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News from the Oklahoma National Guard

NEWS | May 2, 2023

Oklahoma Guardsmen compete to be Best Warrior

By Spc. Danielle Rayon, 145th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

Twelve of the Oklahoma Army National Guard’s best Citizen-Soldiers gathered to battle it out for the title of Best Warrior at Camp Gruber Training Center, Oklahoma, April 20-23.

At the end of the competition, Sgt. Evan Bias, a cavalry scout from Tuttle, Oklahoma, took home the title of Noncommissioned Officer of the Year, and Spc. Carson Downum, a horizontal construction engineer from Claremore, Oklahoma, earned the title of Soldier of the Year.

“It’s truly an honor,” Downum said. “It’s a big deal to everybody wearing the uniform so I’m really proud and it’ll be really cool to represent and try to fight off against the other states [at regionals].”

The annual competition brings together junior enlisted Soldiers and noncommissioned officers from units across the state to test their proficiency in a variety of warrior tasks. Events included an Army Combat Fitness Test, day and night land navigation, an obstacle course, multiple marksmanship challenges, a 12-mile ruck march, and an interview before a board of sergeants major.

Although the competitors vied for the title of NCO or Soldier of the Year, leaders and participants alike prioritized teamwork and camaraderie throughout the three-day event.

On the first day of the competition, Command Sgt. Maj. John Hernandez, state command sergeant major for Oklahoma, set the tone for the upcoming weekend while addressing the participants.

“You’re here to win, right? But at the end of the day, I want you all to remember something,” Hernandez said. “Everybody in this room belongs to the same organization. So, if you see one of your competitors struggling, don’t be afraid to help each other out. Work with each other, help each other grow, help each other be better Soldiers, which is going to help this organization be a better organization.”

Competitors embodied the sentiment in their performances, emphasizing personal growth and esprit de corps over beating out the competition.

“It’s a competition with yourself,” said Staff Sgt. Spencer Grayson, a returning competitor and 2022 Noncommissioned Officer of the Year assigned to the 700th Brigade Support Battalion. “Obviously the word ‘competition’ is in the name, but the focus isn’t on competing, it’s on learning and growing as Soldiers and NCOs.”

Guardsmen face a range of challenges, from natural disasters to combat missions, and must be able to withstand stress and adversity while remaining focused on the mission. The demanding tasks of the Best Warrior Competition help develop the Soldier’s physical, emotional, and mental resilience.

Spc. Sonia Martinez, a competitor assigned to Alpha Company, 777th Aviation Support Battalion, said she found the obstacle course particularly tough but was able to come away from the experience a more resilient Soldier.

“It just showed me that even if you fall down, you’re not going past that ground, so just get up and try again,” Martinez said.

The National Guard’s part-time status makes it crucial to maintain readiness and conduct events like this competition, as they allow the 12 participating Soldiers to enhance their skill sets and bring that knowledge back to their respective units.

“Everything you’re going to do over the next three days is tied to readiness,” Hernandez told the competitors. “Because if you’re not proficient at the basic skills, you’re not going to be proficient as a Soldier. And if you’re proficient as a Soldier, that builds your readiness because you as NCOs and future NCOs can take this back to your unit and you can start mentoring other Soldiers on how to get better at these simple tasks.”

Bias and Downum were awarded Army Commendation Medals and will go on to represent the Oklahoma National Guard in the Regional Best Warrior Competition later this year.
Video by Airman 1st Class Erika Chapa
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