CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. — A Wisconsin Army National Guard senior scout from the Reedsburg, Wisconsin-based Troop C, 1st Squadron, 105th Cavalry Regiment, was a top-three finisher in the National Guard Bureau’s Best Warrior Competition, which concluded July 20.
Spc. Robert Kniprath’s third-place finish among the Army National Guard’s best lower enlisted concludes a nearly year-long grueling odyssey that tested his Soldier skills, military bearing and endurance from the squadron level last September to the state competition in April, the regional competition in May and finally the national event.
Making this accomplishment even more noteworthy, the Barneveld, Wisconsin resident has been in the Wisconsin Army National Guard for little more than two years following a 16-year break in service.
“It feels pretty extraordinarily great, to tell you the truth,” he admitted. “After being out so long and coming back in, jumping into the fire, so to speak, to make it all the way to this level and actually medal at the final competition for the [National] Guard, it was a pretty amazing experience.”
Kniprath pointed out that his hectic year actually began with the 105th Cavalry’s Spur Ride last August. His performance in that competition got him noticed, and he was entered in not only the squadron’s Best Warrior competition, but sniper team tryouts in October. The 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team’s Best Warrior competition was held last November.
“Four months in a row I was pushed right to my limit,” Kniprath said. “I’m looking forward to dialing it down, heal up a little bit and going back to being one of the boys in the unit again.”
Kniprath had no regrets as his Best Warrior quest comes to an end.
“I’m satisfied — I put it all out there,” he said. “Am I disappointed in anything I did? No, not at all. I put everything I had out there against the best competition I could have possibly gone against. To be twice their age, go against the best there is and come in third — I’m thrilled, frankly.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Rafael Conde, the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s senior enlisted leader, said Kniprath represented what’s best in Wisconsin Soldiers.
“He’s a traditional M-Day Soldier,” Conde observed. “It wasn’t like he was a full-time Soldier that he could focus on just preparing for the competition. He has full-time work with his own company, he has three kids under the age of 10, and he has the military job he does for us as well. Some of these tasks that were part of the Best Warrior he had to do on his own. It epitomizes what the M-Day Soldier is all about, that we need to sustain our physical fitness levels and be proficient in our warrior tasks to perform at any given moment.
“Kniprath, I believe, is the epitome of what a Citizen-Soldier is all about.”
Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general, agreed.
“Going back at least as far as the Civil War, Wisconsin’s Citizen Soldiers have shown they have what it takes to get the job done and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the best,” Dunbar said. “I think it is only fitting that the same week we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the 32nd Division, a Soldier from the 32nd Brigade represents that proud heritage at a national-level competition.”
Kniprath is self-employed as a certified financial planner. His wife and children were on hand to cheer him on during the entire four-day competition. His mother also was on hand for some events.
“They have attended more events for this competition than most of us in the room,” said Brig. Gen. Jon Jensen, Minnesota’s deputy adjutant general for army as well as the 34th Infantry Division commander, during the closing ceremony. “Wife, family, children, thanks for coming — we are very proud of your husband, son and father.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Kepner, the senior enlisted advisor to the chief of the National Guard Bureau, spoke about lethality concerning the Best Warrior competition, noting that the term refers to the ability to kill or cause hazardous destruction to the enemy.
“Gentlemen, you are the best warriors in the Army National Guard,” Kepner said to the 14 competitors at the ceremony. “You are the most lethal Soldiers that we have. I have little doubt we could send you to any area of conflict with a sweatsock and a shoehorn and you could wrap it up in about 24 hours,” he quipped.
Rain and strong winds impacted the competition, pushing two events from day one into day two and prompting one competitor to remark to Kepner, “Sergeant major, we’re here to find the best warrior, not the best wimp.”
“These guys did a tremendous job,” Kniprath said. “We literally had tornadoes on the ground the first night which put them back. They made everything happen — it flowed well. They did everything they could to make sure we could be successful as competitors. I thought it was a very well-run event overall — kudos to Minnesota for that.”
This year’s National Guard Bureau-level Best Warrior required competitors to accomplish their events in the context of combat scenarios, as opposed to simply conducting task stations.
“We need to continue to send our best Soldiers, and I look forward to next year winning both the NCO and the Soldier competition at the national level,” Conde said. “I think we have Soldiers that can compete and really excel at this competition. I look forward to sending our best and our brightest next year.”
The Wisconsin Army National Guard will host the Region IV Best Warrior Competition next year, May 7-11 at Fort McCoy.
For his part, Kniprath looks forward to returning to his role as a recon infantryman — and getting promoted to sergeant, a rank he held before his 16-year break in service.
“I did all this, not for me, but for all the Soldiers in the Wisconsin Army National Guard,” Kniprath said. “They’re all tremendous.”