FORT MCCOY, Wis. — Thirteen Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldiers competed in the 2016 Best Warrior Competition here April 8-10. Five noncommissioned officers and eight Soldiers of the Wisconsin Army National Guard competed in the three-day, state-level event for the opportunity to represent Wisconsin at the upcoming regional Best Warrior Competition at Camp Perry Joint Training Center, Port Clinton, Ohio, in May.
Spc. Alexander Hahn, a rifleman with Company C, 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry Regiment, 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, earned the opportunity to move ahead to the regional competition as Wisconsin’s Soldier of the Year. Staff Sgt. James Brown, a cannon crewmember with Battery A, 1st Battalion, 120th Field Artillery, 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, will be participating in the regional competition as Wisconsin’s Noncommissioned Officer of the Year.
The three-day competition included an Army Physical Fitness Test, M4 carbine and M9 pistol qualification, a stress-fire exercise, day and night land navigation, a written test and essay, an appearance board, Army Warrior Tasks, a call for artillery support scenario and a 12-mile ruck march.
Several sponsors of the participants this year were competitors themselves in past Best Warrior Competitions. Brown’s sponsor Staff Sgt. Angel Powell, also of Battery A, 1st Battalion, 120th Field Artillery, described his experiences with these events.
“My most unique experience in the National Guard is probably being part of this competition as a competitor and a sponsor,” said Powell. “Most of the time you’re used to doing one weekend a month and then you come down and do a three-day challenge and it basically takes everything out of you and puts every effort you have into this competition.”
Spc. Kolt Knutson, a utilities equipment repairer with Company E, 132nd Brigade Support Battalion, 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, found value in the connections made through the competition.
“It’s not only the experiences that very few Soldiers get to do, and competing to make yourself better,” Knutson said. “It’s also the relationships and bonds that you get. Going through this competition with the other Soldiers, you make bonds that will last a lifetime.”
Spc. Darrin Riggs, an all-wheeled vehicle mechanic with the 107th Support Maintenance Company, 732nd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 64th Troop Command, feels this is an event in which every Soldier should partake.
“I’ve gained a lot of insight into myself,” said Riggs. “The amount of commitment it takes to compete at this level, you’re training every day physically and mentally. You don’t know how tough you are until you do it. Everybody should try it at least once.”
While addressing the audience during the awards ceremony, Command Sgt. Major Bradley Shields, the senior enlisted advisor for the Wisconsin Army National Guard, recognized the efforts of every competitor who participated in the event this year.
“What we have in front of us here are the 13 best Soldiers for the year 2016 in the state of Wisconsin, and you each should be very proud,” Shield said. “I am very proud of all of you. You are the best of the best, every soldier here is an absolute winner.”
When reflecting on his time preparing for the competition, Brown acknowledged that he could not have gotten this far on his own.
“I couldn’t have done this without my family, my sponsor, and my leadership who supported me along the way,” said Brown. “I think the competition is valuable for Soldiers and NCOs. It shows your skills, allows you to go back to the basics, and all around it’s a good experience.”
Hahn stated that the competition brings forward the diversity of skills that are required of Soldiers.
“We as Soldiers are required to do so much, it’s great to focus on the things that can get put on the wayside,” said Hahn.
Both the Soldier and NCO of the Year expressed that they are looking forward to the upcoming regional competition in May. Brown affirmed that he is ready to move forward with his preparations for the event.
“Going forward representing the state in the regional competition is going to be a great honor,” he said. “There’s a lot of weight on my shoulders now, so time to prep and get ready.”
The Soldier and NCO of the year were awarded an eagle statue and a coin from Brig. Gen. Mark Anderson, the Deputy Adjutant General of Wisconsin. They were also invited to attend the annual Wisconsin National Guard Enlisted Association conference in May, where they will receive the USAA Defenders Freedom Coin, a one-year membership in the Enlisted Association and an engraved plaque.
The runners-up, Spc. Taylor Hewitt, cannon crewmember with Battery B, 1st Battalion, 120th Field Artillery, 32nd IBCT, for Solider of the Year and Sgt. Sean Armstrong, infantry team leader with Company B, 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry Regiment, 32nd IBCT, for NCO of the Year, were awarded eagle head statues. They, along with the rest of the competitors, received the Army Achievement Medal to recognize their accomplishments throughout the competition and a coin from Shields.