A Soldier’s transformation into a warrior is difficult to describe. Hand-picked by leadership, proving themselves with every drop of sweat, every sore muscle, and every labored breath; Soldiers who compete naturally don the title of Best Warrior for their unit, regardless of whether they win. It’s called the Best Warrior Competition for a reason. A fitting title, each iteration features a gathering of the best asset the Army has to offer—the warrior. Winners are awarded the honor of moving on, but being chosen to compete in the first place is, in itself, a great accomplishment that commands respect.
Seven different states, including Utah, and the territory of Guam sent their strongest, fittest, most capable Soldiers to compete in the Region VII Best Warrior Competition on the island of Guam, May 23-26, 2022. The competition crowned a new Soldier-of-the-Year and Non-Commissioned-Officer-of-the-Year for the region.
The Utah Army National Guard sent Cpl. Spencer Fayles with the 144th Area Support Medical Company, and Staff Sgt. Jackson Fagan with the Utah National Guard Recruiting and Retention Battalion as this year’s representatives.
Fayles placed first in the Soldier-of-the-Year category, while Fagan placed fourth in the NCO-of-the-Year category.
Leading the pack following the mystery event, Fayles was nothing but humble regarding his winning performance.
“I've been surrounded by people better than me all the way leading up to this, who trained me and helped me and put a lot of effort into me,” said Fayles. “Master Sgt. Baker, Staff Sgt. White, they were there with me and helped me every step of the way. I wouldn't be here without them.”
Participants competed in a host of activities during the competition testing many key skills, proficiencies, and physical fitness abilities.
Monday morning, the Soldiers put their physical fitness on display early during the Army Combat Fitness Test. The ACFT features six events designed to simulate situations a Soldier would likely face in combat. The events included deadlift, standing-power throw, hand-release pushup, sprint-drag-carry, plank, and two-mile run.
Later in the day, they were put through a grueling obstacle course and stress-shoot lanes. It was a very hot and humid day on the island as well, making everything extra tough on the competitors.
“Through all of those events it was obvious that our competitors had done a significant amount of preparation and were ready for the challenges that the rest of the week was going to present,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Spencer Nielsen, senior enlisted leader, Utah National Guard.
“Although I was obviously pulling for the Utah Army National Guard competitors, something that I am always impressed by is the quality of the Soldiers and NCOs competing. Watching and participating in the Best Warrior Competitions is always inspiring and humbling to me.”
Tuesday morning, the competitors wielded a map and compass to complete a four-hour, land-navigation course. They continued to showcase their knowledge of weapon systems, radio communication, and combat medical response that afternoon during the eight-station Army Warrior Tasks event. Most of the tasks involved the proper handling and knowledge of specific weapon systems. The Soldiers had limited time to clear, disassemble, and reassemble weapons such as the M4 carbine, M249 squad automatic weapon, M240B medium machine gun, and Mark 19 grenade machine gun–all weapons they are likely to encounter when deployed in a combat-ready zone.
Wednesday brought the Soldiers indoors for the day. Looking sharp wearing the Army Service Uniform, each Soldier and NCO was graded on proper uniform wear, composure under pressure in front of a command sergeants major board, and ability to write a 500-word essay.
Throughout the day, each competitor also sat down with the Guam Army National Guard Public Affairs Officer, Cpt. Mark Scott, to discuss their experiences.
Fagan shared an ancient Native American quote, which he said summarizes the character of each competitor and why they competed. The quote reads, “When the warrior within you awakens, you will no longer fear death. You will realize that a person can kill your body, but they can never kill your soul.”
He went on to say, “that’s what it takes to be a best warrior–when you have a strong heart, you’re willing to give it all.”
It turned out that every competitor needed to hear that quote that day, as Thursday brought the culminating mystery event–the competition finale.
Many people don’t realize that Guam is home to the tallest mountain on Earth. That’s including below sea level because the 1,332-foot Mount Lamlam also extends down the Mariana Trench. For the pinnacle event, the competitors hiked to the top of Mount Lamlam. The nearly 10-mile event started with a two-mile swim from Coco’s Island to the main island, immediately followed by a six-mile uphill ruck march.
Fayles, reflecting on the event at the top of the mountain, said it was brutal.
“It was challenging. It was awesome. This one from the island was tough and then followed by that ruck in this heat. Super challenging.”
Challenging as it was, both Utah Soldiers conquered it all, ultimately earning the respect of the staff and every competitor.
Fagan expressed it was a humbling experience representing his family.
“It's not for me. It's for them,” he said. “I want to be the best father and husband that I can be and just represent them well, make them proud so that one day they'll be able to look up to their dad and just be proud.”
Nielsen likes what he sees in the up-and-coming generation of warriors.
“The takeaway I always have is that the future of the Army is in good hands, and the next generation of senior leaders are competent, motivated, and professional.”
Fayles moves on to the national competition, and both Soldiers have every reason to be proud of their accomplishments. They have solidified their spot in the small ring of National Guard best warriors.