CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait-- Soldiers from across the U.S. Army Central area of operations came together for the USARCENT Best Warrior Competition, Camp Buehring, Kuwait, May 22-25.
The competition was broken down into a Soldier category for E-4 and below and noncommissioned officer category for E-5 to E-7. Despite two Soldiers falling out due to medical reasons, 17 pulled through to the last event.
The first day tested the competitor's knowledge and written skills with an exam and an essay. Fitness and fortitude was put to the test on the second day when participants took an Army Physical Fitness Test, then traversed the air assault obstacle course.
Master Sgt. Ernesto Castaneda, noncommissioned officer-in-charge for Physical Challenge I, said the task is daunting on a multitude of levels. The Physical Challenge I consists of obstacles such as a rope confidence climb, barbed-wire low crawl, and weaving over-under beams.
"A lot of people, when they think about the obstacle course, they only think of the physical aspect," said Castaneda. "Yet, it is also very mental, often the fear of heights or confidence in strength presents more challenges."
On day three Soldiers got up before dawn to start the first leg of the 12-mile ruck march. Each competitor made the march under three hours and then immediately geared up for the range. Due to a severe dust storm and low visibility the range was not able to open and left the competitors minus one event.
The last day, all of the participants were eager to find out who had clinched the winning titles and would go on to the U.S. Northern Command Best Warrior later this year.
Staff Sgt. Blake Owens, a squad leader with Company B, 1st Battalion, 148th Infantry Regiment, said he was on pins and needles when he heard his name announced as the Best Warrior NCO.
"It was a sigh of relief, almost disbelief," said Owens. "There were a lot of excellent competitors here."
Owens admitted that although his qualifications, both physical and performance related, brought him to being selected, it was also his NCO leadership that aided in making the opportunity and training a reality. Owens felt confident when it came to the Army Physical Fitness Test, but admitted he struggled with certain portions of the competition, namely the 12-mile ruck march.
"I came in strong the first eight miles and then my body said you are not as good as you thought you were," said Owens. "But I persevered through it."
The motivation, dedication, and persistence of Owens and his fellow candidates was recognized by on looking leadership. USARCENT Command Sgt. Maj. Eric Dostie expressed his belief that the U.S. Army thrives on constructive competition.
"I can think of no other event like the best warrior to bring out the individual excellence in all that compete," said Dostie. "The best warrior competition recognizes Soldiers that demonstrate commitment to army values, embody the warrior ethos, and represent the force of the future."
Owens agreed that these Soldiers are the upcoming leaders of the Army and encouraged both lower enlisted and NCOs of all walks to strive to better themselves. He expressed that one of his main motivations is to show the nine Soldiers under his charge what can be accomplished with hard work and perseverance.
"This competition was about showing my Soldiers it could be done, especially from a National Guard standpoint," said Owens. "This is just one way I am trying to lead from the front."
Dostie expressed that through the series of mentally and physically exhausting events, the warriors pushed themselves harder over the past few days than many Soldiers ever will.
"They will return to their units better trained, more proficient at warrior tasks and skills," said Dostie. "They will be more confident in their ability to be effective as Soldiers and leaders."