WARRENTON, Ore. - Twenty-one of the Oregon Army National Guard’s top soldiers from around the state came to Camp Rilea, in Warrenton, Ore., to put their mental and physical strengths to the test, March 14-16, 2014, to compete for the titles of best noncommissioned officer and best soldier of the year.
Throughout the weekend, they conquered obstacles and rose above adversity to prove their intestinal fortitude.
According to the cadre overseeing the competition, Oregon set the bar high by creating an endeavor that is unmatched. Soldiers said they were pushed toward their breaking point at each event throughout the three-day competition.
"With my years of service and training, I have never been pushed to this point. I was thinking of ways to fake injuries to get out of it, but I knew I had to keep going and finish this," said Sgt. 1st Class Scott Stimpson, with the Recruiting and Retention Battalion, after the competition was over.
“And I’m so glad I finished; I wanted this so bad,” he continued.
The event kicked off Friday evening, March 14, with an essay, followed by an eight-mile run in the dark along a trail of chem-lights. The next morning, after just a couple hours of rest, they took the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) followed by an obstacle course, and then another three-mile run with their rucksacks and helmets.
By late morning on the second day, the competitors were given an order of events with a map and grid coordinates. Each competitor was responsible for plotting their points and finding their way to the marked events, which were scattered from one end of Camp Rilea to the other.
The day looked like it was ending, as the sky turned dark and the wind and rain amplified. The competitors were finally trickling in to the barracks after their long day of events. They were wet, and their steps were more like short shuffles as they groaned with exhaustion.
At a time when you would least feel like dressing up, the competitors were briefed they had one hour to complete personal hygiene, change into their dress uniform, and report to Warrior Hall for a formal board where a panel of sergeants major tested their military knowledge. As they sat and waited for their name to be called, many stared blankly, several closed their eyes, and a few massaged strained muscles. Once they were finished with the board, they were sent back to their barracks for several hours of rest which they would need for the last day’s events.
The third and final day began with grouping and zeroing their M4 carbine weapons and from there they moved to the range for qualification, where they would shoot 40 rounds and hope to beat their opponents.
“I feel like a new man after getting that much rest,” said Sgt. Joshua Martin, with Joint Force Headquarters. “I’m ready to finish this thing.”
Once all the competitors were finished at the range, the cadre quickly put them in route to their final event: Omaha Beach. This event was designed to replicate that day back in 1944 during World War II when, under heavy fire, engineers struggled to exit their boats and swim to shore to secure the beaches of Normandy.
The competitors laid waiting in the sand for a wave to hit them before they could start the event. They had to crawl approximately 25 yards in the sand and water before reaching two cement-filled ammunition cans. They had to pick up those "ammo" cans and carry them 100 yards, up a 70-foot elevation to the top of a sand hill before running all the way back to the surf for the finish.
“This was so much harder than I thought it would be. I flipped over in the surf and had to regain my senses, and when I hit that incline up the sand hill, I thought my heart was going to beat out of my chest,” said Spc. Darlene Jordan, with Joint Force Headquarters.
When it was all said and done, Sgt. 1st Class Scott Stimpson, with the Recruiting and Retention Battalion, took the title of best noncommissioned officer, and Spc. Anthony Olsen, with the 1249th Engineer Battalion, took the title of best soldier of the year.
After months of training, dieting and studying for the state competition, they will now continue to train and prepare to represent Oregon at the Region VI competition, which will be hosted by the South Dakota National Guard in May.
“These fine warriors represent the best of the best from the great state of Oregon. They are the warrior ethos defined and what it means to put your mind, body and soul to the test,” said Oregon State Command Sgt. Major Shane Lake. “I want to thank the soldiers, along with their individual sponsors, for the many days spent in preparation for this event, as well as all the support staff and civilian sponsors. It is been an honor and privilege to be a part of an organization where such leaders are born!”