Four mentally and physically grueling days proved to be a challenge for Spc. Micah Lancaster, but through it all he came out with a smile on his face.
The 2014 Best Warrior Competition was held April 10-13 at Fort McCoy, Wis. - a place known for having its own weather patterns. Competitors had to deal with temperatures between 26 and 56 degrees, with rain and hail making for chilly mornings, continuing throughout the day into night land navigation courses. With varying conditions between the weather, rough terrain and uncertainty of schedule changes, the events Soldiers were put through were difficult, to say the least.
The Best Warrior Competition consisted of a road march, physical fitness test, stress fire, Army knowledge formal board, essays and many other Army warrior skills to test the endurance of each Soldier and ultimately find the Best Warrior in the Wisconsin National Guard.
Being in the National Guard for only two years, Lancaster's passion is playing the French horn. A member of the 132nd Army Band, the 24-year-old persevered through all the events with optimism even after being injured at one of them.
Lancaster managed to cut his thumb while shooting the M9.
"I was standing there shooting and suddenly I felt that my hand was wet and sticky, and the M9 felt kind of weird in my hand, but I had to keep shooting," he said. "When I stopped shooting, I looked and there was blood all over my hand."
Even the range safety officer asked if he needed to stop.
"But I said, 'no I have to finish. Please let me finish,'" he said.
The competition proved to be an exercise in resilience and overcoming failure.
"The call-for-fire didn't really go well for me, and it's a little frustrating because I came up here specifically for call-for-fire to practice," said Lancaster. "It was a little demoralizing."
With the competitions designed to test a Soldier's limits, support is one of the most important things a Soldier can have.
"My first sergeant is the only first sergeant that I know of that has been with her Soldier at each competition 100 percent of the time," Lancaster said.
Every competitor has a sponsor who dedicates their time to training alongside their Soldier for the competition ñbeing with them every step of the way.
"The most important thing I believe I can help my Soldier with is for him to remain calm and composed," said Lancaster's sponsor, Staff Sgt. Jackson Moeller, a senior instrumentalist with the 132nd Army Band. "There are so many different events at these competitions that if you do poorly at one you can't live in the past. You have to go on and do your best and get your mind straight for the next event."
"I got kind of down about the call for fire," Lancaster said. "But as soon as it was over there was kind of a nonverbal agreement between all of us that we just weren't going to talk about it. We are just going to move onto the next things and just focus on the next thing."
With a multitude of events stacked one after another, there is little time to dwell on the past, which lets Soldiers learn more than they ever knew about themselves.
"I have learned I can really just push myself physically. Like today, on the land navigation course, I was running on the roads and I learned I can push myself to a breaking point," said Lancaster.
Every competitor had strengths and weaknesses. Lancaster, a junior enlisted competitor, was first to come in for the day land navigation and the road march and the fastest runner overall on the physical fitness test.
"Spc. Lancaster's strengths are definitely distance events," said Moeller. "He is great at the road march and two-mile run. He has great stamina and desire to learn"
Though he experienced success and failure throughout the four days, Lancaster did not let failure define him. He developed resilience to succeed where he knew his strengths were.
"Before, when I would be like, 'ok I am just going to slow down or walk,' I hit that breaking point where I said, 'no I can go a little bit farther,' and I guess I have learned that my body can do more than what my mind thinks it can do."
The 12-mile road march is the final event the Best Warrior competitors must complete.
"In previous competitions, going 10 miles is no joke with 35 pounds on your back," said Lancaster. "Both times I got to that 7.5 mile mark and I was like, 'ok I am going to run the rest of the way and I am not going to let myself stop,' and my brain is like, 'you can't do it,' but it's just amazing what the body can do if you make it."
Lancaster competed against six other junior enlisted Soldiers and alongside eight noncommissioned officers of varying occupational skills and from all walks of life.
In spite of an extremely difficult weekend, Lancaster started and finished the competition with a great deal of optimism and a smile on his face.