FORT HUNTER LIGGETT, Calif. –
More than 40 enlisted Soldiers and junior officers competed for a chance to be called "Best Warrior” at the 79th Theater Sustainment Command’s Best Warrior/Top Squad/Top Junior Officer Competition July 14-18, 2020, held at Fort Hunter Liggett, California.
Competitors were evaluated as a squad and on an individual basis on accomplishing days of grueling tasks, while working together as a team. Some of the challenges competitors faced included ruck marches, two and a half Army Physical Fitness Tests in a row, the Army Combat Fitness Test, an appearance before a board, land navigation, weapons proficiency, and overnight patrol base operations—all on limited sleep.
A new dynamic for both competitors and support staff this year was conducting a competition during a global pandemic.
Safety measures such as mandatory temperature checks, masks, and hand sanitation stations were some of the ways 79th staff mitigated COVID-19 risk, while executing challenging training. Competitors also remained in “pods;” essentially a smaller group of no more than 10 people that exclusively interacted together when masks were removed and 6 feet of distance could not be maintained. The concept behind “pods” or “bubbles,” is to limit the reach of potential exposure, should any exposure occur.
“When you accomplish something as a team—there’s a special sense of accomplishment,” said Jeffery Harris, 79th TSC command safety director.
Harris pointed out the multiple levels of command guidance that were consulted when considering holding an in-person competition and that the goal was to safely return to training. Guidance from the Department of Defense all the way down to the installation-level had to be considered and followed.
“We mobilized isolated, remotely-working staffs and far-flung organizations to coordinate a complex mission and return to Soldier training,” Harris said.
While it was a logistically complicated mission, Harris explained the Army Reserve has a duty to remain ready to defend the Nation, no matter the operating environment.
With the addition of additional safety precautions and masks worn during as much of the competition as possible, many of the events otherwise went on as they normally would.
At the culmination of the grueling five-day competition, Spc. Diego Ruelas was named best warrior (junior Soldier), and Sgt. Joshua Burke earned the title of best noncommissioned officer, both under the 4th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary). Capt. Jonathan Darnall, representing the 364th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), took the title of top junior officer, along with both top physical fitness and top marksmanship scores. The 4th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary)’s team was named top squad.
Ruelas, a native of Amarillo, Texas, and a wheeled vehicle mechanic in the 974th Quartermaster Company, said staying motivated throughout the competition was paramount for him.
Ruelas, who’s also a student at Amarillo College, said in winning this competition he proved to himself he can achieve bigger goals that he has for his life.
“This competition has been the hardest compared to the others I’ve been to,” Ruelas said, referencing the preliminary competitions at the ESC level.
For all the competitors, getting in excellent shape was an important part in competition prep. However, with many gyms throughout the nation closed due to COVID-19 precautions, competitors had to be creative in the ways they prepared.
“I try to stay in shape,” Ruelas said. “I think that’s the biggest thing.”
Ruelas explained he did a lot of running leading up to the competition and also conditioned his body with boxing.
Darnall, of Boise, Idaho, also said coming up with an excellent home fitness plan was a staple of his success.
“I’m pretty proud of the training I did … every day I went to the garage, or rucked, or ran,” Darnall, an analyst for Wells Fargo in his civilian capacity, explained.
Darnall said he created a makeshift gym in his garage with only one dumbbell, a foot locker for box jumps, and an exercise mat. He explained that he also ran on his local track and ruck marched a few times per week.
Darnall said he entered the competition because he was looking for a way to challenge himself and he wasn’t disappointed. He said Best Warrior was tougher than he originally expected, and while he’s humbled to have won the title of top junior officer, he also acknowledges that he put in a lot of work during training.
“The competition was challenging and thought-provoking,” concluded Darnall, a quartermaster officer, said. “I liked the addition of the squad—it’s a different dynamic. I built some relationships I wouldn’t have had otherwise.”
Another element that made this year’s competition unique is the addition of warrant officers to the event.
Warrant Officer Misty Kim is the first warrant officer to ever participate in a 79th TSC best warrior.
“This was definitely the most physically challenging thing I’ve done in my military career,” Kim, a mobility warrant officer, said of the competition.
According to Kim, she wasn’t previously in the top physical shape she is now, and always wished that she could do something physically tough like best warrior, but felt underprepared. She said when she attended Warrant Officer Candidate School (WOCS) last year that changed.
After WOCS, Kim continued ruck marching at least 4-6 miles once per week, and would also run up to seven miles per session. Her two daughters, aged 14 and 11 sometimes accompany her on runs and rucks.
“Rucking was always a weakness for me, but I realized I enjoy it,” Kim said, who’s also an Army civilian analyst at the 79th TSC in the mobilization and readiness section.
Kim, who celebrated her 40th birthday on the last day of the competition, explained she felt she could be an example to the younger Soldiers in her squad, and in the competition.
“As a warrant, I feel like there’s a bigger responsibility,” Kim said. “I can’t be out there complaining.”
Kim elaborated that at times when she felt physically and mentally challenged, she encouraged the platoon to fight through as a team and valued the comradery. She also said she would do the competition again, given the chance.
The winners of the 79th’s best warrior/top squad event will go on to represent the TSC at the United States Army Reserve-level competition, currently scheduled for Sept. 4-10, 2020, at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin.