CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo— The top eight Soldiers and non-commissioned officers, deployed to Kosovo, with the Multinational Battle Group-East (MNBG-E), came together on Camp Bondsteel to compete for the title of ‘Best Warrior’ July 9-10.
During the grueling two-day competition, Soldiers and NCOs representing the 1st Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment, the Pennsylvania Army National Guard’s 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 28th Infantry Division, Arizona Army National Guard’s 2nd Assault Battalion, 285th Aviation Regiment and the Fort Bragg based 28th Combat Support Hospital, underwent a series of mental and physical challenges.
“The Best Warrior Competition is the epitome of what we want Soldiers to have: mental strength, smarts, physical fitness, and resilience,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Timothy Hileman, senior enlisted advisor for the Multinational Battle Group-East.
The challenges included: the Army physical fitness test, writing an essay, Army warrior task lanes, 12-mile ruck march, stress shoot, and land navigation.
“It was grueling,” said Spc. Autumn Ladines, a Black Hawk crew chief assigned to the 2-285th Assault Helicopter Battalion and winner of the Soldier category. “It was a good combination of feeling both nervous and excited, probably more nervous though.”
Staff Sgt. Oscar Morales, an infantryman assigned to the 2-285th and winner for the NCO category, echoed his battle buddies sentiment toward the competition.
“It was demanding,” said the Vernon, Texas native. “Excitement, eagerness and focus were all running through my mind as soon as we kicked off the competition. I envisioned myself giving every effort to do my best in each event…painting a picture of success with my thoughts was at the forefront of my mind at the beginning of the competition.”
Envisioning success played a critical role for Morales who admitted hitting a low point, both physically and mentally, during the ruck march.
“I hit a low point after completing the ninth mile of the 12-mile ruck event,” said Morales. “I had three miles to go and I had to tap into my reserve tank to finish strong.”
For Ladines, a Spangle, Washington native, her low point came during the final challenge of land navigation.
“I really thought I had failed, at that point, as I was limping around having no luck finding my third point,” said Ladines. “I probably added a few more miles than necessary to my course by the end of it. I just knew I had to keep going until I found it because the competition was so close, every point mattered.”
Whether it was the physical demands of the ruck march or the tactical challenges of the land navigation, both Morales and Ladines found their motivation to finish strong from different sources.
“My wife and newborn son are what motivated me to overcome all the challenges I faced,” said Morales. “I kept telling myself, ‘the faster you finish, the faster you’ll get to see them because they’re waiting for you at the end point’.”
“For me, there was just never an option of quitting or not meeting the standards I had set for myself,” said Ladines. “I also had, beyond, awesome support and did not want to let anyone down.”
At the end of the day, neither Soldier disappointed.
“I was very surprised, so I felt shocked,” said Ladines, describing the moment as she heard her name called as the winner. “I was happy to represent my unit and even happier to then hear Staff Sergeant Morales called for the NCO winner. He motivated me throughout the entire competition.”
“I was very thankful and humbled when my name was called out as the winner,” said Morales. “It took me a few seconds to realize that my name was the one called out. After gaining my bearing, I had a rush of excitement and relief take over my emotions!”
The competition marked the second consecutive sweep of the competition by the Arizona Army National Guard Soldiers.
Ladines and Morales won’t have to long to celebrate the victory, as the two Soldiers will go head to head with the winners of past Best Warrior and Soldier and NCO of the month competitions in August.
While, only two could be crowned the ‘Best Warrior’, Hileman said he was proud of every competitor and that they all walked away winners.
“I am proud of all of the participants because they stepped out of the formation and put themselves out there in order to see what their limits are and test those limits with their peers,” said Hileman. “There is nothing more motivating than to see your teammates and fellow battle group members strive to reach greatness and then to see them finish with a grimace, and hear them say, ‘I want to do that again’.”
“That kind of determination and resilience is contagious and motivates us all to do better in whatever we are doing each day for the battle group,” he added.