Kentucky’s Best Warrior Competition Challenges Guardsmen

By Spc. Alan Royalty, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

Spc. Tyler Gaynor with the Garrison Training Command reaches for a simulation grenade during the Best Warrior Competition at Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center in Greenville, Ky., Oct. 26, 2018. The four-day event tested the physical abilities and military knowledge of competitors to name to the top Soldiers in the Kentucky Army National Guard. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Alan Royalty)

Greenville, Ky. – Through rain, wind, sand, and a whole lot of mud, Kentucky Army National Guardsmen competed for the honor of winning the annual Best Warrior Competition at the Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center in Greenville, Ky., Oct. 24-27, 2018.

After three days of consistent competition, where State Command Sgt. Maj. David Munden called a true example of “Warrior Spirit,” Kentucky’s top Soldiers were named. Spc. Tyler Reckner with the 2113th Transportation Company took home Soldier of the Year. Staff Sgt. Jesse Mascoe of the 1st Battalion, 149th Infantry earned NCO of the Year. Sgt. 1st Class Donnie Saunders from the 299th Chemical Company was named Senior NCO of the Year.

“Just knowing that you’re competing against the best Soldiers in the Kentucky National Guard is a great experience,” said Saunders. “I did this to show my Soldiers how to lead by example. You put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.”

Soldiers from brigades throughout the state congregated to shoot, ruck, run, jump and run some more while celebrating their competitive spirit and camaraderie. Guardsmen motivated each other throughout each phase of the competition, transforming what would have been a tense atmosphere of opposition into one reflective of the Kentucky Army National Guard’s values.

Sgt. 1st Class Jeven Keding with the 2nd Battalion, 138th Field Artillery, found that if you give a little, you get a lot in return during the ruck march as he and Spc. Tyler Reckner with the 149th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade marched alongside one another.

“Being able to provide that little extra motivation for him and myself—someone to pace off of—really helped us both out for that road march,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jeven Keding with the 2nd Battalion, 138th Field Artillery.

Click here for more photos.

Competitors faced an early-morning Army Physical Fitness Test on the second day, followed by cool temperatures and rain during the 12-mile ruck march, a stress shoot with intense close-quarters combat scenarios, and a soggy grenade range. But despite inclement weather and the long road ahead, Soldiers remained motivated and encouraging to one another.

“Even though we are competitors, we still come together and lift each other up where we can,” said Staff Sgt. William Pauley with the 1st Battalion, 238th Regional Training Institute, and Non-commissioned Officer of the Year competitor. “As Soldiers, we all want to see one another succeed. That’s the entire espirit de corps of the National Guard.”

The Soldiers awoke early on the fourth morning to conduct a day/night land navigation course followed by a tactical shooting drill and combat run, a race including different tactical elements. During the combat run, Soldiers were required to stop in a designated “hot zone” and quickly don their gas masks before sprinting to the finish. The application of the gas mask, along with the stress shoot and other challenges, are Army Warrior Tasks that Soldiers often train for with their respective units but do not often simulate in a combat environment.

“You can train forever, but if you don’t actually apply those tasks when they need to be applied you won’t develop as you should,” said Mascoe. “The best way to learn, in my opinion, is to do it.”

These Best Warrior Competition athletes travel to western Kentucky for a variety of reasons, but for many, pushing themselves and testing their limits is a primary motivator. Without the support of their unit sponsors and their fellow Soldiers, the quality of this year’s competition would be lessened significantly.

Victory is a hard-won reward, but for Staff Sgt. Jason Bradshaw with the 1103rd Military Police Detachment, competing this year meant more than just earning the title.

“Anytime that you’re doing something challenging, especially with a group of people, you grow,” said Bradshaw. “You suffer together; you grow together.”

Reckner and Mascoe will continue on together as they will compete in the National Guard Region III Best Warrior Competition, which is scheduled next spring at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

For Mascoe, the opportunity is one for redemption as he was NCO of the year in 2015, but didn’t perform as well Regionals.

“I’m still sore from the 2015 ‘hiccup’ and this is one more chance for me to make it all the way,” he said. “My expectations are high, for myself and my unit. I’m going to keep training and will be ready for the next step.”