WARRENTON, Ore. - The Oregon Army National Guard hosted the Region VI Best Warrior Competition at three locations around the state from 13-17 May, 2013. Thirteen competitors from eight different states (Idaho, Oregon, Alaska, Washington, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, and South Dakota) contended for the title of best soldier and best noncommissioned officer of the year.
“Every competitor proved their grit during this competition,” said Oregon’s State Command Sgt. Maj. Shane Lake. “They truly embody the spirit of the citizen-soldier.”
The competition events included rappelling, rifle marksmanship, physical fitness testing, obstacle course, and soldier knowledge evaluation boards. The objective of the event was to select the best qualified noncommissioned officer and soldier in Region VI to compete in the national Best Warrior Challenge competition later this year.
Sgt. Teal M. McLean, with the Montana Army National Guard, scored the highest Army Physical Fitness Test score in his unit and was selected to compete.
“It’s a good opportunity to do things you don’t normally do,” McLean said. “Everyone’s here to win, so it’s going to be a tight competition, but it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Each participant began the competition with a formal board at the Armed Forces Reserve Center in Clackamas, Ore. The boards consisted of four sergeants major from the competing states; the competitors were asked a series of questions and graded based on their answers.
The physical tests started early Tuesday morning, May 14. The competitors were on the road by 5:00 a.m., travelling to the Portland Air National Guard Base, in Portland, Ore., where a CH-47 Chinook helicopter was waiting on the flight pad. Their first stop on this week-long trek was the Umatilla Army Depot, in Umatilla, Ore.
The thundering sound of stomping feet racing by marked the beginning of the five-mile ruck march through the dry and dusty countryside. The soldiers carried a 35-pound ruck sack along with their rifles and Kevlar helmets.
After the ruck march was completed, competitors strove for the overall best score with rifles and pistols at the firing range, followed by two hours of land navigation in the increasing heat.
Tired and hot, competitors got a chance to cool down at the pool later that evening. This portion of the event had them diving in with their Kevlar and tactical vest on, quickly removing them under the surface and treading water for five minutes before ending the event with a four-lap swim.
The 13 Citizen-Soldiers boarded the CH-47 Chinook again, this time headed to Camp Rilea on Oregon’s coast in Warrenton, Ore. Arriving shortly after midnight, the competitors began a night land navigation course, struggling through the darkness to find pre-positioned points.
A short rest in the barracks and they were at it again. Pandora’s Box greeted them when they walked into the room for their next event. Blindfolded, the competitors assembled a mix match of parts from three separate weapons into the correct configurations.
With very little time to warm-up during their Pandora’s Box challenge, the 13 Soldiers headed out to the obstacle course, battling wind and rain as they navigated the course. The obstacle course consisted of nine separate parts, ending in a jump off the rappel tower.
“That was a great course,” said Spc. Jerardo Lopez, the Alaska Army National Guard competitor, when he finished. “I’m tired, but you have to keep going. This is such a great competition and no one wants to quit.”
The rest of the afternoon was spent on firing ranges, shooting the M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon, demonstrating their reflexive fire skills with the M-16 assault rifle and finishing up in a live shoot-house event.
By the final day of the competition, the competitors said they were feeling the pain.
“My feet hurt, but it isn’t an excuse to quit,” said Spc. James R. Furry, with the South Dakota National Guard.
The final day of the event arrived and the tempo was only speeding up. From mock grenades to casualty evacuation exercises with smoke grenades, the competitors were getting hit hard. With smiles all around, the 13 Citizen-Soldiers prepared for the final challenge, called “Omaha Beach”.
“You didn’t think you were coming to the Oregon Coast and not getting in the Ocean, did you?” Sgt. 1st Class Steven Warming, cadre member with the 249 Regional Training Institute, asked the competitors.
Worn-out and exhausted from the first three days, the Soldiers high-crawled through the pounding surf to reach a pair of concrete-filled ammunition cans they had to carry up a sand dune before running back to the finish line.
Only two of the 13 who competed will move on to the national Best Warrior Challenge later this year. The winners of the 2013 Regional VI Best Warrior Competition were Spc. Benjamin S. Herrmann, of Oregon Army National Guard, and Sgt. 1st Class Jeremy A. Carver, also with the Oregon Army National Guard.
“I feel so blessed to have been a part of this competition and the fact I had the opportunity to train with Sergeant 1st Class Carver was amazing,” said Spc. Herrmann. “This was a hard competition, but I am glad I went through it and am looking forward to nationals.”