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​Spc. Casey Drege, right, of the 957th Engineer Company (Multi-Role Bridge), performs a function check on his night vision goggles Aug. 9 prior to traversing a night land navigation course at Camp Grafton Training Center, near Devils Lake N.D. The event was part of the 4-day Best Warrior Competition. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Brett Miller, 116th Public Affairs Detachment/Released)

North Dakota’s ‘Best Warriors’ Put to the Test

CAMP GRAFTON TRAINING CENTER, N.D. — The North Dakota Army National Guard’s top Soldiers this weekend slogged through an intense, sweltering four-day competition in 100-degree temperatures at Camp Grafton Training Center, near Devils Lake, North Dakota. Fourteen Army Guardsmen representing the National Guard’s major commands contended with an array of military challenges and Army skills tests to gauge their competency and grit Aug. 9-12 during the state’s Best Warrior Competition.

When the winners were announced during the final day’s awards ceremony, two Army Guardsmen had earned the opportunity to advance and represent North Dakota in future competitions. Staff Sgt. Justin Valenti, of Fargo, North Dakota, a member of the Fargo-based 191st Military Police Company, was the winner of the Best Warrior Competition in the noncommissioned officer category. In the enlisted-level competition, Spc. Casey Drege, of West Fargo, North Dakota, a member of the Bismarck-based 957th Engineer Company (Multi-Role Bridge), took top honors.

“This competition is my favorite weekend of the year. I get to see great Soldiers come here and do great things. They give it their all, and even if they are not successful, they have a positive attitude. They move on with so much more knowledge, they are mentally and physically exhausted, but at the end of the weekend, they are always smiling,” said Command Sgt. Maj. David Lien, state command sergeant major.

Soldiers began the Best Warrior Competition this year by testing their endurance during an Army Physical Fitness test, or APFT. From there, they donned their Army Service Uniforms to be inspected while answering a series of military-related questions posed by a board of sergeants major. The Guardsmen’s first day of competition culminated by locating positions using a compass on a land navigation course at night.

The following days continued to be filled with difficult events and challenges. Competitors fired weapons for qualification scores at Camp Grafton’s southern training area, near McHenry, North Dakota. They also completed another land navigation course, this time being inserted into the training area by UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. The remainder of the weekend tested the Soldiers’ physical and mental toughness with road marches, a confidence course and rappel tower, a written exam and evaluations on a number of Warrior Tasks (general military tasks all Soldiers must know).

Lien said the Best Warrior Competition planners do their best to keep things challenging for the Soldiers. This year an event was added during the final day of competition when competitors were shuffled into a dark theater room wearing night vision goggles to assemble an M9 pistol, M4 rifle and M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, or SAW.

“After every competition, myself and all of the evaluators and coordinators will get together and see what is working and what is not, and will adjust accordingly. We will even try to incorporate things we see from regionals (competitions), if it is deemed popular enough, and go from there,” Lien said.

Soldiers representing their units must first win in their respective major commands in order to vie for the “Best Warrior” title during the state-level competition. That preparation can include months of physical training and poring over various military manuals and study guides.

“I loved it. It was a challenge, I can’t wait to do it again and I am going to encourage all of my Soldiers to try this,” Valenti said. “I didn’t think I was going to win. Everybody did great and everybody supported each other throughout the competition, and I plan on bringing that mentality with me to regionals.”

The regional competition, scheduled to be held in May 2019, will be hosted by staff and cadre at Camp Grafton Training Center here in North Dakota. Army Guardsmen from seven other states will compete, including Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington and Wyoming. Regional winners advance to compete in the All-Guard Competition and, if they win there, have the opportunity to compete in the All-Army Competition.

Should the winners not be able to compete, they will be replaced by the runners-up from the state competition. This year, Spc. Dakota Brown, of Ryder, North Dakota, a member of the 957th Engineer Company (Multi-Role Bridge), was the runner-up in the enlisted category. Staff Sgt. Adam Walsvik, of Washburn, North Dakota, a member of the Fargo-based 141st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, took the runner-up position at the noncommissioned officer level.

For participating in the event, each Best Warrior Competitor was awarded the State Commendation Medal as the weekend came to a close. The winners were presented the State Meritorious Service Medal.

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