'The best' step forward - Best Warrior Competition returns for 2014
May 15, 2014
CAMP BULLIS, Texas -- Year after year, competitions come and go where Soldiers from different units across the Army vie against each other to see who is truly the best Soldier or noncommissioned officer of them all.
What seems truly amazing is there almost never seems to be a shortage of men and women who accept this challenge and step forward to compete. For four of the senior commands at Fort Sam Houston -- Installation Management Command, Medical Command, U.S. Army South and U.S. Army North (Fifth Army) -- 35 Soldiers took three days to find out who would come out on top in the 2014 Best Warrior Competition from May 4-7 at Camp Bullis.
Competitors spent three days of oh-dark-early mornings and coming-home-in-the-dark evenings testing their mental and physical strength with events like the Army Physical Fitness Test, rifle marksmanship, an obstacle course, a timed day and night land navigation challenge, Warrior Tasks and Battle Drills, the culminating 12-mile road march and even a "mystery" event.
All though all 35 Soldiers competed together, the Best Warrior Competition was actually four different competitions for each of the participating senior commands, and not a single event.
"This is something above and beyond (a regular board or PT test)," said Sgt. Elias Zavala, Headquarters Support Company, HHBn, Army North, about his take on the nature of the Best Warrior competition. "I'm very proud to be here and that I was chosen out of so many people to (compete)."
Sgt. Tonga Tukumoeatu, representing the 323rd Army Band "Fort Sam's Own", felt similarly about the chance to participate.
"I'm excited for the experience … I'm a bandsman, we don't do this on a regular basis. However, as a bandsman, we already have high standards for ourselves, musically. I feel we can transfer that to Soldier skills and it goes hand-in-hand together," he said.
"I expect a lot out of myself so I'll just hold myself to a high standard," he continued. "I'm grateful for the opportunity I've been given to represent Army North."
All of the competitors were easily a cut above the typical troop, a fact acknowledged during their initial briefing the night before the competition.
"We recognize the fact that everybody here, in some shape, fashion or form, is already a winner, having already competed at battalion, brigade, perhaps division level (to be here)," said Sgt. Maj. David Santos, the senior NCO who oversaw the planning and execution of the competition, to the Soldiers on Day Zero. "Therefore we understand the type and caliber of Soldiers and noncommissioned officers that we should be looking at for this Best Warrior Competition."
Despite this being an individual-driven competition, with each person vying for top honors, all the Soldiers and NCOs clearly maintained their team mentality and cheered for one another during each event. They kept a positive attitude as they tackled each challenge, such as the obstacle course.
"I'm a little sore," said Sgt. Malcom Knox, Task Force 51, Army North, commenting on starting out after the previous day's APFT and land navigation events. "But I'm doing good. This will loosen us up though."
The atmosphere remained light-hearted that morning and there were lots of good-natured jokes thrown around to keep everyone motivated. As the groups waiting to start the obstacles watched the others run through, nicknames popped up, like "the Bionic Man" and "Spiderman." However, all observed with great interest, respect and eagerness mixed together.
"I'm really tired," said Tukumoeatu after finishing the course. "I haven't done this since basic training but I just got through it."
Other Soldiers coming off the last part of the course had the same thing to say, though this didn't diminish their enthusiasm about what they still had ahead of them.
"I'm very tired, but we'll just see what they have waiting for us," Zavala said.
Despite being weary from each full day of extensive testing on Army skills and of their physical endurance, the Soldiers still looked sharp and professional as they progressed.
"It really took a lot for them to go outside of their particular jobs or positions and stick out from the rest of their peer group," said Sgt. 1st Class Jason Ruiz, Best Warrior Competition noncommissioned officer in charge. "They can really say they are going to step out and go up to Camp Bullis for those days. It sets them apart from their peers at the end. These guys went above and beyond here.
After completing the Camp Bullis portion, the competitors traded their sweat-soaked combat uniforms for their blue Army Service Uniforms and returned to face a barrage of questions from their respective commands during individual boards.
The winners for the Army North Best Warrior NCO and Soldier of the Year are Sgt. Tonga Tukumoeatu, 323rd Army Band "Fort Sam's Own", for NCO of the Year and Spc. Antonio Varela with Task Force 51.
The IMCOM Best Warrior winners are Sgt. Jacob Durski from U.S. Army Garrison, Yongsan, South Korea, and Cpl. Ryan Perea from USAG Fort Bragg, North Carolina, for NCO and Soldier of the Year, respectively.
The Best Warrior NCO and Soldier of the Year winners for Army South are Staff Sgt. Luke Klein, 339th Military Police Company, currently assigned to ARSOUTH's 525th Military Police Battalion, Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Spc. Crystal Pittman, also assigned to the 525th MP Bn., NSGB, Cuba, respectively.
The MEDCOM Best Warrior NCO and Soldier of the Year winners are Sgt. Connor Loehr, from Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital, Fort Polk, Louisiana, representing Southern Regional Medical Command, and Spc. Travis Crook from the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, representing U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command.