Pacific’s Soldiers compete for Best Warrior title

| June 23, 2017 | 0 Comments
Competitors of the Best Warrior competition pull security for the UH-60 Black Hawk after landing for their land navigation exercise on Day 2 of the Pacific Theater Best Warrior Competition, June 13, 2017 at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. The contest will determine who is the best Soldier and Noncommissioned Officer in the Pacific. (Photo by Cpl. Michelle U. Blesam, 210th Field Artillery Brigade Public Affairs)

Competitors of the Best Warrior competition pull security for the UH-60 Black Hawk after landing for their land navigation exercise on Day 2 of the Pacific Theater Best Warrior Competition, June 13, 2017 at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. The contest will determine who is the best Soldier and Noncommissioned Officer in the Pacific. (Photo by Cpl. Michelle U. Blesam, 210th Field Artillery Brigade Public Affairs)

Sgt. 1st Class Garcia and Spc. Ham sweep contest for  25th ID

Staff. Sgt. Joseph Moore
Eighth Army Public Affairs

SCHOFIELD BARRACKS — Honolulu is known for its beautiful beaches, sun and surfing. However, for a few visitors to the tropical paradise, this wasn’t a vacation or a time to see the sights. This was strictly a business trip, and some traveled over 4,000 miles to conduct that business.

Soldiers representing seven commands from Korea, Japan, Hawaii and Alaska came together to compete in the U.S. Army Pacific Noncommissioned Officer and Soldier Best Warrior Competition, here, June 11-16.

Sgt. Gene Calantoc, assigned to 561st Engineer Company, 8th Theater Sustainment Command, pulls himself up through an obstacle course called the Weaver, during the Pacific Theater Best Warrior Competition after conducting a combat run up a hill June 12, 2017 at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. The competitors had undergone an Army Physical Fitness Test and combat run prior to conducting the obstacle course. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Joseph Moore, Eighth Army Public Affairs)

Sgt. Gene Calantoc, assigned to 561st Engineer Company, 8th Theater Sustainment Command, pulls himself up through an obstacle course called the Weaver, during the Pacific Theater Best Warrior Competition after conducting a combat run up a hill June 12, 2017 at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. The competitors had undergone an Army Physical Fitness Test and combat run prior to conducting the obstacle course. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Joseph Moore, Eighth Army Public Affairs)

Fourteen competitors in total endured a week-long, continuous series of grueling tasks that, in the end, would decide who would be named the 2017 USARPAC Best Soldier and NCO of the year.

“We’re here trying to find the best two Soldiers to represent USARPAC for the Army’s Best Warrior Competition in Virginia this October,” said Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Roberts, the competition’s operations NCO.

Before the contestants officially started the competition, “Day Zero” exercised their minds with a handwritten essay, a basic knowledge exam and a graded equipment layout that tested memorization.

When people think about the Best Warrior Competition, they think of a physical training stud that never gets tired,” said Spc. James Harris, a cavalry scout assigned to 1st Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Alaska. “I think the best definition of a warrior has an academic side. You must have the capability to think and process a situation critically.”

The official first day began the physical events, which included a 4 a.m. wake-up, an Army physical fitness test, directly followed by a 1.5-mile combat run in boots and then an obstacle course. Following the obstacle course, the competitors were immediately transported by helicopter to a nearby range where they zeroed and qualified on the M-4 carbine rifle.

Sgt. First Class Glenn C. Agngarayngay, assigned to 1st Battalion, 196th Infantry Brigade, United States Army Pacific Command, runs towards the finish line during the final event of the Army Physical Fitness Test as part of the Pacific Theater Best Warrior Competition on June 12, 2017 at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. The APFT was the first event for the competitors prior to conducting the combat run, obstacle course and range qualification. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Joseph Moore, Eighth Army Public Affairs)

Sgt. First Class Glenn C. Agngarayngay, assigned to 1st Battalion, 196th Infantry Brigade, United States Army Pacific Command, runs towards the finish line during the final event of the Army Physical Fitness Test as part of the Pacific Theater Best Warrior Competition on June 12, 2017 at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. The APFT was the first event for the competitors prior to conducting the combat run, obstacle course and range qualification. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Joseph Moore, Eighth Army Public Affairs)

“It’s been pretty rigorous so far,” said Spc. Thomas MacDonald, a combat engineer specialist assigned to the 130th Engineer Bde., 8th Theater Sustainment Command. “The events are definitely more stressful because the events have been back-to-back. I know that all these guys out here came with their ‘A’ game, so I definitely have my work cut out for me.”

