CAMP SMITH TRAINING SITE, Peekskill, N.Y. - Nine New York Army National Guard Soldiers endured four grueling days of shooting, land navigation, swimming, and first aid, topped off with a 12-mile forced march during New York's Best Warrior Competition here, March 29-April 2.
"The competition is tough and demanding," said New York Army National Guard State Command Sgt. Major David Piwowarski. "It's designed to test Soldiers physically and mentally."
At the end, two infantrymen-Sgt. Mitchell Stogel, a member of Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion 69th Infantry, and Sgt. Mitchell Cooper, who belongs to Delta Company, 2nd Battalion 108th Infantry-were named best NCO and best enlisted Soldier.
Cooper competed in the enlisted category because he was a specialist when selected to compete by the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Piwowarski explained.
The Soldier category is open to privates through specialists with corporals through sergeants first class competing at the NCO level.
"The competition pushes you to your limits, everyone wants to win and that attitude is contagious," Stogel said.
It was challenging, but also a lot of fun, he added.
"The tasks are relevant and some more physically straining than others - but fun overall," agreed Cooper.
"I think any Soldier can learn a lot from this competition, it builds confidence and requires you to learn a lot of relevant and useful information," Cooper added.
"Soldiers need to really focus on their physical fitness, practice fundamentals of marksmanship and master their basic Soldiering skills if they decide to compete," Cooper stressed.
Each day of the competition tests Soldier with a range of events that assess both their physical limits and their ability to cope under stressful situations, while demonstrating their Soldier skills, Piwowarski explained.
Participants were selected by the New York Army National Guard's major commands.
The two winners of the New York event will compete against the best warriors from Vermont, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine and New Hampshire at the Northeast Region One Best Warrior Competition, April 24-28 in Fort Dix, NJ.
The competition tests Soldiers' physical stamina through two physical fitness tests, day and night land navigation courses, qualifying on the M-4 carbine and M-9 pistol, and being graded on Soldier tasks.
A major event is the live-fire stress shoot, testing the Soldiers' ability to consistently fire three different weapons under stressful conditions.
To test competitors endurance they are required to drag a 180 pound sled, used to simulate a wounded Soldier, across nearly 100 meters where they are given instructions and handed ammunition with a thumbs up to begin.
Their first objective is a 300 meter target using a M4 Carbine rifle from the prone position, when the clip empties, they instantly pick up a M249 SAW and a five-gallon water jug and run another 100 meters where they commence with rapid fire on their next target.
The series ends after running another 300 meters while reacting to and evading indirect fire from both artillery and chemical weapons simulators and firing a pistol.
The stress shoot was the most challenging event for her, said Spec. Courtney Natal, a member of the 466th Area Support Medical Company.
"I don't normally shoot the machine gun and the pistol," she said. "This was a new opportunity."
"I'm tired and sore, but it was fun,' Natal said.
One of the fun parts of the competition was the chance to meet Soldiers from across the state, said Staff Sgt. Marcus Jones, a member of Charlie Company, 101st Expeditionary Signal Battalion.
"You get to see how great this National Guard is," Jones said.
The events include an appearance board to test Soldiers' knowledge in several military subject areas and evaluate their military bearing and professionalism.
The final event is a 12 mile forced march over an incredibly demanding, hilly course, carrying a 35 pound pack, full field gear and a weapon.
Only Stogel and Cooper finished within the three hour time limit. Stogel finished with 20 minutes left to go, while Cooper made it with a minute left to spare, Piwowarski said.
An added challenge for those competing for the Best Warrior was the chance to earn the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge.
The award is a military decoration of the Bundeswehr, the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Germany, which is awarded in gold, silver or bronze. The badge is one of the few approved foreign awards, and is one of the most sought after awards to achieve.
So along with competing in the American Best Warrior events, the nine Guard Soldiers also tested for the German badge and have a year in which to complete the requirements for the badge.
The competitors also included PFC Julies Ford from Charles Company 101st Signal battalion; Sgt. James Wilson, from Charlie Company 642nd Aviation Support Battalion; Spec. Richard Blount, from Delta Company, 3rd Battalion 142nd Aviation. And Sgt. Zachary Smith, from Headquarters Detachment, 501st Ordnance Battalion.
The combination of events made for a pretty "intense" training weekend, said Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Mason, a member of Medical Command, and-at age 55-the oldest competitor.
"It brought us to our limits," Mason said. "But at the same time we had a lot of fun."