For more photos and a video of the Best Warrior competition, visit our official Flickr site at Fort Knox delivers at 2022 Best Warrior | Flickr
FORT KNOX, Ky. — About 40 Soldiers from locations as close as Fort Knox and as far away as Fort Stewart, Georgia, arrived here March 28. Their goal: to walk away with the honor of being the 2022 Fort Knox Combined Best Warrior.
Several gathered at Brooks Parade Field five days later to celebrate the two who would receive the title of Best Warrior. After Blackhawk helicopters flew all the competitors in, Maj. Gen. Johnny Davis, commanding general of U.S. Army Cadet Command and Fort Knox, spoke to the crowd.
“Today we recognize our Fort Knox superstars; the best of the best,” said Davis. The Soldiers in front of you today have been selected by their units to compete for the title of Fort Knox Best Warrior … Leadership counts, and these men and women in front of us have shown that.
“Right now, our brothers and sisters in arms are deploying all across Europe to support our NATO allies; proficiency and our warrior tasks and battle drills remain paramount to our success on the future battlefield.”
Officials from U.S. Army Cadet Command put together a competition that mimicked last year’s Department of Army-level competition in many ways — which Fort Knox had hosted — but with three mystery events to keep Soldiers on their toes, and a unique twist to the traditional ruck march.
After the five days of head-to-head competition concluded, officials announced the top enlisted Soldier and noncommissioned officer April 1 at a sunny outdoor ceremony on Brooks Parade Field: Spc. Adriel Torres Vasquez, an information technology specialist at U.S. Army Human Resources Command; and Sgt. 1st Class Mark Webb, with U.S. Army Cadet Command, respectively.
“It was a difficult competition this year, probably one of the best ones I’ve been a part of,” said Webb, shortly after the ceremony. “Rucking from point to point made it that much more difficult, but I appreciate it.”
This year’s ruck march spanned a total of 21 miles. Officials at Cadet Command decided they didn’t want the usual ruck march, which is one event that takes place on the morning of the last day, so they weaved it into all the outdoor events. Therefore, Soldiers not only were timed for all the individual tasks, they were also timed for every part of the ruck march, getting to each station along the way.
“We wanted to kind of change it up this year and not be so predictable,” said Sgt. 1st Class Alejandro Santos, planning and operations NCO at Cadet Command, road march NCO in charge and permanent time keeper. “In order to make the challenge even more challenging, we figured why not put the ruck march first, and that way they still get tired but must find the resiliency to keep going.”
Competitors were also required to accurately navigate to each station using a map and compass. If they plotted the next station wrong on the map, they could potentially lose time trying to get to the next station. As a result, each of the first three days’ events were spread out over about seven miles of terrain.
After completing the M4 weapons qualification at the start of Day 2, paired Soldiers and NCOs were given their first grid coordinates by Santos, with 20-minute staggered start times between teams to prevent Soldiers from following somebody else to the next station.
“Your first point is Echo-Golf, 9273, 9770,” said Santos to a competitor. “Since you guys are [starting] at 11:20, at about 11:15 I’ll give you your map, and you can start plotting then.”
Competitors adjusted to the realization that they would be rucking seven miles each day, conserving energy as they moved from station to station.
Besides the Army combat fitness test and answering Army knowledge questions at a formal board, field tests included transmitting a SPOT report, requesting a medical evacuation, employing a claymore mine, performing first aid during a chemical attack, maintaining the M249 squad automatic weapon and M240B machine gun, several medical tasks, a hand grenade assault course, and how to perform progressive levels of force during a potentially hostile situation.
Staff Sgt. Jessica Smith arrived at the levels of force station on Day 3 after tackling two stations at the top of the first of Fort Knox’s famously painful hikes, known as Agony, Misery and Heartbreak. She said she was in it to win the competition, but wasn’t sure how she would do.
“I’ve never competed at this level before, but I’ve done three competitions previously,” said Smith, a member of the Army Reserve Careers Group, stationed at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. “I’m going to give it the best I can and go from there.”
Smith and others said one of the more difficult stations was the stress shoot near the end of Day 2. At that station, competitors were required to do something different from previous years: drag a 180-pound “casualty” dummy several yards to the first shooting point before moving from point to point and engaging in 40 targets using different firing positions.
Master Sgt. Anthony Freeman, infantry senior sergeant, 7th Brigade operations NCO at Cadet Command, supervised the stress shoot event. He said realism is key to all the Best Warrior events.
“This definitely affects them when they go to shoot,” said Freeman. “We’re stressing the Soldier by making it real. They may have to drag a casualty to safety in combat but still need to be able to function, fire and maneuver.”
Each field event drills in on time and accuracy. Not only must Soldiers perform a task correctly, they also feel the stress of having to perform it under the clock. The stress shoot was no exception.
“The events provide a good assessment because they incorporate time,” said Freeman. “For instance, at this lane, how fast you can move your casualty and engage those targets, and effectively engage those targets, will be a very determining factor in the overall concept of how well a Soldier is going to perform.
“Best Warrior shows that I’m physically fit, I’m mentally prepared to engage the enemy, and I’m ready to drag one of my Soldiers to safety, if necessary.”
Staff Sgt. Daeyvon Jones, an infantry NCO from 188th Infantry Brigade at Fort Stewart, Georgia, said he takes the difficulty of the competition all in stride because he recognizes it is designed to push Soldiers to do their very best under difficult conditions. When the call came for competitors to travel to Fort Knox, the decision for him was easy.
“Our sergeant major wanted the best of our brigade to compete for this, so I volunteered,” said Jones. “I came up here with an aspiration to see who is the best of the best, and I want that to be me.”