Army National Guard determines 'Best Warriors' for 2023

By Master Sgt. David EichakerJuly 17, 2023

U.S. Army Spc. Jackson Jacobs, an artillery forward observer assigned to the Tennessee Army National Guard, representing Region III, rucks Hippie Trail during the 2023 Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition at Black Rapids Training Area, Alaska on July 10, 2023. The Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition tested the adaptiveness and lethality of our forces. National Guard Citizen-Soldiers remain ready and resilient to meet the nation’s challenges.
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – U.S. Army Spc. Jackson Jacobs, an artillery forward observer assigned to the Tennessee Army National Guard, representing Region III, rucks Hippie Trail during the 2023 Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition at Black Rapids Training Area, Alaska on July 10, 2023. The Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition tested the adaptiveness and lethality of our forces. National Guard Citizen-Soldiers remain ready and resilient to meet the nation’s challenges. (Photo Credit: Sgt. Kinsey Geer) VIEW ORIGINAL
The 2023 Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition competitors pose for a group photo at Black Rapids Training Area, Alaska on July 10, 2023. The Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition tested the adaptiveness and lethality of our forces. National Guard Citizen-Soldiers remain ready and resilient to meet the nation’s challenges.
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – The 2023 Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition competitors pose for a group photo at Black Rapids Training Area, Alaska on July 10, 2023. The Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition tested the adaptiveness and lethality of our forces. National Guard Citizen-Soldiers remain ready and resilient to meet the nation’s challenges. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Kinsey Geer) VIEW ORIGINAL

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska — The 2023 Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition hosted by the Alaska National Guard saw 14 Soldiers compete for the titles of Army Guard Soldier and Army Guard Noncommissioned Officer of the Year. Spc. Luke Harrison, with the Wyoming Army National Guard, emerged as the Soldier of the Year and Sgt. Bailey Ruff, with the South Dakota Army National Guard, as the Army Guard’s NCO of the Year.

The Best Warrior Competition tests Soldiers’ ability to complete military tasks in a competitive environment. In addition to the Soldier and NCO of the Year titles, three additional competitors were selected to join them and compete as a squad in the U.S. Army Best Squad Competition this fall.

During the seven-day Best Warrior Competition, which began July 7, competitors endured over 25 events designed to test their skills, resilience, stamina and teamwork. Events ranged from marksmanship and obstacle courses to physical fitness trials, medical evacuation simulations, a ruck march, interviews and written examinations.

Before making it to the competition, each competitor had to win in similar competitions at their state and regional levels.

2023 Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition Competitors receive instruction on tying a prussik knot during the competition at Black Rapids Training Area, Alaska on July 10, 2023. The Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition tested the adaptiveness and lethality of our forces. National Guard Citizen-Soldiers remain ready and resilient to meet the nation’s challenges.
2023 Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition Competitors receive instruction on tying a prussik knot during the competition at Black Rapids Training Area, Alaska on July 10, 2023. The Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition tested the adaptiveness and lethality of our forces. National Guard Citizen-Soldiers remain ready and resilient to meet the nation’s challenges. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Kinsey Geer) VIEW ORIGINAL

“I want to remind you that you’re not here by chance and that you worked very hard to get here,” said Command Sgt. Maj. John Phlegar, Alaska National Guard state command sergeant major. “You’re here because you demonstrated strong character, confidence and a commitment to excellence and you’re the best warrior from your home state and from your region and you belong here.”

Ruff has seven and half years of experience and has attended the Basic Leaders, Air Assault, Military Funeral Honors and Combat Lifesaver Courses.

“I came here with Spc. Luke Harrison from Wyoming and there are a few opportunities where we got to work together and I think that was awesome,” said Ruff, a horizontal construction engineer.

In some events, competitors worked as a team rather than as individuals.

“Working as a member of a team was a little bit different than most of our competitions and those single events have me looking forward to the Best Squad Competition,” said the Sturgis, South Dakota native. “The most rewarding part of the experience is you’re not really able to break past your barriers without a team pushing you.”

2023 National Guard Best Warrior Competition
U.S. Army Sgt. Bailey Ruff, a horizontal construction engineer assigned to the South Dakota Army National Guard, representing Region VI, fires the M136E1 AT4-CS confined space light anti-armor weapon at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, July 12, 2023. The Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition tested the adaptiveness and lethality of our forces. National Guard Citizen-Soldiers remain ready and resilient to meet the nation’s challenges. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army National Guard photo by Alejandro Pena) VIEW ORIGINAL

With four and half years in the Army Guard, Harrison shared his mindset of the competition and reflected on his commitment to basic Soldier tasks.

“I tried to approach this as any other training — just doing my best and not putting too much weight into it,” said the field artillery fire finder radar operator. “I think I perform my best when I just stay relaxed and try to stay focused on the tasks.”

The Army’s core values provides a common ground for Soldiers which serves to enhance morale, esprit de corps, pride and professionalism.

“I have never been with a more professional group of guys,” he said. “I wasn’t sure throughout the entire competition who was ranked where because everyone showed up and they did tasks well and professionally.”

Harrison, whose hometown is Berrien Springs, Michigan, has attended the Air Assault Course and the basic mountain warfare course and noted that family support was important to his success.

“I’m really thankful for my family — especially my wife taking care of my family while I am gone and just want to express gratitude to her and the people who support her,” he said.

The competition tied directly into what it means to be a Soldier.

2023 National Guard Bureau Best Warrior Competition
2023 Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition competitors file out of a UH-60 Black Hawk during the 2023 Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, on July 12, 2023. The Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition tested the adaptiveness and lethality of our forces. National Guard Citizen-Soldiers remain ready and resilient to meet the nation’s challenges. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Kinsey Geer) VIEW ORIGINAL

“It is really the foundational building block of what we do as the Army, which is to close with and destroy the enemy,” said Command Sgt. Maj. John Raines, the command sergeant major of the Army National Guard.

In addition to the competition’s physical challenges, it also served as a platform for fostering professional development and promoting teamwork.

“They’re building that cohesiveness that is essential to winning and winning matters to the Army,” said Raines. “You must be a cohesive team to win and be proficient in all your battle drills and individual Soldier tasks. All those things feed into the collective tasks and our mission essential tasks enable us to destroy the enemy, which is our piece of the joint fight.”

There are also other tangible benefits to competing in the Best Warrior Competition, the Army Guard’s top enlisted Soldier explained.

“When we talk about talent management, we talk about how to stand out from your peers to get recognized,” said Raines. “You can pat Soldiers on the back, give them awards and coins, but eventually, the best way to reward a Soldier is through promotion. Looking back through the course of Best Warrior Competitions and looking at the promotion rate of Soldiers that have made it to the regional level and beyond, it is much higher than their peers.”

Picture Perfect
U.S. Army Spc. Luke Harrison, a field artillery radar operator assigned to the Wyoming Army National Guard, representing Region VI, stands at the position of attention while getting his uniform inspected at the 2023 National Guard Best Warrior Competition, Alaska, July 9, 2023. The Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition tested the adaptiveness and lethality of our forces. National Guard Citizen-Soldiers remain ready and resilient to meet the nation’s challenges. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Princess Alexandria Higgins) VIEW ORIGINAL

The Best Warrior Competition also brings energy to competitors and spectators alike.

“Just being around these Soldiers motivates me and gets me fired up,” said Raines. “That’s why I tell everybody it’s the best part of the year and the best Soldiers to hang out with just because of what they bring into the competitive space.”

In addition to Harrison and Ruff, three additional competitors were selected to represent the Army Guard in the Army Best Squad Competition: Staff Sgt. Leo Kerfeld, an infantryman with the Minnesota Army National Guard; Spc. Bret Williams, a carpentry and masonry specialist with the West Virginia Army National Guard; and Spc. Hunter Gammon, a human resources specialist with the Missouri Army National Guard.

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