FORT GORDON, Ga. -- "I will always place the mission first. I will never accept defeat. I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade. I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills..."
These words, part of the U.S. Army Soldier's Creed, could be heard echoing down the halls of the Fort Gordon reserve center during a military appearance board, the very last event for Army Reserve Medical Command's Best Warrior competitors before winners would be announced the next morning.
Each of the nine Soldiers were directed to recite the Soldier's Creed during their board to demonstrate their connection and commitment to the Army Values, which was reflective of their individual and collective performances throughout the week of the competition held at Fort Gordon April 11-15, 2018.
"All nine Soldiers showed throughout the week that they had the fight of a warrior. They did not give up. It made me very proud to be their sergeant major," said Command Sgt. Maj. Wayne Brewster, ARMEDCOM's command sergeant major, reflecting on the performances of the four enlisted and five non-commissioned officers competing to take the coveted position of 'Best Warrior' forward for the next level of competition at U.S. Army Reserve Command on June 10-15, 2018, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
During the five day competition, each competitor was pushed to their limits, required to conquer an Army physical fitness test, warrior tasks, battle drills, day and night land navigation, weapons qualification, a written exam, an essay and a road march with very little down time between events.
"The competition tested my physical endurance, and it tested my mental focus when I was broken down and exhausted. It taught me that I can go further than what I believed was even possible. It taught me inspiration and motivation," said Sgt. Chavarius Batton, a human resource noncommissioned officer assigned to the 7233rd Medical Support Unit and an ARMEDCOM competitor representing Southeast Medical Area Readiness Support Group.
But why would anyone put themselves through such a difficult competition one might ask.
"The greatest stories come from the most difficult times. You're not going to get a story that starts with 'One day I didn't do anything at all'," said Sgt. Dustin Chavez, an operating room specialist assigned to the 7453rd Medical Backfill Battalion in Mesa, Arizona.
For Chavez, it's about being a Soldier.
"Everything about being in the Army Reserve is summed up through this competition... Opportunities like this are where your Army stories are built on. I love coming here and heading home with more stories to take with me," Chavez said.
All competitors agreed that beyond their new stories, the training and lessons learned from their time at Fort Gordon would also be taken back to help others in their unit prepare for future competitions.
Staff Sergeant David Terrell, a dental specialist assigned to the 7212th Medical Support Unit, believes in paying the experience forward.
Terrell returned to participate in the ARMEDCOM-level competition for his second consecutive year, bringing another Soldier from his unit with him that he helped train, Spc. Mohamedkadar Idle. The two had been training for months in preparation for the command level competition, including entering the heavy category of the Bataan Memorial Marathon, a grueling 26-mile track through the desert of White Sands Missile Range, just weeks before the competition to ensure they were ready.
"I'm definitely going to take back more training ideas from this experience. I enjoyed our [physical readiness training] class this morning. I'd like to take that back with me. Also, I'll be taking a few questions back with me from the board on Army history. I think a lot of Soldiers can do more to learn about our Army history," said Terrell.
Training for the competition wasn't just about the individual, or even the units they were representing.
"The Best Warrior Competition has been intense. I wanted to participate so I could challenge myself and see what I'm capable of. I wanted my children to see that I could do it as well," said Staff Sgt. Chedric, Coley, an Active Guard Reserve combat medic assigned to 7222nd Medical Support Unit.
"My kids have helped me a lot as I trained to prepare for the competition. They would ride their bikes or run beside me. They would time me to see how many push-ups or sit ups I could do. My Soldiers did the same thing. I had a lot of support," Coley said.
With readiness being a top priority for the Army and Army Reserve, the competitors were excited about taking the training they received back to their formations so that their unit could get back to the basics, getting hands on training in a field environment similar to those they experienced during the competition.
Sgt. Joseph McGough, a combat medic assigned to 7407th Troop Medical Clinic, shared his take away from the competition, "It all starts with leadership. If you don't have effective leadership, you won't have a successful unit. That's what I want to emulate.
"I hope to take back everything that I have learned, and help teach and lead like NCO's do. Teach some classes involving things we did at this competition - land navigation, ruck marches, weapons qualification, stuff like that... it makes us better leaders, better people and just better Soldiers all the way around," said McGough.
No matter the outcome, all believed the experience they had Fort Gordon was worth it.
"Even if you don't win, this experience will stick with you. You still get the chance to come to the competition and do things you would never do anywhere else," said Spc. Christopher Polk, a combat medic assigned to the 7377th Blood Detachment.
"For me this was a big experience to help develop me as a leader. When I go back to my unit, I will have more tools in my bag to help me motivate my unit," concluded Polk.
Army Reserve Medical Command congratulates the top U.S. Army Reserve Soldier, Spc. Christopher Polk, and Non-Commissioned Officer, Sgt. Joseph McGough, who were selected to go on to the next level to represent ARMEDCOM at the Army Reserve Best Warrior Competition in June of this year. Runners-up for both categories were U.S. Army Reserve Soldier, Spc. Vongpheth Sophouthalangsy, and Non-Commissioned Officer, Staff Sgt. Chadric Coley. ARMEDCOM commends all of this year's competitors for their hard work, diligence and follow-through throughout the competition.