Best warrior event stresses full-Soldier concept

Story and photos by Staff Sgt. David Bolton, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

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Army Sgt. Daniel Dornbusch, a recruiter with the 2/75th Recruiting and Retention Battalion, throws a dummy grenade to finish out the stress shoot event Nov. 7, 2014 at Wendall H. Ford Regional Training Center in Greenville, Kentucky. The stress shoot was one of several events administered to Soldiers of this year’s Best Warrior Competition. Other events included land navigation, rifle marksmanship, review boards and conducting Advanced Warrior Tasks. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. David Bolton)

GREENVILLE, Ky. – “The Full-Soldier Concept.” This was the theme behind the 2015 Kentucky National Guard Soldier and Non-Commissioned Officer Best Warrior Competition. The four-day competition, held Nov. 6 to Nov. 9, 2014, at Wendall H. Ford Regional Training Center in Greenville, Kentucky, saw the top Soldiers from the state’s six major commands vie for a shot at the regional competition.

But this crucible was not for the faint-hearted. Competitors were challenged in a series of events meant to test their mental, physical and emotional limits. Even before the competition began, State Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas Chumley, Jr., senior enlisted leader for the Kentucky Army National Guard, gave the Soldiers a word of caution.

“This is going to be a challenging event, this is serious stuff,” said Chumley. “If anybody wants to walk out right now, I wouldn’t hold it against you.”

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Sgt. 1st Class Jay Taheny, a Recruiting and Retention Area Supervisor with the Kentucky National Guard’s 2/75th Recruiting and Retention Battalion, drags a 200-pound dummy nearly 25 yards during a stress shoot exercise Nov. 7, 2014 at Wendall H. Ford Regional Training Center in Greenville, Kentucky. The stress shoot was part of the four-day 2015 Best Warrior Competition in which top Soldiers from across Kentucky competed for a chance to compete in the Regional competition. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. David Bolton)

No one moved.

Click here for more photos from the competition.

According to Chumley, the Best Warrior Competition provides the best Soldiers from the Kentucky Army National Guard the opportunity to prove themselves. This year, the focus of the competition was on preparing Soldiers for the regional competition and building pride in their skills as Soldiers.

“This year is focused on your basic soldiering skills,” said Chumley. “Also I’ve added more tasks to prepare for regionals like the obstacle course, the ruck march and the stress shoot, which are events at regionals. I want these Soldiers to have a sense of pride, selfless service, a sense of Esprit De Corps for their units, and just be proud of what they’re doing.”

This year’s events consisted of a written test, composing an essay, completing the Army Physical Fitness Test, negotiating an obstacle course, qualifying with an M9 pistol and M4 carbine, enduring a stress shoot, a five-mile ruck march with a 35-pound load, land navigation, a series Army Warrior Tasks and sitting through a review board.

Finishing these tasks, to standard, is one thing. But making sure the 17 competitors were able to do so safely fell to a support staff of more than 40 individuals.

“We make sure nobody gets hurt, us or them,” said Army Pfc. Lacy Bunnell, an automated logistics specialist with the 307th Component Repair Company. “In these events you really don’t think too much about safety but that really is the number one thing for these guys, we’re here to enforce that.”

“We can’t physically help them, but we can encourage them,” said Spc. James Barnes, a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System Crewman with the 623rd Field Artillery. “We provide moral support as well as physical safety so no one gets hurt.”

With such a wide variety of events to take on, competitors across the board agreed that making it to the state level was all due to solid preparation. Hitting the books is just as important as hitting the gym in a competition like this where every aspect of being a Soldier is put to the test.

“I pulled out the Field Manuals and the study guides and learned as much as I could and went over the Army Warrior Tasks to prepare myself for the higher levels,” said Army Staff Sgt. Jesse Mascoe, a fire directional specialist with Bravo Battery 1/623rd Field Artillery, and this year’s NCO of the Year winner.

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Spc. Caitlin Viera, a paralegal specialist with the 201st Headquarters and Headquarters Company, completes the low-crawl portion of the 2015 Best Warrior Competition obstacle course at Wendall H. Ford Regional Training Center in Greenville, Kentucky Nov. 7, 2014. The four-day competition tested the top Soldiers from across Kentucky in a series of mentally and physically challenging Soldier skills and board reviews. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. David Bolton)

“The boards are meant to test Soldiers in aspects other than their physical readiness or the combat aspect of being a Soldier,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Scottie Sloan, CSM for 2/75th Recruiting and Retention Battalion. “It is meant to test their ability to study, their military knowledge, their wear of uniform and appearance, and their ability to handle questions that they’re not prepared for.”

As the weekend progressed and drew to a close, the competitors were able to reflect on their experiences and what it meant for them to be able to participate on such a highly-visible stage.

“It’s a really high level of competition, not many people get to do this,” said Spc. Caitin Viera, a paralegal specialist with the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, part of the 149th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade. “It’s very humbling and very exciting. Especially as a woman, I don’t think there are many that make it this far so just being here is pretty good. I hope to win, but if not, the pride of saying that I made it here is more than enough.”

“It means a lot to represent my unit because I want to put them in the ears of the Army to say we have Soldiers, even in Field Artillery, who can send people to high positions and high places,” said Mascoe.

“So far everything has been really rewarding,” said Army Staff Sgt. Andrew Dickson, a range maintenance NCO with the Training Site Garrison Command at WHFRTC. “I’ve gotten more out of it than I thought I would and I’m getting to meet highly motivated soldiers from across the state. It’s an honor to know that I am a potential candidate to represent the state of Kentucky. I love this state, I love the Kentucky National Guard; they’ve done wonderful things for me and my family.”

“It reaffirms that if you put in the effort, the outcome can be good,” said Spc. Christopher Jones, an Infantryman with Bravo Company 1st Battalion, 149th Infantry, and Soldier of the Year winner. “It was a really great competition. The competition was stiff but everyone treated everyone else with respect and the sportsmanship was great. It is a tremendous honor.”

While most of the competitors looked to this weekend as an eye-opening experience, for the Senior NCO of the Year winner, Sgt. 1st Class Jay Taheny, a Recruiting and Retention Area Supervisor with the Kentucky Army National Guard’s 2/75th Recruiting and Retention Battalion, this competition was the defining moment of a career spanning almost 20 years.

“Personally, this is the capstone of my career, there’s not much else I could really do,” said Taheny. “It meant a lot to compete here. This is an accomplishment that can never be taken away from me and I can always consider this a really memorable achievement.”

The Soldier and NCO winners from this weekend will go on to compete in the regional Best Warrior Competition in the Virgin Islands in the spring of 2015.

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Spc. Christopher Jones, 2015 Kentucky Army National Guard Soldier of the Year. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. David Bolton)

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Staff Sgt. Jesse Mascoe, 2015 Kentucky Army National Guard NCO of the Year. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. David Bolton)

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Sgt. 1st Class Jay Taheny, 2015 Kentucky Army National Guard Senior NCO of the Year. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. David Bolton)