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NEWS | May 31, 2024

Top VNG Soldier’s journey from Scout Platoon to regional recognition

By Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti | Virginia National Guard Public Affairs Office

Sgt. Carter Cooper, an infantryman assigned to the Lynchburg-based 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, was named the region’s top Soldier May 10, 2024, after representing the Virginia Army National Guard at the Region II Best Warrior Competition in Maryland. The competition ran for four days and included Soldiers and noncommissioned officers from Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington, D.C. 

For Cooper, an infantryman, the win comes after a year of success and achievement that kicked off when he tried out his unit’s scout platoon. 

“I boarded with the scouts earlier this year, which was really the start of this whole thing,” Cooper explained. The board experience was not something he enjoyed. Once it was over and he was accepted into the Scouts, he was relieved. “I was like, ‘Thank God I don’t have to do that again for a long time.’”

His relief was short-lived. A month later, he was selected to represent the platoon at the company-level Best Warrior board. 

“At first I didn’t really want to do it,” Cooper said. “But I won that, and then my leadership just put me in a position to be successful as the competitions moved on.” 

His wins within the 116th IBCT led him to represent the Normandy Brigade at Virginia’s Best Warrior Competition, held March 14-17, 2024, at Fort Barfoot, Virginia. After his win and with just two months before the regional competition, Cooper set to work preparing himself for the next level of competition while also focusing on his education. He’s currently studying pre-law at Liberty University.

As competition time inched closer, Cooper encountered an opportunity he couldn’t resist: a seat at the Army Mountain Warfare School. 

“Someone dropped a seat and I picked it up real quick,” Cooper said. “I wanted that chance to go and Mountain School doesn’t come around too often.” 

AMWS, based at the Camp Ethan Allen Training Site in Jericho, Vermont, focuses on the specialized skills necessary for successfully conducting operations in mountainous terrain. For Cooper, out of all that he’s experienced this year, his time in Vermont was the most enjoyable, and his success in joining the scout platoon was another notable highlight of his year. 

“I enjoyed Mountain School, more than putting my body through what I’ve been putting it through [at the competitions],” Cooper explained. “But, joining the scouts to begin with, joining that group of people is what really put me in his position to begin with.” 

Cooper doesn’t describe the competitions he’s experienced so far as enjoyable, and they’re not meant to be. They are designed to be rigorous tests of endurance, mental aptitude and toughness that challenge competitors every step of the way. 

“Through the competitions, you know somewhat what you’re going to be challenged on, and the basic tasks that you have to complete. But as you move up, they show how you have to embrace the suck more at every level of the competition,” he said. “It’s the same tasks, but they keep increasing the misery.”

While the competitions might lack enjoyability, for Cooper they do provide an opportunity to verify the efforts of his training regimen. 

“It gives me the most satisfaction in who I thought I was,” Cooper said. “I get to see the benefits of what I train for through the competitions, which has been awesome.” 

Going into the regional competition, Cooper said he felt relatively confident about his ability to perform well, especially with events meant to test physical strength and endurance.

“I’m usually just naturally more confident in the physical tasks, and I think I can compete at a very high level with all the physical stuff,” Cooper said. Given part of his prep time for the regional match was spent focused on mountain warfare in Vermont, Cooper was most nervous about the board. “I knew a lot from the past ones, and my leadership really helped me study, but with Mountain School, I just didn’t really have the time right before to study for that side of the competition.” 

During the first day of the competition, the competitors were tested physically and mentally with task lanes and an obstacle course. Then, on day two, they faced a challenging day that kicked off with an Army Combat Fitness Test followed by a Combat Water Survival Test and then a ruck march. The next day they tackled land navigation and tested their marksmanship skills on the range. 

“I’m pretty confident on the range,” Cooper said. “I’m an infantryman, and that helps me within these competitions when it comes to shooting, especially with the M4, I use that thing all the time.” 

On the last day of the competition, Cooper and the other competitors completed a valor run and then an appearance board. After that, the scores were tallied and Cooper was named the best Soldier in the region while Staff Sgt. Wilkinson-Johnson, an intelligence analyst in the Maryland Army National Guard, was named the top noncommissioned officer. 

Next, Cooper will join the top Soldiers from across the nation to compete for the national title in a familiar place. The national competition will take place in Vermont later this summer. 

“Vermont is awesome,” Cooper said, adding that his recent experience there will no doubt serve him well during the next phase of the competition. “I got prepared in really the best way you could and I’m excited to go back to Vermont.” 

In the future, Cooper hopes to advance his skills as an infantryman and leader by attending Ranger School and is interested in taking his military career to the next level within Special Forces. For others considering their own careers and pathways in the military, Cooper has a few words of advice. 

“Look to your leadership. I’ve been blessed with the leadership I have putting me in the position to be successful and leaders that actually care and have a drive for their Soldiers to do well,” he said. “Also, the Guard is fully what you make it. As long as you try hard and you have goals, you can reach them in the National Guard and can set yourself and your career up for success.”

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