JOINT BASE CAPE COD, Mass. – Army National Guard soldiers from each of the six New England states including New York and New Jersey competed in the annual Region I Best Warrior Competition, May 12-14, 2015 at Joint Base Cape Cod.
The 16 competitors earned the opportunity to represent their state through individual statewide competitions that took place last month. Though the qualifying events were similar to the state event, there were marked differences.
“This was stiffer … this one was a lot tougher,” said Spc. Ilya Voskov, a member of Massachusetts National Guard’s 125th Quartermaster Company. “The people were on a much higher level. Land navigation was a lot bigger. Night land navigation was brutal. I have cuts all up and down from that.”
The competitors were accompanied by a sponsor soldier to assist and support them through the events. Additionally, each state’s command sergeant major was present to cheer for and encourage their troop’s success.
“At these regional competitions, it brings together the best of the best,” said Army Sgt. Ryan Oliver, a member of the Massachusetts National Guard’s Delta Company, 223rd Military Intelligence Company. “A group of folks who are committed to excellence and put it all out there for a few days in any number of army-related activities.”
Through the grueling three days, the soldiers had early mornings and late nights. The events included an Army Physical Fitness Test, an Army board and exams, weapons qualification and a stress shoot event – in the first day alone.
Day two included an obstacle course, warrior training tasks, day land navigation and night land navigation.
Day three consisted of a 20 kilometer road march, an awards ceremony and cookout.
During the three days, the soldiers competed, bonded and learned with each other. An added quality is that the benefits do not conclude with the competition.
“I think the most important take away from all this is what we can take from this experience and bring back to our units to spread that motivation and spread that commitment to excellence going forward,” said Oliver.
Many of the successes of these competitions could, perhaps, benefit our nation’s Reserve forces in a more profound way than our Active Duty component military.
“For M-Day [Reserve] soldiers, I think it’s difficult to find that balance between their civilian life and their Army life sometimes, and it’s kind of like a reawakening every year, a recommitment to all the general Army tasks, the soldiering, that lifestyle that restarts that engine and keeps that momentum going,” said Oliver. “So that’s why transitioning it back to the units is so important because it can really keep that fire alive.”
Throughout the occasion, logistics and planning played a paramount role in the smooth and timely completion of the contest. Instructors were seen throughout the three days performing myriad critical roles.
“Every time we do a state competition, we try to take it to the next level,” said Army Sgt. John Slager, Massachusetts Army National Guard. “We’ve been doing the state competition here on Camp Edwards for eight years now, and we’ve been trying to get regionals for five, and for it to finally come here, and for us to be able to host regionals is just huge. To be able to have eight states come here and compete and be able to build that and get the feed back - it’s hard to put in words.”
As Massachusetts inaugural hosting of the event, it was made certain to incorporate some of the state’s hallowed history.
“The birthplace of the National Guard is here in Massachusetts,” said Army Command Sgt. Maj. Carlos Ramos Rivera, Massachusetts National Guard’s state command sergeant major. “It was really important for me, when I found out we were going to do the competition here in Mass., to showcase our history,” he said.
On day three of the event, the participants, their sponsors, the visiting sergeants major and other supporting staff took Blackhawk helicopters from Joint Base Cape Cod to Hanscom Air Force Base to complete the 20 kilometer road march through the iconic Minute Man National Historic Park in Concord, Mass.
The event’s finish line was on the North Bridge, where the “shot heard around the world” was fired and the Revolutionary War began. As the competitors approached the bridge over the Concord River, many of the soldiers ran with their sponsors to the finish line.
Despite his big rucksack, Voskov, outrunning his sponsor carrying their unit’s flag and streamers, sprinted across the bridge. Voskov attributes his enthusiastic finish to the fact that his unit’s origin can be traced back to the area.
“I had to,” said Voskov of his spirited finish. “I am part of the 125th (Quartermaster), and that’s were we started – Lexington and Concord. We have that streamer. So I had to bring it through … bringing back the unit right there and then. It was a great feeling coming over that bridge.”
After the road march, which was the last event, the soldiers enjoyed some well-deserved down time and a tour of the area by the National Parks Service.
After the helicopter ride back to Joint Base Cape Cod, the soldiers enjoyed a cookout and awards ceremony where the winners were announced and Air Force Maj. Gen. L. Scott Rice, the adjutant general of the Massachusetts National Guard, spoke some fitting words to summarize the spirit of the event.
“It’s a challenge as so many changes happen in our force and in the complexities of who and what we are,” said Rice, “Our deployments go up; our deployments go down. But there is something that always remains even keel and that is the professionalism and drive and esprit de corps and the way we excel as warriors in our military, and you represent that - you motivate us all. I stand here better today as I was yesterday because of you. Because of the competitive spirit that you drive through all of us, and I think that’s significantly motivating for us, so I thank you for all you’ve done.”
The winners of the event will advance to represent the region in the National Warrior Competition at Utah’s Camp Williams in June.
The victorious soldier was Army Spc. Timothy Phadungthin of the Maine National Guard. The winner of the noncommissioned officers was New Hampshire National Guard’s Army Staff Sgt. Justin Dupuis.
The Connecticut National Guard is slated to host next year’s Region I Best Warrior Competition.
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