By Sgt. Jonathan Pietrantoni, New York National GuardApril 3, 2019
CAMP SMITH TRAINING SITE, N.Y. - Two infantrymen with the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team earned the top enlisted and non-commissioned officer titles during the New York Army National Guard's Best Warrior Competition held at the Camp Smith Training Site and West Point, N.Y., March 27-30.
The winners were Spc. Joseph Ryan, who won the junior enlisted category, and Sgt. 1st Class Martin Cozens, who won the top NCO honors. Ryan, from Yonkers, N.Y., is assigned as an assistant operations sergeant with the Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry, and has worked in the Active Guard Reserve program since 2015.
"The Best Warrior gives you so many opportunities, just from showing up and putting your name out there," Ryan said. "I would recommend that every Soldier in the National Guard that has an interest in physical fitness or a being a better Soldier to try out."
Ryan was sponsored by last year's winner in the junior enlisted competition, Sgt. Ilya Titov, a fellow infantry Soldier from Rockaway Park, N.Y., and currently assigned as a supply sergeant in the Headquarters Company of the 69th Infantry.
"This is my opportunity to pay it forward and help the next guy succeed," Titov said. "The competition is a great opportunity to train and bring the best out of Soldiers."
Cozens, from Rochester, N.Y., is a rifle platoon sergeant assigned to Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry, also part of the 27th Brigade, and works full-time in the National Guard as a criminal analyst with the New York National Guard Counterdrug Task Force.
"The most challenging part of the Best Warrior was staying focused; there's a lot of events coming at you in a very quick timeline and you don't have a lot of time to adjust and recover," Cozens said. "Hopefully, I set a good example for my Soldiers to compete in next year's competition."
Five elite Soldiers who previously won their respective unit competitions at battalion and brigade levels tested their mettle at the state competition for the title of New York's Best Warrior.
The competition is split into two categories: junior enlisted, for Soldiers in the rank of private to specialist; and NCO, covering the ranks of sergeants, staff sergeants and sergeants first class.
The evaluated tasks are specifically designed to mirror today's operating environment, explained Sgt. Maj. Matthew Gutzweiller, the operations sergeant major for the competition.
Tasks included urban warfare simulations, Soldier tasks, and battle drills, assessing and evacuating an injured casualty, day/night land navigation, a three-gun stress shoot, physical fitness tests, and a 12-mile ruck march.
This year's competition added a 3-gun stress shoot to better prepare Soldiers for the next level of the competition.
This new, dynamic event included sprints, high/low crawling, and ammo can carry while firing the M9 pistol, M4 Carbine, and an M26 Shotgun at steel targets in between the physical events.
"This event is unique, but we want to incorporate some fun into the competition," said Command Sgt. Maj. David Piwowarski, the New York Army National Guard senior enlisted advisor.
"Yeah, we scuff them up a little bit; they high crawl, low crawl and run around with ammo cans, but they still get to shoot weapons and that's always a win for a Soldier," Piwowarski said.
For the third consecutive year, Soldiers also had the opportunity to compete and earn the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge (GAFPB) during the competition thanks to an arrangement with the German Army Liaison Office at the United States Military Academy, West Point.
The German Proficiency Badge is one of the few approved foreign awards American service members can wear and was introduced in 1971 to recognize Soldiers for excellence in general military and physical performance.
The first phase consists of the basic fitness tests, which included an 11x10 meter sprint, chin-ups, and 1000-meter run. The second phase consists of a 100-meter swim in uniform, first aid test, a nuclear biological suit test, pistol qualification, and a road march.
Depending on how they scored in each event, they were able to earn the gold, silver, or bronze award.
Lt. Col. Michael Breuer, German Army Liaison Officer at the United States Military Academy, West Point, supervised and awarded badges to the competitors.
"This year our countries are celebrating 'Wunderbar Together' or 'wonderful together' which honors the German-American friendship," Breuer said. "This competition and the integration of the German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge underlines this year's motto and strengthens our historic bonds."
Other competitors reflected the top Soldiers from the 53rd Troop Command. They included:
- Sgt. Sean Gallagher, a combat engineer assigned to Headquarter & Support Company, 204th Engineer Battalion;
- Spc. Edward Logel, a military policeman assigned to the 105th Military Police Company, 102nd Military Police Battalion; and
- Spc. Erick Barksdale, a military policeman assigned to the 107th Military Police Company, 104th Military Police Battalion.
The competition ended with a 12-mile road march at West Point, in which Soldiers carry a rucksack weighing 25 pounds along with an M4 Carbine and finished at the Fort Putnam historic site high above the Hudson River on West Point.
Cozens, at 32 and a platoon sergeant, wanted to compete as a role model for his Soldiers.
"For me to win this event would prove that I can still learn new tricks," Cozens said during the competition. "I'm here to learn, I'm here to be a mentor and still keep up with the young guys."