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NEWS | Aug. 23, 2012

Architect of the Army Guard's Best Warrior Competition reflects on the evolution of the competition

By Sgt. Darron Salzer, U.S. Army National Guard National Guard Bureau

ARLINGTON, Va. - In June 2005, the selection process for the Soldier and noncommissioned officer of the year for the Army National Guard was a very different process.

Known then as the Soldier and NCO of the Year Competition the regional winners from throughout the Army Guard had to then compete at the First Army level, then again at U.S. Army Forces Command, before reaching the Department of the Army competition.

For Command Sgt. Maj. John Gipe, who in 2005 was the command sergeant major of the Army Guard, that process seemed to need a revamping.

Since the Army National Guard was a three-star command, just like First Army, Gipe said that as he watched the Guard competition unfold in 2006, it didn't make sense to him why Army Guard Soldiers had to compete at another three-star command to advance to the DA level.

"But more importantly, as the largest organization within the Army, I felt that it was important to the Soldiers of the Army National Guard to have their own [Noncommissioned Officer] and Soldier of the Year Competition … within our own organization," said Gipe, who now serves as the senior enlisted advisor for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs.

He approached the Army Reserve command sergeant major to see if there was any interest in creating a similar competition within the Army Reserve, as they too had to send their Soldiers through First Army as well.

The two sergeants major were in agreement and they approached the sergeant major of the Army about changing how the Army Guard and Army Reserve competed.

Gipe also wanted to revamp the competition itself, in addition to the process that Soldiers and noncommissioned officers competed.

At the time, the competition included Soldier tasks, an Army Physical Fitness Test and weapons qualifications, but it in no way compared to the Army's new competition, which was much more physically and mentally demanding.

"I knew what I wanted to do," he said about the change. "I wanted to make sure our guys went in to this [Department of the Army] competition knowing they are the best prepared and the best trained they can be – and if they won our competition, they can win any competition."

Gipe's next step was a call to the Army National Guard's Warrior Training Center at Fort Benning, Ga.

"I wanted our competition to be harder than the (Department of the Army) Best Warrior Competition; to stress our Soldiers to the point that when they went to the Army's Best Warrior Competition, they had the confidence to know they could compete with anyone, anywhere – and win," he said.

The Warrior Training Center was the only organization that could push competitors that hard and take care of them within a stressful environment, he said.

"After all, they conducted Pre-Ranger, Air Assault and several other high-stress courses for the Army," Gipe said.

The cadre at the center worked up Gipe's initial ideas.

"The command sergeant major of the center at the time drew up a draft of the [new] competition based on the Army's Best Ranger competition … and my vision for what I wanted our competition to be like," he said. "I told him I wanted it to be non-stop and … what things had to be there to mirror the Army competition, but the rest was left to whatever he saw fit."

Gipe said his goal was to take what the Army did in five days, and fit it into two days.

"That's changed over time," he said. "It's no longer the 42-hour Ranger Challenge-like competition."

Today, the Army Guard's Best Warrior Competition is conducted over a five-to-six day period, a major change from its fledgling beginnings in 2007, but the results brought out by the revamped competition were seen not long after its introduction.

In 2008, during the second year of the Army Guard's reinvented Best Warrior Competition, the Army Guard's NCO of the Year—Army Staff Sgt. Michael Noyce-Merino from the Montana Army National Guard—went on to win the Department of the Army level competition and was named the Army's NCO of the Year.

"We came a long way in a short period of time," Gipe said, referring to 2008. "I really don't think that the active component thought Guard and Reserve Soldiers were capable of [winning].

"That same year, the Army Reserve won the Soldier of the Year competition," he exclaimed. "So here in the year of the NCO, both reserve components held the titles – it was pretty phenomenal and rattled a few cages on the active side."

That represented a pretty significant moment for the Army, said Gipe.

"I thought it was a big step for us, but also a big step for the Army because it showed that they were not afraid to let their reserve components shine when they deserved to shine," he said. "It was a pretty significant moment for the Army."

In 2011 another Guard member, Army Sgt. Guy Mellor from the Utah Army National Guard, won the Army competition to become the second NCO of the Year from the Guard in four years.

With such great success in such a short amount of time, Gipe said the face of the Army-wide competition has been changed for the better.

"I guarantee it has elevated the level of competition at the DA level," he said. "It's extremely tough out there now, and even tougher to win in the states now with what this competition has come to be, but that's the good news.

Gipe said the program has been a huge success overall and gives much credit to the Soldiers who compete, but also to the state command sergeants major and the staff at the Warrior Training Center.

"Throughout the last 10-plus years, our Soldiers have built a reputation for being quality Soldiers and NCOs through their outstanding performance of duty while deployed – both at home and abroad," he said.

"What Staff Sgt. Noyce-Merino and Sgt. Mellor have done is to elevate that awareness of the quality of our enlisted corps to the American public."