FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Maryland -- Defending the high ground is not enough for four space Soldiers as they competed to be named the best and faced off in the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command's Eastern Region Best Warrior Competition.

The command's Eastern Region competition took place April 4-6 at Fort Meade and Camp Fretterd. Soldiers competing were Sgt. Matthew Voleskymahlke and Spc. Patrick Shea, both from A Company, 53rd Signal Battalion located at Fort Detrick; and Cpl. Evan Howell and Spc. Samuel Leznik, both from B Company, 53rd Signal Battalion, located at Fort Meade.

After three days of physical and mental testing, Howell was named the noncommissioned officer winner and Leznik was named the Soldier winner.

"The Eastern Region competition was very challenging and the Soldiers put everything they had into this," said 53rd Signal Battalion Command Sgt. Maj. Mary Carr. "It was vigorous and fast-paced and the Soldiers got a lot out of it. It was a good, strong competition.

"I am very proud of all of them," she added. "I admire these four gentlemen who stepped up to the plate saying they would accept the challenge. They kept going, even when it was difficult, and they have a good chance of representing SMDC going forth."

Over the course of three days, the Soldiers competed in many areas including: the Army Physical Fitness Test, various Soldier skills and critical thinking exercises, weapons qualifications, weapons reassembling, physical endurance tests, combatives, room clearing drills with hostile forces and hostage recovery, night and day land navigation, how to instruct a class on compass reading, a 12-mile ruck march, a test and essay, and a Soldier board.

"The competition was a smoker," Leznik said. "The work is only just beginning, but this week showed me exactly how difficult it can be and how difficult it is going to get. If it is going to get harder than this, it is going to get harder. Now I have a better understanding of how strenuous and up-tempo these things are.

"There was a lot of not being scared and not knowing what was going to happen, but I just walked into the event, did my best and just worried about the ground under my feet," he added. "It was tough, but it was an extremely good experience. It was worth my time and to anyone else, it is worth your time too."

Along with Leznik, the other Eastern Region winner spoke about the tempo and the many challenges all the competitors faced. They also mentioned the inner strength and support it takes to accomplish such a goal.

"The competition was incredibly difficult but I had a blast doing it," Howell said. "I appreciate all the effort that everyone put into it. I think it set an excellent precedent for what to expect. I definitely had some moments where I was doubting myself, but in those moments you just have to dig deep find what's inside of you and pull it out.

"I want to thank everyone who supports me. I couldn't do this without my wife, Caitlin," he added.
Unit leaders said they couldn't think of two better Soldiers who could represent the command any better, and hopefully their performance and experience at the command's Best Warrior Competition this year will encourage other Soldiers to accept future challenges.

"The one common denominator that the Soldiers had was they all came out and did their best," said Company B 1st Sgt. James Mackay. "We had 26 events in 38 hours and there wasn't one whine or one complaint. The Soldiers were here to do their best and they did their best. We want to make sure our competition is tough enough that whoever clears the hurdle has the strongest possible chance to bring the glory home to the SMDC Eastern Region, and I have every confidence they are going to do us proud.

"The cadre were all volunteers and they all wanted to play their part," he added. "They saw an opportunity to learn and grow alongside the competitors and it was a good development experience for them. I am very proud of them."

Mackay thanked Camp Fretterd and Fort Meade for doing an excellent job hosting the event, and the competitors demonstrated a high level of competence, motivation and determination.

"Camp Fretterd and their cadre asked us what we wanted and gave us everything we asked for," Mackay said. "They gave us the use of their entire installation, all the facilities, any additional support we could possibly want and gave us a chance to learn what the National Guard can do for us.

Howell and Leznik received the Army Achievement Medal for their accomplishments.
USASMDC/ARSTRAT's next competition scheduled is the European Region April 10-15. The command's Best Warrior Competition is scheduled for May 8-12 in Colorado Springs, Colorado.