SALINA, Kan. –Soldiers from across the state competed in the Kansas Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition March 17-21 in Salina. Best Warrior assesses Soldiers’ abilities to competently execute basic Soldier tasks, such as conducting medical evacuation, responding to a chemical attack, preforming land navigation, and overcoming physical challenges. At the end of the competition, Spc. Nickolas Decker, 2nd Battalion, 130th Field Artillery Regiment, was named Soldier of the year and Sgt. Andrew Gonzales,1st Battalion, 635th Regimental Support Brigade, was named noncommissioned officer of the year.
On day one the competitors hit the ground running with an Army Combat Fitness Test followed by an afternoon of weapons assembly and disassembly. The rest of the day and night was spent testing their land navigation skills as they logged multiple miles finding their points with the aid of their map and compass. Day two they put their medical knowledge to the test as they had to assess the wounds of a combat victim, call in a nine-line medical evacuation, and conduct a combat medical lane while returning fire and getting the victim to safety. They also spent the better part of day two at the range testing their marksmanship skills on the M4 rifle and the M17 pistol. Day three the Soldiers conducted patrolling lanes, tested their reaction time to a chemical attack, and went through a formal interview board with a panel of sergeants major. The final day was the 12 mile ruck march followed by the long-awaited awards ceremony.
The competitors each had their own motivation for signing up for a grueling four days of tests and challenges, but each one seemed to share the desire to improve and refine their skills as a Soldier.
Spc. Nickolas Decker expressed his thoughts as to the importance of the competition after being named Soldier of the year in the final ceremony.
“I think this competition is really important for all Soldiers and NCOs to come out here and do because we learn a lot of skills here that maybe we don’t cover every single day in our regular jobs,” Decker said. “We can take those skills back to our units and cross train with others to make sure that everybody can perform these warrior tasks, because we are one team, one fight.”
Gonzales was humble and excited following the awards ceremony.
“Honestly, it’s a huge honor,” Gonzales said. “I’m beyond excited that I was even picked to come here and I’m glad I was able to come out on top as the winner.”
Best Warrior is a competition that seeks to highlight the best in their craft and leadership recognized how truly admirable it is that these individuals were ready and willing to put their skills to the test and give it their all.
“You lead the way in the Kansas Army National Guard,” said Brig. Gen. Anthony Mohatt, commander of the Kansas Army National Guard. “And you have made Kansas proud.”
Both Gonzales and Decker will go on to compete at the regional level Best Warrior Competition in Texas later this year. There, they will test their skill sets against the top competitors from neighboring states. This state level competition will serve as a guide for how the winners must orient their training so they can be as prepared as possible at their next level of competition.
Although not everyone could finish first and attend regionals, all Soldiers who competed in the Kansas’ Best Warrior will have the opportunity to attend air assault school. Additionally, future competitors will also be eligible to compete for the new Expert Soldier Badge, said Sgt. Maj. Richard Peplow, senior plans, operations, and training NCO.
“Kansas right now is in a transition towards using this event as a qualifying event for the Expert Soldier Badge,” Peplow explained. “The badge’s requirements basically mimic our Army warrior tasks and through that, not only will a Soldier be able to be confident and competent in their ability to do their job as a Soldier, but will also be able to be recognized for their ability through a badge.”