By Tim Hipps, U.S. Army Installation Management CommandAugust 10, 2017
SAN ANTONIO (Aug. 10, 2017) -- Sgt. Kayanna Johnson was down for the moment, but not out.
Her recurring back injury flared up while pulling a casualty off a range in the brutal heat of the dog days of summer in south Texas, prematurely ending her day of Best Warrior Competition.
Johnson, 25, of Fort Gordon, Georgia, benefitted from an unexpected second round of exceptional Soldier training at the 2017 Joint Base San Antonio Best Warrior Competition July 31 through Aug. 3 at Camp Bullis and Fort Sam Houston, Texas. She finished runner-up to two-time U.S. Army Installation Management Command Noncommissioned Officer of the Year Staff Sgt. Brendan Hagens during a Best Warrior Competition for IMCOM and Army North in early June.
Hagens, however, went back to school, opening the door for Johnson to represent IMCOM on the next level of Best Warrior Competition -- just one stop shy of the Department of the Army finals, scheduled for early October at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia.
In terms of improving individual Soldier readiness and resilience, Johnson regards Best Warrior Competition as top-notch training. Competitors 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's a great learning experience," Johnson said. "I learned a lot about my strengths and my weaknesses so that when I go back to my unit I can prepare myself again to be able to come back and compete next year."
Along the way, Johnson battled through some painful moments.
"It's a previous injury from a while ago," Johnson explained after a long Monday that included an unknown distance run in the wee hours of the morning, followed later in the day by range qualification and a stress shoot with temperatures hovering around 100 degrees. "It affects me when I'm putting the stress of weight on it, but I'm alright now."
For medical safety reasons, Johnson bypassed the obstacle course (one of her favorite events) after struggling to pull the casualty off the range.
"It's good on her she didn't quit," said U.S. Army North Operations Sgt. Maj. Raul Sierra, who helped monitor the combat lanes. "My only concern was the medical piece. At the end of the day, it's about safety and taking care of Soldiers and their welfare, not necessarily pushing someone beyond their limits. She knows the limits. She basically raised the standards on herself. Maybe she hit a threshold and thought a little deeper to figure out: 'Hey, I've got a little more.' She found a little bit more gas in the tank. After we conducted another assessment of her medical condition, it was 'OK, continue to train.'"
Johnson regrouped and soldiered through the patrol lanes on Tuesday and completed the competition for Soldiers who demonstrate commitment to the Army values, embody the Warrior Ethos, and represent the force of the future.
"She was exactly displaying the warrior ethos and what we're looking for in Soldiers as far as when you hit the wall, figure out how to negotiate it," Sierra said. "Go around it, under it, over it -- but don't quit."
"She looked at some points in time like she was just out of it, and then all of a sudden she had some water, she had some food, and she had the spring in her step and she was going," said Army North Sgt. 1st Class Kelley Williams, who monitored the patrol lanes. "She continued, and she did really well."
All in all, Johnson was satisfied with the unexpected experience of returning to Texas for the second time in as many months for another Best Warrior Competition.
"It was very long and it was very hot," Johnson said. "And it was definitely different from last time -- much harder. But it was really good training, and a great way to get the winners ready for the next competition."
Johnson was one of three women among seven competitors, along with reigning IMCOM Soldier of the Year Spc. Lillian Lewis of Fort Riley, Kansas, who finished runner-up to Cpl. Kristen Gray, who will represent Army South at Fort A.P. Hill.
"I'm definitely excited that I got to come back and try again," Johnson concluded. "And I'll be back next year."