Every year, the best of the best in the Army Reserve test their mettle in the Best Warrior Competition. Participants compete on firing ranges, in land navigation, during fitness tests and in mystery events to arrive at two winners, a USAR Soldier of the Year and NCO of the Year.
This year’s competition, which began Sept. 4 at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, concludes Thursday, according to a USAR news release. Although the events will look somewhat different than in years prior, even a pandemic couldn’t stop Army reservists from finding the best among themselves.
The more than 40 soldiers competing this year represent seven different geographic commands and 22 functional commands and have already competed to prove they’re the best in their respective units.
So far, soldiers have qualified with weapons including the M4 rifle, M26 shotgun, M249 SAW, M240 machine gun, M2 .50 caliber, and M320 grenade launcher; performed exercises in military policing, medical simulations and land navigation; and completed an obstacle course and 12-mile ruck march, according to the competition’s Facebook page.
Originally planned for June at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where Army Reserve Command is headquartered, it became clear in the months leading up to the competition that restrictions in place due to COVID-19 would prevent the necessary traveling and gathering for the competition.
Undeterred, Master Sgt. Ryan Cameron, lead organizer and noncommissioned officer-in-charge, and Master Sgt. Derek Fontaine rescheduled the event for August. But as August approached, they realized that holding such an event at Fort Bragg would prove nearly impossible and began to consider alternative locations.
“We got closer to that date, and we noticed that everything that we were doing was still being affected by our current situation … COVID-19,” said Cameron in the news release.
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The master sergeants decided to move the competition halfway across the country to Fort McCoy, where Command Sgt. Major Paul Mantha, the garrison’s senior enlisted adviser, joined with them to ensure the location would work and the competition would have the equipment needed.
“We were just very honored as a community and as an installation … that Fort McCoy was chosen for the Best Warrior Competition,” said Mantha. “This is an Army Reserve installation. This is an Army Reserve competition.”
Formerly the command sergeant major of Forces Command-USARC, Special Troops Battalion, at Fort Bragg, Mantha was familiar with the Best Warrior Competition and its planning process. He knew that COVID-19 cases and restrictions at Fort McCoy were low and that the facilities were what the competition required, the news release stated.
“I know that he’s very passionate about the Army Reserve and loves Best Warrior,” Cameron said of Mantha. “He’s checked on us and given us every single thing that we asked for.”
Much of the guidance for this year’s competition has come from the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and risk assessments done by Fort McCoy. All soldiers wear face coverings, check and record their temperatures daily, and utilize personal protective equipment and handwashing stations throughout the week.
The competition will also not be able to use tear gas this year because it is a respiratory agent.
Fontaine said no other installation could have given the competition the same level of quality while keeping costs low.
“Fort McCoy was amazing. They worked with Cameron and me to get an extensive competition. With all of these hurdles in the way, they provided far beyond the basics for our cadre and competitors,” said Fontaine in the release.
“We met a lot of challenges in moving the competition halfway across the country, but we’re going the best we can to give these Soldiers the competition they deserve.”
About Harm Venhuizen
Harm Venhuizen is an editorial intern at Military Times. He is studying political science and philosophy at Calvin University, where he’s also in the Army ROTC program.