SALT LAKE CITY - Staff Sgt. Leith W. Strachan swayed on his feet, visibly exhausted, sweat dripping from his forehead.Three days of intense competition had just culminated in a three-minute grappling match for the combatives championship. As the judge held up hand, a winner by decision, Strachan gave a small smile, finished with both the match and the 96th Sustainment Brigade's Best Warrior competition and the champion of both, in his division.Fifteen other soldiers joined Strachan, a transportation specialist with the 419th Transportation Company, in the competition at Camp Williams and Fort Douglas, March 4-6.The participants competed in eight events, including a written essay, land navigation, and a grueling 10-mile road march.Completing the Best Warrior competition is not easy, and significant preparation is required if a participant wishes to excel, participants said.Train hardEach soldier worked hard before the competition to prepare for the tasks ahead. Those who were prepared did well appearing before the board of senior non-commissioned officers and on the Army physical fitness test."I spent at least three or four weeks training, just about every day. Running, hiking, back-country skiing, trying to do a lot of high altitude hiking to open up my lungs," said Strachan.
But getting ready for the Best Warrior competition involved more than just physical work, soldiers said."I studied my brains out! Everything we did during the competition, I studied that," said Pfc. Mark A. Hansen, a transportation specialist with the 889th Transportation Company.Be well roundedA competitor had to knowledgeable in every task because they receive points from each task based on their performance, which are tallied for the final score."A Best Warrior is a leader that performs all of their duties, and every kind of performance here, not just average or good, but the best," said Pfc. Jose Castro, a transportation specialist with the 423rd Transportation Company."It's all important because there's not just one certain skill you can excel at that's going to save you on the battle field, or anywhere else," said Staff Sgt. Kenneth W. Harrison, a drill sergeant with Company C, 2nd Battalion, 414th Regiment, and one of the scorers.Lead the wayA high score isn't the only thing the judges look for. The cadre wants a natural leader."[We're] going to want to pick the guy who's most assertive, and the guy that took the most command, and presented himself the best; because that's ultimately who you want to lead your soldiers," said Sgt. Joshua J. Wallow, another Charlie Company drill sergeant.Being a leader means watching out for your teammates."Even though it's a competition, I didn't just look out for myself; I looked out for everyone competing," said Pfc. Jared W. Campbell, a food service specialist with the 786th Quartermaster Company.Never give upTo succeed in the Best Warrior competition, a soldier has to be tough. The eight events occur one after another over three days, with very few breaks, making the competition extremely physically demanding."A Best Warrior is a person who is able to push past the pain when it gets hard," said Strachan, "and has the fortitude to be able to follow through."Commit to winningTo win the Best Warrior competition, one has to be completely dedicated to the event and stay motivated."Just stick with it. That's it," said Hansen.At the award ceremony, the participants stood in a two-column formation. As each of the competitors filed out to receive their Certificates of Achievement, Hansen and Strachan realized they were going to be the last called - the Best Warriors in their divisions.Hansen took first place in the junior enlisted division, and Strachan took top spot in the non-commissioned officer division. Their finishes earned them not only an Army Commendation Medal apiece, but bragging rights throughout the 96th Sustainment Brigade, and a trip to the higher-level Best Warrior competitions being held later this year."It's up and down the entire time, but just stick with it 100 percent every single time," Hansen said.Editor's note: Spc. Kayla F. Benson is a photojournalist with the 358th Public Affairs Detachment, Salt Lake City.