FARGO, N.D. - Two North Dakota National Guard Soldiers have been named runners-up in an intense "Best Warrior" competition in Fort Richardson and Fort Greely, Alaska, that concluded Monday.

Staff Sgt. Jason P. Lothspeich, of Minneapolis, and Spc. Nathan J. Svihovec, of Bismarck, were North Dakota's Best Warriors and competed against National Guard Soldiers from throughout Region 6, which also includes Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington and Wyoming.

"After three grueling, rain-soaked, mosquito-swatting, sleep- and food-deprived days, I was amazed at our Soldiers' exceptional stamina and performance," said State Command Sgt. Maj. Gerald Miller, who traveled to Alaska with the Soldiers. "Both of them continue to prepare to compete, as it is possible they could represent Region 6 at the All-Guard competition in July, should the winners not be able to compete."

Both Lothspeich and Svihovec had advanced to the regional competition after beginning at their unit levels, Lothspeich with the 817th Engineer Company (Sapper) and Svihovec with the 816th Engineer Company (Horizontal). Svihovec had placed runner-up at the state level to Spc. Justin A. Huber, of Jud, N.D., who serves in the 191st Military Police Company. Just as Svihovec stepped up when Huber could not compete, both Lothspeich and Svihovec may represent Region 6 if the winner in either category cannot take part in the national All-Guard competition.

"The states sent the best of the best that they had, and the competition was intense," said Brigade Command Sgt. Maj. Guy V. Boschee, of Eureka, S.D., who also traveled to Alaska with the Soldiers.

He said some Soldiers were stronger in certain areas, but that the North Dakota Soldiers "were very well-rounded in all subject areas."

There was no shortage of areas for the Soldiers to prepare for, either. The competition began June 10 with a safety brief during which competitors were reminded they were fifth in the food chain - with polar bears taking top billing - in the Alaskan wilderness. They were assigned an essay topic that evening, and by the following morning, they had it completed to turn in at 5:30 a.m. The morning also began with an Army Physical Fitness Test, which Lothspeich said "went really well for both of us." Then came a 25-question exam and a two-mile obstacle course followed by a late-night flight from Fort Richardson to Fort Greely, Alaska.

The Best Warrior Competition always works in a surprise event, and the Soldiers encountered that upon arriving at Fort Greely - a five-mile march with full rucksacks in the pouring rain. They finished at 1 a.m., caught a few hours of sleep and started at 5 a.m. Saturday with a variety of weapons' qualification ranges and lanes training on "Warrior Skills" such as first aid and tossing grenades. That was followed by a land navigation course.

"This land navigation site has been known, we were told, as one of the most difficult navigation courses the Army has to offer," Lothspeich said.

After another short night, Sunday began with a combatives tournament, where Soldiers practiced their hand-to-hand combat skills. The place-winners were then announced, with Montana winning the enlisted competition and Oregon winning the noncommissioned officer category, and North Dakota claiming runner-up in each.

It was the end of a long road for the Soldiers, who began preparations months ago. Both Soldiers spent many hours readying for the competition by reviewing manuals and memorizing military facts, as well as taking part in refresher training on medical tasks and hand-to-hand combat. Svihovec even hiked North Dakota's Badlands with a weighted backpack, which turned out to be great preparation for the surprise ruck march in Alaska.

Both Lothspeich and Svihovec made clear that despite all of the training, they didn't do this alone. Spc. Adam Walsvik, of Hazen, N.D., and Sgt. Levi Long, of Dickinson, N.D., won last year's North Dakota Best Warrior title. This year, they served as sponsors on a support team for their 2010 counterparts.

They did more than yell words of encouragement; they ran alongside the competitors they were mentoring, bunked next to them at night, helped pack their rucksacks, and ensured they had fresh water and snacks.

"Without their support, we wouldn't have done as well as we did," Lothspeich said.

He also credited the Soldiers' units for supporting them through all of the extra paperwork and training needed to ensure they performed successfully - which they certainly did.

"There's no better feeling than during the award ceremony for us, the brigade command sergeant major and state command sergeant major, to find out that both of our competitors were runners-up," Boschee said. "It feels great to be in the North Dakota National Guard knowing that we have such great Soldiers representing us."
Since the 2001 terrorist attacks on America, the North Dakota National Guard has mobilized more than 3,500 Soldiers and more than 1,800 Airmen in support of the Global War on Terrorism. Currently, about 600 North Dakota Guardsmen are serving overseas. With a total force of about 4,400 Soldiers and Airmen, sufficient forces remain in the state for emergency response and homeland defense.

High-resolution photos to accompany this release are available on Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/ndguard. Navigate to the photo set titled "Best Warrior Competition."