FORT CUSTER, Mich. — The Best Warrior journey for two Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldiers came to an end last week at the Region IV competition.
“This is the end of the road for me,” said Sgt. Jason Wagner of Deerfield, Wis., a forward observer with the 1st Battalion, 120th Field Artillery Headquarters Battery detachment located in Berlin, Wis. Wagner finished third in the noncommissioned officer category, missing second place by only a few points.
Sgt. Alexander Wilkinson-Johnson of Madison, Wis., a member of the 1st Squadron, 105th Cavalry Regiment’s Headquarters Troop located in Madison, finished second by a half-point in the lower enlisted category. He was promoted from specialist to sergeant after winning the state Best Warrior Competition in April.
“It was a 7-point difference between first and second,” Wilkinson-Johnson said of the competition level at the Region IV event.
The Michigan Army National Guard’s Sgt. 1st Class Jamison Yager and Spc. Kenneth Klett Jr., took first in each event and will advance to the National Guard Bureau’s Best Warrior Competition.
“It was a good competition,” Wagner said. “All the competitors were great to be around and experience all the events with.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Rafael Conde, the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s senior enlisted leader, agreed.
“After a week of competition, our Wisconsin Soldiers showed Region IV that we have great Soldiers,” Conde said, “and that we are ready to fulfill our combat missions.”
The Best Warrior Competition is a grueling competency validation spread out over three days, testing each Soldier on their physical fitness and endurance, military bearing, marksmanship, land navigation and other Soldier skills. Wilkinson-Johnson said this iteration was more mentally rigorous than physical.
“Every one of [the competitors] won at their own state competition,’ he explained. “Each person had their own respective event they were particularly good at. That’s really what they banked on as far as points go.”
Wilkinson-Johnson said his best event was the appearance board, where Soldiers sat before a panel of senior noncommissioned officers in their dress uniform, and answered questions in a professional manner. Soldiers were judged based on their military knowledge, as well as knowledge of how to wear the uniform and the proper way to address a military board. He said he also did well on the written exam.
Wagner said he was most comfortable in the Army Physical Fitness Test and qualifying with the 9-mm handgun. The stress shoot — where Soldiers conduct some manner of strenuous physical activity just before firing at targets at a weapons range — was his most challenging event. He added that one of the mystery events was the night grenade range.
“That was interesting to do with our [night vision goggles],” he acknowledged.
This year’s regional competition ends a two-year Best Warrior saga for Wagner, who competed in last year’s state event as a specialist.
“I’ve been focusing on [best Warrior] for the past two years,” Wagner said, “so getting back to the unit, getting to drill with all the Soldiers in our formation will be a good thing.
“With me not advancing, that will open up a little more time for my family and some other things outside of the military,” he continued. “So in that aspect it’s a bright spot.”
Wilkinson-Johnson said he will most likely continue the Best Warrior grind, serving as a trainer and sponsor for his unit’s next Best Warrior candidate.
“It would be crazy for me not to,” Wilkinson-Johnson said.
Wagner said Best Warrior competitors need to put in the time to succeed.
“Whatever time you put into it is what you’ll get out of it,” he said.
Wilkinson-Johnson cautioned future competitors to remain detail-oriented.
“The verbiage of each event mattered,” he explained. “There is specific verbiage that you need to pay attention to.”
Conde congratulated both competitors.
“These two fine Soldiers represented the Wisconsin National Guard well, and made us proud,” he said.