By Spc. Alejandro Lucero
Twenty-two Soldiers battled frigid temperatures, as well as mental and physical challenges as they competed for the title of Soldier of the Year, Noncommissioned Officer of the Year and Senior NCO of the Year during the Utah National Guard Best Warrior Competition, held at Camp Williams, March 21-24, 2021.
The participants represented the Utah National Guard’s major commands after being selected from unit-level competitions. These Soldiers rose to the top during the BWC and took home their respective honors:
Soldier of the Year: Spc. Adam Barlow, a fire-control specialist with Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 65th Field Artillery Brigade.
NCO of the Year: Staff Sgt. Zachary Carlson, a special forces engineer with 1st Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne).
Senior NCO: Master Sgt. Zachary Beveridge, a master leadership course facilitator with 640th Regiment, Regional Training Institute.
The Best Warrior Competition events are designed to execute a dynamic, realistic, challenging, individual- and team-learning environment for the competitors.
“It really pushes individuals past what they even understand their limitations to be,” said Master Sgt. Mike Baker, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the BWC. “It gives them a good starting point or foundation of where they are currently at and what they need to do to exceed expectations not only of their unit or MSC but themselves.”
The training incorporated into the competition is realistic and designed to determine if the Soldier has the mental and physical fortitude to plan, train and execute under stressful conditions.
“It’s a culminating event to understand exactly what Soldiers should be doing on a monthly basis, or being prepared for in a deployment environment,” said Baker. “This is a great opportunity for them to understand what exactly they need to be doing and the things they need to be focused on throughout the year in order to get prepared for a mobilization.”
The competition began with an inventory of each participant's gear, testing their attention to detail, and was followed by zeroing their weapons to prepare for the marksmanship events taking place the following day.
The second day began at the break of dawn with the Soldiers participating in a physical fitness assessment. The assessment was followed by medical lanes where the competitors evaluated casualties under the stress of a simulated-combat environment. The day concluded with weapons ranges for the three-gun course, known-distance range, 9 mm pistol range, testing participants marksmanship and mental fortitude after a physically demanding day.
“The hardest thing for me probably was the physical grind right at the beginning,” said Barlow. “They always tell you how hard it's going to be, but you don't really know until you are there; starting the competition with jello legs is always a fun thing.”
The participants final day of physical challenges started at 3 a.m. with night-land navigation, testing competitors' abilities to navigate with a back azimuth. Following land navigation was a simulated detainee-search lane, testing Soldiers with realistic war-time scenarios. Finally, the last physical event for the Soldiers was a timed six-mile ruck march while carrying a minimum 35-pound pack.
Wrapping up the competition was a military board and exam where competitors were judged and tested by senior leaders on their military skills, bearing and knowledge.
BWC events are not only designed to test the competitor’s knowledge, but also to refresh their skills, allowing these Soldiers to return to their units and teach their fellow Soldiers, concurrently strengthening the entire force.
“Competing as a first sergeant, it’s always a good reminder of all the things that we need to sharpen up to maintain proficiency,” said 1st Sgt. Zachary Walton, first sergeant for Echo Company, 141st Military Intelligence Battalion. “In the MI we have, just like every other unit, our own special thing that we do, but the Army Warrior Tasks and [Battle] Drills are always something we can refine and practice and do better.”
Winners of the Soldier of the Year and NCO of the Year will represent the Utah National Guard at the Region 7 Best Warrior Competition in Colorado in May. There, they will face-off against competitors from Arizona, California, Colorado, Guam, Hawaii, New Mexico and Nevada in May 2021.
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