Story by Staff Sgt. Rufus Stuckey
U.S. Army Reserve Command
JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. – With just three hours of sleep, day three opened to an 8-mile ruck march, plus two surprise miles at the end. For the last mile, teams of four soldiers carried 165-pound manikins to the real finish line.
Yet, the day was far from over.
Spc. Ian P. Balag said he felt good at the beginning, but as the day went on, he pushed himself by focusing on taking one step at a time.
“People get tired – this is when they want to stop,” said Balag. “Whereas, when I get tired, I try to push through it because I know that’s the time other people are going to slow down.”
Balag is an information management specialist with the U.S. Army Pacific Support Unit located at Fort Shafter, Hawaii, and one of 42 competitors in the 2014 Army Reserve Best Warrior competition at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey. At 21 years old, he is representing the 9th Mission Support Command based in Honolulu, Hawaii.
The U.S. Army Reserve Best Warrior competition tests Soldiers' resiliency and warrior skills in events such as the Army Physical Fitness Test, M4 rifle and 9 mm pistol qualification ranges, hand-to-hand combatives, day and night land navigation, 8-mile ruck march, urban operations and several mystery events throughout the week.
At home in Kapolei, Hawaii, Balag is a full-time student at the University of Hawaii Leeward Community College studying information technology. He said he plans to transfer to the University of Hawaii-West O’ahu or University of Hawaii-Manoa to complete his degree.
After the first eight miles, the warriors stopped to fire their weapons before picking up their packs again to finish the final two.
“At one point I was so tired I could hear my heart beat though the ear plugs,” said Balag while on the firing range.
Balag admits he gets nervous at competitions.
“Once the competition starts, you get a little nervous … but once the first day is over, you just kind of forget about it and you go in this mode where you are just going,” he said. “You’re not thinking about how well am I doing, how are the other competitors doing – you’re just thinking about yourself and doing your best and try your hardest and that stress gets overcome by your determination and the adrenaline – the nervousness just goes away.”
Balag is not at the competition alone, Staff Sgt. Flor Velasco, Jr., also from the Pacific Support Command, is here as his sponsor providing support and encouragement along the way.
“Right from the beginning there were two candidates to represent our unit – I pushed for Balag to compete,” Velasco said. “I just knew he had the drive.”
Balag won the Best Warrior competition for the 9th Medical Support Command before coming to New Jersey and has learned how to focus.
“In the last competition, I always thought about the next event. What’s tomorrow… a couple hours from now,” he said. “But in this event I strictly thought about the event we’re doing.
“The focus for the ruck march was to put all my attention to that, while we’re doing it – not worry about anything else that’s what really helped me out.”
Balag he will keep going one step at a time and push through the pain to represent the 9th MSC.
“I get motivation from myself and not wanting to let my peers down or my unit - especially since I am representing the pacific,” he said. “Coming from such a long way – it’s a long trip – I don’t want it to be for nothing or take it for granted.”