by her company to represent them because of her “go get ‘em attitude” and Army Physical Fitness Test scores.
The pack the soldiers carried contained 35 pounds of gear that would be traditionally found in any soldier’s rucksack. This included items like wet weather gear, full canteens, entrenching tool, socks and other clothing.
Mullinax agreed that the ruck march was one of the most demanding events. “That was the most challenging because after the first few miles of small up and down hills, it just seemed to be a never ending hill after that,” he said. “I don’t remember what I was thinking during the march. I guess I just kept thinking of putting one foot in front of the other and do it as fast as possible.”
To reach this level of competition, the soldiers had to compete against the best of the best at their units and ultimately brigades before earning the opportunity to receive top honors at the State level.
And though the soldiers get a lot out of the competition for themselves, including numerous awards and respect for their accomplishment, this competition also gives them something to take back to their home units.
“Winning this competition allows me, as a soldier, to be a better leader,” said Parrish. “I can take back a lot of this to the unit and help them get prepared, not only for this competition, but for real life. You know, a lot of this is modeled off of real life, like the stress shooting, running, shooting and moving. Taking this back to the unit will really help improve our unit as far as readiness for getting deployed and staying prepared for when we are called to go.”
During the events, the 11 soldiers competing had a sponsor from their unit supporting them. The sponsor assisted them by ensuring gear was prepared and the soldiers were on track for the next event.
“My sponsor bent over backwards to help me all throughout the competition,” said Heyd.
Along with their sponsor, there was another strong supporter with the competitors throughout the competition. Often providing verbal encouragement and motivation, and occasionally running along side them, was the state command sergeant major, Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Brickley.
“We take this competition pretty personal,” said Brickley. “South Carolina has been in the top finishers in the Nationals in the last three years. The competitors are looking strong this year and I think we are going to be right up there again this year if not win it all.”
According to Kyzer, even among the individual soldiers there is a lot of support for one another. “The best part about the competition is meeting the people here and knowing that you are in a competition with each other, but we still help each other out because we want each soldier to do the best they can.”
This year’s competition at the state level may be over, but it’s never too early to begin preparing for next year. There are many things a soldier wanting to compete can do to prepare.
“For those interested in going for Best Warrior next year, it’s important to remember to focus on the mental and physical toughness, taken from the Soldier’s Creed,” said Mullinax. “You have to have that to keep going. And everyone had that. They all stuck to it and never gave up.”
“I really enjoy seeing this happen every year,” added Brickley. “It’s great to see our men and women putting all their effort into it like they do.”