FORT LEE, Va. - Twenty eight enlisted Soldiers and noncommissioned officers, or NCOs, from across the Army's 14 commands competed in a mentally and physically challenging competition here to see who among them was the best of the best during the Army's 2014 Best Warrior Competition Oct. 6-9.
The competition recognizes Soldiers who have won at lower echelon competition levels by demonstrating their commitment to the Army values and the Warrior Ethos.
"There can be only one person who wins in the Soldier and NCO level. Your representation of your command speaks not only of you, but also more importantly, from my perspective, (of)the leaders that helped you to get here," said Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond Chandler III.
"You are the Army's example of what makes a Soldier a Soldier," Chandler said.
The first full day of competition began Oct. 7, and from the start, the Army National Guard competitors had to use their skills and mental prowess to overcome the obstacles before them.
"We started off today with the Army Physical Fitness Test in our (combat uniforms), and then straight into warrior tasks and battle drills, and it's been good, but it's been pretty physically challenging so far," said the Army Guard's top enlisted Soldier, Army Sgt. Ryan Montgomery, an infantryman with the Arkansas Army National Guard's Company D, 2nd Battalion, 153rd Infantry Regiment.
After their APFT, competitors had to road march from each warrior task and battle drill lane, something that Montgomery had to dig deep to push through.
"I hadn't particularly trained to carry around that much gear and that much weight for so many hours at a time and walked so many miles," Montgomery said. "During one of the lanes - that I ended up struggling with - I went straight to another lane and cramped up so bad that I had to stop and sit aside for a minute.
"I overcame it, and the main reason was I thought about how much support I have and that's what really motivates me to continue forward when I think I have nothing left," he said.
The Army Guard's top NCO, Army Staff Sgt. Devin Jameson Sr., a combat medic with the Utah Army National Guard's 2nd Battalion, 640th Regiment (Regional Training Institute), knew the competition would be tough and had the mental strategy to overcome the challenges.
"I expected [this competition] to be challenging and to test us on all the areas of being a Soldier, and collectively throughout every competition I have been tested in all those different areas," Jameson said.
"I have to remember sometimes that you just have to put your head down and keep putting one foot in front of the next and eventually you're going to hit the end of the event and the end of the day, but no matter how challenging it can seem at the time, you have to ... take on each event the best you can and then put it behind you ... until you hit the end," he said.
Both competitors said they felt honored to have had the opportunity to represent the Army Guard at such a high level competition.
"You always try to focus on the task at hand, the mission, and succeeding as best you can, but at the same time what has been going through my head ... is 'Hey I'm here representing the (Army) National Guard, and there are 350,000 Soldiers that I'm out here trying to perform for,' and that's a huge motivation to know that that support is behind me," Montgomery said.
"It's a tremendous honor to be asked to represent more than 350,000 Army National Guard members and I feel a huge responsibility," he said.
Jameson added, "From a training perspective, this has been an invaluable experience. All of these different warrior tasks and battle drills showed me where I'm strong and what areas I need to work on."
During an awards ceremony Oct. 9, Montgomery was recognized as the first runner up in the Soldier category of the competition.
"My goal coming here was to prove that the (Army)National Guard ... can still compete on the same level as the active component, regardless of if I won or not," Montgomery said.
The command sergeant major of the Army National Guard, Command Sgt. Maj. Brunk Conley, agreed.
Army Guard Soldiers are just as good as everyone else and they always perform admirably, but it's tough for any of the competitors to win here, regardless of their command they all should be proud to be here, Conley said.
"To finish second this year, I am proud of Montgomery. Every level of competition in this process, it doesn't matter if you are a winner or not, you are still going to be a better Soldier than you were beforehand just from the experience," he said.
Montgomery said he plans to pay forward that experience and knowledge to next year's competitors.
"We learn so much in this competition, and it's important to take that knowledge and pass it on to next year's Soldiers of the year and make sure that the (Army)Guard is ready for the competition next year," he said.
And for whoever that competitor is next year, Montgomery, with a smile, offered this advice: "You better do better than I did!"
"I have no doubt that the Army National Guard will represent well again next year and that they will perform just as well as the active component and," he said.