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Best Warrior Competition 2013

CAMP JOSEPH T. ROBINSON, AR A combat medic from Arkansas and an infantryman from Florida earned the titles of Army National Guard Soldier of the Year and Noncommissioned Officer of the Year after winning the Guard's Best Warrior Competition in July.

Sergeant Piero Lopez, assigned to the Arkansas Army Guard’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 153rd Infantry Regiment, was named top Soldier, the second year in a row an Arkansas Soldier has won the contest. (Sergeant Matthew Howard was one of the two winners last year.) Sergeant Anthony Calvi of the Florida Army Guard’s Company A, 1st Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment, was named top NCO. Lopez and Calvi will go on to represent the Army National Guard in the 2013 Army Best Warrior Competition, which will be held later this year at Fort Lee, VA.

The National Guard’s Best Warrior contest, held this year at the Robinson Maneuver Training Center in North Little Rock, AR, pitted 14 competitors against one another in 10 events over the course of 56 grueling hours. For the competitors, the event was the culmination of training that began months ago with unit, state and regional competitions.

The soldiering skills and subjects covered for this event included weapons knowledge, casualty care, marksmanship and general Army doctrine. Also, competitors had to negotiate various tactical scenarios that involved engaging multiple targets, transporting a casualty and responding to a number of different challenges and surprises along the way.

For Calvi, the ruck march was among the most difficult events. The competitors weren’t told how long they were going to be rucking. How you pace yourself during a ruck usually depends on the distance, Calvi says. So for this event, his strategy was just to keep going as hard as possible.

“Those two hills that were here [on the ruck march course], I underestimated them,” he says. “I can’t train for hills in Florida. I just kept pushing it. You never stop moving your feet. I just kept driving on, and I knew the end of the hill was going to come sooner or later. Though it came later rather than sooner.”

Even though the event was draining, he never gave up. “It’s just never quitting,” Calvi says. “I take the Warrior Ethos part of it and apply it to my performances. As long as you do your best,” the results will show.

Both Calvi and Lopez also found motivation to succeed from the support of their coaches and comrades. “There was a lot of support from my coach and from my unit as well,” Lopez says. “I definitely couldn’t have done it without them. They provided so much for me, especially when I was emotionally unstable or when I was down from some event. They always told me to focus on the next event, and it’s key because it’s how you do on your next event that matters.”

The competitors themselves also supported one another, despite the intensity of the nonstop, three-day event. “They may have been in competition with each other, but they were still comrades,” says Command Sergeant Major Brunk W. Conley, the command sergeant major of the Army National Guard. “They were pulling for each other and helping each other and rooting each other on. They didn’t want to lose—they wanted to win—but, it wasn’t at the expense of somebody getting hurt or somebody’s pride or not being supportive of the others.”

Conley emphasizes that each of the competitors embodied what it means to have the Warrior Ethos spirit: placing the mission first, never quitting, never accepting defeat and never leaving a fallen comrade. He adds that any of the 14 Soldiers could have won.

Calvi also recognized the high caliber of Soldiers in the field, and he took every opportunity to learn from them. “We all have our strong points and our weaknesses here,” he says. “Not every competitor here is going to get first place in every single event. It shifts around, and you learn from the other competitors and their strengths. So that was really good training for me.”

Not only will this help Calvi improve, but it will also help his fellow Soldiers as well. He plans to pass along everything he’s learned to his unit. Conley acknowledges that this is exactly how the Army National Guard creates such strong Soldiers, because it provides an atmosphere for Soldiers to learn from one another and improve.

Calvi and Lopez will continue training to get themselves ready for the Army’s Best Warrior Competition. Calvi says he’s still sore from the Guard’s event, but he knows what he needs to improve.

“I’ve been humbled in this competition, and I’m going to work on [those weak areas] to make them my strengths instead of my weaknesses,” he says.

Lopez’s strategy is simple: He’ll give everything he has in the Army’s competition. “It’s a pretty awesome feeling being able to represent the Army National Guard at the next level,” he says. “I’m going to do my best.”

– Story by SFC Jon Soucy; Photo by SGT Betty Boyce