CAMP BLANDING, Fla.- The orange sun made its way over a canopy of oak trees, while long locks of gray moss whipped back and forth in a gust of wind that moved from Kingsley Lake at Camp Blanding, Florida.
Just a few miles away, the finish line awaited 10 Soldiers who had overcome two days of competition hosted by the 200th Military Police Command.
The first one to complete the 10-mile ruck march was Sgt. John Bullough. By the time he crossed the finish line, darkness had set in, and the wind chills had reached freezing temperatures.
Bullough, a U.S. Army Reserve wheeled vehicle mechanic with the 400th MP Battalion, struggled to catch his breath as medics, command sergeants major and peers gathered around him to make sure he was okay and congratulate him
Already, Bullough and his fellow competitors had completed two weapons ranges, a land navigation course through thick brush, an Army Physical Fitness Test, a reflex-fire lane, two written exams and an obstacle course. All of this to compete for the "Best Warrior" title for the 200th MP Cmd.
Although Bullough powered through the ruck march, finishing miles ahead of everyone else, he hadn't anticipated the crisp Florida weather.
"When I heard it was going to be in Florida, I thought, 'Florida in the wintertime, that'll be nice,' but it feels like typical Baltimore; and honestly, the biggest thing I've had to overcome has been the weather and the packing list," said Bullough.
Bullough came with two duffle bags crammed with gear, and said he could have used a third to fit everything required for these events.
The competition started off with 32 Soldiers representing four brigades from across the command on Feb. 8. By its second day, two-thirds of the competitors were eliminated, leaving the top 10. By the end, only two winners will be proclaimed best: one noncommissioned officer (NCO) and a junior enlisted Soldier. Those winners will move up to the U.S. Army Reserve competition in May.
Oftentimes winners receive the benefit of going to schools of their preference, such as airborne, air assault school and more.
Besides bringing Soldiers to the spotlight, the Best Warrior Competition creates a ripple effect that reaches all echelons of the command's ranks.
"This will let me know what my strengths and weaknesses are, and when I get back to my unit, I can work on those and pass them down to junior Soldiers," said Sgt. Shane Hancock, a competitor with the 530th MP Bn., from Fort Riley, Kansas.
For junior Soldiers in the Army, their skill sets are often only as strong as the training their leaders provide. One of the cadre members who helped run the competition was Staff Sgt. Landon Nordby, who won the U.S. Army Reserve title as the top noncommissioned officer in 2014.
Nordby, a military police Soldier with the 79th MP Bn., acknowledged that Soldier tasks are skills that can be lost if not used daily.
"Especially in a time when our deployments are on a downward slope, this gives Soldiers and NCOs the opportunity to get in the spotlight and have an event where they have a reason to train hard and brush up on all these tactics and Army knowledge," said Nordby.
For example, competitors acknowledged land navigation as a skill that gets lost if not practiced often.
"This course is tough. It's pretty tough," said Sgt. Maj. Wilson Frantz, the operations sergeant major for the 200th MP Cmd. "In a way, it's an eye-opener, not only for these Soldiers, but for Soldiers they go back and talk to, and we can see it at my level. ... This helps everyone."
While the command and leaders mold and develop Soldiers, Nordby said, "This competition really is how much time you want to put into it and how much energy you want to put into it. If you try to focus on just one thing, you may do well in those events, but to win this entire competition, you have to be really well-rounded."
Because most of the events are infantry-based, having comprehensive Soldier skills is important, especially for those Soldiers whose jobs revolve around sustainment or support. Though the majority of competitors were MPs, a good number of them came from non-combat jobs.
"Being a mechanic, I don't get to fire with an M9 much, but I love firing pistols, so that was a lot of fun. As a Soldier, it keeps me sharp on everything," said Bullough. "That's the key, making sure you're ready mentally and physically for every challenge there is going to be."
Regardless of whether a competitor is combat experienced or not, the Best Warrior Competition is designed to test everyone. The hope is for the most complete Soldier to come out on top, bringing back the glory to their units and improving the overall profession of arms.