Publishing Disclaimer: In all of its publications and products, NCO Journal presents professional information. However, the views expressed therein are those of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Army University, the Department of the US Army, or any other agency of the US Government.


Best Warrior Day 1 Exhausts Competitors Physically and Mentally

By Michael L. Lewis

NCO Journal

November 20, 2013

Download the PDF

Photo by Meghan Portillo

For many of the competitors in the 2013 Army Best Warrior Competition, the first day of events began and ended in darkness — both literally and figuratively. With a map, but nary a hint of what they would be expected to accomplish at each checkpoint, the 23 competitors struck out after a pre-dawn physical fitness test early Wednesday morning, Nov. 20, into the unknown.

What they found were 10 events built to test their knowledge and skills — both routine and esoteric — over a 14-mile path through the woods and meadows of Fort Lee, Va. By the end of the day, each competitor would fire various weapons, extricate and treat a casualty in a Humvee, write an essay, don protective gear and enter a chamber filled with CS gas, react to an ambush, wend their way through a land navigation course, complete a written exam, correctly handle the discovery of an improvised explosive device in a crowded village, and change a tire on a Humvee to standard (by far, the competitors’ least favorite task).

Photo by Meghan Portillo

The day was designed to see how competitors would think while on the move, said Command Sgt. Maj. James K. Sims, the command sergeant major of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Support Command and Fort Lee, who has been instrumental in planning the competition each year.

“The intent really for today is to keep the competitors motivated, to keep them on the move to see how agile and adept they are as they engage various obstacles and tasks,” Sims said. “It appears that we’ve got some good NCOs and Soldiers out there who are very confident. There’s a great competitive spirit out there.” 

‘Do your best. Don’t give up.’

Before their decathlon, competitors kicked off the competition with a modified Army Physical Fitness Test in Army Combat Uniforms and tennis shoes on the tarmac of an old airstrip. Under the watchful gaze of two sergeants major of the Army — incumbent Raymond F. Chandler III and his predecessor, Kenneth O. Preston — competitors pushed themselves in the traditional pushup, situp and 2-mile run events. With their nonstandard attire and bitter chill, some were disappointed in their scores. But all received encouraging words from Chandler.

Photo by Meghan Portillo

“You may not have done your personal best today, but keep your motivation up,” Chandler said. “You can be really good at the PT test, but not read or write. We’re testing the total Soldier here — physical, mental, emotional.”

Chandler noted that the difference between first and second place last year was less than a thousandth of a point.

“So do your best. Don’t give up,” he said. “You’ll have eyes on you throughout this competition not just on how you’re doing as an individual, but how you contribute to the team.”

Photo by Meghan Portillo

‘The whole day was a surprise’

Reflecting after the day’s events, competitors seemed unprepared for the grueling pace.

“It was a lot more physical than I thought,” said Sgt. Erik Eaton, the Soldier of the Year competitor representing U.S. Army Medical Command. “It really took a lot of mental and physical fitness throughout the entire day.”

The day eventually became a blur, said Spc. Richard Thomas, the Soldier of the Year competitor representing U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command.

“I didn’t really know what to expect at this competition, but today really surpassed whatever I could have thought,” Thomas said. “The whole day was a surprise. We really didn’t know what was going to happen. It was a never-ending journey, it seemed like at times.”

For Spc. Michael Sands, the Soldier of the Year competitor representing the Military District of Washington, it was a day like none other in his career.

“This might be the toughest day I’ve had in the Army, quite honestly,” he said. “The situations challenged you on every level — individually, being a team leader. It was a lot of fun, but I’m glad we’re done for the day.”

‘An epic fail’

No event stymied competitors like the innocuously titled ‘Vehicle Maintenance’ lane. The task was simple: change a Humvee’s tire.

“But for me, changing the tire was just an epic fail,” Sands said.

Though most competitors have had to do that in real-world situations, few seemed to be familiar with how to do it according to what the relevant technical manual says, said Sgt. 1st Class Juan Nieves, an evaluator for the event.

“Anybody can change a tire. But can you change a tire to standard?” he said. “They weren’t expecting this.”

Sgt. Brian Hester, the NCO of the Year competitor representing SMDC, said the event was his least favorite, but also said he understood its inclusion in the Army’s premier competition.

“It is proper vehicle maintenance,” Hester said. “You’ve got to know what the standard is, and that’s one of the big plusses of the Army — everything is written down. As long as you’re willing to read, you should be able to do it.”

Prolonging the mystery

With only a third of the competition complete, competitors and organizers readied for Day 2 on Thursday — the “mystery events.”

“Tomorrow, I’m just expecting the unexpected,” Sands said.

Sims would offer only a cryptic preview of what the competition would present.

“The competitors are showing themselves to be very adaptive and very innovative,” Sims said. “But I think tomorrow, we’re going to see just how innovative the competitors are.”


Due to illness, Sgt. Ryan Lewis, the Soldier of the Year competitor representing U.S. Army Materiel Command, was unable to compete.

Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III (left) offers words of encouragement to Best Warrior competitors after the first event on Wednesday, Nov. 20. (Photo by Meghan Portillo)

Back to Top