FORT McCOY, Wis. — Fourteen Wisconsin Army National Guardsmen competed in the 2015 Best Warrior Competition here April 9-12. The seven Soldiers and seven noncommissioned officers put their Soldier skills to the test for the opportunity to represent Wisconsin in the upcoming regional competition May 11-15 at Camp Atterbury, Ind.
Spc. Derrek Ziegler, of Headquarters Troop, 1st Squadron, 105th Cavalry, 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, earned the chance to move ahead in the competition as Wisconsin's Soldier of the Year. Staff Sgt. Nicholas Kenton, of the 54th Civil Support Team, will be participating in the regional competition as Wisconsin's Noncommissioned Officer of the Year.
The four-day competition included an Army Physical Fitness Test, M-4 rifle and M-9 pistol qualification, stress fire exercise, day and night land navigation, written test, essay, appearance board, Army Warrior Tasks, call for fire scenario and a 12-mile ruck march.
First Sgt. Eric Johansen, of the 273rd Sapper Company, 64th Troop Command, attended the competition to support Staff Sgt. Nicholas Bures, from their Medford, Wisconsin-based unit.
"The most challenging part of this competition is the pace." Johansen said. "There are continuous high demand events. They need to perform at a high level in a competitive atmosphere all day."
Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Brehmer, of the 357th Signal Network Support Company, 157th Movement Enhancement Brigade, sponsored Sgt. Craig Buyeske, also of the 357th, during the 2015 Best Warrior Competition.
"Dedication is crucial to this competition, and all of these Soldiers have it," Brehmer said. "All of these competitors are physically fit. They are all strong enough to be here, but there's an entire mental game after that."
Sgt. Talon Dumke, of the 105th Cavalry, sponsored Ziegler.
Dumke said that the competition is exceptionally challenging because its foundations lay in the whole Soldier concept.
"It's not about one specialized task, or Military Occupational Specialty training," Dumke said. "This competition tests the Soldiers' knowledge on all aspects of their Army abilities, physically and mentally."
Despite the demanding nature of the four-day competition, many of those who attended expressed how beneficial Best Warrior competitions are to the Soldiers who participate.
"This competition is important because it gives Soldiers, who spend so much of their time training, an opportunity to use those skills," Johansen explained. "It shows off their expertise with other competitors who are just as highly qualified, and they can enjoy putting these skills to use.
"It builds confidence on the part of the Soldiers," he added. "It shows they can do what they've been trained to do and they can be an example at their units. This competition makes leaders, improves leaders and allows them to mentor other Soldiers to become better Soldiers."
Even the candidates who did not qualify for the regional competition in May were reminded of their accomplishments and the benefits of participating at the state competition.
Command Sgt. Major Curtis Patrouille, of the 105th Cavalry, believes the candidates will bring added value to the Wisconsin Army National Guard.
"I've had people say to me, 'You know we spent a lot of time on 14 individuals,' but these 14 individuals are the ones that are going to go on from here," Patroullie said. "They are more than likely going to spend a good deal of time in the military and they're going to be able to take what they learned here today and build up their squads, their teams, their platoons."
Command Sgt. Major Michael Kaluzny, of the 64th Troop Command, expressed his pride in every one of the candidates.
"One thing with competitions is they always seem to push," Kaluzny said. "We always push each other to do better. If you don't have any form of competition, whether it be official or unofficial, pretty soon you start scaling back on what you do. So, this is pushing everybody to be the best that they can be."
During the awards ceremony, Command Sgt. Major Bradley Shields, the senior enlisted advisor for the Wisconsin Army National Guard, congratulated all of the participants and commended them for their efforts. Kaluzny elaborated on Shields's message, and what the 14 competitors did for their fellow Soldiers in their units back home.
"Command Sgt. Major Shields commented that we had some Soldiers that knew that they disqualified, but instead of giving up the rest of the competition, they killed themselves to finish," Kaluzny said. "They did that for themselves, but I think a big part of that is they did that for their units as well. They didn't want to go back to their unit and have it said that they gave up. That, to me, is esprit de corps right there. It's something that runs deep in everybody. It's big, and it's important for all of us. We do a lot of this for our buddies standing next to us."
Kenton, the Wisconsin Army National Guard's newly crowned Noncommissioned Officer of the Year, summed up the experience.
"I look at it as a way of giving back to my community," Kenton said. "It's an honor to put this uniform on every day. It's a great commitment. There's no other job in the civilian world that you can do like you can do in the military."
Pfc. Kati Stacy contributed to this report.