FORT BENNING, Ga. (Aug. 8, 2012) -- More than 300,000 Army National Guardsmen were winnowed down to the top 14 for the 2012 Best Warrior Competition, held on Fort Benning last week. By Thursday, two winners emerged, claiming the title of NCO of the Year and Soldier of the Year for the National Guard.
NCO of the Year, Sgt. Matthew Howard, represents the Arkansas National Guard. Soldier of the Year, Spc. Mark Fuggiti, is from the Pennsylvania National Guard.
"It's a great honor," Howard said. "There's only maybe a handful or so of people who can claim that title."
Howard said the competition was challenging but rewarding; he learned more about basic Soldiering skills and enjoyed the camaraderie of fellow competitors.
"What stands out in these competitions … is we may be all be competing against each other, but we're also willing to help each other out," he said. "I was on the ruck march last night. (Staff) Sgt. Williams came, and he was coming past me and he was encouraging me along, and we paced for a little while. It's things like that. You kind of end up rooting each other on, even though it's your competitor. You want to compete against the best. You want everyone to be at their best."
In an online interview at http://bestwarrior.nationalguard.com, Fuggiti said the whole competition was a constant flow of adrenaline.
"A lot of things we experienced here, I don't think many of the competitors were ready for," he said.
Because of the mental and physical toughness of the competition, competitors began training for it well in advance. Howard started in November. Other Soldiers, such as Staff Sgt. Beau Detrick, began as early as August.
"Just in preparation you learn so much," said the Illinois National Guardsman. "This is experience and information we can take back to our units."
The four-day event included more than a dozen challenges, including a stress shoot, obstacle course, written exam, night land navigation, urban operations, weapons qualification and a military board. The mystery event, saved for the final day as a culminating event, featured rappelling down a 64-foot tower, dragging a litter over a 12-foot wall, putting a radio into operation, assembling four weapons, identifying an IED and negotiating various obstacles, such as a horizontal ladder, worm pit and wall.
Designed to reflect a combat environment, the events required physical, mental and emotional strength, said Master Sgt. Edward Bookout, Warrior Training Center, operations NCOIC
"It's resilience," he said. "Never quit. When things are tough, fight through it. That's part of the warrior spirit. They have everything going against them physically and mentally, but they're keeping their head in the game."
Bookout said the 14 competitors, seven in each category, were "high-caliber competitors."
And regardless of who wins, "it's good training," he said.
Spc. Clay Landry, from Maine, said the competition taught him a lot.
"Just performing under pressure," he said. "When you get tired, you just keep pushing. You have to keep your wits about you … make sure you're doing everything to standard. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I've really taken hold of it and given it my all every step of the way, from company all the way through nationals. It's been a fast pace, but it's been great. You wouldn't expect anything less."
Howard and Fuggiti will continue on to the Armywide competition this fall in Washington, where they will represent the Army National Guard against 18 active-duty and Reserve Soldiers. Also competing at the competition will be Staff Sgt. Brendan Shannon, TRADOC NCO of the Year, and Spc. Jesse Jacklyn, TRADOC Soldier of the Year -- both from Fort Benning.