FORT PICKETT, Va. –
Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Virginia Beach-based 329th Regional Support Group and Maneuver Training Center Fort Pickett took top honors at the Virginia Army National Guard’s 2023 Best Warrior Competition, held March 16 - 19, 2023, at Fort Pickett, Virginia.
The 329th’s Spc. Jared Bergman was named Soldier of the Year and MTC’s Staff Sgt. Dan Abbott was named Noncomissioned Officer of the Year. Pfc. Mercer Love and Staff Sgt. Jake Harvey, both assigned to the Winchester-based 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, were named runners up. Bergman and Abbott will now have a chance to represent the VNG at the Region II Best Warrior Competition, which will be hosted by the Virginia Army National Guard at Fort Barfoot in May 2023. Fort Pickett will be redesigned as Fort Barfoot March 24, 2023.
Ten VNG Soldiers participated in this year’s competition, as well as two soldiers from the Republic of Tajikistan, who participated in the BWC in support of the Department of Defense’s State Partnership Program, in which Virginia and Tajikistan have been partners since 2003. The two Tajik representatives, Warrant Officers Saidamir Isramov and Khamza Sharifov, as well as their interpreter, Khurshed Zakharov, were recognized during the awards ceremony. Read more about SPP at https://ngpa.us/24494.
During the ceremony, Command Sgt. Maj. Irving Reed Jr., the Virginia Army National Guard’s command sergeant major, presented the winners with Army Commendation Medals. Reed said the Best Warrior Competition is an important event for the organization.
“These kind of events showcase the Soldiers who want to show their expertise in the job,” said Reed. “It’s a good motivational tool, because these Soldiers don’t have to be out here. They’re putting in this extra work. It’s just a good, good event for them to showcase what they’re good at.”
Reed also said participating can help make them better Soldiers and leaders down the road.
“It helps them learn what their areas of opportunity are, and go back, hone those skills, become better at what they do,” he said. “It makes them better overall. As a Soldier, regardless of my MOS, I have certain things I should be good at. So this takes all the MOSs and brings them here so they can focus on being a Soldier.”
Abbott, a former active duty Soldier who has been in the VNG for about five years, said it was a terrific event.
“I thought it was a blast. It was an outstanding competition. I think it was really well built, really well structured by the state,” said Abbott. “It was extremely physically demanding, very challenging. It was also a lot of fun.”
Bergman said he was surprised at how demanding the four days were.
“It’s honestly a surprise to me. The competition was really tough. I wasn’t expecting this to challenge me as much as it did, but it really took it out of me,” said Bergman. “I learned a lot, that’s for sure.”
The competition kicked off with a combat water survival test, conducted at Daniel Gymnasium on the campus of Virginia State University in Ettrick, Virginia. Soldiers had to jump off of a high platform into the pool, swim 60 meters and extract themselves and their equipment from the water. Cadets with VSU’s Trojan Warrior Reserve Officer Training Corps provided support for the swim event.
After a written exam and a night’s rest, the competitors rose early for a 10-mile ruck march. As the Soldiers prepared to step off, “gas gas gas” was sounded, and they donned their protective masks for the first mile of the course before the “all clear” was given.
After the ruck march, the Soldiers tackled the three-gun event, a grueling timed course which tests their proficiency with the M4 rifle, the M17 pistol and the M500 shotgun. In addition to being scored on their marksmanship, the Soldiers also had to rappel down the side of a building, carry water jugs and drag simulated casualties to safety.
Friday’s events concluded with daytime and nighttime land navigation.
On Saturday, the competitors were greeted with an intense physical fitness challenge, incorporating elements of the Army Combat Fitness Test with other challenges. Then, with support from aviators with the Sandston-based 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment, 29th Infantry Division, the Soldiers were picked up by UH-60 Black Hawks and flown into a maneuver area to begin their Army Warrior Tasks. There, Soldiers were graded on their weapons knowledge and grenade-throwing ability. They also had to react to a simulated chemical attack, operate a radio and treat a simulated combat casualty.
After the AWTs, the Soldiers tackled the confidence course, facing seven tough obstacles. The Soldiers were timed on how long it took them to complete the course, with time penalties for any obstacle not properly traversed.
During all of the physically and mentally strenuous challenges thrown at the Soldiers, they all maintained a sense of camaraderie and encouraged each other every step of the way.
“My favorite part was the competitors. They motivated me and inspired me to do my best, and to really challenge myself as much as I could,’ said Bergman. “They were every bit as tough as I was throughout this whole competition.”
On Sunday, the competitors were challenged with appearance boards, their last hurdle before the awards ceremony.
Bergman and Abbott will now advance to face Soldiers and NCOs from Delaware, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and the District of Colombia National Guards. The Soldier and NCO who are named Region II champions will have the chance to compete at the national-level competition.
“I’ll be training very hard until then,” said Bergman.
“This is my state, my Guard, and I plan on winning when I go to regionals,” added Abbott.
Reed also said it’s never too early for Soldiers who would like to compete in the 2024 Best Warrior Competition to get started preparing.
“Get yourself a good sponsor. Get someone who’s going to be there and help you navigate what we do here,” said Reed. “Two, get with someone who has done it before and say, ‘what are your lessons learned, and what can I do to excel at this event.’ Finally, just come in motivated. Come in wanting to do well.”