Spc. Ryan Barger has life nailed. He's a student at Grand Valley State University, a two-time all-conference high school football player and an Army Reserve Soldier.

Student, athlete, Soldier; most Americans would be happy with any one of these distinctions. This 20-year-old Belding, Mich. native and member of the 303rd Military Police Company is just getting started.

Already recognized as one of the top junior enlisted Soldiers in his unit, Barger competed in and won the Soldier category for the U.S. Army Reserve Command's Best Warrior competition for 2011, effectively rocketing him into the rarified air of being one of the top young Soldiers in the entire U.S. Army Reserve.

"I'm honored to have won," he said. "I had my doubts, there were lots and lots of strong competitors, any one of them could have won."

To win, Barger credits both his commitment to personal physical fitness and the mental and physical discipline he's learned through organized sports and his Army training.

To prepare for Best Warrior, Barger says he added in things like ruck marches and long hours with his Army Study guide alongside his regular multi-day workout schedule and college coursework.

"I like to work out regardless of the competition," he said. "I go to the gym every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, and I throw in ruck marches and runs depending on time and how far I want to go."

Beyond the physical aspect of Best Warrior was the overall challenge of the event.

Throughout the week Barger and more than 40 other Soldiers battled it out on the rolling terrain of Fort McCoy, Wis.

The need to be both physically fit and mentally focused was repeated over and over. Soldiers were given only minimal sleep; they were tested in events that ranged from writing essays to a live-fire shoot house.

"A lot of people think it's mostly physical, but I think it's pretty much 50 percent physical and 50 percent mental," Barger said. "You have to be able to maintain yourself mentally when you're out there. It's not just knowledge of basic Soldier skills it's self-knowledge.

Knowing that when you're out there on the road march, you're by yourself, you can go a lot farther than your body thinks it can, you have to encourage yourself to put one foot in front of the other."

But focus and physical preparation can only go so far. For every competitor there were challenges that were unexpected or worse, challenges that ended up being harder than expected.

"I'm usually spot on with my land navigation," he said. "I've had some good training with it, but here at the USARC level they put us out on the land navigation course at three in the morning, the terrain was really challenging, and I ended up only making like two out of six points."

Barger's sponsor, Staff Sgt. Lucas Heideman, was more pragmatic.

"You have 15 more events after this one; you'll make those points up," he said.

He did. Barger finished consistently well throughout the rest of the competition, and even won the road-march event, a brutal multi-mile grind while carrying a 75-pound field pack.

Throughout all of it, Barger said it was his fellow competitors that were some of his biggest motivators.

"My favorite part of all of this has been meeting the other Soldiers who were as motivated as I am to do well and to live the Army Values and Warrior Ethos," he said. "There was a lot of smack talking going on, but it was all in fun. We were all battle buddies out there."

To Barger, one of the most poignant benefits of the Best Warrior competition was what it did for his perspective and personal comfort level.

Seeing how such a large event had been organized, how the different parts of the Army moved together to make it happen gave him visibility to a part of the Army he had yet to see or really experience.

"I'm proud to have a Soldier of Spc. Barger's caliber representing not just the 200th Military Police Command, but the entire Army Reserve," said Command Sgt. Maj. Kurtis Timmer, 200th MP Cmd. command sergeant major. "With the challenges he was able to meet here at Fort McCoy, I know he'll do us proud at the DA-level Best Warrior Competition.

"Fort McCoy went above and beyond in hosting the USARC-level Best Warrior Competition," said Timmer. "They worked with the staff to meet the needs of the competition. The areas we challenged our warriors in were in great condition."

Being surrounded by some of the most senior non-commissioned officers in the Army Reserve was only one of the "uncomfortable" experiences that Barger now feels comfortable with.

"It definitely nudged and pushed me out of my comfort zone. The benefit of that is that my comfort zone has expanded now," he said.

So, what does one of the best junior Soldiers in the 200th MP Command do when he's won the Army Reserve Best Warrior competition? He goes to Fort Lee, Va. where Barger and fellow Army Reserve NCO winner, Sgt. Christopher R. Couchot, 335th Signal Command, will represent the Army Reserve at the Department of the Army-level Best Warrior competition in October.

Is Barger worried about competing against the best of the regular Army as well?

"We had some really strong competitors at the USARC competition," he said. "They're all tough. They're all there for a reason. People call us reservists, but we're all Soldiers and we all have to meet the Soldier's standard, so it's on my mind but it's not going to be a mental block for me."

For the short term, Barger plans on focusing on his Soldier skills and preparing for October. Long term, he hopes to finish school and hopefully coach football and teach. He feels both goals support his military career as an NCO since both of his academic goals are focused on leading and training.

"Right now though, I plan on representing the 205,000 Soldiers in the United States Army Reserve at the DA-level competition. I promise I'm going to represent the Army Reserve as best I can."

Page last updated Thu August 25th, 2011 at 00:00