Earning the title “Best Warrior”

By Sgt. 1st Class Gina Vaile-Nelson, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

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The Kentucky National Guard winners of the Best Warrior Competition were named during a ceremony Nov. 8, at the Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center in Greenville, Kentucky. Winners are: Spc. Jacob Heath, Soldier of the Year; Sgt. Christopher Jones, NCO of the Year; and 1st Sgt. Josh Baker, Senior NCO of the Year. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Gina Vaile-Nelson)

GREENVILLE, Ky. — The Kentucky National Guard has named the 2016 Soldier, Noncommissioned Officer and Senior NCO of the year for the Commonwealth:

Soldier of the Year: Spc. Jacob Heath, a medic assigned to Detachment 2, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 149th Infantry

NCO of the Year: Sgt. Christopher Jones, an infantryman assigned to Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 149th Infantry

Senior NCO of the Year: 1st Sgt. Josh Baker, first sergeant with the 299th Chemical Company

The three Guardsmen received ribbons and trophies in a brief awards ceremony Nov. 8, at the Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center in Greenville, Kentucky, following the competition.

“So many times we get caught up in the day-to-day, conducting the Guard business, all the mandatory training, that it is easy to lose sight, sometimes, of what a privilege it is to stand shoulder to shoulder with these guys,” said Baker. “The caliber of Soldiers who were here, I’m just speechless of the caliber of competition.”

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Warriors were tested on their military knowledge and military history; completed an Army Physical Fitness Test; conducted weapons qualification on the M4 rifle and 9 mm pistol; were physically and mentally strained on a stress-shoot obstacle course; ran land navigation and 5-mile ruck march and completed numerous Warrior Task skills before appearing before boards.

“I’ve had a 17-year career in the Guard, I’ve seen a lot of what right looks like,” Baker said. “Now I want to do that for my Soldiers. I want to impart everything I’ve learned here on my Soldiers.”

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Kentucky National Guard 1st Sgt. Josh Baker, 299th Chemical Company first sergeant, strains to flip a tire as part of the stress-fire obstacle course developed for the 2016 Best Warrior competition Nov. 6. Baker was one of four senior noncommissioned officers who competed for the title of Kentucky Guard’s Senior NCO of the Year at Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center in Greenville, Ky. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Gina Vaile-Nelson)

Kentucky’s six brigades sent their best and brightest representatives for the annual Best Warrior competition held Nov. 5-7. The three-day competition pushed each of the 15 competitors to their mental and physical limits. The competition is designed to prepare the three winners to represent the Commonwealth at the regional and national level competitions.

For Jones, he’s well aware of how difficult the regionals can be. In 2015, he represented Kentucky as the Soldier of the Year at regionals. After learning from his experience there and competing as a NCO for 2016, Jones said he has one goal.

“Hopefully to win it all this year and take the national,” he said.

Jones said one of his downfalls in 2015 was tackling the state and regional competition as if it was meant for infantrymen, and not encompassing the whole Soldier concept.

“This isn’t infantry of the year, this is Soldier of the Year,” he said.

That same sentiment is what Heath said kept him going through the competition.

“I serve in a platoon of medics; it goes to show that there’s no limits, nothing there to stop you,” said Heath.

Heath said that his preconceived idea that the Best Warrior competition was only for an infantryman is something he wants to ensure other Soldiers don’t think.

“I’ve got motivation to make my peers better Soldiers and better competitors,” he said.

Kentucky State Command Sgt. Maj. David Munden said he was not only proud of the winners, but also of the spirit and resiliency the other competitors exuded.

“These (15) are the best and the brightest of what the Kentucky National Guard has to offer,” he said.

He also thanked the competitors for staying motivated and pushing each other through the stress.

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Spc. Jacob Heath, a medic with the 1st Battalion, 149th Infantry crawls through an obstacle course during the 2016 Soldier of the Year Competition at the Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center in Greenville, Ky., Nov. 7, 2015. Heath was named Soldier of the Year following the competition and will represent Kentucky in the regional best warrior competition in the spring. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Raymond)

“When you came in on Thursday night, I asked you one thing,” he said. “While you’re driving home, can you look within yourself and say I left it all out there. I did everything I could do, to do as well as I can. And I hope that you did.

“I hope you go home with a satisfied mind and a satisfied soul,” he said.

Kentucky’s Soldier and NCO of the Year will continue to train with senior leadership to compete in the regional competition in Spring 2016. This years runners up included:

Soldier of the Year Runner Up: Spc. Michael Miller, a paralegal assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 149th Brigade Support Battalion

NCO of the Year Runner Up: Sgt. Justin Gottke, an engineer assigned to the Western Kentucky Training Center

Senior NCO of the Year Runner Up: Sgt. 1st Class Lance Warmath, automated logistics specialist, Joint Force Headquarters