By Spc. Shae Cox
128th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
Twenty-three Soldiers and Airmen battled mental and physical challenges as they competed for the title of Soldier/Airman 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, Utah, Oct. 16-19, 2022.
The participants represented the Utah National Guard’s major commands after being selected from unit-level competitions. These competitors fought to the top during the BWC and took home their respective honors:
Soldier/Airman of the Year: Airman 1st Class Kevin Buckner, 151st Air Refueling Wing
NCO of the Year: A Military Intelligence specialist Staff Sgt. (identity withheld for security purposes), 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne)
Senior NCO of the Year: Master Sgt. Ryan Fleischman, 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne)
The Best Warrior Competition events are designed to execute a challenging, realistic and dynamic learning environment for competitors.
“This competition allows us to do training that most of us don't get on a regular basis,” said Staff Sgt. Andrea Chica, a competitor representing 2nd Battalion, 211th Aviation Regiment. “It's really important as leaders to train on these events, learn new skills, meet the other competitors, and form a better relationship with other units.”
This year offered the competitors different tests and new opportunities from other years’ competitions. The training is designed to determine if the Soldier or Airman has the mental and physical fortitude to plan, train and execute under stressful conditions.
“The biggest difference this year, from last year, is that we have incorporated the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge,” said Master Sgt. Mike Baker, the noncommissioned officer in charge. “We have provided events that will tax them mentally and physically so we can actually see who they are, and what they are made of, and if they are ready to go to the next level.”
The competition began with an inventory of each participant's gear, testing their attention to detail. Next, the competitors prepared their weapons for marksmanship events taking place the following day, as well as completing the pistol qualification portion of the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge. The competitors finished the day strong with the 100-meter swimming event completed in full uniform.
The second day began with events from the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge including the 11x10-meter sprint, flexed-arm hang, and a 1000-meter run. The day continued as the Soldiers and Airmen participated in an improvised explosive device detection and reporting lane. The assessment was followed by medical lanes where the competitors evaluated casualties under the stress of a simulated-combat environment. The day concluded with the Army rifle qualification.
The participants' final day of physical challenges started at 2 a.m. with night-land navigation, testing the competitors' ability to navigate with a back azimuth. Finally, the last physical event for the competitors was the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge 12-kilometer ruck march.
To wrap up the competition, competitors went before a military board and took a written exam to be judged and tested by senior leaders on their military skills, bearing and knowledge.
“The goal here isn’t just to get somebody proficient in some Army warrior tasks and battle drills,” said Baker. “It’s to get them to understand how they can take this information back to their units and incorporate it in the training of their Soldiers and Airmen.”
This year, four members of the Utah Air National Guard joined the Soldiers in these events and were able to learn some new skills along the way.
“A few of the skills being tested here today are skills that the Air Force doesn’t train on very often, if at all. So being able to go through these skills and work side-by-side with the Soldiers is huge,” said Baker.
The Soldier of the Year and NCO of the Year will represent the Utah National Guard at the Region VII Best Warrior Competition in March, facing off against winners from Arizona, California, Colorado, Guam, Hawaii, New Mexico and Nevada.
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