Behind successful 2021 Best Warrior competition stand 190 First Army Division East Soldiers
Sgt. 1st Class Kale McFarlane, of 1st Battalion, 409th Regiment, 4th Cavalry Multifunctional Training Brigade, helps a noncommissioned officer competitor from the U.S. Army 2021 Best Warrior competition as he prepares to transition from a 12-mile ruck march to a stress shoot Oct. 6, 2021. (Photo Credit: Eric Pilgrim, Fort Knox News) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT KNOX, Ky. — A military radio suddenly woke up the quiet morning of Oct. 6 at Pells Range.

Somebody at another location announced that the first Soldier in the U.S. Army’s 2021 Best Warrior competition had reached a major checkpoint along range road – a checkpoint a little over a mile away.

“Our first competitor’s getting close!” somebody yelled near the finish line.

Several Soldiers began bunching up in small groups — two armed with clipboards, five or six with cameras; others with discussions about last-minute changes.

Command Sgt. Maj. Ray Ramirez, command sergeant major of 4th Cavalry Multifunctional Training Brigade, 1st Army Division East, marched across the road in search of a final situation report on how the 12 junior enlisted and 12 noncommissioned officers competing would transition from a 12-mile road march to the firing line at Pells.

Behind successful 2021 Best Warrior competition stand 190 First Army Division East Soldiers
First Army Division East Soldiers record the times of Best Warrior competitors as they cross the finish line of the 12-mile ruck march. (Photo Credit: Eric Pilgrim, Fort Knox News) VIEW ORIGINAL

Some of the instructors suggested having all competitors take up a kneeling unsupported position at a firing line. Ramirez said to let each competitor decide for himself. Best Warrior is about making the best decisions, after all.

Ramirez said planning for Fort Knox’s first-ever Best Warrior began in earnest a year ago after 1st Army Division East was given the task of making it happen. The unit was full into plans when he arrived in January.

“This has been a really large operation,” said Ramirez. “There’s about 190 people who have been participating in the planning process to make sure we can have the last four days happen.

“It’s been a lot of work, and a lot of late nights that people have been putting into it— a lot of planning teams to come up with the different scenarios.”

Ramirez said the scenarios are designed to mimic what Soldiers would experience in a combat environment. For instance, the two dozen Soldiers woke early to news that they were to conduct a 12-mile ruck march.

Sergeant 1st Class Tony Tabaka, the officer in charge of the stress shoot range at Pells, said that ruck march would not be the end of Day 4, what he called gut-check day. As an observer/coach/trainer for 4th Cav. Bde.’s 1st Battalion, 409th Regiment, Tabaka said coping with stress is behind it all.

“Their mission this morning was to come provide reinforcements to the patrol base here at Pells Range,” said Tabaka. “They’re sending reinforcements due to a pending enemy attack. Unfortunately, they suffered a vehicle breakdown en route, so they called up to higher [headquarters]. Higher’s guidance was to continue on foot carrying their individual equipment and weapons. As soon as they get here, we can see the enemy in the distance, so we need to get them to hurry and get established in their battle positions in order to engage the enemy.”

Behind successful 2021 Best Warrior competition stand 190 First Army Division East Soldiers
A Best Warrior competitor fires at popup targets shortly after arriving at Pells Range from the 12-mile ruck march Oct. 6, 2021. (Photo Credit: Eric Pilgrim, Fort Knox News) VIEW ORIGINAL

That amounted to competitors showing up after a 12-mile march in under three hours and, rather than having time for a break, they had to immediately grab their weapon, safety gear and two 10-round magazines, and shoot at popup targets.

Tabaka said he has been involved in the planning from the very start, and every bit of it has required teamwork from everyone at every step along the way to make the competition worthy of the Best Warrior name.

“It’s been a bit of a logistical challenge trying to get all resources to get everything set up, but our unit’s been able to accommodate all our requests in a timely manner,” said Tabaka. “But our brigade has done a great job to tie in all the different individual lanes into one cohesive situation.”

Behind successful 2021 Best Warrior competition stand 190 First Army Division East Soldiers
A First Army Division East noncommissioned officer operates the popup targets at Pells Range and scans the lanes to ensure all safety measures are taken. (Photo Credit: Eric Pilgrim, Fort Knox News) VIEW ORIGINAL

Part of that stress included making sure they met the Sergeant Major of the Army’s intent.

“It’s been stressful trying to make it right and meet the intent of the Sergeant Major of the Army,” said Tabaka. “It’s been a good mental challenge coming up with something that makes sense that’s not too difficult but still a challenge for the Army’s Best Warriors.”

After completing the ruck march and stress shoot, the Best Warrior competitors traveled to the Washington, D.C. area to compete in final events in lieu of the AUSA convention, during which they best of the Best Warriors will be named.

Back at Fort Knox, Ramirez said a much-deserved break is in order for the outstanding job his Soldiers did.

“I cannot be more proud of the team,” said Ramirez. “I think they’ve done an excellent job planning this, executing this, changing, and being flexible to all the changes that we’ve had to do to make this a world class operation.”

Behind successful 2021 Best Warrior competition stand 190 First Army Division East Soldiers
(Photo Credit: Eric Pilgrim, Fort Knox News) VIEW ORIGINAL