CAMP BUTNER, N.C. – Sweat poured and competitors fought nerves. The enduring pain of physical preparation and the hours of studying were now about to pay off, or be for nothing. After all they had been through, it was time to put up or shut up. Many soldiers’ greatest fear had to be stared down. It was time to face the sergeants major.
Members of the 518th Sustainment Brigade, 143rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) gathered here Jan. 9 through 12 to vie for the title of Best Warrior. While each soldier came to compete, it was evident throughout the event that many never lost sight of what it means to be a member of a team.
“I think we are going to rise to the nature of competition but still push each other to be better,” said Sgt. Chris Farris, a weapons repairman with the 175th Maintenance Support Company, 812th Transportation Battalion. “I’m going to be competitive, but I want to help others as well, regardless of the cost to me.”
Many of the competitors were faced with limited time to prepare for all of the events. Although the weather conditions, early hours and overall stress of the events added to the obstacles to overcome, each participant gave it their all.
The winning Best Warrior noncommissioned officer was quick to credit her fellow competitors.
“Everybody that showed up gave it their all; they did their best,” said Staff Sgt. Janev Heng, an automated logistics specialist with the 1006 Quartermaster Company.
The competition got more difficult each day, with the most challenging series of tasks coming on day three.
This day brought the highest number of events and drove the pace of the competition up a bit. The day started before dawn with soldiers drawing weapons at 4:30 a.m.
All eight competitors stepped off on a 10-kilometer ruck march before the sun was up. Each soldier was required to carry a 40-pound sandbag in their ruck.With the pouring of rain falling for the second straight day, this was even harder than when conditions are ideal.
“It feels much heavier than that,” said Sgt. William C. Blankenship, a transportation management coordinator with Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 812th Transportation Battalion. “Once this stuff gets wet, it turns to mud and really weighs you down.”
“The ruck for me was the hardest,” said Heng. “It’s grueling on your body.”
The winner of the Best Warrior junior enlisted title was Pfc. Nathan B. Jackson, a petroleum supply specialist for the 941st Transportation Company in Charleston, S.C. He also found the ruck march to be exceptionally arduous.
“The ruck march was extremely challenging. That was one of the areas where I really had to stay motivated and persevere to finish,” he said. “That was probably my worst event, but I did finish it.”
Following the march, the warriors took a short break before preparing for the land navigation portion of the competition.
Pfc. Adolphus Bryant, a wheeled vehicle mechanic with the 1006 Quartermaster Company said this is where the competition really changed a bit. He said that it had been much easier before today. Referring to the land navigation course, the Smithfield, N.C., resident added, “This is where the challenge began.”
Not all soldiers were able to find all four points on the near four-square-kilometer course. However each did their best, and many were out there for the entire three-and-a-half hours allowed.
The competition came to a close with a command sergeants’ major board Saturday night. This final obstacle presented a significant challenge, as the soldiers were required to demonstrate their knowledge in Army regulations and warrior tasks and drills in front of a panel of three sergeants major.
“You don’t know what they are going to ask you and that Army study guide is so thick,” said Heng.
“The board can be intimidating,” Farris said. “It is a little harder to train for. Like the other events you can prepare for it, but it is hard to duplicate the atmosphere.”
In contrast to some of his fellow soldiers, Jackson, a native of Topsham, Maine, found the board to be one of his strongest areas of performance. When asked what advice he would give to others going before the board, he had some valuable pointers.
He suggested that practicing in front of unit first sergeants and commanders could be beneficial.
“Addressing them can help get the jitters out,” he said.
Once before the board, Jackson recommended keeping one thing in mind.
“Relax, you’re already there, there’s no need to be nervous,” he said.
Heng said that the leadership made the board a little easier to handle.
“The sergeants major were all really good, I think they gave every one a fair chance,” she said.
Heng, who is also a platoon sergeant for the 1006th, said that winning wasn’t the most important thing for her.
“The reason I was out here was to motivate other soldiers within our Company. I feel like NCOs always lead from the front. The best part will be, hey look my soldiers look up to me, they respect me, and I will go out and do the same thing they do on a daily basis,” she said.
Command Sgt. Maj. Ciearro M. Faulk, 518th Sustainment Brigade, agreed there was more to the competition than winning or losing.
“It shows we’re smart, we’re strong, and we know how to have good clean competition that builds character and confidence,” he said.
Faulk suggested that soldiers got a lot out of the competition.
“It helps them perform under pressure. They learn a lot more about themselves and they learn how to adapt and overcome,” he said.
The competition was very tight with only six points separating the winner and the runner up in the junior enlisted bracket. The NCO group was nearly as tight.
Staff Sgt. Heng and Pfc. Jackson now move on to the 143rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) Best Warrior Competition later this year and Jackson is already thinking of ways to prepare.
“I’m ecstatic about winning and can’t wait to take it back to my unit,” he said. “I’m extremely nervous about the next level. A bunch of winners are going into another melting pot to see who comes out on top. I’m going to improve my strength and endurance for the ruck march and I can always improve on PT. I want to be able to think on my feet faster as well. I want to make sure I have the right tools.”