Day two proved to be another long day for the Best Warrior hopefuls. After another early wake-up, the competitors were shuttled to the range where they would spend most of the day being tested on their knowledge of various weapon systems and marksmanship skills. The competitors exhibited their skills on the M240B machine gun, the M249 squad automatic weapon, the M320 grenade launcher, the M4 advance rifle marksmanship course and the M9 pistol.

Some of the weapon systems were new to the competitors, but all managed to push through each of the stations. One Soldier left words of advice for next year’s competitors.

Spc. Hazen Ham, 2-35 Infantry Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, 25th Infantry Division prepares to fire an M302 grenade launcher on Day 2 of the Pacific Theater Best Warrior Competition, June 13, 2017 at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. The contest will determine who is the best Soldier and Noncommissioned Officer in the Pacific. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Joseph Moore, Eighth Army Public Affairs)

Spc. Hazen Ham, 2-35 Infantry Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, 25th Infantry Division prepares to fire an M302 grenade launcher on Day 2 of the Pacific Theater Best Warrior Competition, June 13, 2017 at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. The contest will determine who is the best Soldier and Noncommissioned Officer in the Pacific. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Joseph Moore, Eighth Army Public Affairs)

“The advice I would have for Soldiers coming here next year would be to get a lot of hands on with weapon systems, and definitely go to the range and fire a lot of rounds,” said Spc. Patrick Saladino, a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive specialist assigned to 2nd Sust. Bde., 2nd ID, Korea, after finishing the machine gun ranges and awaiting his turn on the M320 range.

Once all the brass and ammo were collected, the participants were flown by helicopters to their next event – the day and night land navigation course at the 25th ID’s Lightning Academy. The academy is where Soldiers come to attend the Jungle Operations, Air Assault and Pre-Ranger courses.

Deep into the tropical night, the Soldiers used their headlamps, maps, protractors and compasses to find their way to marked points scattered throughout the training area. Each of the competitors walked upwards to 12 miles to find all their points. The last competitor finished the course at 9:45 p.m., only 45 seconds before the 5-hour deadline.

On day three, the competitors were awakened at 4 a.m., again, and found a heavy downpour of rain awaiting them. They stood in the dark at the 8-mile foot march starting point with already wet uniforms and the Hawaiian rain dripping from their faces. They faced a harsh, winding trek that would take them up and down large hills and through the island countryside.

Spc. James Harris, assigned to 1st Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, U.S. Army Alaska (USARAK), zeroes his M4A1 carbine rifle on day one of the Pacific Theater Best Warrior Competition, June 12, 2017 at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. The participants had completed an Army Physical Fitness Test, combat run and obstacle course prior to starting the qualification range. (U.S. Army photo by Cpl. Michelle U. Blesam, 210th Field Artillery Brigade Public Affairs)

Spc. James Harris, assigned to 1st Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, U.S. Army Alaska (USARAK), zeroes his M4A1 carbine rifle on day one of the Pacific Theater Best Warrior Competition, June 12, 2017 at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. The participants had completed an Army Physical Fitness Test, combat run and obstacle course prior to starting the qualification range. (U.S. Army photo by Cpl. Michelle U. Blesam, 210th Field Artillery Brigade Public Affairs)

Unfortunately, the contestants couldn’t stop to enjoy the scenery or smell the tropical sea breeze due to the two-hour time limit they had to finish the march. However, each of their steps took them closer to the finish line and title of USARPAC Best Warrior.

“There’s been early mornings and late nights, and the land navigation was crazy yesterday,” said Spc. James Bass, a military working dog handler assigned to the 901st Military Police Detachment, Japan, while trying to catch his breath during the foot march. “I thought I trained up for rucking, but I didn’t train up for this type of rucking. At this point, it’s all about finishing, so that’s my goal; that’s my motivation.”

The first rain-soaked finisher of the ruck march, Saladino, came in at a respectable 1:46:28, but was quickly followed by Spc. Hazen Ham, an infantryman assigned to the 3rd Inf. BCT, 25th ID at 1: 46:46.

After the foot march, the competitors had 30 minutes for the medics to inspect and treat their feet, change socks and grab a quick snack before diving into the next series of events.

Drill and ceremony was up next. The Pacific Soldiers marched and called cadence to a squad of volunteers. After calling “Fall Out,” the resilient warriors hustled to their next and final event for the day.

Their day concluded with a rainy 2-mile course that featured 10 basic warrior skill stations where the competitors reacted to a chemical or biological attack, provided first aid to a casualty, threw hand grenades, called for a medical evacuation, reacted to enemy contact and called for fire on an enemy position.

Tired, wet and hungry, the Soldiers pushed through to prove they’re worthy of the USARPAC Best Warrior title.

“That’s all you’re holding on to at this point,” said Harris, when asked what it would mean to him, if he were named USARPAC Best Soldier. “You’re smoked and you’re tired of thinking, packing and the rain, but it’s worth every inch of the struggle to be named Best Warrior for USARPAC. I want it more than anyone.”

Winning wasn’t the only motivation for Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin Garcia, an infantryman assigned to 3rd BCT, 25th ID.

“The importance of these types of competitions as NCOs is to set the example,” he said. “It’s a ‘do as I do’ mentality, not a ‘do as I say’ mentality. These competitions really highlight what’s important in our profession, which is leader development.”

The final day and final event was far less physical, but just as tough mentally. They faced a knowledge board in front of a panel of command sergeants major from various commands across the Pacific.

Their lint-free and freshly pressed Army Service Uniforms showed their sparkling badges and ribbons as they stood behind the closed glass door leading to their final obstacle.

U.S. Army Pacific Soldiers from across the region await the announcement of the Best Warrior Soldier and Noncommissioned Officer of the Year at during the U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii and U.S. Army Pacific observance of the Army's 242nd birthday, June 16 at Weyand Field, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.  Awards were presented to the USARPAC Soldier and Noncommissioned Officer of the Year after a weeklong Best Warrior Competition. The 25th Infantry Division was awarded both first place honors. Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin Garcia, and Spc. Hazen Ham, both currently with the Tropic Lightning Division, will represent USARPAC at the Department of the Army-level Best Warrior Competition in October. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Justin Silvers)

U.S. Army Pacific Soldiers from across the region await the announcement of the Best Warrior Soldier and Noncommissioned Officer of the Year at during the U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii and U.S. Army Pacific observance of the Army’s 242nd birthday, June 16 at Weyand Field, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. Awards were presented to the USARPAC Soldier and Noncommissioned Officer of the Year after a weeklong Best Warrior Competition. The 25th Infantry Division was awarded both first place honors. Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin Garcia, and Spc. Hazen Ham, both currently with the Tropic Lightning Division, will represent USARPAC at the Department of the Army-level Best Warrior Competition in October. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Justin Silvers)

“We’re not looking just for the best field Soldier or the best garrison Soldier, but a well-rounded Soldier,” said Command Sgt. Major Rick Merritt, senior enlisted adviser for Eighth Army, Korea, and a panel member for the USARPAC Best Warrior board.

Once the final question and answer was given, a look of relief, satisfaction and smiles came across the Soldiers’ faces as they exited the door of the boardroom. Finally, after dozens of miles logged, quarts of sweat dripped and very little sleep, they had completed every task the competition had to offer, an accomplishment in itself, but there could only be one winner in each category.

Those winners were announced in front of a crowd of about 3,000 during the One-Team Luau on Schofield Barracks, June 16.

The crowd erupted in cheers as Schofield Barracks’ own Sgt. 1st Class Garcia and Spc. Ham were named the champions – a sweep for the 25th ID.

The journey for Garcia and Ham does not end with their USARPAC victory. They now must continue training to represent the Pacific during the Army’s Best Warrior competition in October.

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Category: Leadership, News, Observances

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