FORT BRAGG, NC. –
The summer sun bears down on the Soldiers who do their best to find what little shade they can. Some prop themselves up against trees while others take refuge inside large cement culverts. Breaks are coveted for these Soldiers, because they are competing for the title of best junior enlisted and noncommissioned officer in the U.S. Army Reserve.
For Spc. Christopher McNally, a combat engineer with the 364th Engineer Company, the heat and stress brought on by the 2019 U.S. Army Reserve Best Warrior Competition are nothing new. McNally is a former wildland firefighter, a job that involves battling wildfires, which can be miles away from any water sources.
“When you’re on a big fire, or any fire for that matter, you can be stuck in the middle of nowhere,” he said. “You have to ruck or pack in, and then you’re digging a hand line to try and stop the fire. You’re lucky if you have water.”
The last big fire McNally, from Medicine Lodge, Kansas, worked on was in 2015 in Northern California and covered 150,000 acres. According to him, he and his team were spread out for miles battling the flames. Unsurprisingly, the job is a dangerous one; firefighters not only have to worry about the fire itself, but also falling trees and rocks. Even while on a break waiting to begin the next event, he notices trees that seem at risk of falling.
The challenges that he faced while on the job are the reason he joined the U.S. Army Reserve; he missed them. The current iteration of the ARBWC, which takes place from June 23-29, 2019, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, offers plenty of those. Competitors have had to not only prove themselves physically through events such as obstacle courses and weapons usage, but also mentally by doing well on both written and practical exams.
McNally admits that the competition is fierce, but he wants it this way.
“There are some men and women who are very high-level competitors,” he said, a grin on his face. While he does not know how well he is doing, he knows that his fellow Soldiers are pushing him and challenging him at every event and he is fine with that.
“I’m sore, I’m beat up, but I know how to take care of myself,” he said. “Mentally, I’m tired but I’m good. This is just a week long and then I’ll get to go home.”
The winners, selected on June 29, 2019, will represent the U.S. Army Reserve in the Department of the Army Best Warrior Competition later this year at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia.