SALINA, Kan. - Before the sun broke past the horizon on the frigid morning of Nov. 1, seven Kansas Army National Guard Soldiers began a grueling two-day gauntlet known as the Best Warrior Competition.The demanding competition pitted Soldiers from across the state against each other as well as the limits of their own endurance, taking measure not only of their physical fitness but their skills in Soldier tasks, military bearing and composure. That is what the 2019 KSARNG Best Warrior Competition was all about. Guardsmen from across the state pushed themselves to their physical and mental breaking points during the two-day competition."Lethality is fitness, your field craft and esprit de corps," said Command Sgt. Maj. Steve Harmon, KSARNG land component sergeant major. "The number one reason the military does competitions is to increase your lethality. To those of you competing today, that is what you are practicing; to those of you watching, that is what you are refreshing yourself on. To those of you that have been in lethal situations, the practice is over - that is why we do this."Soldiers from the state E1-E4 vied for the honor of being named the KSARNG 2019 Best Soldier while E5- E7 contented for the KSARNG 2019 Best Noncommissioned Officer of the Year. Winners of these titles will represent Kansas at the regional Best Warrior Competition, where they will match up against their peers from six neighboring states in early May.The first day began with a welcome brief given by Command Chief Master Sgt. Maurice Williams, command senior enlisted leader, Kansas National Guard."Be competitive, have fun but be safe, that's what it's all about," said Williams, as he addressed the competitors on behalf of the adjutant general."It's going to be tough sometimes; pain brings success," continued Williams. "When you are feeling down and out during this competition think about success. No great person has ever had success without enduring some type of pain. Today is your opportunity."
Following the welcome brief, competitors right into the Army Physical Fitness Test in operational camouflage pattern uniform and combat boots. Following the APFT the Soldiers started the Stress Shoot, which had the competitors run from event to event. The stress shoot events included zero range, M4 rifle range, loading radios at the communication station, combatives, M249/M240B range, calling up a nine line medical evacuation, and donning a protective mask before firing on the M9 pistol range.Once all the competitors finished the last Stress Shoot event, they were given a short time to rest before grabbing their 35-pound rucksack and loading the bus for the start of day and night land navigation. Competitors received instructions, a safety brief, and materials to plot their course and were off to high step it to their plotted points.The competitors still had one more event for the night left after returning to the barracks; they ran to change into the Army Service Uniforms and present for the appearance board. The sound of the NCO and Soldier Creeds rang throughout the buildings during the event. The appearance board went late into the night requiring both the Soldiers and NCOs to answer questions about a plethora of topics, including doctrine, current events, and leadership. Competitors were tested on their knowledge, confidence, military bearing and overall appearance.Early morning written tests started the second day of the competition, with each Soldier taking a multiple question exam. Then, as the sound of two Black Hawk helicopters neared the training site, the competitors carried their 35-pound rucksacks and their weapon in preparation to board and fly to Ft. Riley, Kansas, for the next two events: an air assault obstacle course and the training simulator for call to fire. The events tested both their mental and physical stamina."I came out here because I want to prove my skills in basic warrior tasks and it seemed like a great opportunity to practice," said Spc. Jonathan Gallegos, signal support systems specialist, 330th Signal Company, 997th Brigade Support Battalion, 130th Field Artillery Brigade. "You can't over prepare for this competition; it hits every aspect of the warrior tasks, doctrine and military training in general."Following the flight back, the competitors received instructions to change into their physical fitness uniform and found out the mystery event was going to be the new Army Combat Fitness Test. Loud cheers carried across the field as sponsors and supporters encouraged the competitors to excel at the six-event physical fitness test. After crossing the finish line of the last event, the 2-mile run, competitors hopped on the bus only to learn that the 12-mile Ruck march with 35-pound rucksack would begin immediately after they changed back into their duty uniforms.Once complete with the ruck march, each competitor saw the medics for a checkup while their sponsors weighed their rucksack to ensure it met the minimum required weight. Tired and drained, but still motivated from two days of events meant to test them, the Soldiers called it a night. The competition would close with the awards ceremony the following morning."This isn't something you just show up and do," said Sgt. Luke Fursman, a horizontal construction engineer with the 242nd Engineering Company, 891st Engineer Battalion, 635th Regional Support Group. "You have to prepare yourself both mentally and physically and study your [Army Doctrine Publications].Whether you are an NCO or a Soldier, study the NCO and Soldier guides,"."I had a blast,' he said. "his was a great opportunity to gauge my abilities of where I stand with basic soldiering skills and leadership, and it was a learning experience to take back to the unit and train on."At the awards ceremony, Col. Steven Denney, director of Plans and Operations for the KSARNG, spoke to the competitors, sponsors and guests."There is nothing I enjoy more than sitting in front of Soldiers who have done great things," said Denny. he most critical piece in any organization - platoon, company or battalion - is the rock of our military and that's our NCOs." We build our equipment up every day, but without Soldiers with commitment and the love of state and country, it just sits there. When people ask me what's the most lethal weapon in the Kansas Army National Guard, I tell them it's our Soldiers."NCO of the Year: Sgt. Luke Fursman, a horizontal construction engineer assigned to the 242nd Engineering Company, 891st Engineer Battalion, 635th Regional Support GroupRunner-up: Sgt. Travis Warren, a multichannel transmission systems operator-maintainer, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 108th Aviation Regiment, 635th Regional Support GroupSoldier of the Year: Spc. Jonathan Gallegos, a signal support systems specialist, 330th Signal Company, 997th Brigade Support Battalion, 130th Field Artillery Brigade
Runner-up: Spc. Nicholas Ledet, infantryman, Detachment 1, Company C., 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 137th Infantry Regiment, 635th Regional Support Group