CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. – Twelve noncommissioned officers and Soldiers from Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin competed in the Region IV Best Warrior Competition at Camp Ripley May 11-15.
“They put in an extra effort and compete to be better versions of themselves,” said Command Sgt. Maj. John Raines, the 13th command sergeant major of the Army National Guard. “And that’s what this whole event is about. It’s about being the best version of you so you can represent your family, your state, and the whole Army National Guard.”
The Soldiers competed to earn the regional title of noncommissioned officer of the year or Soldier of the year and advance to the national competition at Camp Smyrna, Tennessee, in July.
Participants tested their mental and physical toughness over five days in 24 events, including weapons qualification, fitness, land navigation, a ruck march and an obstacle course.
“The Best Warrior Competition is designed and run by NCOs and Soldiers for NCOs and Soldiers,” said 1st Sgt. Keith Swanson, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the competition. “Preparing them at this level will help them identify where they need to train in order to compete at the next competition. Win or lose, the competitors will take their newfound skills and experiences to their units and fellow Soldiers back home.”
The event opened with a welcome brief followed by the first events of the week: a written exam and an appearance board.
The second day started before sunrise with the fitness test, followed by a short drive downrange for weapons qualifications.
Soldiers qualified on the M4 carbine, M17 pistol and M240B machine gun. They conducted a stress shoot that involved elevating their heart rates by running while carrying heavy ammunition canisters, then putting rounds on targets with the M2 machine gun, M4 carbine and M17 pistol.
“The stress shoot was a phenomenal event,” said Spc. Michael Wallace, from Springfield, Illinois, a signal support systems specialist with the Illinois National Guard’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 130th Infantry Regiment. “It is exciting. There’s just a lot happening.”
After the day’s events, the competitors quickly sought shelter on base from a severe bout of Minnesota weather that included a thunderstorm and tornado warning.
“I think people really dislike the rain, but I love rain; I love sunshine,” said Wallace. “Getting a great mix of all of it has just been fantastic.”
Once the all-clear was given, the competitors traveled to their home for the rest of the competition: a small, metal warming shack at the Biathlon Range.
Tired and dirty, yet invigorated, the Soldiers prepared for Day Three’s Army warrior task lanes by visiting the medics, tending to personal needs and getting as much sleep as possible.
“I think it’s a missed opportunity when people don’t do the ‘hooah’ stuff,” said Wallace, referring to the exciting parts of military training. “At the end of the day, this is a lot of phenomenal training turned into a competition. The fact that we are able to participate in this environment and the Minnesota Guard [members] are seriously amazing at taking care of all the competitors, it’s great!”
NCOs were tested on medical tasks, weapons knowledge, patrol proficiency, an obstacle course, and speed map reading.
Soldiers tackled a test on calling for artillery fire, moving a simulated casualty and heavy canisters of 25mm ammunition over water via the ‘Row the Boat’ event, another patrol lane, testing on the M320 grenade launcher and hand grenades, maintenance and service of a military vehicle, and a simulated media interview.
In the evening, Soldiers and NCOs conducted a second mystery event involving assembling three weapons in five minutes with a twist: they did it in the dark with only night vision goggles. Once the sun set, the competitors began a night land navigation course.
On Day Four of the competition, the NCOs and Soldiers switched lanes.
One of the Soldiers came face-to-face with a tough decision during the ‘Row the Boat’ challenge.
“When I crossed the lake, I tried to secure the boat to the dock,” said Spc. Aaron Fiscelli, Saint Claire, Michigan, a health care specialist with the Michigan National Guard’s 1171st Medical Company Area Support Company. “The rope slipped, and the boat started drifting away.”
He had the choice of failing the event or somehow recovering the boat.
“I jumped in the water and took charge,” he said. “If you can be wet and uncomfortable that’s fine; that’s what the competition is all about.”
Fiscelli later explained that while this competition is mentally and physically exhausting, as a competitor you have to find out where your true limits are because your mind stops before your body does.
“My body is a bit sore right now, but mentality dictates reality,” he said.
In the early morning on the final day of the competition, participants traveled deep into the woods for a 12-mile ruck march along the Mississippi River, followed by a mystery event disassembling and reassembling an M4 carbine.
The Soldiers who competed were Spc. Michael Wallace of Springfield, Illinois; Spc. Trejahn Manning of Clive, Iowa; Spc. Kyle Lawson of Fort Wayne, Indiana; Spc. Aaron Fiscelli of Saint Claire, Michigan; Spc. Nathaniel Miska of Oakdale, Minnesota; Spc. Brock Cerneka of Youngstown, Ohio; and Sgt. Joshua Kleinhans of Kiel, Wisconsin.
Competing in the NCO category were Sgt. Robert Black of Crystal Lake, Illinois; Sgt. Dain Petipren of Kalamazoo, Michigan; Sgt. Richard Carlson of Saint Louis Park, Minnesota; Sgt. Christian Stafford of Monroe, Ohio; and Sgt. Josiah Bell of Rochester, Minnesota.
Miska, of the 850th Engineer Company, Minnesota National Guard, was awarded the 2022 Region IV Army National Guard Soldier of the Year. Kleinhans of the Wisconsin National Guard was the first runner-up and Lawson of the Indiana National Guard was the second runner-up.
“Winning regionals for me is the honor of a lifetime,” said Miska. “Not only do I represent Minnesota, but I also now hold the responsibility of representing the six states I competed against.”
With nationals in July, Miska is sure he will have enough time to improve his skills and perform better.
“I am training to bring Region IV the representation it deserves,” he said.
In the NCO category, Carlson, of 1st Battalion, 94th Cavalry Regiment, Minnesota National Guard, was awarded the 2022 Region IV Army National Guard NCO of the Year. Petipren of the Michigan National Guard was the first runner-up and Bell of the Wisconsin National Guard was the second runner-up.
“I’m most excited to compete and represent the Minnesota National Guard at the next level,” said Carlson. “My sponsor, Sgt. 1st Class Snater, and I have had a really good team dynamic, and I look forward to competing alongside Spc. Miska. It’s awesome that Minnesota is representing both the Soldier of the year and the NCO of the year.”