FORT KNOX, Ky. - How does an Army Reserve unit identify their best Soldiers? The 80th Training Command's Best Warrior Competition answered this question by challenging 10 Army Reserve Soldiers from across the command here April 12-15, 2018.

Held annually since 2002, the BWC provides a series of grueling tasks that mentally and physically challenge the Soldiers through a series of events. This year's competitors came from the 80th's three one-star training divisions. The competition crowned the top enlisted Soldier and noncommissioned officer for each training division and the overall top Soldier for the 80th TC.

In the three-day competition, Soldiers were tested on their physical and mental agility as they tackled a wide range of events. These included a sergeants' major board, the Army physical fitness test, written exam, M16-A2 and 9mm weapons qualifications, an obstacle course, and day land navigation leading into night land navigation. The obstacle course included rope climbing, maneuvering over wooden structures, pulling a heavy weight up a hill, and crawling across a sand pit.

Competitors raced against the clock in each day's physically challenging events, in which they were ranked on their completion times. To keep them on their toes, several mystery events were thrown into the mix.

"We like to keep them guessing," said Sgt. Maj. Joe Hicks. "We try to incorporate a mystery event for each day of the competition."

Hicks serves as the operations sergeant major for the 100th Training Division-Leader Development, one of the three divisions under the 80th TC. He said the intent for the competition is multi-faceted.

"The Best Warrior brings us all together as a single entity," said Hicks. "This event is excellent for team building and developing camaraderie among our Soldiers. It's also a great opportunity to recognize our superior Soldiers. This event gives the competitors experiences outside their normal comfort zone."

Assigned to the 3rd Brigade, 94th Training Division-Force Sustainment, Sgt. 1st Class Fabian Balarezo serves as an instructor at the Regional Training Site-Maintenance, Fort Hood, Texas. He competed in this year's event for several reasons.

"I love these types of challenges where I can push myself and see how far I can go," said Balarezo. "Since I'm an instructor, I've encouraged my students to compete in the Best Warrior. Then I thought, if I'm telling them to do it, I should do it myself. This way I'm setting the example for them."

Command Sgt. Maj. Jay Thomas, the 80th TC command sergeant major, expressed his gratitude toward the competitors' eagerness to participate in the competition. He also thanked the support they received from their families.

"Out of our 6,000 Soldiers across the whole command, the 10 of you chose to compete," said Thomas. "That says a lot about your character and your commitment. This also takes a lot of support. I am truly grateful to your families who supported you through everything you had to do to train and prepare for this. This shows a lot of grit."

Top honors were awarded to Staff Sgt. Ethan Kruger, as the Best Warrior for the 80th TC. Kruger serves as an instructor at the Camp Parks Noncommissioned Officer Academy, under the 83rd U.S. Army Reserve Readiness Training Center, 100th TD. He also earned the Best Warrior title for the 100th TD and an Army Commendation Medal.

"I am so excited and honored to win this," said Kruger. "When I get back home, I'm going to begin training for the next higher level Best Warrior."

All winners received trophies. In addition, the winners for each training division earned an Army Achievement Medal. Sgt. 1st Class Chung Kai Yang earned the Best Warrior title for the 102nd Training Division-Maneuver Support. Staff Sgt. Paris Bledsoe won the top prize for the 94th TD. Assigned to the 13th Battalion, 108th Ordnance Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 94th TD, Spc. Alexis Colvin was named Best Warrior in the enlisted category.

Kruger will move up to compete at the U.S. Army Reserve Command level of the BWC at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, June 10-15, 2018.