CAMP SMITH TRAINING SITE, Cortlandt Manor, NY--Wednesday, May 16, was a very long day for the fourteen men and women striving to be the best Army National Guard Soldier and Non-Commissioned Officers in New England, New York and New Jersey.
The day began with an Army Physical Fitness Test, was followed by a demanding land navigation course, a lunch time visit to the United States Military Academy, M-4 weapons qualification, a "stress shoot" testing marksmanship and physical endurance, a 6 mile forced march, and then night land navigation.
"It's a busy day," said Spec. Brian Lekhmus, the New York Army National Guard's Soldier of the Year.
Lekhmus, a college student and a member of the 101st Expeditionary Signal Battalion from Salt Point, NY, was competing against six peers for the top Soldier title in the Northeast Region Best Warrior Competition.
New York's top Non-Commissioned Officer for 2012, Sgt. David Martinson, of Troy, NY, was going up against six other sergeants to see who represents the region in a national competition of top National Guard Soldiers and sergeants later this year.
"I've done other Soldier competitions but this incorporates everything," Martinson said. "The road march, and day and night land navigation, the PT test, all this stuff in the same day is kind of overwhelming and tiring at the same time."
"We really just have to muscle-up and work through the pain,"Martinson, an Active Guard and Reserve Soldier, added.
The three-day event, which began at Camp Smith on May 15 and ended on May 17, included plenty of hands on Soldier tasks, and quizzes on military knowledge in an oral board before command sergeants major from across the region.
The New Yorkers didn't win the competition--Massachusetts Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Vanessa Urban was the top NCO and Maine Army National Guard Spec. Clay Landry was the top enlisted Soldier--but the event was still a good experience, said Lekhmus, who was the enlisted Soldiers runner-up.
The contest has forced him to reach back to his basic training days and remember his military tasks and learn more about the Army than he ever expect to, Lekhmus said.
"There are a lot of hands on tasks I don't normally do on a drill weekend, he said.
The annual competition, which is now regularly held at Camp Smith, helps build Soldier skills across the force, said New York Army National Guard Command Sgt. Major Frank Wicks.
Each unit holds its own Best Warrior selection process before sending those Soldiers and NCOs to a statewide competition. The Soldiers who do best in each northeastern state end up pitted against each other at Camp Smith.
"It really helps build the skill sets of all the Soldiers because everyone wants to be the best," Wicks said.
"It just makes for a more professional force," Wicks added.
The regional competition allows Soldiers from different state Army National Guard's to learn how other Guardsmen do things, Lekhmus said.
Most of the state competitions mirror the regional one, Martinson said, so all the contests are well prepared. "Everyone deserves to be here," he said.
Lekhmus, who will be mobilizing with his unit in the fall for a deployment to Afghanistan, said the skills he's honed during the competition will help him train other Soldiers in his signal battalion.
Martinson, a member of Joint Force Headquarters-New York, said the experience has made him a better non-commissioned officer.
Command Sergeants Major from all the Northeastern states took part in the event, providing advice to their state's Soldiers and also acting as panel members during the military knowledge boards.
Members of New York's Joint Force Headquarters and Camp Smith Training Site Staff provided support for the event and ran the ranges, while the 130th Public Affairs Detachment of the Connecticut Army National Guard provided photographic support.