By Spc. Elizabeth Hackbarth
U.S. Army Central
In the early morning hours, just before 2 a.m., well before the sun came up over the horizon, 11 dedicated U.S. Army Central Soldiers were awake and boarding the bus from Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, to Camp Buehring, Kuwait, to begin several days of intense physical and mental competition.
USARCENT hosted its 2021 Best Warrior Competition at Camp Buehring and Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, June 20-24. During the competition, warriors from all components battled through 76 hours of demanding mental and physical events in temperatures consistently above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
“It’s gonna be a great opportunity for me to see what I’m capable of and see what happens when the going gets tough,” said Spc. Phillip Guse, a medical laboratory specialist with 811th Hospital Center, 3rd Medical Command.
After the first day of in-processing and media interviews with the USARCENT Public Affairs team, the competitors traveled to Camp Buehring for an early morning Army Combat Fitness Test.
Guse achieved a rare and impressive feat, scoring a perfect 600, and all the competitors pushed each other to personal bests.
“I came out and did what I wanted to accomplish,” Guse said. “I managed to max it out with a 600. Every event went well, I kept the dream alive and once I got to the run, I just stuck it out and managed to get under the 13:30 mark. I think I’ll carry some of that momentum and motivation to the next event.”
Less than an hour after finishing the ACFT, competitors participated in an obstacle course with 10 challenges. They had to climb, crawl, drag and jump through various obstacles in the 114 degree Fahrenheit Kuwaiti heat.
The final obstacle gave most Soldiers the toughest time. It required them to lift 160-pound mannequins into a mock medical evacuation helicopter.
“Those dummies were pretty heavy. It just wasn’t working out [for me],” said Sgt. Ellahimod Alexander, a human resources noncommissioned officer with Area Support Group - Kuwait. “I wanted to quit, [but] one of the cadres [told me] if you leave one, you leave both. I started thinking about the warrior ethos. Never leave a fallen comrade. It hit me. At the end of the day, if it was an actual combat zone, and I had a battle buddy that was down, no matter his size I’m gonna have to try and get him out of there. So that motivated me.”
After the obstacle course, the competitors headed back to Camp Arifjan where they competed in Warrior Tasks and Battle Drills, took a written exam, and finished the day off by testing their ability to think under pressure during a physical training circuit event.
Having finished a full day of activities, competitors were able to fit in a few quick hours of sleep before continuing the competition the next morning.
“Running on three hours of sleep last night to another full day, I’m definitely drained,” said Sgt. Chad Phillips, an infantryman with Company B, 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 136th Infantry Regiment. “But I’m just gonna keep pushing through and see how it goes.”
His fellow competitors shared the same mentality.
“I’m really gonna have to push myself past my limit because I’m not used to being out in the heat, doing all those physical activities,” said Sgt. Jason E. Javier, a veterinary food inspector noncommissioned officer with 993rd Medical Detachment, 3rd Medical Command. “It’s going to take a lot of mental strength because you’re pushing yourself through a situation that you’re not usually used to.”
The new day began with a mystery event which consisted of a 5-kilometer ruck march and numerous challenges laid out for them on the physical training field. Soldiers had to wear a protective mask while performing combat life saving measures to a mannequin then fireman’s carry it across the field. They also had to flip tires and pull a 40-pound sled. Competitors were not informed of what tasks they would have to complete until the event began, creating an extra mental demand for them to quickly adapt to and overcome.
“I thought it was just going to be just the ruck,” said Spc. Rena Bailey, a wheeled vehicle mechanic assigned to Area Support Group - Kuwait. “So I was going as hard as I could, sprinted the last quarter mile of it, and then I saw that the entire PT field was covered with [challenges].”
Bailey struggled like everyone once she got to the field, but her fellow Best Warrior competitors wouldn’t let her stop.
“Of course we’re all competing and everyone wants to win,” said Spc. Khalil Norman, a financial management technician representing 1st Theater Sustainment Command. “But nobody wants to see another person give up. It helps to cheer each other on. If you want to be the best, you want to beat the best. So we try to bring the best out of everybody.”
Bailey said that support made a huge difference.
“My time would have been a lot worse if they weren’t there by my side, letting me know I’m almost there, and I got this,” said Bailey.
Following a land navigation exam and a weapons skills test at the Engagement Skills Trainer weapons simulator, the night concluded with the last physical event of the competition; an 8-mile ruck march under the moonlight in 110 degree temperatures.
“It really was a test of mettle, getting out there and doing eight miles after so many physical events,” said Spc. Omar H. Dacosta, an infantryman with Company C., 3rd Battalion, 172nd Infantry Regiment (Mountain), Task Force Spartan.
Dacosta and his fellow competitor, Guse, decided to complete the ruck side by side and crossed the finish line together.
“We made the decision that we were going to push each other, challenge each other, and whoever comes out on top, comes out on top,” said Dacosta. “But we ended up finishing together and it was really good. We’ve been really close this entire competition, and it was a way to motivate and push each other.”
If one thing was apparent throughout the competition, it was the camaraderie that developed between the competitors and their ability to get the best results out of one another.
“Esprit de corps,” said Staff Sgt. Anri Baril, a mass communications noncommissioned officer with Headquarter and Headquarters Battalion, U.S. Army Central. “We are all enduring the [struggle] together. And in our down times we’re talking about the small things, and the big things in life, our challenges, just getting to know each other. As time progresses, you come to see the Army as a band of brothers and sisters. This is one of those things where you see it. It’s not just superficial. The Warriors [in this competition] are pretty cool, and I enjoy the time we’re spending here, [struggling] together, whether I win, lose, or draw.”
The final challenge of the competition was the board event. Each competitor stood before a panel of command sergeants major chaired by USARCENT’s senior enlisted advisor, Command Sgt. Maj. Brian Hester, and were asked questions about various topics including Army doctrine, leadership, and current events.
“I think the board is one event that sets people apart in terms of whether or not they’re able to remain composed [under pressure] and answer questions correctly,” said Dacosta.
Bailey agreed, and said, “I think the only way to not be nervous when going into a board is to just know the material. So I’m going to study up until the moment I have to knock on that door.”
With the conclusion of the board and the competition complete, all that remained was for the top scorers to be announced.
At the recognition ceremony the following day, Dacosta earned the Soldier title and Sgt. Brandon Brantley, a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear noncommissioned officer with 25th Strategic Signal Battalion, took the NCO honors.
“To even get to this level, to compete against the people I had to compete against, it took a lot out of me,” said Brantley. “They motivated me a lot, and I am humbled by the competitors.”
Next, Brantley and Dacosta will travel back to the United States to train and represent USARCENT at the next level, the U.S. Army Forces Command 2021 Best Warrior Competition.
“I need to go on and represent everybody that I competed with and against,” said Dacosta. “And I need to represent all of ARCENT. So it’s definitely a sense of pride and a little bit of anticipation.”
Both competitors said they would miss the camaraderie and the relationships they gained with their competitors.
“But I’m definitely not going to miss [the heat],” said Brantley.
U.S. ARMY RESERVE
DEPT. OF DEFENSE
U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND
DEPT. OF HOMELAND SECURITY
BEST WARRIOR COMPETITION