By Staff Sgt. Timothy Beery
Utah National Guard
CAMP WILLIAMS, Utah - Twelve Soldiers from the Western United States and Guam exhausted themselves physically and mentally over three blisteringly hot days at Camp Williams, July 28-30, to be named the Soldier and Noncommissioned Officer of the Year during the 2020 National Guard Region VII Best Warrior Competition.
At the end of the three days, Cpl. Daniel D’lppolito, an infantryman with the Arizona National Guard, and Sgt. Sidney Romero, a cavalry scout with the Nevada National Guard, emerged as the Region VII Soldier and NCO of the Year, respectively.
“From the beginning of this competition, it was nerve-wracking. Just getting prepared for the travel and competition,” said Romero. "Finally getting here, and getting over that hurdle, it relaxed me. I was able to focus on the competition and just check off each box. I got excited to see how I could place in the competition.”
Grueling physical challenges and stiff competition could have been expected, however this year the competition took a completely different turn due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Originally this competition was supposed to take place in Guam,” said 1st Sgt. Garrad Johnston, from the 640th Regional Training Institute, Utah Army National Guard, the director of the competition.
“When the COVID-19 pandemic hit it shut a lot of things down, from a travel perspective. It just wasn’t going to be able to happen in Guam this year,” said Johnston.
Johnston said the competition was actually in jeopardy of not happening at all due to the virus. He mentioned that there was a conference call among the various states and territories that make up the region and at that time, Utah senior enlisted leaders stepped up and took the responsibility to host the event.
“We put this thing together with 3-4 weeks of notice,” he said. “I was confident in our ability to make the event a success.”
Despite short notice, the competitors kept their spirits high and gave it their all during the three days. Soldiers traveled from Arizona, California, Colorado, Guam, Hawaii, New Mexico, Nevada, and Utah. Upon arrival they faced a new event in the competition, the Army Combat Fitness Test, the new physical fitness test of record for the Army in 2021.
“I felt great after I completed the test,” said Spc. Payton Hicks, a cook with the19th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Utah National Guard and a competitor in the event. “It was the second time I had taken it. A lot of the guys--this is their first time taking it. It was fun to see people taking it for the first time. Everyone did great.”
The ACFT is a mental test too, according to Spc. Parsa Khawari, a cavalry scout from Nevada who took it for the first time in Utah.
“I think it (ACFT) is a much better gauge of your overall fitness,” he said. “It’s more of a mental thing too. Through one of the events, I hit a wall. It felt like my legs were gone. It was all my mind. I had to push through,” said Khawari.
Like Hicks, Khawari used the event to both study and admire his competitors.
“I think all the competitors are at the top of their class, they’re all squared away” he stated. “So it’s good to see where their strengths are and where your strengths are. Then you can see where your weaknesses are,” said Khawari.
Romero said the ACFT was a game changer in the competition.
“The test is a lot more challenging. It’s a smoker,” he said. “It’s very different compared to what we did before.”
When asked about the rest of the competition and future events, Romero stood true to his mantra of looking to see where he stands.
“I’m just excited to get out there, compete, give it my all and in the end I can see where I stand.”
Romero’s next opportunity to see where he stands is the 2020 National Guard Best Warrior Competition, scheduled to be held in September at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. There, D’Ippolito and Romero will compete against Soldiers from throughout the Army to be named the National Guard NCO and Soldier of the Year.
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