FORT HUNTER LIGGETT, Calif. - Spc. Jonathan Chacon traversed the terrain of the land navigation course, climbing hills, crossing rivers, negotiating spurs and draws with skill and athleticism. His path was winding once he had plotted his points. However, he found all of them in the time allotted. Tired, but undeterred, he returned to the start point psyched for the next event.
It was this kind of mental and physical strength that carried Chacon through the trials and tribulations he would face over four grueling days to take home the trophy for top honors amongst junior-enlisted soldiers at the 2012 79th Sustainment Support Command Best Warrior Competition at Fort Hunter Liggett, Calif., April 23-26.
The Best Warrior Competition is a test of soldiers’ mental, physical and emotional toughness and endurance. It includes a vast array of events designed to test tactical and technical ability and knowledge, ranging from an Army Physical Fitness Test to weapons qualification, to a board appearance. The competition is divided into junior-enlisted and non-commissioned officer categories, with the winner of each moving on to the next level. In this case, the seven soldiers assembled were vying for a spot in the U.S. Army Reserve BWC Finals at Fort McCoy, Wis., in July.
Chacon, of the 163rd Ordnance Company, 311th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, will now move on to represent the 79th SSC at this event.
According to Chacon, he knew he needed work on his land navigation skills, based on his results at the 311th BWC, in which he didn’t fare as well as he would have liked in that specific event.
“I just wanted improvement from last time,” said Chacon, a La Puente, Calif. native. “I just tried to remember something my sponsor told me – ‘Slow is smooth, smooth is fast,’ and to really think it through this time.”
Not only did Chacon discover all four points during the day land navigation, but also unearthed two-of-three on the night course.
On his heels, the entire competition was Spc. Carlton Joyner, 191st Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 96th Support Brigade, who was neck-and-neck with Chacon from the first event of the competition, the Army Physical Fitness Test, all the way up to the finish line.
Sgt. Donovan Brunkalla, 163rd Ordnance Company, 311th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, who was Chacon’s sponsor, was aware of the soldier who was stalking his warrior, he said.
“We knew Joyner was right there with us,” said Brunkalla. “We even thought we were behind because he kept out-pointing us by a few on each event.”
Joyner scored the maximum 50 points on the APFT, while Chacon put 47 on the board.
Excellent by most standards, but not by his, at least for this competition, said Brunkalla.
“He finished the run third at 12:10, but was disappointed because he knew he could do better,” he said.
At the same time, the junior-enlisted soldiers were chasing glory, non-commissioned officers were engaged in a battle of their own for a trip to the finals.
Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Alexander, 96th Sustainment Brigade, 79th Sustainment Support Command, proved to be king of the asphalt, winning both the APFT run and the six-mile road march, with his lanky frame and long strides leading him to victory in both events.
“I knew my road march and APFT would be strong,” said Alexander. “But, I also knew with the caliber of soldiers out here, there would be some who would be stronger than me at certain events, so I wasn’t overconfident.”
It would be a mental approach that would serve Alexander well over the course of the competition, for there were the inevitable barriers and obstacles to overcome on the road to victory.
“I need to improve on my weapons qualification and combatives,” he said.
Alexander also pointed out a factor that made the competition tougher for all the warriors compared to the previous, lower-level competitions they had won to get to this point.
“It was very challenging,” said Alexander. “I got a lot less sleep and not much time to rest between events.”
Alexander also praised his sponsor, without whose help, he couldn’t have done it, he said.
One of the marquee events of the entire competition was Modern Army Combatives. Bodies twisted and tangled on the mat as the warriors grappled frantically to gain an advantage over their opponents.
Once all the blood and sweat had been shed, Sgt. Gustavo Negrete, Headquarters, Headquarters Company, 79th Sustainment Command, was the last man standing with his arm raised in triumph after vanquishing one tough opponent after another.
Negrete, who won the MAC event at the USARC Finals last year, showed he hadn’t lost the fire by fighting his way through four grueling matches including defeating Spc. Ethan Riley of Joint Special Troops Support Command in the overall showdown after finishing off Cpl. Michael May of the 11th Military Police Brigade in the Non-commissioned Officer final.
Negrete said he was brimming with belief in himself after beating May, who he gave up approximately five inches and 30 pounds.
“I figured if I could beat him, there was no doubt I could beat my next opponent,” he said. “It established a solid foundation of confidence.”
Following the physical beating, the warriors endured during the first three-plus days of the competition, it was now time to shine in military dress uniforms and put their best foot forward for a written exam, essay and finally the board appearance.
After this, it was all over but the shouting.
The warriors returned to their barracks, knowing finally they had run the gauntlet – mentally, physically and emotionally-drained after four straight days of tactical and technical testing.
Once the winners were announced at the awards luncheon, the spoils belonged to the victors, while the vanquished were left to think about what might have been and where they need improvement.
However, the main theme behind the competition is not necessarily to win a trophy, but to gain valuable knowledge and experience soldiers can build on and pass along to their peers upon returning to their respective units.
For Chacon, the entire competitive journey is to ultimately prove something, he said.
“I’m looking to go all the way to the Department of the Army level,” he said. “Reserve soldiers are just as good and that’s a point that needs to be proven.”
Story by: Sgt. Scott Akanewich