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Nation's elite warriors fight for coveted title at Camp Williams

CAMP WILLIAMS — Thirteen of the best soldiers and non-commissioned officers are at Camp Williams this week, fighting through the heat to prove their battle skills.

The Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition is a grueling, three-day event that tests the skills of a complete warrior.

"It's a lot of fun," said Cruser Barnes of Hawaii. "You get to see how far you can push yourself."

It may be fun for those who made it this far, having won their state and regional contests. The top soldier and NCO will move on to the all-Army Best Warrior competition in the fall. This is the first time Camp Williams has held the national competition.

The warriors started the day competing at push-ups, sit-ups and a two-mile run.

"We're going to stress them the whole way," said Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Miller of the Utah Army National Guard. "The thing is, they'll never quit. They'll give it their all. They'll leave it all on the battlefield."

"It really tests your character as a soldier and a leader," said Sgt. Rob Cunningham of the West Virginia Army National Guard. "It pushes you to your limits so you can see where you really stand."

Cunningham said he embraces the struggle to honor his military unit.

"It's a mind game. You just have to keep telling yourself you're never going to quit, and keep pushing forward."

Tuesday, the competitors went on a range run that shows how well they handle a machine gun, hit targets at distance, and move and shoot — all while covering six miles on the run in battle gear. But this competition is not just about their ability to run and shoot. It also tests their mental acuity. They're quizzed on military tactics and doctrine. They must sit in front of a panel of officers and answer tough questions about their jobs and the Army itself.

"These are a lot more, I would say, book smart. Long definitions, and stuff like that, that you have to really study for," said Barnes. "A lot of guys are having a hard time."

The command sergeant major of the U.S. Army National Guard was on hand for the event. He praised the toughness of the competitors and said the real winners are their units when they return home and report about the experience.

"They share everything that they learned," said Command Sgt. Maj. Brunk Conley. "They take all of the tactics and techniques that they learned and they share that with their subordinates and their peers, and the Guard wins."

As Cunningham pushes past the pain, he sings to himself and thinks about the soldiers in his command at home.

"What you would do for them, and you wouldn't stop for them," he said. "So, you just keep pushing."

The Best Warrior Soldier and NCO will be decided Thursday.

Email: jboal@deseretnews.com