CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo- After two days of grueling competition, an arduous journey to identify the Multinational Battle Group-East's best of the best culminated, May 22, with the Arizona National Guard taking a clean sweep of the MNBG-E Best Warrior Competition held on Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo.
During the event, Spc. Jaren Yelavich, a radio support specialist assigned to the 2nd Assault Helicopter Battalion, 285th Aviation Regiment, and Staff Sgt. Kevin Murphy, a flight medic assigned to the 5th Battalion (Air Ambulance), 159th Aviation Regiment, both serving with the Southern Command Post in Kosovo, earned the title of Best Warrior.
"Before they announced the names I was extremely nervous...when they called my name I was ecstatic," said Yelavich. "Winning the Best Warrior competition, to me, means that I represent my unit, being from the Arizona National Guard I represent my state and I represent the Army as a whole."
For Yelavich and Murphy, the road traveled from being best warrior hopefuls to having their names called, wasn't an easy route.
"The competition itself was extremely challenging," said Murphy. "I didn't expect to win, I just wanted to come out here and represent Task Force Aviation and my unit the best that I could... it was humbling."
Both competitors, went head to head with seven other competitors, nominated by their individual units, during a series of events aimed at testing their intestinal fortitude.
To begin the competition, each Soldier conducted the Army Physical Fitness Test.
Physically exhausted, the competitors were rushed to a room where they were challenged academically to write a 1000-word essay on what it means to serve as a leader in a multinational battle group. To even out the playing field, the essays were sent to Pennsylvania State University where the English department was on hand to grade each paper for grammar, punctuation and substance.
From there, the participants donned their gear and headed to the woods where they received a squad of Soldiers and a mission to accomplish. To meet the standards, the Soldiers had to know their warrior tasks and more importantly be able to execute.
"In order to be a leader you have to be proficient in all the individual tasks," said Command Sgt. Maj. Timothy Hileman, senior enlisted advisor for the MNBG-E. "What this [competition] does is this validates their training and validates what they have done to prepare themselves as NCOs and as leaders."
To validate their skills, each Soldier had to assemble a Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System, before moving their squad under a barrage of enemy fire and simulated explosions through the woods. On cue, the Soldiers were called on to perform first aid on a casualty as screams for medic filled the air.
After successfully evacuating a casualty, the signal to end the exercise was called and day one came to a close.
The intensity from the previous day's competition carried over into day two, as the Soldiers started with a 12-mile ruck march through the unforgiving hills on Camp Bondsteel.
"There were moments during the ruck march when I would look at a pot hole off to the side and say, 'If I just tripped in this right now it would be over'," said Yelavich. "You have to get through those mental blocks."
Like Yelavich, each competitor made it through their own personal mental blocks only to be met with a different set of challenges.
As each participant dropped their 30-pound rucksack, they were rushed to the firing range where senior non-commissioned officers shouted instructions. Once on the range, the Soldiers had to assemble their weapon while under limited visibility as a mixture of fragment and smoke training grenades intensified the scenario. Upon completion of assembling their weapons the competitors had to shoot at a series of targets.
Physically and mentally drained, the battle group Soldiers moved on to the final phase: land navigation.
During this phase, the competitors were given seven grid coordinates and left on their own to find their points. With time and physical endurance running low, the Soldiers combed the camp hoping to navigate their way to victory.
One by one, the Soldiers crossed the finish line and anxiously waited hours to hear their name called.
Unfortunately, for the nine participants, who gave their all during the competition, there was only room for two to be deemed the best: Yelavich and Murphy.
"Overall the competition was challenging and very rewarding," said Yelavich. "Making it through this, whether you win or not, means a lot."
Hileman echoed that sentiment.
"In every circumstance there's no losers," said Hileman. "Everyone is a winner because they came out here, performed well and showed they can perform under stress and that they're proficient at the tasks they have been practicing."