By Tim Hipps, U.S. Army Installation Management Command August 7, 2017
SAN ANTONIO (Aug. 7, 2017) -- Reigning U.S. Army Installation Management Command Soldier of the Year Spc. Lillian Lewis beat the summer heat of south Texas to finish runner-up to Cpl. Kristen Gray in the 2017 Joint Base San Antonio Best Warrior Competition.
Lewis, 20, of Fort Riley, Kansas, returned to The Alamo City for the second time in as many months for Best Warrior Competition. This time, however, Camp Bullis and Fort Sam Houston were embroiled in record-setting temperatures and uncharacteristically high humidity for South Texas.
Every time Soldier-evaluators were about to count the 5-foot, 125-pound Lewis out, however, she resiliently soldiered on to the next event. From day and night land navigation to sweltering patrol and combat lanes, to a moonlit distance run and a physical fitness test under the lights -- through a stress shoot and onto a wilderness trail to an obstacle course, Lewis conquered every challenge. Along the way, she also wrote a 500-word essay and faced a Command Sergeants Major Board.
"She has that special drive that when it gets really tough, she keeps going, and she gets going a little bit harder," said Sgt. 1st Class Kelley Williams, an Army North noncommissioned officer who monitored the patrol lanes and land navigation. "We saw that, and we saw the pain that she was in, but she was still driving forward and pushing it."
The Soldiers were scored on their abilities in tasks such as M4 qualification, evaluating a casualty, performing first aid for a suspected fracture, requesting a medevac, transporting a casualty, reacting to a chemical or biological attack, decontaminating self and equipment, reacting to indirect fire, maintaining M4 carbine, correcting malfunction on M249, employing hand grenades, use of visual signal techniques, and the list went on and on throughout five days of competition.
"It was hell, but I enjoyed it," Lewis said with a smile following the Joint Base San Antonio Best Warrior Competition awards ceremony Aug. 3 at the Fort Sam Houston Quadrangle. "I'm elated. I don't mind not being the winner because technically I already won because I made it here, and that was without training. So when I train with [Command] Sgt. Maj. [Roy] Rocco for a year, I think I can really do it."
During the stress shoot event of the combat lanes, Lewis shot 12 paper targets while traversing 600 meters of bumpy terrain before employing a hand grenade, encountering a simulated chemical attack, donning her protective mask, locating a casualty, and dragging it off the range before decontaminating both the casualty and herself.
After winning another bout with heat exhaustion, Lewis then geared up and set out on a one-mile walk to the obstacle course, her favorite Best Warrior Competition event.
"I was very hot, very discombobulated," Lewis later revealed. "It's about perseverance, Sir. It's good, but it's really bad at the same time because you don't want to tell anyone because you want to make it through. Directly after the stress shoot, I was fine because I love shooting. It wasn't until I got to the MOPP  gear and having to don the mask that I realized that it was so hot. I had a slight heat-induced panic attack and I had to take the mask off, but I'll get there."
On the way to the obstacle course, however, Lewis made a wrong turn that more than doubled the distance of her journey.
"I got discombobulated from the heat," Lewis admitted upon arrival at the obstacle course. Yet, she was smiling, and added: "I'm, OK. I've got this."
"For me, the obstacle course is almost easy because it's like a big playground and I'm a big child," Lewis said. "Basically, it's just fun. Dragging the dummy is a little challenging, considering the fact that all of my strength is in my legs anyways. But I made it. I didn't mind walking an extra mile and a half or two miles."
She shook off the miscue with a near-flawless performance on the obstacle course. One day earlier, Lewis competed in the distance run and patrol lanes events, during the latter of which temperatures surged near 100 degrees.
"This was the hardest day of any competition I've ever done," Lewis said on Monday afternoon. "Our formation was at 0300 for a 1 � or two-mile run. They never told us the distance. They just said run until you see the turnaround and then come back."
The competitors returned to formation at 6 a.m. The NCOs then reported to combat lanes and the Soldiers to patrol lanes, a 7.5-mile course that featured 12 warrior tasks.
"It was fun," Lewis said. "It was just not the greatest experience of my life. I'm quite drained. I almost didn't make it through the last lane, but they told me to stay motivated when I found out it was the last lane.
"The hardest part was dealing with the walking. The heat wasn't even as bad as I thought it would be -- it was simply the walking because you'd get to a point and you'd think, 'OK, we're done. We're stopping.' And then you'd keep going. … It felt like it was never going to end. … I'm proud of myself because I didn't pass out and I didn't do miserable."
All in all, Lewis was inspired by her most grueling week of Soldiering.
"It was a really fun experience and a really educational experience," she said. "I know where I'm at, and I know what I have to train for the next time, because I will be back."
Lewis was one of three women among seven competitors, along with IMCOM NCO representative Sgt. Kayanna Johnson of Fort Gordon, Georgia, and Gray, the winning Soldier from Army South.