By Tech. Sgt. Ryan Campbell, New York National GuardMay 13, 2019
CENTER STRAFFORD, NH - New York Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Martin Cozens and Cpl. Joseph Ryan took first place during the Northeast Region Best Warrior Competition held in Center Strafford, New Hampshire, April 29 to May 1.
The two New York Soldiers were up against Best Warrior winners from the New England states and New Jersey. Cozens won in the non-commissioned officers' category while Ryan was facing off against other junior enlisted Soldiers.
It's the second year in a row that New York Soldiers have won the competition in both categories. In 2018, Spc. Ilya Titov and Sgt. Quentin Davis -- both from the 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment -- won the regional competition and went to the Army National Guard nationwide Best Warrior event.
Cozens and Ryan performed "incredibly well" during the competition, said New York Army National Guard Command Sgt. Major David Piwowarski.
"They outperformed a tough and ready field of competitors from the region and won it all," Piwowarski said.
Cozens is a Greenwood Lake, N.Y., resident, and platoon sergeant assigned to Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry Regiment.
Prior to joining the National Guard, Cozens served six years with the 10th Mountain Division from Fort Drum, including a deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2013.
The win was "exhilarating," Cozens said. But he emphasized that winning in New Hampshire was "a momentary pat on the back."
"I also know I have a harder challenge down the road," Cozens added.
The next stop for Cozens and Ryan is to compete for the overall titles at the 2019 Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition July 13-20 at Camp Gruber, Oklahoma.
Months of training and preparation without slowing down has paid off for the pair.
"The first competition was in October, which we started training in August for," said Ryan, an assistant operations specialist assigned to the 1st battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment. "Things really ramped up in January after the brigade competition."
Cozens and Ryan both said the help other Soldiers gave them in getting ready for the competition was vital.
Titov, the enlisted winner from 2018 who is now a sergeant, "donated a lot of his personal time so we could work together," Ryan said. "He had the most info, he's a squared away guy," he added.
Cozens praised his company first sergeant, Daniel Markle, for working with him to get ready for first the state and then the regional Best Warrior contests.
"He was one of the forces that got me into the alpha company," Cozens said. "He's been a springboard for information and mentorship and has been in the foxhole with me since day one."
They have been supported by their sponsors and trained by other Soldiers from different companies and even at the division level many of whom were on hand for the victory, Piwowarski explained. This helped them to turn any weaknesses they had into strengths, he emphasized.
Some of the tasks the Soldiers are evaluated on during a Best Warrior event include; obstacle courses, calling for indirect fire, weapons qualification and stress shooting, land navigation, dress and appearance, and written exams.
For the regional Best Warrior event, the Soldiers have also added a surprise test: they were interviewed by a TV camera crew, said New Hampshire Army National Guard Public Affairs Officer Lt. Col. Greg Heilshorn.
On today's low-intensity battlefield any Soldier may have to talk to a reporter so the idea was to allow these top Soldiers to experience that reality, he explained.
"Two of the tasks that were the hardest for me were the M9 pistol qualification and conducting the stress shoot with it," said Cozens. "I didn't have much experience with that, so Markle put together a training program and over two months I got better and better. I had to stay on top of it and it paid off."
The stress shoot event required the Soldiers to run and conduct other strenuous physical tasks, like hauling a simulated casualty, and then engaging targets.
After going against the best Soldiers in the northeast, Cozens and Ryan said they know what they must do in order to take on the best from across the entire country.
A training program is in place to get them ready for the next round of competition in Oklahoma, Piwowarski said.
"The win is only the tip of the iceberg," Piwowarski said. "Their ongoing preparation and continuous rehearsal is what made the difference. Readiness really wins a contest like this."
The combined talents of Cozens and Ryan made it clear to the other competitors that they were going to be the ones to beat, Piwowarski said.
According to Cozens, the two quickly formed a team and trained and studied together, with Cozens calling Ryan a great motivator.
"People realized the Soldiers from New York, are a strong team," said Cozens. "It set the tone for the competition when we finished the run during the PT test together."
Ryan, who enlisted in 2017, said he appreciated the opportunity to participate in the Best Warrior and also appreciated the fact that his unit sent him to Ranger School and Airborne School to hone his skills.
"It feels really good to be able to represent New York," Ryan said. "I hope to continue succeeding and continue on representing the state."
With fellow Soldiers and their families supporting them, Cozens and Ryan said they are certain they can triumph in Oklahoma.
"They are truly the New York Army National Guard's best warriors," Piwowarski said.