FORT MCCOY, Wis. — A select 22 Soldiers in the Wisconsin Army National Guard faced off in the 2019 State Best Warrior Competition April 4-7. Twelve noncommissioned officers and 10 Soldiers of the Wisconsin Army National Guard competed in the three-day state-level event for the opportunity to represent Wisconsin at the upcoming regional Best Warrior Competition in Michigan next month.
Spc. Alexander Wilkinson-Johnson with Headquarters Troop, 1st Squadron, 105th Cavalry, earned the chance to move ahead in the competition as Wisconsin's Soldier of the Year. Sgt. Jason Wagner with Detachment 1, Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 120th Field Artillery will participate in the regional competition as Wisconsin's Noncommissioned Officer of the Year.
For three days, competitors from all over the state contended against one another in a series of mentally and physically challenging tasks — the Army Physical Fitness Test, M16 rifle qualification, a stress-fire exercise, day and night land navigation, an essay, an appearance board, Army Warrior Tasks, Soldier Readiness Test, drill and ceremony, and a 12-mile ruck march.
When people describe the competition, the most-used adjective is grueling.
Wilkinson-Johnson believes the challenge is not in any single event, but the combination of physical and mental tests.
“One after another after another is what makes it hard,” Wilkinson-Johnson said. “Applying a tourniquet isn’t hard but when you add physical training, the exhaustion from the day prior, and pressure from other events, it starts to compound.”
The challenge began months prior with rigorous preparation. He stated that he sacrificed time away from family, friends and school to study and physically prepare.
Despite the challenge, Wilkinson-Johnson and other Soldiers agree that competition is the main ingredient of unit morale and self-development in all areas of military life, and that sort of drive and commitment to duty plays an important role in the Guard’s readiness for its state and federal missions.
“Morale comes from competition,” Wilkinson-Johnson said. “As a matter of fact, it drives competition. If there was no competition, there would be no morale.”
Best Warrior competitor Staff Sgt. Jared Stewart, with the 950th Engineer Company, stated that the competition builds on a pre-existing tradition of friendly competition at the unit level. He finds friendly competition uplifting and believes it is motivating at drill weekends.
“I enjoy the competition,” Stewart said. “It makes you do better because you see the person next to you doing the extra thing. You see that you can do it, too.”
The Army’s commercials in 1981 included the slogan “Be all you can be.” Today, that continues to resonate through all echelons of the Army, transcending rank, generation and gender.
According to Command Sgt. Maj. Rafael Conde, the Wisconsin Army National Guard's senior enlisted leader, the spirit of competition creates unity not just between Soldiers, units and states, but to those who came before.
“Every person who raised their right hand shares a desire to be a better version of themselves,” Conde said. “Every one of you can be more than you think you can.”
Sgt. Erik Tollefson with Battery B, 1st Battalion, 120th Field Artillery was named as an alternate for Soldier of the Year, and Sgt. David Vogel with the 132nd Army Band as an alternate for Noncommissioned Officer of the Year.