The day before Thanksgiving Day, during the winter of 2014, I got an email asking me if I would like to participate in the Texas Army National Guard best warrior competition.
It was the first round of qualifiers and my company’s leadership had nominated me. I guess through some “miscommunication” or “misplacement” of paperwork, I had not been notified until a week before the competition started. So I did what any person would do in my situation and doubted myself and my abilities, but I had been given the opportunity to participate in something that not many people get to do, so I decided to do it. I’ve always maintained a pretty high level of physical fitness, but I wanted to make sure I was ready. So I hit the gym two more times just to get some light workouts and extra mileage in. In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have done that…but it’s whatever.
Each competitor had a so called “sponsor”. This was another individual selected by your unit to be your assistant throughout the entire event. He would hold your extra gear when not needed, he would grab things for you that might be located off base, and he could be the guy cheering you on during events. In my case, he would be the guy that would be waking me up at 3 o’clock in the morning. It just so happened that my sponsor was the first guy I met coming into the National Guard, and a good friend of mine named Reid.
Reid and I met up at a restaurant about 15 minutes away from base, where graciously gave me his advice over what he thought my pre-event nutrition should be. So I decided to fuel up on different appetizers consisting of Southwestern style eggrolls and macaroni balls, the bison burger, and the seasonal pumpkin-spiced microbrew ale that they had on tap. I’m a sucker for sweets, so of course I had to get the double chocolate chocolate-chip cookie with ice cream. I had the cookie and I gave Reid the ice cream, which I think went well with the 4 or 5 Budweiser’s that he had just polished off.
After a bit of a restless night sleep, 5 a.m. rolled around and all the contestants and their sponsors met up on the track to start the APFT. They decided to make this one a little bit harder by having us wear our ACUs. We also had a day’s worth of gear and MREs packed up and with us. The push-ups and sit-ups were easy, and I cranked through those like machine. Then to save some of my energy for the next events, I decided to coast through the run, which might have hurt me a bit, but if it did, I don’t think it was by much. About a millisecond after we finished the APFT we ran over to the obstacle course. There we did a walk-through from obstacle to obstacle, and they also told us that in between obstacles we would be doing some sort of PT exercise, e.g. lunges, bear crawls, low crawl, etc.
Everyone was picked in random order, and I was picked to go first. I pushed through the rope climb and such obstacles known as “The Weaver” and “The Tough One” (which was really tough). I ended up doing extremely well and it wasn’t until the last guy went, that he beat my time by about 25 seconds. Right after the completion of the obstacle course, and still wearing the same uniform that we had on at the beginning of the day, we donned our gear, hopped on the 7-ton trucks and headed out for the land navigation course.
It was here that I felt that I was going to struggle. I hadn’t done land navigation in who knows how long. Even in Iraq and Afghanistan we are using handheld Garmin’s and wrist GPS’s. We were given 15 minutes to plot our points, and where I thought I was going to struggle, my years of basic land navy classes came back to me. I plotted my points, switched from grid to magnetic, shot an azimuth, and off I went into the cold foggy tree-line. It took me 50 minutes to traverse my way to the first point, which was difficult to find. Off to my next point….so I thought. After getting lost and being solely focused on my compass, I took a knee to check my surroundings and look at my map. I’d forgotten that just by using major terrain features and shooting a back azimuth, you can get a general location of where you are at. This was the boost of confidence that I needed, but unfortunately my time was running low and I needed to make it back to the starting point before our drop dead time. I was the first one to make it back with four minutes to spare, and as the others came strolling in I decided to grab a quick bite to eat. We were one man short, so as our cadre went out to go find our missing comrade, the rest of us and our sponsors piled up in the back of the trucks (to stay warm and dry), we passed around a can of snuff and told each other our “war stories” of getting lost in the wilderness.
We ended up making it back about an hour behind schedule, and due to the time and heavy fog still lingering, we were not able to make it to the rifle range. An event that I was truly looking forward to. So, Warrior Tasks Skills it was. In this event there were multiple stations set up in a circular formation. The stations included situations such as call-for-fire, weapons disassembly and assembly, casualty assessment and treatment, radio procedures, etc. We were timed at each station and we were timed in the event as a whole. This was by far my best event, as I beat the second-place finisher by 47 seconds. We were then given an hour and a half to shower and get ready for our appearance and NCO boards.
A little bit about me, I spent six years in the Marine Corps infantry and after I got my college degree I decided to continue serving in the National Guard. I don’t know very much Army knowledge nor have I been issued all of my uniforms. So after googling the Army’s birthday and catching up on my knowledge involving the troop leadership steps, effective ranges on different weapons, and whatever else combat related knowledge they might throw at me, I walked into my NCO board wearing my supply sergeant’s army dress blues. Reid did a pretty good job of putting all my awards and ribbons on someone else’s uniform for me, the only problem is I’m 5’10” and this uniform was made for somebody about 5’8″, also I didn’t have a name plate. So right off the bat the board members knew this uniform wasn’t mine, I was also asked questions such as “What does that Army Regulation mean?” and “What Army Regulation does this pertain to?”…. This board single-handedly put a stop to me winning this competition and continuing on. At the end I was told that the potential is there for me to do great things, I just hadn’t been in the Army long enough.
Reid met up with me at the barracks we were staying in and he brought with him a couple fat cheeseburgers from Burger King that we scarfed down. We went over what had happened throughout the day, and although I was beat, I still had to pack for the 12 mile ruck march in the morning. I hit the rack at about 8:30 PM with a wake-up call at 3 AM. The ruck march in the morning was going to suck, but I was ready for it.
I had some decent sleep and the morning came quickly. We all strapped up our rucksacks and headed out the door to form up to start our ruck march. I made sure to put on a different pair of boots then the ones I wore the previous day. They were soggy and Gor-Tex lined. Good for crawling through the mud and staying warm, but I needed my dry, breathable boots for this trek that lay ahead of me. Reid had brought me a couple bananas and an energy drink. I’m not too sure why he thought an energy drink would be good before such a long event, but I was grateful for the bananas. We had to truck out to our starting point and kicked everything off just before 5 AM. It was still dark and very quiet outside.
Halfway through I could feel hotspots developing on the balls of my feet. I thought to myself “If I drop this pack to change my socks, then I’m not going to pick it back up again.” So it was painful, but nothing I hadn’t been through before and couldn’t handle. Just a little after 8 AM, I saw Reid waiting at the finish line with the other guys that had made it in before me, and I strolled in with a time of 3hrs and 20min, which isn’t great.
After taking our boots and socks off and having the medics check out our feet, they announced the winner. A staff sergeant from my sister company won it. He was a good guy and I had spoken with him a couple times throughout the whole competition. He now has a chance to participate at the state level and may even get a chance to go to Italy and compete. The cadre then brought us some breakfast, so I continued to sit on my truck and had myself a victory breakfast burrito from Taco Cabana….a personal victory of course.
All in all it was a great experience and I’m glad that I chose to do it. Maybe I’ll get a chance to participate in it again or even be someone else’s sponsor. Until then I’ll just train, because I never know when I’ll get into it again.
Update: I was selected as the second NCO from my battalion to continue on in the competition, but due to personal matters I was unable to attend.