HASTINGS, Neb. - The Nebraska National Guard helped build international ties by allowing visitors from the Czech Republic Armed Forces to participate in and observe Nebraska's annual Best Warrior competition.
Two Airmen and one Soldier from the Czech Republic Armed Forces, the Nebraska National Guard's State Partnership Program country, visited the United States, Feb. 24 - March 5, to participate in and observe Nebraska's annual Best Warrior competition.
"In Czech Army, we want to start a new military (competition) and your best warrior competition is for us a big inspiration," said Master Sgt. Richard Merka, a Commando Course instructor in the Czech Army. "So I'm here to see it and to bring some experience on how to prepare it for us, to make such a competition for the Czech Army."
Merka said the Czech's Commando Course is the equivalent of the U.S. Army Ranger School. He said the seven-week course prepares young commanders by improving their Soldier skills. It is, Merka added, the hardest course in the Czech Army, with only a 15-20 percent completion rate.
Merka participated in Nebraska's Best Warrior Competition mostly in the role of a sponsor for two Airmen from the Czech Republic: Senior Master Sgt. Karel Dostalek and Master Sgt. Vaclav Bergman. Dostalek and Bergman were unofficial competitors, completing each assigned task alongside their American counterparts.
The three Czech service members arrived in Lincoln on Feb. 24 and spent the weekend familiarizing themselves with Nebraska by exploring Lincoln, Omaha and even tiny Prague, Nebraska. The Czechs then traveled to Camp Ashland where 209th Regiment (Regional Training Institute) instructors familiarized them with various U.S. weapons systems, land navigation techniques and other Army Warrior Tasks that would be part of the state's Best Warrior Competition.
Dostalek and Bergman began the Nebraska Best Warrior Competition on March 5 with 15 Nebraska Army National Guard Soldiers by completing the Army Physical Fitness Test: two minutes each of pushups and sit-ups, followed by a 2-mile run. Following the APFT, competitors drew and zeroed M-16 rifles for a variety weapons tasks, before changing into their dress uniforms and standing before Command Sergeants Major Appearance Boards.
While most of the Best Warrior activities remained unchanged between American and Czech competitors, there was a slight twist with the appearance boards. Merka sat on the panel for the NCO CSM Appearance Board and questioned both Dostalek and Bergman in Czech. Then, each Nebraska command sergeant major had a turn asking the visitors a question in English.
The Czechs quickly gained points among the assembled Nebraskans.
"They were very professional," said Command Sgt. Major Shawn Griffith, president for the NCO CSM Appearance Board. "When we asked them specific questions on Army Warrior Tasks they had just learned about earlier that week, they could answer every one of them. They interacted great with our guys and vice versa, and I think it was good exposure for our guys to see and work with folks from a partner country, just as they might in a joint coalition environment."
The Best Warrior competitors began the second day of the competition before sunrise with a 10-mile ruck march. As the sponsor, Merka didn't carry a ruck, but he still completed the entire march alongside his two competitors. While it was the most challenging part of the competition, Merka said it was also his favorite because it was great exposure for his guys and it motivated them to have a better time and to accomplish the entire competition.
The second day also included an obstacle course and completing various Army Warrior Tasks such as various weapons systems usage, weapons disassembly and reassembly, medical assessment and evacuation, radio communications, nighttime land navigation and a written essay. The third day began with daytime land navigation, followed by individual weapons qualification and ended with drill and ceremony.
"I think they enjoyed it and they competed very well," said Command Sgt. Maj. Marty Baker, Nebraska state command sergeant major. "I think it was great culturally and militarily."
Baker recognized all three Czechs at the final Best Warrior awards ceremony on March 4, giving each his state command sergeant major coin. Dostalek and Bergman were also awarded the Nebraska National Guard Individual Achievement Medal for participating in the Nebraska Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition.
The award certificates, signed by Brig. Gen. Kevin Lyons, Nebraska Army National Guard land component commander, read: "Your participation has strengthened the military and cultural ties between the state of Nebraska and the Czech Republic. Your performance reflects great credit upon yourself, the Nebraska National Guard and the Army of the Czech Republic."
"It was a great honor having you," Baker told the Czechs during the awards ceremony. "You competed well and we hope you learned something while you were over here."
"For us it was a very big opportunity to see (the competition)," Merka said. "It was great and very good to see how American Soldiers are prepared."
Merka said he was impressed with how the Nebraska National Guard Soldiers were as capable as professional, full time Czech Soldiers. And, overall, he enjoyed his time in Nebraska.
"I like it here," Merka added. "Nebraska is a little bit windy and flat, but it's a country of great people and it was a really good experience (overall) because the people here are really friendly and kind… And you have the best steaks in the world."
Merka said they Czech Army wants to start their own Best Warrior competition beginning in the summer of 2018, and hopes to have Nebraska competitors compete in the Czech Republic in the future.