By Sgt. 1st Class John Etheridge
128th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
Utah National Guard's major Army commands and the 151st Air Refueling Wing sent their best Soldiers to Camp Williams, Utah to compete in this year’s Utah Best Warrior Competition held July 7, 2020. The 20 warriors gave their top efforts while competing for the titles of Soldier of the Year, Noncommissioned Officer of the Year, and Senior NCO of the Year.
The competition was initially scheduled to take place in early April, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was postponed and shortened to a grueling one-day competition.
Graded events started with an equipment inventory that tested the ability of the competitors to perform pre-combat checks. Next, the contenders were bussed in the pre-dawn hours to a zeroing range where they demonstrated their rifle skills by performing the new Army rifle marksmanship qualification.
Following the marksmanship event, the contenders faced off in a timed six-mile ruck march while carrying a 35-pound ruck sack. With a short rest after the ruck march, the challengers took a physical fitness assessment that included pull-ups, knee tucks, hand release push-ups and a sprinting event.
With the physical events over, the warriors ended the competition by partaking in a military board where they presented themselves in their dress uniforms and were interviewed by senior enlisted leaders and tested on their military skills and policy knowledge.
“These 20 warriors from the Utah Army and Air National Guard represented the best enlisted Soldiers, Airmen, and NCOs within the military's inventory,” said 1st Sgt. Garrad Johnston, NCO in charge of the competition from the 640th Regional Training Institute. “The physical and mental toughness of these warriors was inspiring to all present.”
As an example of this toughness, Johnston recounted how the winner of the ruck-march, 42-year-old Air Force Master Sgt. Casey Ferguson of the 151st Communications Flight, demonstrated that age is no excuse for not being a physically fit warrior as he set the example and pace for the younger competitors.
The NCO of the Year honors proved to be a very competitive field. Sgt. Justin Tomlinson of Group Support Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne), was surprised to win the honors and complimented his fellow competitors.
"I didn't invite my wife to the awards ceremony because I didn't think I would win,” said Tomlinson. “This was a super tough event, and every one of my peers did exceptionally.”
The winner of the Senior NCO of the Year, 1st Sgt. Christian Harris from B Company, 141st Military Intelligence Battalion, 300th MI Brigade, also spoke highly of his field of his opponents.
"I feel privileged to be surrounded by such great Soldiers and Airmen and think that this honor could have easily been any of them," said Harris.
The competition started out rough for the winner of the Soldier of the Year, Spc. Payton Hicks of Headquarters and Headquarter Company, GSB, 19th SFG (A). By not showing up with all his required equipment, Hicks had a large point deficit after the equipment inventory. But fortunately, he was able to make a comeback.
“Not only did he make up those lost points, but won by a large margin,” said Johnston. “He is going to be a force to be reckoned with at the regional competition hosted at Camp Williams at the end of July.”
The Utah National Guard’s Senior Enlisted Advisor, Command Sgt. Maj. Spencer Nielson felt very proud to watch his Soldiers and Airmen compete in this year’s competition.
“I am incredibly proud of this year’s group of Best Warrior competitors. Each of our units have a strong legacy of producing exceptional service members, and these competitors exemplify the excellence that is a tradition in our organization. These Airmen and Soldiers represent the best-of-the-best of the Utah National Guard. I am constantly inspired by the dedication and professionalism of our enlisted team, and am humbled to serve beside them,” he said.
The winners of this year’s competition will get to compete again with a new group of challengers during the Regional Best Warrior Competition that will be held at Camp Williams, Utah July 27-30.
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