FORT EUSTIS, Virginia -- Each year the Army holds a competition to find the best of the best. When all is said and done, there will be one junior enlisted Soldier and one Non-Commissioned Officer who will earn the title of Best Warrior.
The grueling multi-day event takes place over the course of roughly a week and consists of rigorous events designed to push the mental and physical limits of the participants. The competitors come from 11 Army commands from across the globe and compete at various lower levels until there is one Soldier and one NCO from each major command who will compete at the Department of the Army level.
Of course, all the participants would like to be the last man standing, but for some it is enough to know that you did the best you could do and to have simply made it to the Army level and be one of the 22 best Soldiers out of a total force of approximately 1.3 million active-duty troops and another 865,000 Army Reserve and National Guard troops -- that you have the heart and soul of an American Warrior.
For Fort Eustis Soldier, Spc. Jonathan Vazquez, this is the case. Vazquez belongs to the 688th Rapid Port Opening Element, 832nd Transportation Battalion, 597th Transportation Brigade, Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command and began training for the competition 10 months earlier and successfully competed in the brigade and Army Materiel Command level before making it to the DA level competition held this month at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia.
"The competition started off easy enough with the standard Army physical training test, a military history exam and an essay writing session," Vazquez said. "But all that changed the following morning when we began with a 16-mile road march carrying a weapon and 50 lbs. rucksack."
Although a typical day was 9-10 hours, the day of the road march started at 3 a.m. and stretched to more than 17 hours in length.
"What made this competition so grueling is that in addition to the roach march, we also had to hike to various stations where we performed numerous tasks and events," said Vazquez. "At each station we were simply given grid coordinates to our next location and armed with map, compass and flashlight, we were off trekking through the woods to our next point."
At each site, the Soldiers were met by cadre who would score them on a variety of performed tasks. This included evaluating their accuracy in firing the M-4 rifle and other military weapons, and assessing their proficiency in performing Warrior Tasks and Battle Drills from a list of nearly 40.
"My strongest point was the physical training test and written exam," Vazquez reflected. "But I wish I had spent more time honing my skills in day and night land navigation. I also wasn't as strong in the area of preparing a Nuclear, Biological and Chemical report. That will change next time."
This is Vazquez's first attempt at the competition and he credits his performance in part to the advice and support he received from fellow Soldier, Spc. Robert Nelson, who belongs to the same battalion. Nelson participated in last year's Best Warrior competition and also made to Department of Army level.
In offering advice to next year's competitors, Vazquez says it is important to mentally and physically prepare for what lays ahead and having a mindset that keeps one motivated and able to keep putting one foot in front of the other, even when you feel like you can't take another step.
"What kept me going, was my fear of failure," said Vazquez. "I knew that I wasn't just representing myself. I was representing my unit, my battalion, my brigade, SDDC, AMC and my family and friends back home in Puerto Rico. That's what kept me going."
Although Vazquez wasn't the last man standing when the competition ended, he did prove that he is one of the 22 best Soldiers in the United States Army and clearly demonstrated that he has the heart and soul of an American Warrior.