2 Weekends ago I was lucky enough to get to participate in the Connecticut National Guard’s 2018 Best Warrior Competition. The competition was 4 days of physical and mental challenges designed to determine the best soldiers within the state. The winners would be sent on to regional level competition where they would again be challenged. The winners of that regional event would then move on to compete for the national title of “Best Warrior”. I knew I wanted to participate in the event since I first heard about it last year. I am super competitive and really love a challenge. I have so many goals in life relating to long endurance events and other physical challenges such as mountaineering (I’m going to do it one day!). This competition seemed like a perfect fit and something I knew would challenge me.
The competitors also have to select a mentor to help them prepare for the event and then provide support during the event. They cannot help you complete any tasks but they can offer advice, help you strategize and even carry extra gear for you like dry boots. The mentor is a crucial role and no one could win without an excellent mentor. I feel I had one of the best. I spent the 4 months leading up to the event studying all of the manuals that would be tested, working on my land navigation skills and training for the ruck march. I talked with my mentor going over gear lists and he triple checked all of my uniforms and equipment. When the time came I felt ready to go mentally and not bad physically. I had a nagging lower leg/tendon issue that started just 1 week before the competition that wouldn’t go away. It was just going to be something I had to deal with over the course of the event.
Our 4 days started off on Thursday with a “showdown” for you nonmilitary folks that is just a gear inspection. We had been given a list of gear that we had to show up with. They inspected our bags and made sure we had those items; if they were missing you would be deducted points. We are not sure exactly how each event was scored but it seemed to be on a 100 point scale. With first place getting 100 points, second getting 99, etc. If you did not complete an event you received 0 points, which would put you out of the running for first place. It was very important not to get a zero.
Following the showdown we had to conduct the army height and weight test to make sure we me the army’s body composition standards. Because I am just too swole I always have to “get tapped”, which just means getting my body fat taken via neck and waist measurements. This was our first go/no go event. Meaning if you failed the body comp you would be out.
After the body composition measurements we began our second go/go no event, the PT Test. This was a standard APFT (Army Physical Fitness Test) which consists of 2 minutes of max push-ups, 2 minutes of max sit ups and a 2 mile run. The push-ups and sit ups were done to the Army standard, meaning you could only rest in the plank position for the push-ups and the up position on the sit ups. If you put your knees down on the push-ups or rested on the ground for the sit ups you would be done. I did fairly well on the PT test scoring 58 push-ups, 68 sit ups, and a 14:08 2 mile run. Not by best 2 mile or my best push-ups but I felt good about it. My shin was hurting pretty bad on the run but about 1/3rd of the way through it started to feel alright and I was able to push through. I came in on the run 5th and everyone who was in front of me was way younger than me. On the APFT you are scored based on age group brackets. The older you get the more points you get for the same amount of work i.e. 50 push-ups for a 21 year old is less points than 50 pushups for a 31 year old. So by being close to younger guys I had a chance to outscore them on the APFT. Those were the only events we had for that day. On Thursday evening we attending a dinner and briefing of the weekend. We were given a general overview of how the weekend would progress, what we could expect and who we could go to for information/assistance if and when it was needed.
Friday morning started off at 5am with us getting our gear ready for the day. We would be traveling to the rifle range immediately after breakfast via helicopter. The helicopter ride was pretty cool. I had flown on helicopters several times when I was in the Coast Guard but this was the first time I got to fly on a Chinook. That’s the big one in the photo.
After our morning commute to the rifle range we began our events for the day. We started off by zeroing our rifles. Zeroing is the process you have to go to in order to line up the sights on the weapon specific to your individual geometry. Everyone holds a rifle slightly differently therefore everyone views the sights at a slightly different angle. By zeroing the sights you are setting them up so that when you line the sights up on the target it hits where you are aiming, theoretically anyway. There is a lot more to shooting than just pointing at a target. Your breathing, trigger squeeze and focus all play a role. Just because you have the sight on the target does not mean you will hit it, squeeze a little too hard and it could completely miss, breathe at the wrong time and again a miss.
I was able to zero my rifle and move on to the rifle qualification. During the qualification you shoot 40 rounds at various targets which vary in size and distance. After every 3 shots we had to get up and walk out to our targets to mark the hits. I couldn’t push off of my toes while walking due to the pain. I had to come up with this little shuffle, limp thing in order to do it. Your score for the qualification is how many targets you hit out of 40, with 40/40 being a perfect score. Typically I score 37-39, I’ve never done 40/40, but during the competition I was only able to hit 33. During the qualification is where I started to think something might really be wrong with my shin. Maybe it was the cold weather, maybe it was the nerves. Either way while not my best it was good enough to keep me near the top.
Once we were done with the qualification we moved on to my favorite part of the competition, the Stress Shoot. Again here my shin was a distraction but during the event I was able to use the adrenaline to keep moving. The stress shoot had several parts, some were completed for time and others were for score. The first part of the stress shoot was completed for time. We had to do 10 burpees in full gear then pick up a 40 lb. cratering charge and run it up to the second rifle range. It was slightly up hill with a big kicker at the end and maybe 400m in total length from start to finish.
This is a picture of me at an Army school from last summer. In the background you can see an example of what a 40 lb. cratering charge looks like. The one we had to carry during the competition didn’t have the red tape and C4 strapped to it. We were preparing to set off the one in the photo, that’s why it has all the extras.
At the top of the hill we dropped the charge and jogged on to the next area where we would perform an urban shoot. We had to move through a range with vehicles, doorways and windows. There were 4 targets we had to hit while moving but we could only attempt 2 shoots per target. I believe I hit all 4 targets, I didn’t see the 4th one break apart but I put a hole in it so it should have counted. After the urban shoot we had to drag a dummy about 50m and then search them for our pistol ammunition. We then used that ammunition to fire our pistol at target from both the standing and kneeling positions. Once we finished all of that we moved on to the final phase. We ran up to a blanket covering something. The grader told us this task was going to be timed and that we had to assemble the machine gun under the blanket. He said go and I removed the blanket to find an M249 SAW completely disassembled. I was able to assemble the weapon within the time limit and that finished my stress shoot. After the stress shoot we had about 90 minutes to rest before the helicopters returned to take us to our next event. We used this time to eat some hot soup (it was in the 30s and low 40s), and clean our rifles.
After our second helicopter ride of the day we began our Warrior Task Testing. We went on a simulated mission where we were evaluated on our ability to conduct radio communications, reporting, visual signaling and protecting ourselves from a gas attack by applying our gas mask and other protective clothing. During the mission we were “attacked” by a chemical gas weapon and had to react to it. You were scored on how you reacted by protecting yourself with a gas mask as well as how you reported the situation via the radio. Following the mission we were tested on 37 hand signals for both day time and night time. This entire thing was my worst event of the weekend. I know I need to work on my visual signaling (hand signals) and my familiarity with reporting. The only thing to do is learn from it and try to improve in the future.
After the Warrior tasks we headed back to our barracks to turn in our weapons, eat dinner and get ready for an early morning. We would be up at 1am to start the next day’s events. My shin was in pretty bad shape so my mentor went out in town (competitors could not leave the base but mentors were allowed to) and bought me some nice pink and yellow athletic tape so that I could try taping it up for the next day’s events. I iced my shin, took a hot shower, and then iced it one more time before taping it up and going to bed. I was in bed around 8:30pm with a scheduled 1am wake up. O boy…
(I’ll finish up with days 3 and 4 next week since this got so long. Stay tuned!)