By Sgt. 1st Class John Etheridge
Utah Army National Guard
Fresh off their victories in the state and region levels, two Utah National Guard Soldiers competed in the U.S. Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition held July 19-23, 2021 at Camp Navajo Military Reservation, Arizona.
The two Soldiers who represented Utah and Region VII; Spc. Adam Barlow, from the 65th Field Artillery Brigade, and a staff sergeant (name withheld for security) from the 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne), competed against 11 other regional champions from around the country setting the stage for a fierce competition.
“Each region definitely sent their best,” said Barlow. “ I can definitely see that there are really strong competitors here.”
Over the course of the four-day event, the competitors were tested physically and mentally on a variety of technical and tactical Soldier skills. The tested events included a fitness assessment, small arms shooting ranges, day- and night-land navigation, warrior task lanes, obstacle course, medical lanes, media interview, an oral presentation board, and a 16-mile ruck march.
The competitors also had to deal with the complexities of competing in different terrains. Most of the competition was held at Camp Navajo at approximately 7,000 feet of elevation and had regular monsoon rain. For the live-fire shooting event, the competitors were flown by Black Hawk helicopters to Florence Military Reservation located in the remote desert about 60 miles southwest of Phoenix.
“This competition has been different from the other ones because there has been a lot more of a physical grind,” said Barlow. “Here at the nationals, it’s been go-go-go, and we haven’t had a chance to do much of anything besides compete. You can see that in the other competitors and myself that it is really physically wearing.”
The competition not only rigorously tested the Soldiers skills in different warrior tasks, it also provided an opportunity to learn and try new weapons systems and equipment.
“I’ve learned tons of things at this competition, from what they consider is a proper disassembly of a weapon, to deploying a M320 grenade launcher,” said the Special Forces staff sergeant. “We were able to shoot the M14 rifle, that was the first time I shot that weapon system.”
Barlow said that the warrior task lanes provided him with the toughest challenge.
“The hardest part of this competition was the soldier skill lanes. They were extremely technical. If you messed up the smallest detail you get zero points for the event,” said Barlow. “I know that it was really discouraging for a lot of competitors, but we all plugged along and had a good laugh about it at the end of the day.”
Both Soldiers agreed that the stresses of the competition have shown them where they need to improve and provided them an opportunity to help other Soldiers sharpen their skills.
“The competition has made me better in knowing my weaknesses and realizing my strengths, and how I can help other people accomplish their goals,” said the Special Forces staff sergeant. “ It has also helped me become better at networking and reaching out to other Soldiers.”
Barlow reiterated the sentiment.
“The competition definitely helped me develop in a lot of areas that I wouldn't have paid much attention to because I don’t use that type of equipment. Definitely, this competition has helped me progress and become an all-around better Soldier,” he said.
The staff sergeant also explained that the competition has helped him become a better leader by being able to share his Special Forces skills and training with the other competitors.
At the end of the four-day competition, the Special Forces staff sergeant was on top and won his category. Although Barlow was runner up in the Soldier of the Year category, he has no regrets.
“Regardless of the competition, and who comes out on top, these are a bunch of really solid Soldiers,” he said. “If one of them ends up winning instead of me, the competition is in solid hands, and they have a solid chance in the all-Army competition.”
The Special Forces staff sergeant was crowned U.S. Army National Guard Noncomissioned Officer of the Year and will move on to the Department of the Army competition held later this year at Fort Knox, Kentucky.
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