FORT JACKSON, S.C. - Competitors, mentors, support staff and other Soldiers from throughout South Carolina came together at Fort Jackson and the McCrady Training Center to vie for the title of South Carolina Army National Guard Best Warrior, Jan. 27-31. Also present and taking part in the competition's events were four members of the German Armed Forces Command, based out of Reston, Virginia.

The format for this year's competition was similar to the basic flow of competitions in years past. The five day event consisted of a variety of mental and physical tests, aimed at pushing Soldiers to their limits. Among these were written exams and board interviews, the Army Physical Fitness Test, a ruck march, M9 pistol and M4 rifle qualifications, a stress shoot, day and night land navigation courses and Army Warrior Tasks.

This year's competition, however, featured a couple of things that have not historically been a part of the South Carolina National Guard Best Warrior competition. The competition is typically overseen by the state command sergeant major, Command Sgt. Maj. Russ Vickery, who said he is not content to let the competition grow stagnant.

"When I took this over a few years ago," Vickery said, "I made it a goal of mine to make sure that this competition got better and better each year. We owe it to the Soldiers to provide them with a high quality competition."

The first of those changes that made this year's competition different than it has usually been in the past is the use of various training sites at Fort Jackson, in particular the base's Fit to Win confidence course, which features 20 obstacles laid out over more than 800 meters of wooded terrain.

Vickery said that use of Fort Jackson has not always been an option for these competitions.

"Most people don't see the different between us, the National Guard, and the active duty guys," he said. "They just see us and assume that we would be on Fort Jackson, but at the end of the day it is an Army base. It's not just open to anybody but through years of building relationships with Fort Jackson (personnel) we've been able to use their training sites."

He added that having use of the obstacle course at Fort Jackson is a benefit in preparing the winners of the state competition for the regional and national level competitions, both of which feature obstacle courses as one of the events.

In addition to the use of Fort Jackson, this year's competition also gave the competitors the opportunity to earn the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge. To earn the GAFPB, Soldiers were evaluated through a basic fitness test, a swim test, a pistol qualification, a first aid test, a nuclear, biological and chemical reaction test and a road march.

"Last year was the first year that we built in the German proficiency badge into the competition," Vickery said. "That has come about from building such a great working relationship with the German Armed Forces Command guys up in Virginia."

Not only did the South Carolina Soldiers take part in the German military training, but several German Armed Forces members also competed in the best warrior events.

"It's really great to be able to come out here and train with the American Soldiers, to learn from each other and to get to build these relationships and partnerships and compete alongside them," said Master Sgt. Sebastian Przybilla, a logistics noncommissioned officer with the German Armed Forces Command.

While it was clear to see that all of the competitors were putting forth the effort trying to win the competition, it was equally clear to see the camaraderie among everybody competing in and supporting the event. Competitors were cheering each other on as they crossed the finish line at some events and congratulating each other on firing well at other events.

It's this type of relationship building, Vickery said, that is one of the biggest benefits to these competitions.

"I hope that from this competition they can take new skills and networking and an esprit de corps back to their units and get the motivation levels and camaraderie levels at an even higher level across the board," said Vickery.

Spc. Michelle Green, a combat medic with the South Carolina National Guard's Medical Command and the only female competitor, said this competition has provided just that.

"This competition definitely has challenged me in every aspect of the Army way," Green said. "I've really had to dig deeper and try harder to keep up with all of these other great Soldiers out here."

"The biggest take away from this competition," she added, "is that you get to learn from all of these other Soldiers. I got to come out here and learn from the infantry Soldiers, from the (Military Police), from the engineers. I can take all of that that I've learned and put that into my knowledge and bring that and these relationships that I've built back to my unit. I'm really learning to be a better leader out here and I can use that to help my fellow Soldiers."

When the competition concluded, the winners were announced for 2018. Spc. Raymond Felton, 133rd Military Police company, won the enlisted competition while the NCO winner was Staff Sgt. James Oliver from the 218th Regiment (Ldr).

Those Soldiers will go on to represent South Carolina in the Region III best warrior competition. Region III is made up of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennessee, the Virgin Islands and Kentucky.