SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii - Soldiers representing seven commands across the Pacific came together to compete in the U.S. Army-Pacific Command Noncommissioned Officer and Soldier Best Warrior Competition, here, June 11-16.

Each of the 14 competitors - representing Korea, Japan, Hawaii and Alaska -- had a week-long, continuous series of grueling tasks that would help define who would be named the 2017 USARPAC Best Soldier and NCO of the year.

"We're here trying to find the best two Soldiers to represent USARPAC for the Army's Best Warrior Competition in Virginia this October," said Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Roberts, USARPAC BWC's operations NCO.

Before the contestants officially started the competition, "Day Zero" exercised their minds with a handwritten essay, a basic knowledge exam and a graded equipment layout that tested memorization.

"When people think about the Best Warrior Competition, they think of a physical training stud that never gets tired," said Spc. James Harris, a cavalry scout assigned to 1st Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Alaska. "I think the best definition of a warrior (is one who) has an academic side. You must have the capability to think and process a situation critically."

The official first day provided more physical and rigorous events, which included a 4 a.m. wake-up, an Army Physical Fitness Test, followed by a 1.5-mile combat run in boots and army combat uniform and then an obstacle course. Following the obstacle course, the competitors were immediately transported by a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter to a nearby range where they zeroed and qualified on the M-4A1 carbine rifle.

"It's been pretty rigorous so far," said Spc. Thomas MacDonald, a combat engineer specialist assigned to the 130th Engineer Bde., 8th Theater Sustainment Command. "I know that all these guys out here came with their A-game, so I definitely got my work cutout for me."

Day two proved to be another long day for the USARPAC best warrior hopefuls. After another early wake-up, the competitors were shuttled to the range where they would spend most of the day being tested on their knowledge of various weapon systems and marksmanship skills. The competitors exhibited their skills on the M240B machine gun, the M249 squad automatic weapon, the M320 grenade launcher, the M4 advance rifle marksmanship and the M9 pistol.

Some of the weapon systems were new to the competitors, but all managed to push through each of the stations. One Soldier left words of advice for next year's competitors.

"The advice I would have for Soldiers coming here next year would be to get a lot of hands on with weapon systems, and definitely go to the range and fire a lot of rounds," said Spc. Patrick Saladino, a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive specialist assigned to 2nd Sust. Bde., 2nd ID, Korea, after finishing the machine gun ranges and awaiting his turn on the M320 range.

Once all the brass and ammo were collected, the participants were again picked up by UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and transported to their next event -- the day and night land navigation course at the 25th ID's Lightning Academy. The academy is where Soldiers come to attend the Jungle Operations, Air Assault and Pre-Ranger courses.

Deep into the tropical night, the Soldiers used their headlamps, maps, protractors and compasses to find their way to marked points scattered throughout the training area. Each of the competitors walked upwards to 12 miles to find all their points. The last competitor finished the course at 9:45 p.m., only 45 seconds before the 5-hour deadline.

On day three, the competitors woke at 4 a.m., again, and found a heavy downpour of rain awaiting them. They stood in the dark at the 8-mile foot march starting point with already wet uniforms and the Hawaiian rain dripping from their faces. They faced a harsh, winding trek that would take them up and down large hills and through the island countryside.

Unfortunately, the contestants couldn't stop to enjoy the scenery or smell the tropical sea breeze due to the two-hour time limit they had to finish the march. However, each of their steps took them closer to the finish line and title of USARPAC Best Warrior.

"There's been early mornings and late nights, and the land navigation was crazy yesterday," said Spc. James Bass, a military working dog handler assigned to the 901st Military Police Detachment, Japan, while trying to catch his breath during the foot march. "I thought I trained up for rucking, but I didn't train up for this type of rucking. At this point, it's all about finishing so that's my goal; that's my motivation."

The first rain-soaked finisher of the ruck march, Saladino, came in at a respectable 1:46:28, but was quickly followed by Spc. Hazen Ham, an infantryman assigned to the 3rd Inf. BCT, 25th ID at 1: 46:46.
After the foot march, the competitors had 30 minutes for the medics to inspect and treat their feet, change socks and grab a quick snack before diving into the next series of events.

Drill and ceremony was up next. The Pacific Soldiers marched and called cadence to a squad of volunteers. After calling "Fall Out," the resilient warriors hustled to their next and final event for the day.

Their day concluded with a rainy 2-mile course that featured 10 basic warrior skill level stations. During this task, the competitors reacted to a chemical or biological attack, provided first aid to a casualty, threw hand grenades, called for a medical evacuation, reacted to enemy contact and called for fire on an enemy position.

Tired, wet and hungry, the Soldiers pushed through to prove they're worthy of the USARPAC Best Warrior title.

"That's all you're holding on to at this point," said Harris, when asked what it would mean to him, if he were named USARPAC Best Soldier. "You're smoked and you're tired of thinking, packing and the rain, but it's worth every inch of the struggle to be named best warrior for USARPAC. I want it more than anyone."

The final day and final event were far less physical, but just as tough mentally. They faced a knowledge board in front of a panel of sergeants major from various commands across the Pacific.
Their lint-free and freshly pressed Army Service Uniforms showed their sparkling badges and ribbons as they stood behind the closed glass door leading to their final obstacle.

"We're not looking just for the best field Soldier or the best garrison Soldier but a well-rounded Soldier," said Command Sgt. Major Rick Merritt, senior enlisted adviser for 8th Army, Korea and a panel member for the USARPAC Best Warrior board.

Once the final question and answer was given, a look of relief, satisfaction and smiles came across the Soldiers' faces, as they exited the door of the boardroom. They knew they had completed every task the USARPAC BWC had to offer, an accomplishment that would be passed on to future generations of Soldiers.

"The importance of these types of competitions as NCOs is to set the example," said Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin Garcia, an infantryman assigned to 3rd BCT, 25th ID. "It's a do as I do mentality, not a do as I say mentality. These competitions really highlight what's important in our profession, which is leader development."

The winners for the USARPAC Best Soldier and NCO were named during the One-Team Luau celebration, here, Friday, June 16. They were Spc. Hazen Ham and Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin Garcia, both from the 25th Infantry Division.

They will represent the Pacific Command during the Army's Best Warrior competition in October.