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NEWS | Nov. 27, 2013

Two Army National Guard members test Soldier skills against peers

By Sgt. 1st Class Jon Soucy National Guard Bureau

FORT LEE, Va. - Two members of the Army National Guard were among those competing to be named the Army's Noncommissioned Officer and Soldier of the Year during the Department of the Army's Best Warrior Competition here.

Sgt. Piero Lopez, a combat medic with the Arkansas Army Guard's Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 153rd Infantry Regiment competed for Soldier of the Year while Sgt. Anthony Calvi, an infantryman with the Florida Army Guard's Company A, 1st Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment competed in the NCO category.

For Lopez, who was promoted to sergeant in the time after he won preliminary Best Warrior Competitions, the competition was a chance to test his Soldier skills against the best of the Army.

"It's been more of trying to mentally prepare myself for thins next competition," he said. "It's up to a level where pretty much every skill a Soldier has will be tested."

But, going into the competition, Lopez said he had a plan and mindset on how he was going to approach things.

"Every competition I've done I've always had a plan," he said. "I'm always going to be on my toes. I'm going to be prepared for anything. And, I'm just going to do my best and give it my all. It's the last competition I'm going to do, so there's no reason I should be nervous or crack under stress. I'm going to give it my all."

The competition began with the Army Physical Fitness Test and from there competitors were tested on a variety of skills including reacting to indirect fire and a close ambush, casualty care and medical evacuation as well as basic leadership skills and problem solving and the manual or arms among other tasks.

Navigating through each of the event scenarios provided enough challenges on their own, but getting to each station involved traversing a roughly 14-mile course.

"I'm a bit tired and sore," said Calvi after the first day of the two-day competition. "I feel good. I think I've done pretty well. I've talked with the other competitors and everybody seems to be struggling with the same events and excelling in the same events."

Calvi said many of the events were physically demanding, but they were also mentally challenging as well, including several where competitors had to use items like rope and boards to transport items across a certain area.

"They gave you a fire team and you (had) about six different stations where they give you a task and you have to complete it. Whether it was getting a barrel across using a rope and some chain and you have to get it over an objective and there's only so many ways you can do it. You really have to think on your feet and use your team wisely. I really enjoyed that."

For all the competitors, being able to work under stress was key.

"In these competitions, stress is a huge factor," said Lopez. "People under stress will begin to break down."

The key, said Lopez, is to work through that stress by determining what to focus on.

"A lot of times people under stress will just act because of the stress factor, because somebody is yelling in the background," he said. "You have to take a deep breath, think about what you're doing and then make a decision."

And Calvi agreed, adding that many elements at each event such as simulated artillery or people yelling was a way to up the stress factor.

"Going from event to event there was always loud noises or people firing weapons or artillery or sim grenades, but the whole point is to focus and that's what I did," said Calvi. "I just focused on the mission and all of that was just background noise and I was just really focused on getting the mission done."

Calvi added that some of the responses during the scenarios may have been outside of his experiences, but the elements behind the scenario pushed him forward.

"The stress behind it and that motivation to push yourself hard because you're traveling a lot and carrying a lot, that was realistic," he said. "For the competition itself, that did a great job."

The competition also allowed Calvi to further assess his abilities and add items he could pass on to Soldiers in his unit.

"This has shown me all my weaknesses, all my strengths and I can use that to train Soldiers from now on, motivate them and just show them that anyone can get this far and further through dedication and hard work," he said.

And that is the point of the competition, said Lopez, adding that it also built a further sense of being part of a team.

"We're competing against each other but in the end we're all brothers in arms," he said. "At the end of the day I can go back to the barracks and talk to them like they're my brothers. It's one team, one fight in the end."