Fort Dix, N.J. -- Soldiers from across the 412th Theater Engineer Command (TEC), 416th Theater Engineer Command and the 76th Division gathered at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey last week to compete in the 2017 Combined Best Warrior Competition.

The competitors came from diverse backgrounds, and each had the determination, drive and confidence to compete in one of the largest Best Warrior competitions in the Army Reserve.

After four days, each command had chosen one junior enlisted soldier, and one noncommissioned officer (NCO), to compete that the United States Army Reserve competition, which is being held at Fort Bragg in June.

Physically and Mentally Tough

The competition was organized and ran by the 302nd Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, one of three maneuver enhancement brigades in the Army Reserve. The competition consisted of a wide array of events that certainly challenged the competitors in both tangible and abstract ways.

Running on very little sleep, the compeititors were required to be constantly moving physically and mentally, and process whatever information or instructions were being thrown at them at that time.

412th Theater Engineer Command

Representing the 411th Engineer Brigade, Spc. Wantae Seong was the winner of the 412th junior enlisted category. Originally from Seoul, South Korea, Seong wanted to compete in Best Warrior to see what he was capable of.

After trying to compete in Best Warrior for several years unsuccessfully, due to other commitments in his life, Seong took home the all-around highest score in this year's competition.

"Joining the Army was always a dream of mine," he said.

Seong is a firm believer that no matter what you are achieving in life, you need to maximize it.

"Life is good! Whatever it is that you're doing, just do the best that you can."

Also representing the 411th was Sgt. Luciano Batista, winner of the 412th NCO category. Originally from Paranagu√°, Brazil, Batista had spent months training with former Navy Seals to prepare for Best Warrior. He had made it all the way to the TEC level competition last year, only to return home empty-handed, without winning.

Unwilling to give up, Batista returned to Best Warrior this year determined to do better. He will now compete in the Army Reserve Best Warrior competition this June.

"Unless I'm missing a limb, or die, I'm not giving up," he said.

416th Theater Engineer Command

Representing the 301st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, Pfc. Raymond Gomez, assigned to the 387th Engineer Company, won the 416th TEC junior enlisted category.

Gomez has been in the Army for less than two years, but he did not let that deter him from getting involved in Best Warrior right away.

"When I found out about Best Warrior, I wanted to go, just to see how I could do," he said.

Outside of the Army Reserve, Gomez has been a detention officer for a number of years, and is currently pursuing a career in law enforcement.

Sgt. 1st Class Andrew England, assigned to the 372nd Engineer Brigade, will represent the 416th in the NCO category.

England joined the Army as a combat engineer the day that he turned 17. He has since been deployed to Afghanistan twice, specializing in route clearance.

For England, his wife and daughter have been a driving force for him to succeed.

"If you put in the work, effort and time, you can succeed at anything you want to," he said.

Of winning the 416th competition, England says he was "honored."

"The more you train, the easier things get," England said.

England plans to train harder and heavier than he ever has before to prepare for the Army Reserve Best Warrior competition.

76th Operation Response Division

Spc. Donovan Boatwright, assigned to 415th CBRN Brigade, first heard about Best Warrior at a unit holiday party last December, where his sergeant major asked him if he would be interested in competing.

Boatwright accepted, but was unsure of what the result would be.

"I wanted to see how far I could go, go as hard as I could push myself, and see what I could do," he said.

A firefighter in the civilian world, Boatwright believes that the training he's received as a member of the Columbia Fire Department has made him a better competitor in the competition. He had even appointed the help of a personal trainer, to help him prepare for his goal of being the Best Warrior.

"I'm going to do everything that I can to prepare for the Army Reserve Best Warrior competition," he added.

Sgt. Alexander Dennis with the 209th Regional Support Group, was the winner of the 76th Division NCO category. Dennis was initially approached about Best Warrior by his first sergeant, who asked him if he wanted to be a part of the competition.

Dennis spent his days preparing for the competition by trying to find any information that he could about the competition on the Internet, researching Army regulations and field manuals and becoming a master fitness trainer.

Dennis also had plenty of support from his colleagues and his sponsor, Staff Sgt. Randy Eichler.

"It always helps to have a point of focus, while training," he said. For him, that drive was the opportunity to become a better leader, and bring back those experiences so that he could better prepare his soldiers for combat.

"Everyone's looking at me, and has very high expectations. I intend to fulfill those expectations, and exceed them."

Mind over Matter!

Sgt. Christie M. McConnell, from Melbourne, Australia, assigned to the 420th Engineer Brigade, sponsored Spc. Kyllo Laird-Kyllo-Richard at the competition. Even when the competitors were fully engaged in the competition, McConnell was never far behind him, constantly pushing and driving Laird to succeed.

"My favorite part was the ruck," she said.

For McConnell, observing the competitors pushing through the temporary pain or suffering that they were experiencing, "and to see the command sergeants major running with and pushing the competitors just as hard as I was, because they wanted to be the Best Warrior, was awesome!"

"I thrive on that kind of environment, and it makes me want to be a better leader," she added.

McConnell also stressed the importance of having a knowledgeable mentor. To her, everything is "mind over matter."

"It's a fight with yourself, more than it is with anyone else."

Getting Started

Although it's too late to compete in this year's Best Warrior competition, it is not too early to start training for next year. For next year's Best Warrior, some units will be holding their competitions at the end of 2017.

Most of the competitors had words of encouragement for people who might be interested in being the Best Warrior.

"If you're interested, go for it!" said Seong.

"It's a great way to meet people, and see where you are as a soldier," added Boatwright.

"Just challenge yourself!" said Gomez. "If you can never advance, then why join? Not just in the Army Reserve, but in anything!"

For England, the time and effort that each one of the competitors had put into the competition alone had elevated them against their peers.

"Everyone here is the Best Warrior in my mind," concluded England.