FORT MCCOY, Wis. - "We know you are all good, but we are looking for the best here."

Those were the words of encouragement from Sgt. Maj. Andrew Young to the 28 competitors participating in the 2009 U. S. Army Reserve Best Warrior Competition held here July 12 - 17.

Young, the competition's non-commissioned officer-in-charge, gathered the competitors before the organized chaos of events that will push the mental and physical limits of the citizen warriors representing the best of the Army Reserve.

It was "Day Zero." Soldiers spent Sunday battling airline delays, lost baggage and sizing up their competition.

They are cooks, chaplain assistants, plumbers, civil affairs specialists and other military occupational skills that sustain the force on battlefields and during humanitarian efforts across the globe.

"We are Army Reserve Soldiers, and the active duty is scared," Young said about the upcoming Army-level competition. "There is no doubt this year's competition will be better than last year."

As Soldiers slowly arrived at the inprocessing center, last-minute information was corrected, barracks rooms were assigned, equipment was issued and height and weight was recorded.

The next day kicked off the competition as Soldiers gathered at the dining facility, reflecting on the past several months spent in preparation for the stress associated with any Army competition.

"I don't care about what you did back in your unit and command-level competitions," Young told the attentive Soldiers and their sponsors. "The slate is clean when you signed in here, and we are here to find the best of the best. It's the best warrior competition, not the good warrior competition. Don't sell yourself or the other competitors short. Do your best."

Young stressed several important factors that could unarguably exclude a participant from completing the week-long event. Most importantly, he said it was his job to ensure Soldiers meet the basic Army standards - height and weight, physical fitness and weapons qualification.

"If you are not within the Army standards and disregard the Army values, I will disqualify you immediately, and you'll be out of here on the first thing smoking," Young told the competitors. "There are no negotiations. You must pass the basic Soldier standards to remain in this competition."

From Alaska to Guam to Florida and all points in between, the competition brought Soldiers and non-commissioned officers from all walks of life to one of the most competitive events of the year.

The Reserve Soldiers had big combat boots to fill as Army Reserve Spc. David Obray, from Mankato, Minn., flew under the radar and snagged the title as the 2008 U.S Army Best Warrior.

"Last year, we were able to send our Soldier to the Department of the Army competition, and let's just say the Army Reserve and National Guard smoked the active Army," Young said. "This year, the Army Reserve is going to take both the Soldier and the NCO competition."

With a loud "Hooah," the competitors were visibly motivated as Young inspired their competitive edge and demanded their best performance throughout the week.

As the next morning brought new challenges, Soldiers gathered at a nearby auditorium as they waited for one-on-one boards with top Army Reserve enlisted Soldiers.

In the middle of the auditorium, Pfc. Steven Antolik, from Potomac Falls, Va., practiced his precision facing movements.
The military policeman assigned to the Military Intelligence Readiness Command said he hopes the enormous amounts of preparation pays dividends in the end.

"I always want to win." Antolik said. "I hate to loose no matter what I am doing, and this is no different. I know I'm up against some great Soldiers and it's going to be a tough competition, but I think I have what it takes to win."

The 23-year-old Soldier said his 18-month anniversary for joining the Army Reserve would be the week of the competition. "I needed something more in my life," he said about the reasons for joining the Reserve. "I couldn't think of anything better to do that would give me what I was looking for in my life."

After a few more sharp movements, Antolik's sponsor motioned him back to his chair to finalize last-minute study efforts before his name was called ---and he slowly stood up and walked away for the unknown pressures of a Soldier board.

A few feet away, Sgt. Cody Brunet, a carpentry masonry specialist assigned to the 372nd Engineer Company, was attempting to remove small fiber pieces from his sleeve using a make-shift lint remover.

"I'm feeling pretty good right now," said the Milwaukee resident. "The board is an event that I feel very confident about. It's a Soldier thing."

Throughout the morning, small bonds of new friendships were kindled and Soldiers taking care of Soldiers was the virtually unnoticed theme of the day.

From flipping through home-made flash cards, correcting uniform flaws or just relaxing and sharing war stories, the 28 competitors slowly melted into one team with a mission to dismantle their upcoming competition at Fort Lee, Va., at the Department of the Army competition.

Staff Sgt. Travis Hill, assigned to 922th Trailer Transfer Point, 103rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command, was the only competitor returning for a second go around as he competed in last years event.

Hill, from Fremont, Neb., gave Soldiers a glimpse of what to expect during the rigorous competition and helped Soldiers prepare for the fast-approaching oral board.

"I wouldn't have anything in your pocket," he told Staff Sgt. David Ashley from Knoxville, Tenn., as he noticed a cell phone in his pocket. "You definitely don't want anything in your pockets. I would never risk it. It's not worth something so easy to correct."

Hill offered to watch the cell phone and asked if he needed any help before going before the board.

"Thanks, I really appreciate," Ashley, a combat engineer military urban operations instructor, said as he handed Hill the phone.

Today wasn't about how many awards were on the uniform, what unit patch was stitched to their right sleeve, but rather about Soldiers helping each other during stressful moments.

From the combat zones of Iraq and Afghanistan to the warrior competitions, Soldiers will continue to live the Army values and ensure their comrades are prepared for whatever obstacles they face.

"We made it this far, this is nothing to lose," said Ashley. "Why torture yourself. We are all in this together and we will all finish this together."