Summer heat and southern humidity set the stage for the 2022 All Guard National Best Warrior Competition, July 25-29. Fourteen of the Army National Guard’s best Soldiers arrived in Tennessee fresh off a winning performance at their respective regional competitions. They all appeared primed for what would be an impressive showing of strength, endurance, and perseverance. In total, 12 states were represented including Nebraska, Texas, Utah, Rhode Island, Oregon, Hawaii, Tennessee, New York, Minnesota, Wyoming, Maryland, and West Virginia. Truly the best of the best, all were vying to take home top honors. With a Soldier of the Year and Noncommissioned Officer of the Year to be named, every Soldier had promise and potential to win it all. In the end, only two would emerge victorious. Winning Soldier of the Year, Sgt. Spencer Fayles, a combat medic with the 144th Area Support Medical Company, Utah National Guard, carried Utah into the winner’s circle.
The competition started early Monday with a combat fitness assessment, which is akin to the Army Combat Fitness Test, but had some alterations. The assessment included the dead lift, standing-power throw, hand-release push-up, sprint-drag-carry, leg tuck, and unknown distance run. The run was administered as a Beep test, an aerobics event (part of the Occupational Physical Assessment Test) designed to test respiratory fitness.
Fayles welcomed the challenge, ready to give his all.
“Each event is designed to push you to your max, so there’s not a stopping point,” said Fayles. “It’s go until you can’t go–whether it’s push-ups, lifting a three-rep max deadlift, swimming as fast as you can–all challenging events, but the more challenging they are, the better you can get.”
With little time to rest, the competitors jumped in the pool for their next event–a survival swim. The contest included a 15-meter swim with equipment, equipment removal, and a three-meter drop and pool exit. All of this was done in full Operational Camouflage Pattern uniform, including boots and socks.
In the afternoon that same day, they dressed up in their Army Service Uniform to attend sergeants major boards and participate in public affairs interviews.
Speaking about his competition, Fayles said he wanted everyone to give it their all.
“It’s iron sharpening iron,” he said. “We’re all trying to get better at the end of the day, that way we can make the organization better as a whole.”
Tuesday was chock full of events as well. Through Army Warrior Task lanes, an obstacle course, and a mystery event, the Soldiers were challenged to rise at every turn. The AWT lanes took the majority of the day. The competitors worked through the lanes in regional pairs. Sgt. Fred M. Lino, Jr., Hawaii National Guard, and Fayles traveled together. They demonstrated skills in chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive practices, Tactical Combat Casualty Care, medevac processes, improvised explosive device awareness, knot application, equipment waterproofing, range card application, load-plan creation, and call for fire execution. Following the obstacle course, Soldiers put knot application and equipment waterproofing into action for the mystery event where they had to cross a portion of a lake with all of their gear using a rope, 550 paracord, and teamwork.
“We’ve all trained really hard leading up to this,” said Fayles. “To an extent you can only train so much because you don’t know what events they’re going to do or how they’re going to set up the obstacles. There is a sliver of adaptability that you have to have, but at the end of the day it’s fundamentals. I’ve definitely trained the fundamentals, so it’s just putting them into action.”
Fundamentals proved to be the key to success for Fayles as he moved into range day.
Wednesday’s events kicked off with early morning land navigation. Officially starting at 3 a.m., the competitors plotted their points and stepped off into the heavily-wooded terrain of Tullahoma. The course proved to be extremely challenging, as only a few Soldiers found points at all during the six-hour course. After brief recovery, they vaulted into a weapons marksmanship rotation. Throughout the day, competitors displayed proficiencies in grenades, M4 Carbine, M17 Pistol, M240 Machine Gun, MK19 and M320 Grenade Launchers, and M18 Claymore mines. They also demonstrated abilities to move and fire under duress during a stress-shoot lane where they fired many weapons including a M24 Sniper Weapon System to top it off. Ending the day with a night live fire, the Soldiers were exhausted.
Another short night’s rest and the competitors were up Thursday morning conducting urban operations as a group.
Fayles crushed the air-assault obstacle course with the best time of the bunch.
The next event, the valor run, was inspired by the stories of select Medal of Honor recipients. A 3.4-mile circuit, the event had Soldiers working through tactical actions similar to those deserving of the award.
Command Sgt. Maj. Spencer Nielsen, senior enlisted leader of the Utah National Guard, ran with Fayles almost the entire route, experiencing each station first-hand.
“It’s humbling every year I come out to these competitions,” said Nielsen. “Regardless of where the competitors are from, just seeing their motivation, competence, and patriotism is humbling, but when it’s one of our own, it’s extra special. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anyone with the heart that Fayles has–he’s inspiring to me.”
Fayles said the hardest part of the event was the combination of all of the stations one right after the other.
“You can do a three-mile, four-mile run–it’s not hard,” he said. “You pick someone up one time, put them down–it’s not hard. Put a mask on, step in a gas chamber–it’s not hard. Put them together and they accumulate very quickly, especially combined with this heat and six to seven hours of sleep the last three to four nights, those things add up. It gave me a lot more respect for what those MOH recipients went through.”
Wrapping up the competition with a field board of command sergeants major Thursday afternoon, and a ruck march Friday morning, this group of Soldiers finished strong. Leap-frogging each other near the end of the ruck ahead of everyone else, Fayles and Spc. Wyatt Walls, Oregon National Guard, decided to stick with each other and push hard through the finish line.
With solid performances, Fayles and Sgt. Tyler Holloway, Wyoming National Guard, rose to the top of the competition, winning Soldier of the Year and Noncommissioned Officer of the Year respectively.
The two winners, along with three other top Soldiers selected from the competition form the All Guard Best Squad, and are invited to represent the Army National Guard at the All Army Best Squad Competition this Fall.