GUNPOWDER MILITARY RESERVATION, Md. -- White engineer tape marked the finish of a seven-mile ruck march for Soldiers competing in the Best Warrior Competition at Gunpowder Military Reservation, Nov 5, 2016. However, completing the rigorous ruck was not the end of the day-long competition. One more obstacle stood in the way of distinguishing each Soldier as a competitor, and only one as the best. The final challenge - a live-fire stress shoot.

In total, 12 Soldiers from the 58th Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade (EMIB) and the 58th Troop Command (TC), a part of the combined competition, were tasked with firing an M4 assault rifle where pressure and fatigue contributed to the intent of the range -- stress. As the final station in a series of warrior tasks, Soldiers dropped their 35-pound rucks, executed ten push-ups and were given ten seconds to engage pop-up targets while identifying friendly from enemy silhouettes.
"Anyone that accepted this challenge has gone above and beyond," said Master Sgt. Adam Erickson, 58th EMIB operations sergeant and noncommission officer in-charge for the competition.

In order to compete, Soldiers were selected at the company level, and then representatives were chosen at the battalion leading up to the day's test competing at the brigade level. Eligibility and prequalification necessary to vie for the title of best included successful completion of the combat life saver course, Army level-one combatives as well as qualifying as sharp-shooter on an M16 rifle and completion of a board exam. Soldiers competed for Soldier, noncommissioned officer and company grade officer of the year.

Training alongside the best elevates skills, and respective of military occupational specialty, in the Army being a Soldier comes first. "Everything tested during the competition is a basic Soldier skill - but we took it to the next level," said Sgt. Maj. William Hartman, 58th TC operations. "For example, at the weapons station we took three weapons a part, put them in a box and said go!"

In total, the Soldiers completed six warrior tasks in addition to reporting to a board, and the culminating ruck march and stress shoot. Warrior task test stations included: preparing an Advanced System Improvement Program, or ASIP, radio for operation; search an individual in a tactical environment, weapons assembly and functions check on a M16 assault rifle, M9 pistol and M249 light machine gun; protect themselves from chemical injury and contamination with a Joint-Service, Lightweight, Integrated Suit Technology, or JSLIST; complete a written map reading and land navigation test; and send a nine-line MEDEVAC request.

"The competition represents an opportunity to expand individual skills and sets and example for others to follow," said Erikson. "Each Soldier will benefit from this experience and enhance the readiness of the Maryland National Guard."

For many competitors the tested warrior skills are something they do not get to touch every month and preparation for the competition was critical. To prepare, noncommissioned officer competitor Staff Sgt. James Hawley, a military technician for towed and small arms repair assigned to the 110th Information Operations Battalion, reached out to his fellow Soldiers as his greatest resource.

Using the expertise of his fellow Soldiers across a variety of military backgrounds in communications, medical or infantry, his resourcefulness proved successful, earning him the title of best noncommissioned officer. When asked what it means to be the best, Hawley's answer was simple - the best warrior competes against himself.

Enlisted Soldier of the year was awarded to Spc. Samuel Cosentino, 58th EMIB, and Officer of the year to First Lt. Chris Hunckler, 629th Military Intelligence Battalion.

Winners and first alternates in each category will receive further training on tasks during the January and February timeframe and go on to represent the 58th EMIB at the 2017 Maryland Army National Guard officer, NCO and Soldier Best Warrior Competition; 16-19 March 2017.