JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Eight Soldiers from across U.S. Army Alaska competed in a grueling 5-day event to determine the Soldier and Noncommissioned Officer of the year May 15-19, 2017.
Spc. James Harris, a Stryker Gunner with B Troop, 5-1 Cavalry, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, and Boone, North Carolina native, won the Soldier division, and Sgt. Brett Nicholls, from Temecula, California, a team leader from the same troop as Harris, won the NCO division.
To be named the Best Warrior in USARAK, candidates endured a grueling set of events designed to test the limits of their mental, physical and emotional toughness.
After a packing list layout and obtaining quarters at the Sergeant First Class Christopher R. Brevard NCO Academy here Sunday, candidates awoke early Monday to conduct an Army Physical Fitness Test at the Arctic Warrior Combatives Center.
Immediately after conducting the APFT, candidates took a 50-question written exam, followed by land navigation.
Candidates wrapped up the first official day by conducting night orienteering course mixed with basic military and USARAK history questions at each of the ten points they had to find.
"The hardest part," said Harris, "it was at the end of the first day when we were doing the orienteering and had been on our feet and running all day."
Tuesday, for the candidates, started with a rifle zero and qualification, but not a normal Army rifle qualification.
Nicholls said, "I liked how they gave you a situation instead of just laying out 40 targets and telling us when to change spots, it was on each person to change positions and magazines."
After completing their scenario-based rifle qualification, candidates boarded a bus back to the combatives center where an obstacle course awaited half of them.
The other half continued on to the Leader Reaction Course where they worked together as a team to meet objectives.
At the obstacle course loud metal music washed over the candidates as they attempted to get through an obstacle course that some would describe as the most intense physical test of their lives.
Harris said he was so tired during the course he forgot about the music until he finished the course and had a chance to recover.
Staff Sgt. Mike Roohr, a cadre member for the competition and the chief architect of the obstacle course, said the course was designed to push candidates to the absolute limit, "to see if they'll quit under pressure, test their physical endurance and see what caliber Soldier or NCO we have coming through."
Candidates dragged sleds, flipped huge tires, crossed two very different sets of monkey bars, climbed ropes, ladders, and stairs, tossed medicine balls high in the air, climbed a seven and a half foot tall wall, carried numerous heavy objects and finished by doing ten burpees in full gear, said Roohr.
Day three was the final physical day for candidates as they conducted warrior tasks and drills on a nearly two-mile course.
The course tested candidates on first aid, hand grenade accuracy, calling for fire, and more. In true Alaska fashion a black bear visited the area, but left shortly before the first candidate arrived.
On day four, candidates participated in an administrative board with five command sergeants major as its members and Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Ferrusi as board president.
At the ceremony both Nicholls and Harris described hearing their names called as winners felt surreal, and took them a few moments to process.
"Feeling great right now, just ready to train up for the next one," said Harris.
"The next one," as Harris put it, will be the U.S. Army Pacific Best Warrior Competition in Hawaii June 11-16, Harris and Nichols will represent USARAK at the four-star level of competition.