The Georgia Army National Guard 2023 State Best Warrior Competition is well underway March 5-10, 2023, coinciding today with International Women’s Day.
This year, 18 competitors, supported by hundreds of support staff, converge to Fort Stewart, Georgia, for the annual competition to determine the state’s best Soldier and noncommissioned officer.
Of these competitors, two are women: Spc. Mary Ruiz and Spc. Victoria McDuffie. Though gender is a way to distinguish Ruiz and McDuffie from the field, their outlook on the competition itself is their most defining feature this week.
“I don’t see myself as any different from anyone because we’re all Soldiers,” said Ruiz, an aviation operations specialist representing the Marietta-based 78th Aviation Troop Command. “This competition has shown we can push ourselves more than we think we can and to be the best Soldiers in the Georgia National Guard.”
Ruiz hails from Smyrna, Georgia, not far from the unit she is assigned to, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st General Support Aviation Battalion, 171st Aviation Regiment.
Ruiz explained that the state best warrior competition offered opportunity for her to put her talents to the test. Opportunity is not a new experience for Ruiz, who immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico as a child. She aspires to become a pilot, explaining that she chose to be an aviation specialist as means to reaching her career goal.
In between monthly drill, Ruiz is a student at Georgia State University in Atlanta. Though not wearing a uniform on campus, the warrior spirit lives through her as she works hard in her studies to earn good grades.
McDuffie is also a full-time student majoring in biology at Kennesaw State University. Along with being a student, she is a cadet in the reserve officer training corps program that is joint between KSU and Georgia Tech.
Like Ruiz, McDuffie explained she chose her military occupation as a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear specialist to compliment her college studies. She dreams of either commissioning as a chemical officer or working for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or even both at the same time which is a realistic possibility for Citizen-Soldiers serving in the National Guard.
McDuffie’s leadership mentoring her at the competition praised how well she has performed. In turn, McDuffie explained that she could not be successful without their support, including her platoon sergeant who happens to be a woman.
“Me being here paves the way for more women to compete in the future,” said McDuffie, who is assigned to the Marietta-based 138th Chemical Company, 265th Chemical Battalion, 201st Regional Support Group. “The women that came before me and support me now make me more confident to come here, compete, and hopefully win.”
Ruiz, McDuffie, and all Soldiers in the Georgia Army National Guard don’t have to look far to find prominent female leaders within their ranks, including right here at the best warrior competition.
Master Sgt. Megan Goodman, who is promotable to sergeant major, oversees support staff and operations for this year’s best warrior competition. On a day-to-day basis, she is the full-time operations sergeant major for the Marietta-based 78th Troop Command.
By training, Goodman holds multiple occupations within military intelligence, so she has a keen sense of perspective among all the competitors, including Ruiz and McDuffie. And she likes what she sees.
“We planned this year’s competition to be tougher than past, and the competitors have risen to the challenge,” Goodman said. “Knowing these are the future leaders of the Georgia Guard, I’m confident we’re going to be in good hands.”