California National Guard Soldiers compete in the 2011 Best Warrior Competition
October 3, 2011
CAMP SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif., Oct. 3, 2011 -- Whoever still uses the term "weekend warriors" to refer to National Guard service members has been living under a rock for the past 10 years. Sure citizen Soldiers or Airmen are still required to conduct roughly 16 hours of training a month and attend a two-week annual exercise but the majority of the men and women in uniform go above and beyond.
Then there is the category reserved for the ultra, hardcore types that despite being part-time, eat, sleep, and live the military life.
These troops strive to be the best. They spend extra personal time studying and training, balancing their family, civilian work and school preparing for the next challenge. On the 10th Anniversary of 9/11 they would get that chance.
California National Guard's Best Warrior Competition 2011 kicked into high gear at Camp San Luis Obispo with nine special Soldiers vying for the title of best of the best.
All but one of the participants this year was new to the event and all had already been named the top Soldier or noncommissioned officer, or NCO, of their company, battalion and brigade.
For some, the road to the competition was uncommon and extra-challenging. One competitor suffered the death of a close family member just two weeks prior to the competition. Another competitor, a combat medic, revived a civilian bicyclist who had been injured behind his armory and had no pulse right before the medic traveled to the competition.
The competitors' experience ranged from roughly two to 17 years in the military and multiple deployments for a few. Their military jobs include military dispatcher, law enforcement and everything in between.
With the support of their NCO sponsors, the nine competitors participated in a challenging seven-day journey filled with physically grueling and mentally exhausting challenges.
"I've seen the improvements [in the competition] each year. It's getting harder on the competitors," said Staff Sgt. Michael East, a survey team chief for the 95th Civil Support Team who won the state and regional Best Warrior Competition in 2009.
"I had it easy in comparison, in the sense that we had a whole week and it wasn't quite as strenuous as far as timeline," he said. "I think that by making it harder on the guys here, whoever does come out in the end as the winner is definitely proving his merit."
After a day of orientation, day two started with the Army Physical Fitness Test and closed with a three-hour combatives training session, which concluded their first 16-hour day. The remainder of the week's schedule allowed little time to rest.
The events change each year, and this year's events incorporated more real-life scenarios than past competitions.
"What we're trying to do is not just meet the needs of the Army, but test what's going to make these Soldiers successful in combat, in combat roles and also in a state emergency environment," said Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Whittle of the 223rd Regional Training Institute at Camp San Luis Obispo, Calif., which hosts the annual contest.
The Best Warrior Competition has a four-year history that evolved from a previous annual event, the Soldier of the Year challenge.
"What differentiates Best Warrior from Soldier of the Year is that SOY was a two-day event," said Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Winstead, command sergeant major of the California Army National Guard. "It had some very simple tasks that the Soldier had to perform. It didn't test their endurance, their stamina or anything, and then there was a board. Four years ago we decided to make it a competition that tested everything -- that tested their skills, but not just in a sterile setting."
The competition requires 110 percent dedication, not only physically but also mentally, said competitor Staff Sgt. Craig Tomlinson of 1st Battalion, 223rd RTI.
"There are very few Soldiers that actually meld the two together and come out with a perfect product," said Tomlinson, a 17-year Guardsman and veteran of operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. "That's what this competition really focuses on and brings out. I've seen it with the other eight competitors throughout the week."
One popular change this year was in the weapons qualification event, which shifted from an individual weapons qualification environment to a weapons course that required Soldiers to switch from an M-4 rifle to an M-9 pistol and shoot around obstacles.
"The events are actually pretty real-world, except the fact that we don't have bullets flying at them," said Tomlinson's sponsor, Staff Sgt. Dain Miskimen of 1st Battalion, 223rd RTI. "For the most part, all of the events have been very realistic, and so [the competitors] are actually getting good training out of it as well as the competition."
Competitor Sgt. Jose Alves of Riverbank, Calif., a member of Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 143 Field Artillery Regiment, 79th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, said a competition of this nature is especially important for National Guard members.
"I've never been active duty, except when I've been mobilized with the National Guard, so for me it's important because this is extra training time," said Alves, an 11-year Guardsman who has deployed twice. "[The competition] is more time behind the rifle, more time with a 9 millimeter in my hands and more time going over Army Warrior Tasks. So I think it's important for every Soldier to try and do it, because it just gives them an opportunity to brush up on skills that as a Guardsman you don't get to do every day."
Every annual competition offers the participants a mystery event. This year after completing a timed 5.2-mile ruck march, the competitors were challenged to a slightly abbreviated version of the new Army Combat Readiness Test, or ACRT. The ACRT will soon replace the Army Physical Fitness Test. Instead of push-ups, sit-ups and a timed 2-mile run, Soldiers will be challenged in events designed to more accurately test for the strength, endurance and mobility needed for warrior tasks and battle drills.
"These are some of the first people in the National Guard in California and in the nation that got to actually do the new Army [fitness] test," Winstead said.
After proving themselves in events like the confidence course, day and night land navigation, warrior training tasks, written essays and combatives, the top Soldier and NCO from the Best Warrior Competition will be announced Sunday, Oct. 23, during the annual Wings, Wheels and Rotors event at Joint Forces Training Base-Los Alamitos.
The winners from California will move on to compete in the regional Best Warrior Competition on Camp San Luis Obispo against winners from Arizona, Hawaii, New Mexico and Utah. The regional winners will then advance to the national Best Warrior Competition to face National Guard, Reserve and active duty Soldiers.
"Our Soldiers in California do so much, that we are the Best Warriors, and we need to show that on the national stage," Winstead said. "The California National Guard is as good as any Guard in the 54 states and territories."