FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. –
Virginia National Guard Soldiers turned in strong performances at the Army National Guard Region II Best Warrior Competition held May 11-14, 2021, at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania.
Sgt. Samuel Johnson, a VNG infantry Soldier assigned to Maneuver Training Center Fort Pickett was runner up for Noncommissioned Officer of the Year, and Spc. Michael Choi, a VNG infantry Soldier assigned to the Lynchburg-based 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, placed third in the Soldier of the Year competition.
"I'm so proud of all the Soldiers and NCOs who competed in our Regional competition this year. I would like to commend Sgt. Johnson and Spc. Choi who represented Virginia with amazing performances,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Ronald L. Smith, Jr., the Virginia Army National Guard Command Sergeant Major. “They are the future leaders of our Army, who will always give 100%. Pennsylvania did a great job as the host state, and we look forward to hosting our regional competition next year in the great Commonwealth of Virginia.”
Pfc. Alexander Gravely, a combat medic with the West Virginia Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 201st Field Artillery Regiment, 77th Brigade Troop Command was named Soldier of the Year, and Sgt. James McGill, a radiology specialist with the Maryland Army National Guard’s 224th Medical Company Area Support was named Noncommissioned Officer of the Year.
Enlisted National Guard Soldiers from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Delaware competed in the 2021 regional Best Warrior Competition here May 11-14.
The Soldiers competed in nine events designed to test their physical and mental endurance: night land navigation, a medical event, a written exam, a mystery event, weapons zero and qualification with the M4, M17 and M500, the obstacle course, the Hartranft 1000 fitness challenge, a 12-mile ruck march, and finally, a leadership/appearance board.
Johnson is a native of Richmond and is currently on orders working full time at Fort Pickett in Range Operations. He joined nearly nine years ago after seeing National Guard troops responding to a hurricane.
“I saw them wading through water and knew I wanted to help out with domestic response, which the Guard has given me the opportunity to do,” he said.
At the start of the pandemic, he was on a team assisting with mask fittings and COVID-19 testings. He previously deployed to Qatar and served as an infantry team leader, which he said “teaches you things about yourself you didn’t know.”
He said the regional competition was a “substantial jump” from the state-level competition, but it has also been some of the best training he has ever received. In particular he found the land navigation both challenging and a great learning experience.
Choi was born in South Korea, and his family moved to Yorktown when he was 13 years old. He joined the National Guard in 2017 to help pay for college at Virginia Tech where he double majors in sociology and criminology with a minor in Chinese language and leadership. He was taking exams just before before the regional competition began and will be wrapping up his senior year in the summer. In addition his college courses, he also works as a contract Korean translator helping out in hospitals and courts and as a security clerk at the Salem VA Medical Center.
While help with college tuition was part of his initial interest in the National Guard, he quickly learned the physical challenges of military service appealed to him.
“I wasn't really interested in anything and didn't know what I wanted to pursue in life,” he said. “But once I put my foot into the military, I feel like I found home and knew this is where I belong.”
Choi volunteered to go on orders at the start of the pandemic and assisted with COVID-19 testing sites in the New River Valley Health District area.
“The world was hurting, our country was hurting and I couldn't do anything about it,” he said. “The least I could do was do something for the community. It was my first time serving for the community from my unit, Charlie Company, 1-116th, and it was a really great experience.”
He said he knows competing at the regional level is a big deal, and something he has never really done before, and he welcomed the challenge and the chance to represent his state.
“I'm proud to represent the entire state of Virginia,” Choi said. “There's lots of pressure on my shoulders but I always give it all and do my best wherever I go.”
The Best Warrior Competition recognizes Soldiers who demonstrate commitment to the Army values, embody the Warrior Ethos, and represent the Force of the Future. The challenges featured a mix of physical and mental tasks, assessing basic soldiering skills not unique to any military occupational specialty.
“I hope, win or lose, that you got something out of this competition that made you better,” said Pennsylvania’s Senior Enlisted Leader Command Sgt. Maj. Jon Worley to the competitors. “I hope by competing in the Region II Best Warrior Competition you have had to step out of your comfort zone, that you’ve met new friends, that you’ve felt a surge of adrenaline, and that you’ve learned something new about yourself.”
Gravely and McGill will represent Region II in the national level Best Warrior Competition at Camp Navajo, Ariz., July 19-23, 2021. There, the best Soldiers and noncommissioned officers in the Army National Guard from the seven regions across the United States will compete to represent the National Guard at the Army’s Best Warrior Competition in the fall.
The competitors for Soldier of the Year were:
Spc. Michael Choi, Virginia; Spc. Zachariah Fink, Delaware; Spc. Richard Granke, Maryland; Pfc. Alexander Gravely, West Virginia; Spc. Derek Knoll, Pennsylvania; and Spc. Alonzo Thompkins, Washington, D.C.
The competitors for Noncommissioned Officer of the Year were:
Sgt. Brody Fulks, West Virginia; Sgt. Samuel Johnson, Virginia; Sgt. James McGill, Maryland; Staff Sgt. Dylan Pitetti, Pennsylvania; and Sgt. Jordan Sturgis, Delaware.
Additional reporting by Staff Sgt. Zane Craig, Pennsylvania National Guard
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