FORT MCCOY, Wisc. – After a week of grueling competition that included firing ranges, 20 miles of foot marching, obstacle courses, and simulated events, the U.S. Army Reserve announced the two winners of the 2020 U.S. Army Reserve Best Warrior Competition during its awards luncheon at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, Sept. 10.
Staff Sgt. Benjamin L. Latham, a Sapper-qualified combat engineer from Joliet, Illinois, won the title of Noncommissioned Officer of the Year, and Spc. Stanley T. Thompson, an indirect fire infantryman from Sacramento, California, won in the category of Soldier of the Year.
Latham and Thompson won in their respective categories against 42 other competitors who travelled to Wisconsin from various parts of the country on Sept. 4.
“It was a tough competition,” said Thompson. “I was up against a lot of good Soldiers out there. I did not think I was gonna do it. (The win) came as a big surprise to me.”
The annual event brings together the best Soldiers across the Army Reserve to compete for the title of Best Warrior. During the competition, organizers evaluate Soldiers on their technical skills, physical fitness, and ability to adapt and overcome challenging and battle-focused scenarios.
“Although you came here as competitors, I’m confident you will leave here having grown closer to the brothers and sisters to your left and to your right,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Andrew Lombardo, the U.S. Army Reserve command sergeant major and host of the ceremony.
“I know you will remember this week for a long time. Cherish it. Use this experience to push yourselves, your squads and your Soldiers forward. I’m proud of you,” he said.
Both Latham and Thompson represented the 95th Training Division (Initial Entry Training), 108th Training Command (Initial Entry Training) in this year’s competition.
Latham is a firefighter and an emergency medical technician in his civilian occupation, a graduate of the Chicago Police Academy, and a drill sergeant serving with Charlie Company, 2-330th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 95th Training Division.
Thompson works as a security guard outside of the military and is a member of Delta Company, 3-378th Regiment, 1st Brigade, 95th Training Division.
The two winners will move on to represent the U.S. Army Reserve in the Department of the Army Best Warrior Competition later this year.
Prior to the competition, Latham completed the Sapper Leader Course, a demanding 28-day leadership course for combat engineers that focuses on leading troops, demolition, and mountaineering operations.
“I enjoy challenging myself. Challenges are how you stay sharp and ensure you are at the level needed to successfully lead troops. What better way is there to test that than to compete with other NCOs?” he said about his desire to compete in this year’s Best Warrior.
He has been in the Army for 11 years and served in numerous other assignments, including transportation and Honor Guard Instructor, and deployed to Saudi Arabia (2017-2018).
“You don’t realize just how uniquely free America is until you live in a country that isn’t. Never take our freedom for granted,” said Latham about his deployment experience.
In addition to being Sapper-qualified, Latham is also airborne and air assault qualified.
Thompson, who has six years of military experience, competed in at least two other Best Warrior Competitions at lower tiers before reaching this level.
“I wanted to challenge myself physically and mentally and observe what I am lacking,” said Thompson. “This is also a stepping-stone to more competitions and ultimately earning a slot in Ranger School.”
His interests include gaming, firearms training, physical fitness, and volunteering for military events, and has ambitions to become a drill sergeant one day.
When asked about what it means to be a Best Warrior, Thompson answered, “It comes down to your personality and commitment to your Soldiers, not just to duty, honor and commitment. If you are just doing it for yourself and not considering your other Soldiers, I don’t believe that fits a Best Warrior (image). Warriors are not always the outgoing ones, but always the one put others in front of themselves regardless of the situation.”
Throughout the competition, Soldiers shot at firing ranges with the pistol, rifle, shotgun, various machine guns and a grenade launcher. They overcame obstacle courses, navigated through Wisconsin landscape, cleared a shoot house, completed the Army Combat Fitness Test and the German Basic Fitness Test, and reported to a presentation board where they answered questions about U.S. Army history, regulations, and policies.
Throughout the planning and execution stages of Best Warrior, the U.S. Army Reserve cadre and staff took every precaution to minimize the risk of COVID-19 exposure for their Soldiers, staff, and civilian workforce. They were dedicated to hosting a “boots on ground competition,” without compromising safety.
“We are in the business of owning risk. It’s our job to mitigate risk. Why? What is our mission? To fight and win against our enemies, foreign and domestic. In order to be relevant, you have to be ready. This competition proves that,” said Lombardo.
The Best Warrior Competition has taken much of their guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations and Fort McCoy’s own risk assessment that they created. Soldiers and cadre were required to wear facemasks, get their temperature checked and recorded daily, and wash their hands at portable hand-washing stations before entering high-traffic areas. There was also plenty of personal protective gear, like gloves and extra masks used throughout the week.
“We have the competitive advantage,” Lombardo told the Soldiers earlier in the day before the ceremony. “You know why? We, the noncommissioned officer corps, are that competitive advantage. This is why I think we will win against our enemies. We have Soldiers who have a right to excellence.”