By Capt. Rebecca Murga (USARC)May 3, 2010
For six days set against the green mountainside of Fort Hunter Liggett, California; 17 Soldiers from the 63d Regional Support Command would silently wakeup before sunrise and prepare.
They would rub the sleep out of their eyes, lace up their boots, load up their ruck sacks and prepare for another day of competition.
For people who do not know what a Best Warrior Competition is, it is six days of physical and mental challenges. Six days of getting knocked down. Six days of getting back up. Six days of eating MREs. Six days of competition before one NCO and one enlisted Soldier is left standing at the end and is declared a winner.
Seventeen competitors. Only four winners. Six days.
Six days for the best Soldiers in over seven states to complete against one another for a chance to be called: The Best Warrior. And what a long six days they were.
First there was the in-processing. A military exam. An Army physical fitness test consisting of pushups, sit-ups, and a two-mile run. In that same day, land-navigation. Then night land-navigation. No flashlight, just a map and a few points to find in the dark. In bed by midnight. That was just day two.
Day three. Wake-up at 0530 for a modern Army Combatives competition. MMA has nothing on this competition. There is no separation of gender or weight class. Every competitor goes head to head with some of the best Soldiers in the Army Reserve until one is left standing.
Day four. A 10K road march with a 40-pound ruck. Soldiers ran through the cool morning air for over six miles in boots as the dew settled into the green mountainside.
Well... let me be clear... that is what I saw. I'm sure the soldiers saw something different.
I'm sure they just saw a mountain they would have to run up and the dew as nothing more than an annoyance that made the ground wet. I'm sure they didn't think it was that beautiful of a backdrop as the blisters formed on their feet and their muscles cramped up.
Still day four. Range qualification and mystery events. Weapons assembly. Night vision assembly. All events were timed. One right after another. They were tired and exhausted but each had a sense of humor and a smile on their face as the physical activities came to an end and they prepared for a board.
Day five and six. The board. A panel of the best command seargents majors in the Army examining the competitors one at a time, drilling them with questions, critiquing them, judging their uniforms and answers in order to pick the best NCO and Soldier of the bunch. And finally... it's over.
As the competition came to an end, I caught a few of the soldiers cleaning their weapons and reflecting on the last six days prior to the announcement of the winner.
Spc Robert Rife, a Soldier with the 607th Military Police Battalion out of Texas sat outside with a smile on his face as he cleaned the bolt to his weapon and filled me in on the competition.
"It was a lot more physical that I thought it was going to be. It's an honor to be selected, first from your company, then battalion, then brigade. It feels great to come up here (Fort Hunter Liggett) and represent your unit. It's an honor to be here and to win is a big deal. It means you are the best," said Rife.
Rife was one of four Soldiers, two NCOs and two enlisted Soldiers, who would go on to represent their units at the United States Army Reserve Best Warrior Competition later on this year. The winners, Pfc. Kenneth Miller and Sgt Chris Rataprachit will move on representing the 63D RSC; and Sgt. Thomas Williams and Spc Robert Rife will represent the 11th Military Police Brigade.
At the awards ceremony Col. Smith, Chief of Staff of the 311th ESC, congratulated all of the contestants.
"I commend you on your pursuit of excellence. You have put forth significant effort and been both tested and evaluated," said Smith.
Pfc. Kenneth Miller beamed with pride as his name was called to be one of the winners of the Best Warrior Competition. He clutched his prize, a statue of a bald eagle, as he explained how difficult the competition was and how honored he felt to have won.
"I'm so excited. It's something I never thought would happen. My mom is my biggest supporter. She sent me a text this morning quoting the last two lines from Invictus by William Ernest Henley. And that really inspired me," said Miller.
The last two lines of the Invictus poem sum up the will, drive and determination felt by all the competitors over the past six days. Soldiers who worked so diligently for a chance to compete. Because I know at some point over those six days they all felt or whispered these words, even if they didn't know it:
"I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul."