FORT MCCOY, Wis. — Two Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldiers emerged as the state’s Soldier of the Year and Noncommissioned officer of the year after a grueling three-day competition at Fort McCoy April 5-8.
Competitors representing each brigade in the Wisconsin Army National Guard contended against one another in the 2018 Wisconsin National Guard Best Warrior Competition, which included a series of 13 mentally and physically challenging tasks including the Army Physical Fitness Test, M4 carbine and M9 pistol qualification, a weapons 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.
Spc. Austin Jahnke, a machine gunner with the Menomonie, Wisconsin-based Company A, 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry and native of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, earned the title of Wisconsin’s Soldier of the Year, and Sgt. Clayton Smith, a forward observer with the Berlin, Wisconsin-based Detachment 1, Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 120th Field Artillery and native of Merton, Wisconsin, earned the title of Wisconsin’s Noncommissioned Officer of the Year. They will both advance on to the Regional Best Warrior Competition in May where they will represent Wisconsin against five other states.
Smith expressed his gratitude towards his fellow competitors and how they drove him throughout the competition.
“I’m excited to represent the state at the next level,” said Smith. “I want to thank my competitors for pushing me to be the best I can. I think that can only help me at the next level.”
Jahnke stated that he is looking forward to representing the state at the regional level competition.
“I think it’s going to put a lot on my shoulders,” Jahnke stated. “I have big shoes to fill now that I’m representing the state of Wisconsin and I hope to make everybody proud.”
All fourteen participants have worked hard to bring their best effort, preparing for months prior to get to this point.
Command Sgt. Maj. Rafael Conde, the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s senior enlisted leader, discussed the lengthy process all Soldiers must complete prior to reaching the State Best Warrior Competition.
“Our State level competition is a fairly grueling process,” Conde stated. “Prior to reaching this level, competitors have already been selected as the Soldier of the Year or Non-commissioned officer of the Year at the company, battalion, and brigade level.”
Sgt. Joshua Long, an automated logistics specialist with the Whitewater, Wisconsin-based Company A, 257th Brigade Support Battalion, and fellow competitor, explained that the variety of events can be difficult to prepare for, but it is part of what Soldiers are trained to do.
“You have to prepare for everything and be ready for everything, said Long. “It’s the whole
concept of the expeditionary force. “You have to be ready to do anything at any time.”
1st Sgt. Anthony Coman, the senior non-commissioned officer with the 173rd Brigade Engineer Battalion, 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, said competitors bring back a wealth of knowledge and experience from the competition and share it with their peers.
“The units sacrifice time with their most skilled Soldiers to send them to the competition but it’s well worth the cost,” Coman said.
Conde believes the mere act of completing the tasks in 52 hours is an achievement.
“This competition takes people who thought they could be the best and makes them the best,” said Conde. “They are tired but they have accomplished something in their military career. That sense of accomplishment will carry the competitors for a very long time.”
The skills and challenges represented in the crucible of the Best Warrior Competition serve as examples of the sorts of challenges Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldiers overcome as they fulfill their mission for the American people and the State of Wisconsin. The Guard serves as both the state’s first military responder in times of emergency and as the primary combat reserve of the Army.
Best Warrior competitors included:
32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team: Spc. Erick Guzman, Company B, 173rd Brigade Engineer Battalion (Onalaska); Spc. Austen Jahnke, Company A, 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry (Menomonie); Sgt. Clayton Smith, Detachment 1, Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 120th Field Artillery (Berlin); Sgt. Daniel Sward, Troop A, 1st Squadron, 105th Cavalry (Fort Atkinson); Spc. Jason Wagner, Detachment 1, Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 120th Field Artillery (Berlin).
64th Troop Command: Spc. Colton Babb, 107th Forward Support Company (Sparta); Sgt. David Kittel, 1158th Transportation Company (Beloit); Spc. Michael Spielvogel, 1157th Transportation Company (Oskhosh); Spc. Blake Stoss, Company D, 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation (Madison).
157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade: Sgt. Jonathan Hitchcock, Detachment 1, 829th Engineer Company, 724th Engineer Battalion (Richland Center); Pfc. Michael Kral, Headquarters Company, 157th MEB (Milwaukee); Sgt. Joshua Long, Company A, 257th Brigade Support Battalion (Whitewater); Spc. Marguerite Zaepfel, Company A, 257th Brigade Support Battalion (Whitewater).
426th Regional Training Institute/Wisconsin Recruiting and Retention Battalion: Sgt. Curtis Bluel, Headquarters Detachment, 426th RTI (Fort McCoy).
Wisconsin National Guard public affairs Soldiers provided extensive coverage of the competition via Facebook Live videos and with photos posted to our Flickr album. Visit the Wisconsin National Guard Facebook Page and the Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs Flickr page at https://www.flickr.com/photos/wiguardpics to see more content.
Check out the links below to see what the 2018 Wisconsin Best Warrior Competition was like: