By Staff Sgt. Jordan Hack
The U.S. Army’s Best Warrior Competition is an annual, multi-level series of challenging events that gives Soldiers the opportunity to earn the right to be considered “the best” at each level. The ultimate measure of physical endurance, warrior skill mastery, and intestinal fortitude, the competition is not for the faint of heart. Being an Army event, it’s also rather surprising when an Airman stands out at the regional level.
Senior Airman Kevin Buckner, a fire protection journeyman with the 151st Civil Engineering Squadron, winner of the Soldier of the Year category at this year’s Utah National Guard Best Warrior Competition, impressed everyone with his superior physical performance and engaged attitude during the Region VII competition on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu, May 7-11, 2023.
Due to an agreement among participating states and territories, Buckner was permitted to compete for Region VII Soldier of the Year alongside Army counterpart Spc. Wesley Young, a petroleum supply specialist with the 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne), while Staff Sgt. Nathan Woods, a unit supply specialist with the 144th Area Support Medical Company, competed for Noncommissioned Officer of the Year.
When Buckner finished roughly six minutes faster than everyone else in the fitness assessment on day one, all eyes naturally turned to the Airman as the competition pressed forward. Knowing he wouldn’t officially place or win didn’t stop Buckner from delivering his best – pushing his personal limits at every turn.
“I can fall back on my physical ability for a lot of these events,” said Buckner. “I feel super confident in a lot of the Army tasks that I’ve learned…but in the Air Force I don’t get to do land navigation, and I don’t get to do a lot of the tasks that are commonly taught throughout the Army. So that’s been challenging.”
Buckner also mentioned that even though being an Airman in an Army competition had its challenges, rubbing shoulders with the other competitors was invaluable.
“It’s been super fun to compete with them. Every single person that I’ve talked to has been able to teach me something, so it’s been a good learning and networking experience.”
When the results were tallied, each Utah competitor led their category in at least one event. Young finished first in drill and ceremony (third overall), while Woods finished first in the call-for-fire and beach party events (fourth overall). Meanwhile, Buckner finished first in four events including the fitness assessment, beach party, public affairs interview, and mystery event, scoring enough points to have placed second overall.
The winners of each category, both from the Hawaii Army National Guard, move forward to represent Region VII at the All-Guard National Best Warrior Competition in Alaska. Young is being held in reserve as a first alternate.
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