JERICHO, Vt. - A young soldier waits outside a room making last minute adjustments to his uniform. He’s trying to remember everything he’s learned and anticipate the questions seven command sergeants major could ask. He takes a breath and with three loud knocks the silence is broken. The soldier steps crisply into the quiet room, rendering a salute to the president of the review board; Maine’s Best Warrior Competition has begun.
Six soldiers from across Maine traveled to Camp Ethan Allen Training Site in Jericho, Vt., to take part in Maine’s Best Warrior Competition. The four-day competition began March 31 and tests the soldier’s physical and mental fortitude. The competition is a yearly event to find the best soldier and noncommissioned officer from within the ranks of the Maine Army National Guard.
“The Best Warrior Competition consists of a series of events that are normally skill level one warrior events that we test our soldiers on to try and get the best warrior,” said State Command Sgt. Maj. Richard L. Hannibal. “The potential for these guys is unlimited. We have the best soldiers here. We get very little time to spend with the soldiers that go above and beyond our expectations, and that’s what these soldiers are.“
To get to this phase of competition, the soldiers competed at both the company and battalion levels, and were chosen as the best among their peers.
The winners from Maine will move up to a regional competition in May, and if they’re truly the best, could represent the entire Army National Guard in a national competition between 13 different U.S. Army commands.
“It means a lot to be here”, said Sgt. Christopher Edgecomb, representing the 251st Sapper Company. “I’m very proud of the unit I’m in, and the battalion I’m in, so to come here and represent that well, as well as the Maine Army National Guard as a whole. To progress on to the next level is something that is a sincere goal of mine.”
For the first event of the competition each of the six soldiers appeared before a review board of seven sergeants major to be judged on appearance, military knowledge and military bearing.
The next day, the competitors took the Army Physical Fitness Test, then after a shower and hot chow, headed to the range through the cold mud and melting snow, where they were tested on the M9 pistol and M16 rifle. The day ended with the stress shoot event to test the competitor’s resilience.
Hannibal explains, “Each event is a little bit different. The appearance board is more knowledge-based. We look at the military bearing of the soldiers coming in. We inspect their uniforms and things like that. When we get into the stress shoot where they have to drag a 180-pound dummy up and down hills, it puts a lot of pressure on them, then they have to fire rounds, so we can see how they shoot when they’re all stressed out.”
“The most challenging part would have to be the stress shoot,” said Spc. Tyler Blakney, from the 488th Military Police Company. “It was definitely a difficult situation. Lugging all that weight, carrying the sled, and then having to fire your weapon.”
The next day, the soldiers participated in a 10-kilometer road-march and then went on to be drilled on Army warrior tasks; radio operation, first aid procedures, disassembling and reassembling four different weapons systems.
“The training events are definitely top notch, the cadre put a lot of effort in each event,” said Blakney. “They’re willing to work with you, to make sure you get everything done.”
On the final day of competition, the soldiers took part in a special mystery event conducted with the cooperation of 3/126th Aviation, Company C. of the Vermont Army National Guard. It put the competitors through a mock ambush and medical evacuation scenario. The last test of the competition, required the soldiers to call in a medical helicopter.
“The mystery event was challenging,” said Staff Sgt. Phillip Dow, from the 152nd Component Repair Company . “It was a unique experience to be thrust into that, realizing that at any point we can be thrust into a similar situation with a very limited amount of notification and planning.”
Even though the soldiers are competing against each other, the attitude of the competitors is like a contest among friends, they’ve approached it with the goal of doing their best, even sharing helpful hints.
Blakney commented, “the other competitors are definitely good, they made it here for a reason, and if they win, they will win for a reason.”
“Everybody is motivated, which is good to see,” said Edgecomb. “The purpose of this competition is to represent your unit and your battalion the best you can, so they’re coming here motivated and prepared.”
“The support staff has been really good,” said Edgecomb. “The tasks, conditions, and standards have been clearly identified and set in stone, it wasn’t shooting from the hip, everything was prepared and organized. Train and take it seriously, it’s a once in a life time opportunity that can help your career a lot.”
Blakney noted,“If you’ve been chosen, train, and train hard. Don’t think that it’s going to be a cake-walk, because it’s stressful and all around tiring.”
State Command Sgt. Maj. Richard Hannibal concluded, “to get to this level, they had to go through the company, they had to get through the battalion and now they’re at the state level. The best warrior is someone who has the desire to be here, they’re the ones that want to be the first to cross that finish line. Whatever trinkets we can give them are well deserved, but I don’t think that’s why they’re here. They’re here to be the number one.