Best Airman Warrior
By Master Sgt. Aaron Smith, 102nd Intelligence Wing
/ Published April 14, 2014
OTIS AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Mass. -- On the far northern side of Joint Base Cape Cod, you get a sense of how large the base is. It has been close to an hour since you started this six-mile ruck march and as you jog along, the ribbon of gravel road stretching into the distance, you can feel the full weight of your gear wearing you down. Everything that led up to this moment has tested you. There was the physical fitness test, a nerve-wracking interview board, a frigid shooting-challenge, and more. As you quickly trot down one hill, before trudging up the next, you focus on what's important. That is not your sore and aching feet, or your burning muscles, it's the finish line.
This was the situation that faced competitors in the Massachusetts Air National Guard's (ANG) first ever Best Airman Warrior competition. Volunteers came from both the 102nd Intelligence wing and the 104th Fighter Wing. One of the competitors, Staff Sgt. John Connolly, of the 212th Engineering Installation Squadron, said, "It was a challenge, I tried to use the strategy of picking a point and running to that, then slowing down to recover. Also, I tried keep my mind occupied." Although Staff Sgt. Connolly prepared for the events, there were still some surprises. "I go to the gym I run and I lift weights, but the march was a lot longer than I expected. My feet were really torn up by the end, because I was wearing steel toed boots." It's those lessons and experiences that helped bring about the Best Airman Warrior competition in the first place.
Described as the "Super Bowl" of Army competitions, the Best Warrior will celebrate its eleventh anniversary this year. The Army competition starts as the lower organizational levels, before moving on to a national competition, with participants coming from smaller Best Warrior competitions at active-duty, reserve, and guard units. Last year the Massachusetts Army National Guard invited the Mass. ANG to take part in their portion of the competition. 102nd Command Chief Master Sgt. Karen Cozza explains, "The Best Airman Warrior was driven by the Army inviting us to participate in their annual Best Warrior competition. In a joint-move, they reached out and asked if any of the Airmen wanted to compete. So, we had three volunteers compete and it has grown from there." The idea is that by challenging Airmen and mirroring the situations they'll face in the Best Warrior competition, those who advance will be better prepared.
In addition to preparing Airmen for the Army's Best Warrior competition, the experience helps build teamwork within units. Chief Cozza notes, "Having leadership support the competitors is very important. Each competitor also has a sponsor or mentor that's assigned to them and they're important as well." These mentors help competitors in any number of ways during the competition. "My mentor was great. He kept me levelheaded. He helped gather all the equipment I needed. He took me out for food the night before the competition and was there to give me advice. So, he was an awesome coach." Staff Sgt. Connolly said of his mentor, Master Sgt. John Gallinagh.
At the awards ceremony for the Best Airman Warrior competition, Air National Guard leadership from across the state gathered to congratulate the contestants. In the end, four Airmen were selected to go on the Army's Best Warrior competition: Technical Sgt. Valdemar Johnson (104 FW), Staff Sgt. John Connolly (102 IW), Senior Airman Daniel Miller (102 IW), and Airman 1st Class Christopher Benson.
The Best Warrior competition starts April 4th and the final event, the ruck-march, concludes at 0800 on April 6th. If you get the chance, come out and support these Airman Warriors.