CAMP SMITH TRAINING SITE, N.Y. - Heavy rain and cold winds descended on Camp Smith, and gunfire echoed across the wood line as six Soldiers competed to be the New York Army National Guard 2022 Best Warrior April 6-8.
Spc. Austin Mannville, from Rochester, N.Y., a cavalry trooper with Charlie Troop, 2nd Squadron, 101st Cavalry, part of the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, won the junior enlisted title.
And Staff Sgt. Alexander Sanchez, from Baldwinsville, N.Y., a military police Soldier with the 222nd Military Police Company, part of the 153rd Troop Command, won the noncommissioned officer category.
“It’s a great honor to represent the cavalry and 27th (Brigade),” Mannville said. “It’s been a long time coming. I’m ready for the next competition to give it all I got and bring it back home.”
The Best Warrior Competition tests a Soldier’s physical endurance, military knowledge and mental perseverance, said State Command Sgt. Maj. David Piwowarski, the senior enlisted advisor for the New York Army National Guard and NCO in charge of the event.
“These Soldiers represent some of the best New York has in uniform,” Piwowarski said.
The competition allowed warriors to highlight their military skills in a competitive environment and measure how well they performed under stress, Piwowarski said.
“The Best Warrior is the only competition where enlisted Soldiers and NCOs can compete individually and show what they can do as a Soldier,” Piwowarski said.
“Normally, when a unit does something well, the leaders get all the credit. This is all about the individual Soldier doing their best – that’s what’s good and unique about it,” he added.
Soldiers across New York State participated in brigade-level competitions to advance to the state level. Soldiers from the 153rd Troop Command, 42nd Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade, 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team and 369th Sustainment Brigade made the cut. But only Mannville and Sanchez will continue to compete at the regional and potentially national level.
“I just really liked to see what I can do against the best Soldiers,” Sanchez said. “I do it because I enjoy pushing myself.”
Although Best Warrior is a solo competition, the competitors kept each other’s spirits high, said Sgt. Gavin Winkler, assigned to 719th Composite Truck Company. He competed on behalf of the 369th Sustainment Brigade.
“The others motivated me to do my best,” Winkler. “There is a sense of camaraderie, and everyone wants to see each other do well.”
The demanding three-day competition included M4 rifle qualification, the Army Combat Fitness Test, night into day land navigation, several other tactical events and a 12-mile road march.
“I see Best Warrior as twofold,” said Maj. Doug Berinstein, the competition officer in charge from the Joint Force Headquarters. “One, we identify the best Soldiers in our ranks. But we also want to provide unique training opportunities these Soldiers wouldn’t normally be able to get.”
“The more difficult and miserable the conditions, the better the training, and this demonstrates how tough our Soldiers are,” Berinstein said. “Hopefully, the Soldiers will be able to leave this competition with good memories.”
The event also brought back the German Armed Forces Badge for Military Proficiency test, adding events like pistol qualification and swimming in full uniform. The evaluation was removed in 2021 due to COVID-19.
“The German Armed Forces Proficiency Badge was established to determine how proficient Soldiers are at marksmanship and physical fitness,” said German army Sgt. Maj. Timo Braese, the senior enlisted advisor at West Point who volunteered to assist in the evaluation.
“Guard and Reserve units don’t have these opportunities normally,” he said. “I think it’s great we can provide that.”
The harsh weather, strenuous events, and lack of sleep wasn’t the only difficulty the troops endured, said Spc. Ilies Benaiche, assigned to Bravo Company 642 Aviation Support Battalion, competing for the 42nd Combat Aviation Brigade.
Benaiche is a practicing Muslim and fasted for Ramadan during the competition.
Ramadan teaches self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice and empathy for those less fortunate and limits Muslims from eating or drinking during daylight.
“I believe I’m the first one to do it while fasting,” Benaiche said. “What motivated me is being able to test my limits and compete with the best the state had to offer.”
Mannville and Sanchez will now represent New York at the regional National Guard Best Warrior competition against other Northeastern states May 9-13 in Connecticut. If successful there, they will move on to a national competition this summer.
“It’s a huge honor winning in New York State,” Sanchez said. “I’m very excited to move forward into regionals and take regionals for New York.”