A 1980s TV commercial of soldiers doing more before 9 in the morning than most people do all day still holds true. Fifteen soldiers from eight states proved it again and again in the National Guard’s Best Warrior Region VI competition May 14-17.
Host state Alaska was joined by Idaho, Washington, Oregon, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming in bringing their top NCOs and soldiers to compete in myriad tests for bragging rights and the opportunity to compete at the national level.
Oregon’s Sgt. Dane Moorehead came away as the region’s top NCO, and South Dakota’s Spc. Bailey Ruff was named the top soldier. Respective runners-up were North Dakota’s Sgt. Timothy Sybrant and Wyoming’s Spc. Wyatt Schiermeyer. The winners will compete at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, in July, against the best NCOs and soldiers in the Army and the National Guard. In the event Ruff cannot attend, Schiermeyer will take his place.
Although Cowboy State representative Schiermeyer had his moments over four days that culminated in a 6-mile road march, it rarely if ever diminished his contagious smile.
Amid the backdrop of scenic woods and majestic mountains, events that were highlighted included a physical fitness test with a 5-mile run; a run through an urban assault course; the equipment carry which ended with moving a 145-pound dummy; a casualty evacuation; a canoe trip across Otter Lake; a biathlon using fat-tire bikes and movement through a firing range using several weapons on a variety of targets. An oral board, a written test, and an essay on leadership challenged them mentally.
Alaska Guard’s planning and operations NCO, Sgt. Maj. Kent Connolly, celebrated the behind-the-scenes by the support cast. “A whole lot of planning went into this, from transportation to keeping people on track and on time,” he said. “We had a great time and we’ve enjoyed having other states’ (troops) up here. (The competitors) are pretty well-matched and close together skill wise, and the events were chosen to have an outdoor Alaska spin on them.”
Schiermeyer, 21, who serves as a heavy equipment operator in the 133rd Engineer Company based in Laramie, gives his accomplishment partial credit to fellow soldier and good friend Sgt. Ty Nieters who had previous experience in the Best Warrior competition. He told Schiermeyr to prepare by getting “super good at PT because a lot is fitness, to look over Task Level for knowledge about soldier skills and prepare for an experience of a lifetime.”
Schiermeyer added the competition “pushed my limits. It helped me learn more about the military and more about myself, and in getting the most out of the military.” Aside from becoming a better soldier, Schiermeyer is working toward degrees in environmental geology and geo-hydrology at the University of Wyoming.
With as much drive, Washington National Guard Sgt. Katelyn McNally said the hardest event was the equipment carry which ended in dragging a 145-pound dummy on a road up a moderate incline. As she conquered the mighty hill, she kept telling herself: “I hadn’t come that far to quit.”
McNally, who’s been in the Guard for four years, also bore the distinction of being the sole woman in the competition. “It is definitely challenging,” she said. “I feel like a lot of the other competitors are a lot more capable than I am, but I’m giving it my best. I’ve never done anything quite like this before.” She hopes other female soldiers consider competing. Her advice to them? “Even if it is hard, just push yourself.”
Soldier of the Year representative with the Alaska Guard, Spc. Jonathan Holston, a UH-60 Black Hawk mechanic in the 1/207th Aviation Regiment, finished first in the equipment and casualty carry. He echoed Schiermeyer about how to prepare for the competition by improving his fitness. In doing so, he said he hurt his knee during a ruck march, but that didn’t stop him from continuing to do “a lot of body-weight exercises, working on weapons, and practicing for the oral board.”
The reason Holston decided to compete in Best Warrior was because he “wanted to get the most out of the Army. I get to fire weapons I wouldn’t normally and improve basic soldier skills.” Plus, there’s the side benefit of making it fun. With the other competitors, he said, “we got along, and joked. We have the same mindset, and there’s a camaraderie.”
- PFC Amanda Fry, 197th Public Affairs Detachment contributed to this article